The lemonade looked as black as midnight. I took the bottle out of the beverage case anyway, and drank it, hoping that the health benefits of activated charcoal would take effect immediately. At least it’s good for you, I scolded my body, before taking another swig.
Having eaten an irreverent quantity of meat in the past few weeks for the AJC’s upcoming barbecue-themed spring dining guide, I needed to detox.
Open since January in the former Sophie’s Uptown space on Pharr Road in Buckhead, the cafeteria-style KarmaFarm is the first gluten-free fast-casual restaurant and bakery in the U.S., as certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. That’s a mouthful. But it’s a good mouthful for people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. For them, dining out can be a dicey affair.
KarmaFarm husband-and-wife co-owners Scott and McCall Wilder have had to be vigilant about food for nearly the past two decades, since they discovered that their then-infant son had a severe peanut allergy. For the past 15 years, McCall Wilder has been managing her gluten intolerance as well as myriad food allergies. And three years ago, their teenage daughter developed issues processing dairy. KarmaFarm is their happy, safe-eating place. And they created it for people in similar situations.
Patrons here don’t have to worry about gluten cross-contamination that might end in literal gut-wrenching pain. Diners with nut or dairy allergies don’t have to think twice either. The restaurant broadens its audience further with a rotation of seasonal menu items to match mostly vegan and vegetarian diets, but also pescatarian and carnivorous ones. KarmaFarm, which the Wilders dub a “modern meat and three” (although each item is priced individually), can be a choice for anyone who just wants to eat cleaner.
Gluten-free food sometimes gets a bad rap, but Mama’s Spicy Noodles, made of corn and rice flour, pack a delicious punch from the simple addition of red pepper flakes, onion and toasted sesame oil. This, like most items at the restaurant, is a Wilder family recipe, and it’s been wildly popular with customers.
Don’t walk past the cold station without requesting a bowl of Truffle Avocado Salad. A straightforward combination of ripe avocado chunks and red cherry tomato halves dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and a drizzle of truffle oil, the mélange was satisfying on its own, although I’d have loved a cracker or crostini to scoop it up and provide some crunchy contrast to the creamy smoothness of the salad.
Legumes abound in this 35-item buffet, from a mildly seasoned curry turmeric chickpea salad that benefited from the addition of coconut yogurt to a superb Southern Caviar of just-tender black-eyed peas dotted with colorful fresh veggies — red onion, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper — and deftly dressed with tangy sweetness from apple cider vinegar and agave.
Compared to these chilled legume salads, bean-laden soups and stews like the cassoulet, the red pea soup and the Chickpea Smash wanted for visual appeal. More so, they needed to be served much hotter.
The arrangement for these dishes — each one nestled in lid-topped Le Creuset enameled cast-iron cookware — is colorful and cozy, but hot food shouldn’t go cold shortly after landing on the plate.
It’s my main gripe about an otherwise juicy leg and thigh of roasted Springer Mountain chicken as well as a generous portion of moist, tender meatloaf made from grass-fed beef. One version of this savory homestyle favorite was slicked with a tomato sauce too sweet to my palate; a soy-miso mushroom sauce offered more umami bite for bite.
Gluten is the key to light, fluffy baked goods. KarmaFarm achieves that with its G-F Fluffy Rolls made with rice flour and also its arepas. A gluten-free biscuit, however, was dense and heavy. The flavor profile of a sweet treat like a cinnamon apple oat muffin hit the mark, but the texture was rubbery.
The bakery case holds everything from doughnuts to chocolate chip cookies, all gluten-free and baked from scratch daily by its four-person baking team who even handle special orders for gluten-free birthday cakes. “They put a lot of hard work into the bakery. It’s a labor of love,” McCall Wilder told me later in a phone interview.
It’s certainly visible that KarmaFarm is a labor of love for the Wilder family, too. Its owners are conscientious about sourcing quality ingredients. They are passionate about wanting to please patrons. Just watch Lee Wilder, Scott Wilder’s mother, as she walks the floor checking on patrons in her role as “happiness coordinator.” They are compassionate, as they donate a meal to a child in need for every meal purchased at KarmaFarm.
As more people seek gluten-free and clean-eating options, KarmaFarm has an opportunity to set the standard for this sector of dining in Atlanta. It started by making food that’s safe and wholesome. The next step: make it crave-able.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.