Never mind that Dillon’s Café ProFusion may be the only completely gluten-free restaurant in Summit County, and one of perhaps three such establishments in the entire state. Even if you’ve never heard of celiac disease and dismiss the whole wheat-intolerance thing as just another dietary fad, come for the ribs. Braised in apple juice, pomegranate molasses, and gluten-free tamari, then slow-roasted until the meat practically drips off the bone into your mouth, those baby back ribs—served with Asian slaw and ginger red-lentil dal instead of baked beans—are a revelation. They might even compel you to get out of your seat (there are only fourteen inside), muscle your way behind the counter and into the kitchen, and give “chief cook and bottle-washer” Bill Dowd a hug, maybe even a smooch.
You wouldn’t be the first.
“When people come in and ask which items on the menu are gluten-free, and I tell them that they all are, they can’t believe it,” says Dowd, a former personal chef with a sense of humor as subtle and complex as the spices in his curries. “Women propose marriage. Guys want to hug me.”
Dowd and owner Cindy Trimble didn’t open Café ProFusion as a gourmet oasis for the gluten-free (GF) masses. It just turned out that way. The restaurant’s previous incarnation, Kula’s Café, long ago had established itself and put Dillon on the wheat-free map as a popular GF-friendly breakfast and lunch spot. After founders Deby and Jim Curcio sold Kula’s four years ago to launch a line of GF baking mixes (Breck-based Toosie’s; toosies
glutenfree.com), the business struggled until a year and a half ago, when Trimble and Dowd took over the operation.
Together they renovated the tiny dining room, retooled the menu to focus on curries, and founded Café ProFusion as an East-meets-West fusion of traditional cuisines (those ribs being a fine example). They also committed to carrying on the GF-friendly tradition of Kula’s, meaning some, but not all, items on the menu would be made without wheat. But as word of Café ProFusion spread and the restaurant became something of a mecca for patrons suffering from celiac disease—many pilgrimage from Denver, as one family of four did on a recent Saturday afternoon—concerns about cross-contamination led Dowd and Trimble to conclude that it was simpler, and safer, to do away with wheat altogether.
Besides, Dowd asks wryly, “Who puts wheat in their curry?”
And as for that other menu standout: Dowd blends his own spices by hand, cooks his curries the day before, chills them overnight to give the flavors time to meld, and the next morning sets them simmering in vats that burble merrily for hours on the burners of the stove that occupies most of the café’s food-cart-size kitchen. The duck in red curry (pictured above) passes over the tongue as a symphony of taste, progressing from the sweetness of the pineapple and coconut milk to the elusive umami of lychee, a grapelike Asian fruit, followed moments later by an intense wave of heat, a culinary conflagration that’s best quenched by a scoop of passion fruit mango sorbet in a pomegranate reduction sauce.
Still undiscovered by mainstream gourmands, Café ProFusion aptly bills itself as “A Little Gourmet Hole in the Wall.” It’s a 250-square-foot, corrugated tin–paneled dining room upstairs from a Laundromat and a Mexican meat market that’s bypassed by the traffic on La Bonte Street, a procession of cars and trucks headed for either the Arapahoe Café or Pug Ryan’s across the street and around the corner.
All those people don’t know what they’re missing.