Gluten Free Eating Out Experiences

Outback's Flourless Pecan Brownie... YUM!

Have you noticed how many restaurants, cafe’s, and bakeries are touting “gluten free” menu items these days?  You’d think that we were in for a grand culinary experience with all the options avaliable today. BUT (yes, there is a but…), in my recent experience, I’m finding many business do not fully grasp the gravity of Celiac disease and gluten contamination.

Bring my children to your fine establishment so you can poison them with your cross-contamination, NO THANK YOU.

What you don’t understand is that GLUTEN IS POISON for those of us with Celiac.  This is not an allergy, you can’t label it as mild, moderate, or severe.  Gluten exposure in a Celiac is a damaging prospect at any level.

We’ve had some good and some not so good experiences lately.  I am really trying to remember that when restaurant personal ask me “how sensitive” I am to not take it personally, it is purely lack of education with this rapidly growing “diet”.  This is where the growth of gluten “free” gets dangerous for those of us with Celiac vs. an intolerance.

In our lovely town of Eugene, there is a quaint little cafe called New Dawn.  New Dawn is 100% gluten free… Dave, the owner discovered through his research that trying to do both gluten free and glutened foods in the same establishment was dangerous.  He has hired on two bakers who are gluten free and know first hand how important safe foods are.  Our family loves New Dawn… the people, the food, the conversation.

Outback Steak House– well informed, has a gluten free menu. Serves a to-die-for flourless pecan brownie dessert (that is plenty big enough for two).  Has a relationship with GIG to maintain good standards.  Satan My husband still ate an entire loaf of the brown bread in front of me… (seriously though, who can blame him).  I did not get ill from this experience.  My steak and mashed potatoes where great, my veggies were good (even minus the seasonings).  The dessert was AMAZING (this was the first time I was able to enjoy a dessert at a restaurant that tasted just like what I was used to eating pre-Celiac).

P.F. Chang’s– these people have done some research.  The regular menu contains a gluten free section.  GF meals are served on plates with a P.F. Chang’s logo.  They even have gluten free soy sauce.  My glutened husband ate GF and didn’t notice a difference.  We enjoyed a flourless chocolate mound cake which was more like a rich fudge than cake but was delicious and rich.

Papa’s Pizza– Our Papa’s not only boasts a great indoor play structure but also carries gluten free crust and dairy free/soy free cheese (Daiya).  The best part?  We can eat there because they have a separate preparation space (with a short wall barrier in place), separate toppings, and use a separate oven for gluten free pizza.  The gluten free orders are taken on a bright orange paper and the order paper stays with the pizza until you take it to the table. The salad bar is a nightmare as all are because the croutons go swimming in salad dressing and who knows what else.  No desserts avaliable (except monster cookies full of regular flour).  By far our children’s favorite place to eat.

I’m sad to say we had a not so great experience at McMenamin’s.  They now carry (really tasty) gluten free buns from Jensen’s so I decided to order my burger with the bun.  It arrived toasted.  I also ate six tater tots (which are GF but were cooked in the fryer with corn dogs).  I was feeling sick within 30 minutes of eating and by the next morning I was in major GI distress.   I wondered about the bun later, if they toasted it in the same area as the regular buns.  Obviously, the tots didn’t help the situation (I chose to eat a few knowing this…).  This is one of the establishments that asked me “how sensitive”. The good news; I was introduced to Jensen’s (Gluten Free Concepts), tracked them down at a local market and brought some home.  The children say Thank You. 🙂

Restaurants to avoid- those serving primarily gluten foods (pancake houses, bakeries,  Italian restaurants where pasta is made fresh on site, etc…). Flour can stay in the air for 24 hours… that flour can then end up in your food, in your nasal passages, on surfaces you touch, etc… this is bad news for those with more than an “intolerance”.

Questions to ask-

  1. Is the kitchen staff familiar with gluten free cooking?
  2. What precautions are taken to avoid cross contamination?
  3. Do you have separate work and cooking surfaces for gluten free foods?
  4. How do you serve GF foods to ensure the right food reaches me? (for example, special colored or logo plates, food picks, etc…)
  5. For baked goods (cookies, muffins, donuts, cakes, etc…)- Are they prepared in a separate, GF kitchen or in a shared kitchen? (If shared, question further about standards to determine if you are comfortable consuming the product.)

Remember, you are the best and often, ONLY advocate for your (or your families) safety.  Gluten is Poison for those with Celiac.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, explain that this is more than an intolerance.  I prefer to call ahead whenever I can to question the kitchen staff (at an off time, so they aren’t incredibly swamped).  Do your homework, don’t be afraid to pack some safe items with you… if the restaurant gives you any flack, educate them.

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About PolkaDotMommy

Wife to a teacher extraordinaire... Mama to Five littles... Conservative Catholic Christian with a Strong Environmentalist Mentality... Respecting Life... Living for our Savior... Learning to trust God in all things.
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