Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lewes, DE is gluten-free friendly

I have a lot of reasons to love Lewes, DE. To me, it's more than just a beautiful, historic, beach town. It's where I got engaged and where I got married. This past April on my anniversary trip visit, I found multiple new reasons to love it. I think a lot of tourist locations are like this, but the Lewes and Rehoboth Beach areas were great with gluten-free accommodations. Here's a highlight of my 3 favorites (saving best for last):

Agave- not only did this wonderfully decorated gem of a restaurant have great margaritas, they also had amazing salsa with GF corn chips and a nice selection of GF menu items.

Blue Moon- Always a delicious meal. Blue Moon actually did a fantastic job catering my wedding and again exceeded expectations for my anniversary dinner. They have an amazing menu that always features fresh products and a lot of things done in house like their cured meats and sausages. The owners even brought in two gluten-free cupcakes from a local bakery for us for dessert! Mmmmm... Just writing about it makes me crave a Blue Moon meal!

Hobos- This experience almost made me cry. Finally, someone who gets me!! The entire restaurant philosophy is to take care of people with food allergies and intollerances specializing in gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan. In fact, one of the first things they'll probably ask you is if you have any diet restriction. I asked what on the menu I could eat and they said anything! They prepare each meal separately and specifically for you. They substitute when necessary, but all of the good was great! They were so knowledgeable and the customer service was great!

Lewes will always be very special to me. If you ever get a chance to go to Lewes or Rehoboth, you'll be in great hands.

On a positive note

Though there have been quite a few bad experiences, there's also been a few great experiences locally.

Yokoso: The Waterfront- All of the hibachi can be prepared gluten-free, and of course a lot of the sushi already is. Only thing to be aware of is they have the kikoman soy sauce so be prepared for that.

Chioppino: Strip District- As is common with a lot of contemporary American places many of the menu items are already gluten-free. The wait staff was very kind and checked on everything for me.

Sababa Grill: Squirrel Hill- Though the gluten-free menu options are few, they are delicious! They were also very accommodating. We ordered hummus and they served me carrots for dipping in place of the pita.

P.F. Changs: The Waterfront- P.F. Changs has a fairly large designated gluten-free menu and they evenhave the GF soy sauce for you.

I'm sure there are other great places out there. Here's just a few I've had good experiences with. Please feel free to share any great experiences you've has as well!

3 Strikes for Au Bon Pain

I work in downtown Pittsburgh and am finding that gluten-free lunch options are very limited. I was doing some research to see if any downtown restaurants published a gluten-free menu. I was pleasantly surprised to see that on Au Bon Pain's website their menu includes allergy warnings for each item. I reviewed the menu before venturing to my nearest location to decide what I wanted to order. Soup weather is extremely common in Pittsburgh and I noted that there were several gluten-free soups on the menu. I headed to Au Bon Pain and ended up in a "3 Strikes You're Out" situation.

Strike 1- Of the 8 soup choices they were offering that day, only one was labeled gluten-free. The gluten-free Tuscan Bean soup seemed to be featuring pasta. Gluten-free pasta?? Possibly, but unlikely I'd say. I asked the nearest worker if there was really supposed pasta in the Tuscan Bean. He left to talk to the chef, and came back with a different label for the soup. Now, out of the 8 soups zero were gluten-free. Glad I asked. Hope no one was actually depending on the labels to be correct.

Strike 2- I went to the salad bar to order a salad that I had found in my research to be ok. I mentioned to the chef that I needed her to be careful because I needed the salad to be gluten free. "I don't even know what gluten is", she replied. I explained to her what gluten was, and said that I already checked and the salad was gluten-free as long as she didn't deviate from the recipe and was careful of cross-contamination by mixing it in a clean bowl. She seemed almost offended by what I had said and snapped back "I don't changed the recipe unless someone tells me to, and we always use clean bowls." I told her that was great and to just make the salad. As her manager walked by she threw my order slip and said "Will you make this salad, she said she wants it to be gluten-free and I don't even know what gluten is."

Strike 3- I wrote an email to Au Bon Pain stating that if they are going to advertise gluten-free products, they should #1 actually serve them when they are labeling them gluten-free and #2 make sure their employees know what gluten is. The current status of that email- no response from Au Bon Pain.

Perhaps this was just a bad experience at one location, but their disinterest in giving me the courtesy of an email response back was my 3rd strike.

Starbucks: Ok or not?

I've had some contradictory answers when trying to get to the bottom about what drinks at Starbucks are ok for someone maintaining a gluten-free diet. I actually had an interesting experience at a Starbucks. I asked the barista if there were any drinks that would be considered gluten-free. He asked what gluten was and I told him products of wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Then he confidently said, that everything should be fine because its coffee, why would they add flour to coffee. I explained to him that there might be something in some of the syrups though, so he got another coworker who suggested that I not get a specialty beverage because she wasn't so sure that any would be gluten free. I've done a bit of research on this topic. Of course, Starbucks does not publish an allergy information sheet. Just searching random websites will offer you mixed results about whether things are safe or not. Let's just clear things up. Here's the response I received from Starbucks to my gluten free question:

Hello Deirdre,
Thank you for contacting Starbucks Coffee Company.
I sincerely appreciate your question regarding gluten in our beverages. unfortunately, due to cross-contamination, we cannot guarantee that any of our products are gluten-free except for some of our brewed teas. All of our teas are gluten-free except for the following:

Green Ginger filterbags
Tazo Honeybush filterbags
Lemon Ginger juiced tea
Tea Lemonade juiced tea

Additional facts about Tazo and our teas are revealed on our website at

So the official answer is, sorry friends, unless you want to overpay for a cup of tea that you could buy at a grocery store.... Starbucks is out for us Celiacs. Simply click on the "What is Tazo" link and open the FAQ/IAQ section. Each tea and herbal infusion also has its own page listed under the "Explore Our Teas" link.

Celiac Paradise

Following my Celiac diagnosis, I met with a great dietician to get me setup on a gluten free diet. This dietician was diagnosed with Celiac 10 years ago which really helped the situation. He was able to give realistic expectations and first hand educated tips on restaurants and foods. 4 days after my new life long diet started, I found myself in what many refer to as "Celiac Paradise".

Disney World has visitors from all over the world. It's their goal to make your visit magical. Though people certainly don't go to Disney World for the food, Disney does aim to accommodate any food allergy/intolerance their guests might have. The staff is well trained on what a gluten free diet entails and does a great job working with you, earning themselves the title of "Celiac Paradise". We stayed at the Coronado Springs resort. Gluten-free muffins, brownies, pizza, pasta- they had it all. My biggest fear with the gluten-free diet was how to communicate my needs with wait staff. I'm the type of person who never sends anything back. "I ordered steak and you gave me chicken?? Oh well, it's all food." There's no getting around that now. Every waiter or waitress I get from now on needs to know that gluten-free is a necessity for me. Disney World was great practice for me. I was able get comfortable bringing that up without being worried that they wouldn't know what I was talking about. I had no issues with any restaurant on the entire Disney property. Disney earned themselves an A+ on my gluten-free experience test.

Celiac Sprue Disease

In January of this year, I was diagnosed with Celiac Sprue disease. Celiac disease is a gluten intolerance in which the only cure is a strict gluten-free diet. I've been on a gluten-free diet since February 4th and have since had some great experiences and some horrible experiences that have all been part of my gluten-free adventure. Through this blog I hope to help raise awareness about what being gluten-free really means as well as provide some reviews tips that I hope will be of help to other people struggling to maintain a gluten-free diet. Please feel free to leave any feedback or ask any questions. I'd love to do some research to help people out.