RAVENSWOOD — Cookie Bar scarcely had time to unlock its doors for Thursday's grand opening before the customers started streaming into Ravenswood's newest bakery.
Eve Becker was among the first to welcome owners Joe Bova and Jeff Steinberg.
"We're really excited to have a gluten-free bakery in the neighborhood," said Becker.
Her 9-year-old daughter Sasha was diagnosed with Celiac disease — an immune reaction to gluten — seven years ago and the family has been searching for a place in the city that sells fresh gluten-free baked goods ever since.
"A lot of the packaged stuff tastes like sand," said Becker. "It's huge to have it fresh."
Sasha headed straight for Cookie Bar's doughnuts — a near-impossible gluten-free fresh find — and in a show of solidarity, big sister Hannah, who doesn't have an issue with gluten, ordered one, too. The thumbs-up from the girls was exactly the reaction Bova and Steinberg had hoped for.
The pair originally opened Cookie Bar in 2010 in Lincoln Park. The emphasis was on, as the name suggests, cookies, served up with a side of retro-'70s kitsch.
The popularity of their gluten-free offerings, coupled with their own decision to go wheat-free in their personal diets, prompted the duo to shift direction.
"We always wanted to do more than cookies," said Bova.
When the lease expired on their Lincoln Avenue storefront, the two settled on a new location at 1746 W. Wilson Ave.
"It has more of a neighborhood feel," Bova said, not to mention a kitchen three times as large as their former space.
They've spent the past six months experimenting with, and perfecting, their recipes for cakes, cookies, brownies and breads, which also include a number of vegan options.
"We threw a lot out," said Steinberg. "There was definitely a learning curve."
Most gluten-free products use rice flour and potato starch as a substitute for wheat flour, which produces the gritty sensation Becker likened to sand.
"A lot of gluten-free stuff is terrible," conceded Steinberg, who was raised on flavor-challenged cakes in a kosher household.
By contrast, Cookie Bar uses different combinations of grains like teff, sorghum, quinoa and amaranth in its recipes, not only to mimic the texture and flavor of wheat flour but to boost the nutritional value of its products.
"It all comes down to chemistry," said Steinberg.
The higher cost of more exotic raw ingredients translates into pricier baked goods, but Bova and Steinberg don't expect customers to suffer from sticker shock.
"People who have Celiac know if they bake at home what the prices are," Steinberg said.
Cookie Bar's hours are noon to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday.