It’s an undeniable truth that dumplings, from any corner of the globe, are some of life’s greatest pleasures. Unfortunately, for those who count gluten as Public Enemy No. 1, they’re almost always unattainable; even those who can find tapioca- or rice-flour options know that it’s likely the dough shares a kitchen with wheat, making even gluten-free items uncooperative with dietary restrictions. Enter Stuff’d Dumpling Shop.
This cheerful, fast-casual spot opened quietly on Melrose last month with an organic-leaning menu of Eastern European, pelmeni-style dumplings. The skin is thick, lightly chewy, and more reminiscent of the wheaty wrapper you’d find in pierogi than, say, the translucent rice-flour casing of har gow. And yet these tiny pelmeni are made of rice flour—multiple rice flours, in fact—as well as non-GMO cornstarch and tapioca starch. They, and the Stuff’d kitchen, are entirely gluten-free.
“The real challenge was getting the dough strong and elastic enough to work in our imported traditional pelmeni machine,” says co-owner Matt Cooper, who opened the shop with longtime friend Liza Tevelev. “Since we couldn’t test our recipe out on our machine—unless we flew to Russia—there were a lot of pictures, phone calls and face-timing before we could actually ensure the recipe would work.”
Executive chef Missy Kim, a former private chef whose experience with gluten-free dough only really included pasta, spent months tinkering her way through nearly 80 recipes to nail the final blend. Now, she wraps the perfected unleavened dough around traditional Siberian dumplings, made with beef and pork and topped with fresh dill and sour cream, as well as a bowl of Japanese-inspired dumplings filled with miso-yaki cod swimming in a bacon dashi broth, topped with pickled shiitake and baby bok choy.
The style of the dough may be traditional Eastern European, but the brief menu is anything but; in addition to the small dumplings served with the likes of ricotta, truffle vinaigrette and even curried coconut broth, there are seasonal dessert dumplings stuffed with strawberries and rhubarb that come topped with a house granola, for a dumpling take on a crumble. Rounded out by a handful of salads and a rotating house-made kompot—a Slavic drink similar to a natural fruit soda—it’s a sunny spot to grab a quick meal, gluten intolerance or no.
“Ultimately, we packed a suitcase of pre-measured flours and ingredients and set off to New York—we’re sure the TSA had a good laugh at all of the tightly wrapped ‘white powder’—where we located someone with the same machine,” says Cooper. “Thirty-six hours [later] we were back in L.A. and had our dough, ‘GF 78’—having started with ‘GF 1.’ We spoke to a number of pelmeni experts who said it was near impossible to make our dumplings gluten-free. We’re proud to say we proved them wrong.”
Stuff’d Dumpling Shop is located at 6909 Melrose Avenue, and is open from 11:30am to 8pm, daily.