Imagine that every menu you pick up contains a hidden minefield. Was flour used to thicken that turkey gravy? Are the croutons already mixed into that salad?That's what it's like when you have a food allergy or intolerance. And the intolerance that's getting all the buzz lately relates to gluten, a protein found in wheat and some related grains.The medical community estimated that about one in 130 people has celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder characterized by an allergy to gluten, but many more have reported bad reactions to it.“Life for those trying to avoid gluten would be simple if these grains could easily be identified on food labels. Although you sometimes can spot those key grains on labels, often they are hidden in foods,” according to Carol Fenster, a Denver-based author of 10 gluten-free cookbooks, For instance, gluten can lurk in bouillon, deli meats, malt vinegar, salad dressings and even licorice candy. Wheat is an ingredient in these foods because it is used as a binder or thickener.It's one thing to pick up a can or box of food at a grocery store and have the luxury of reading the label. But what if someone with a gluten intolerance wants to dine out? You can't very well hang over the shoulder of the chef to be sure your food isn't dusted with wheat flour before being sautéed.But some restaurants and bakeries are attempting to create a gluten-free haven for those who had all but given up on the idea of dining out.“Awareness of gluten intolerance has been growing over the past several years, drawing attention to the importance of adjusting restaurant menus and preparation methods,” the National Restaurant Association's Director of Nutrition & Healthy Living Joy Dubost said in a recent Ask the Nutritionist commentary. “Gluten-free cuisine has increased in demand, thus you will now see various gluten-free menu options from pasta to beer to desserts.” The Colorado Springs area outside of Denver boasts at least three examples of the growing trend: Coquette's Bistro and Bakery; Tapateria, a certified gluten-free establishment; and Outside the Breadbox, a gluten-free bakery.Mother-daughter team Michelle Marx and Turu Marx run Coquette's Bistro and are passionate about providing gluten-free food that keeps winning awards. Dave Brackett's Tapateria took a pledge to be a completely gluten-free establishment by getting certified by the national Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness program. Bread served at Tapateria comes from Outside the Breadbox bakery, owned by Pam Hasty, who has been creating baked goods that are gluten-free since her daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1984.“This is the only place I feel safe eating,” Julie Hahn, who was diagnosed with celiac in 2009, said during a lunch at Coquette's Bistro and Bakery. “I typically eat the vegetarian crepe. It's quite savory, creamy with a little crunchy texture. I've never had anything at Coquette's that I didn't like.”A burger with a soft gluten-free bun is another of the bistro's favorites.“We started experimenting with substitutes for wheat,” Turu Marx said. “I had just about given up, until one day we tested some recipes using the (non-gluten) flour blend we use now, and it was like we had discovered the wheel. I danced around the house. It was so exciting.”The blend of flours — brown rice, potato, white rice and tapioca — and added xanthan gum is used to create all the baked goods used in the cafe and the bakery. The problem with making baked goods that are gluten-free is that they often taste like cardboard. Wheat gluten also lends a browning characteristic to baked goods. Without it, baked goods can look pale and unappetizing.But if, as they say, the proof is in the pudding — Michelle and Turu have succeeded in delivering tasty gluten-free dishes.Dave Brackett owns the certified gluten-free Tapateria.“A big part of the reason we wanted Tapateria to be gluten-free was because of the number of requests we received for gluten-free options at Pizzeria Rustica,” he said, referring to another eatery he owns. “We were able to offer a few dishes like salads and antipasti there, but it was limited.”Outside the Breadbox bakery owner Pam Hasty is not new to creating baked goods that are gluten-free.“In 1984 my daughter was diagnosed with celiac,” she said. “It took nine months get the diagnosis. But once we learned that it was wheat that was bothering her and we stopped using it in her diet, within a month she was better.”Through her journey to prepare food for her now 21-year-old daughter, Hasty developed recipes using other flours for baked goods and other dishes that traditionally need flour for thickening. In 2003 she opened her bakery to help those who must avoid gluten. You can get a wide range of breads, pastries, cookies and, even pizza crusts at her bakery.“It's true that gluten-free products cost more,” she said. “I'm glad to see larger food manufacturers expanding their product lines to include gluten-free foods. Hopefully, that will help decrease the cost of ingredients.”More experiencing gluten intoleranceSo why are we seeing more people needing to avoid gluten?“I think doctors are doing a better job of diagnosing,” Hasty said.Fenster says, “Testing for celiac disease starts with blood work (looking for certain antibodies), and then the next step is an intestinal biopsy.”Fenster tested positive not for celiac disease, but for another form of gluten intolerance.“I had genetic testing that shows I have neither of the two genes required for celiac disease,” she said. “But I'm sickened by gluten, so I fall into the category of non-celiac gluten intolerant or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.”While 3 million people have been diagnosed with celiac disease, 18 million others share Fenster's diagnosis, “and the doctors are just beginning to recognize people like me,” she said.Valerie Lobo, who now lives in Italy, has representated the Celiac Sprue Association and created a gluten-free dining group.“In my opinion, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are on the rise due to the abundance of wheat that has been genetically engineered over the years. It's not the same quality of wheat our ancestors ate. In order to keep up with customer demand, it has been altered.”Whether dining out or eating in, those with gluten intolerance are finding increasingly more help from people like the Marxes, Brackett and Hasty, who are focusing on offering gluten-free foods in their eateries, and Fenster, who has devoted her life to helping people cope via recipes and dining tips in her cookbooks.