By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — Like any local diner, Sweet Bee Lin’s has its standard menu. They’ve got your eggs, bacon, pancakes and such for breakfast; and pizza and subs for lunch or dinner. There’s even a fish fry offered on Friday.
But, unlike other local diners, the Second Street restaurant near Rainbow Avenue stands out because much of their menu is gluten-free and the owner, Bea Brantigan, swears the regulars don’t notice the difference and don’t care.
However, one local became convinced of the benefits of eating gluten-free foods when she found that her checkup at the doctor’s office went a lot better after she enjoyed many of the menu items from Sweet Bea’s.
“I eat the gluten-free. I heard it’s healthier for you,” said Nancy Sisney of Woodlawn Ave. “I had her (gluten free) fish fry last Friday and it was delicious. It’s wasn’t greasy or anything.”
“I went to the doctor and my blood pressure and cholesterol were much better,” she said.
Brantigan, who opened the restaurant last spring, decided to feature the gluten-free items because one of Brantigan’s six children, Michelle, cannot eat foods with gluten. The gluten-free offerings are also part of Brantigan’s efforts to stand out in a community where gluten-free offerings are rare.
According to the Western New York Gluten Free Diet Support Group, Celiac disease is a geneticaly inherited disorder that impacts some who eat wheat, rye, barley and other lesser known grains, causing a wide variety of symptoms and creating damage to the small intestine. Celiac disease affects 1 in 133 people and those with the illness need to eliminate gluten from their diets in order to return to health.
The restaurant, which is open most days for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is a family affair. Her son, Brian, works the kitchen and is the baker. “He makes phenomenal bread,” his mother noted. (Brian’s recipe for soft, gluten-free white bread is below.)
Brantigan doesn’t want to be known exclusively for her non-gluten menu items, but she is very proud that her customers can’t seem to tell the difference between the menu items with gluten and those without.
Beyond the menu, Brantigan’s diner stands out for another reason. The face of her other son, John, is one of two painted on a wall between the kitchen and the dining area. Seven years ago he drowned in the gorge and she wanted to honor his memory. Next to her son’s face on the mural is Brian’s friend from Niagara Catholic High School, Kristina Feane, who passed away from cancer last May at age 18. When the mural is complete, Brantigan plans to honor the two young people by raising scholarship money to put at least one student through Niagara Catholic each year.
Brantigan is looking to build her customer base and hopes to attract more neighborhood traffic to her cafe in the Econolodge now that tourist season is over. Her dream is so strong that she’s looking for a full time job to tide her over financially until the tourists return — she has hundreds of comments written on her wall from the satisfied customers who have visited since April. “I know it’s going to flourish,” she said of her bakery and cafe. “I just have to give it time. I’ve made it this far.”
The restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to noon on Monday and from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday; It is also open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
The menu includes soups, salads, chili, assorted subs, wings, and a daily special that is also noted on a billboard outside the restaurant. “We never know what the daily special will be,” Brantigan said. “It’s always a surprise to us.”
Gluten-free items include breakfast pizza; regular pizza, French toast, blue berry, chocolate chip, carrot, bananna muffins, fish fry, french read and rolls. Available on request are gluten-free cupcakes, pes and funnel cakes.
Brian’s Airy Gluten-Free White Bread
1/2 cup warm water
2 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 cups white rice flour
2 cups tapioca flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons zanthan gum
2/3 cup dry milk
4 tablespons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
Combine 1/2 cup warm water, 2 teaspoons sugar, and yeast. Let proof for 15 minutes. Next, combine flours, 1/4 cup sugar, xanthan gum and dry milk and set aside. Last, combine 1 1/2 cups water, vegetable, vinegar and eggs.
Combine all ingredients and mix on high for two minutes. Put into two greased bread pans and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 25 minutes. When baking is complete, pop the bread out of the pans and set on a cooling rack.