Monday, December 1, 2008

Gluten free dining in Panama City Beach, FL...quite the challenge

I was thrilled to find out some of my family moved to the beach and we’d be spending Thanksgiving down there this year. However, I had no idea how backwards PCB was when it came to food intolerances. After finding nothing helpful online about dining gluten free there, I remembered Dr. Rudert talking about how some patients from the panhandle drive all the way to Atlanta to see her regarding Celiac. The others apparently go to Shands in Gainesville or Mayo in Jacksonville. As far as I can tell the only doctors that know anything about Celiac in that part of FL are in Pensacola and we were not driving over there for dinner, of course. The usual suspects are there…Outback, Bonefish and Carabba’s but I’m not driving to FL to eat at a place I have around the corner from my house - unless I have no other safe options.

Finally, I found out that there is a Margaritaville in PCB and the Orlando location has a gluten free menu. They even have a dedicated fryer so their fries are safe to eat. The head Chef in Orlando (Daniel) said he’d have the new Chef (Pietro) at PCB take care of our party of ten for the Wed. night before Thanksgiving. Chef Pietro called me to discuss my preferences for dinner and offered to make us gluten free crab cakes. There are three Celiacs in my family (that we’re aware of) so this was quite a treat for us. I did have to drop off gluten free Ener-G crackers ahead of time but I had some that were on clearance and they’d expired the week before – perfect for breadcrumbs.

Before we ordered at Margaritaville, the Chef came out to see if we had any questions and let us know he’d brought in gluten free buns and brownies for us too. But we were set on crab cakes and I don’t like the buns they use anyway – I’m spoiled being able to have the Whole Foods bun at the Roswell Outback.

All the gluten free diners in our party ordered the crab cakes and my husband who is 99% gluten free ordered some Mahi Mahi dish (which was also gluten free). We could have the rice and veggies there but not the roasted potatoes, which contained gluten. I guess because I took so many crackers in the Chef made us three crab cakes which were large so I could only eat half of them. They were very good and didn’t have any odd taste or texture to them. They were actually pretty similar to what I make at home except I put spicey brown mustard in mine and I don’t think these contained any mustard. It would have been nice to have a mustard or remolaude sauce with them but the lemon juice was fine. It was just nice having crab cakes that I didn’t have to make. In Atlanta, the Four Seasons Hotel serves the best I’ve had but they are also $45 so the $18.50 cost at Margarittaville was quite the deal indeed! If you’re in the Panama City Beach area and go to Margaritaville, you might ask if they have a gluten free bun or brownie for you since we didn't order them and no one else would know they're available.

All Margaritaville locations will eventually have a printed gluten free menu and you can find out where they all are by checking their website. I hope they’ll put a gluten free crab bisque on the menu…that’s something I have to make at home these days and it’s so easy to make gluten free. Most restaurants could do it for a few pennies a bowl and serve it to everyone – glutenoids included.

I've got to say we are not really into theme, family oriented restaurants but I was surprised at how much fun this place was. We left shortly after the live music began and I wish we could have stayed a little longer. It's more than a place for a fun bite to eat. It really is an experience..not one I'd want every day but nice to enjoy every so often. The kids in our party loved it too...the smoking plane with descending salt shaker and Jimmy Buffet videos were great. As we say in the was a hoot!

Rosa Mexicano - Gluten Free gourmet Mexican fare in Atlanta

Rosa Mexicano opened in Atlantic Station well over a year ago and somehow I never tried it until September of this year. I’d read a rave review of the Manhattan location but thought I was reading a review for the Atlanta location as it was on Catherine’s blog. I thought she’d tried the Atlanta restaurant when visiting as she often did when at her previous job. After seeing the pictures of the food she had in NYC, I had to try and eat at the location here - if possible to do so safely gluten free. The menus vary slightly at each location but most of the menu items in Atlanta are naturally gluten free. I found this out by speaking with a company executive in NYC.

Our first visit to Rosa Mexicano was for brunch. It was good, but basic breakfast food with a Mexican twist. I had an egg and cheese scramble served in an iron skillet with rice and beans (they are both gluten free). We also had chips with red and green salsa and the red sauce was phenomenal. We have some good glutenoid friends that are always willing to try new places with us and they enjoyed their meals as well.
My next meal at Rosa Mexicano was for lunch. I met a gluten free friend there and we had the tableside guacamole service to start. It was surprisingly fast and very good. Still, the red sauce was my favorite for the chips. I could eat it by the gallon. For my meal I tried Suizas (two soft corn tortillas filled with pulled roasted chicken, topped with a creamy tomatillo sauce and queso fresco), which the server recommended and it was really good. I took half of it home for later. My friend ordered something similar to chicken fajitas and also enjoyed her dish.

Right when we thought our meal was over the server brought out desserts which the manager had ordered for us. The Chef made us Mexican Sundaes complete with both vanilla and chocolate ice cream and Mexican caramel sauce which included toasted coconut. It was amazing and I don’t even really like ice cream desserts.

When in Atlanta, or anywhere they have a Rosa Mexicano location, you should treat yourself to a gourmet Mexican meal, whether you’re gluten free or not. They are a customer service oriented restaurant which you’d assume all restaurants are least here, that is not the case. Many places are all style without much substance to back it up. Rosa Mexicano is the real deal!

One last gluten free hurrah in Texas!

On Sunday morning we checked out of the Adolphus Hotel and headed to the Kozy Kitchen for breakfast. I’d read about the place on and it was listed as a safe place on the Dallas Celiac support group website. The restaurant was in a tiny strip mall a few miles from downtown Dallas and if you were not looking for it, you'd never find it. We walked in to find a few tables seated and some interesting looking employees. Our server had a Mohawk haircut with an interesting color. He seemed annoyed that I questioned him about the gluten free French toast, as if every restaurant served such a dish. When the toast arrived my husband tasted it and said there was no way it was gluten free but when the table next to us got their’s (they’d also ordered the gluten free version) we knew ours must be safe for me to eat. It was without question the best gluten free French toast I’ve had and the only version I’ve had in a restaurant.

For my main course (yes, I had courses for breakfast) I had breakfast tacos which were made with corn tortillas. All the food we had was outstanding and gluten free. They do serve gluten there so you need to ask questions if you go - there is no gluten free menu but the gluten free items are pretty clearly marked. I have no idea what flours they use in the bread here but it’s a dark grain as the color is almost a chocolate brown. Whatever it was it was some of the best gluten free bread I’ve had. It was light and fluffy….and well, it was unlike most gluten free bread you can buy in the freezer section of the grocery store.

We knew that carrot cake was a signature dessert at the Kozy Kitchen so we got a piece to go. We ate it at the airport before boarding the plane and while it was fine, there was nothing special about it. There was nothing about it either that would indicate it was gluten free. It was just a basic piece of carrot cake which any glutenoid would have been happy to eat.

All in all our vist to the Lone Star state was fun and especially tasty and we’d go back in a heartbeat. Places not to miss if you’re ever there are the Little Aussie Bakery in San Antonio, Laura’s Bistro in Plano and the Kozy Kitchen in Dallas. You know those Texans do things big and they really do gluten free big there. We’re still waiting for a 100% gluten free restaurant in Atlanta and I think we’ll be waiting for a long while.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another 100% Gluten Free Restaurant in Texas!

UPDATE: 2010 - This restaurant is no longer open.

We headed to Plano for lunch around 10 a.m. on Saturday since we wanted to have an early lunch and then rest a bit before the wedding that night. When we arrived at the shopping center where Laura's Bistro is located, my husband was sure I had wrong directions and we were lost. There was really no activity in the strip mall to speak of but I finally saw the Laura's sign and a sign that says 'open' in the window. We parked and went in just after 11 a.m. Needless to say we were the only ones there except the staff but the Chef wasn't even there yet...he was running late. They actually don't open for lunch until 11:30 but they have a store for shopping for gluten free food. I think my auxiliary pantry has more food than their store shelves did but in any case, we were seated by a cheery server and started reading the extensive menu.

Like the LAB in San Antonio, everything on the menu at Laura's is gluten free. Unlike the LAB, this menu is very extensive and so it's very overwhelming to decide what to order. Should I try the country fried steak with gravy, a pasta dish, catfish, pizza, crab cakes? It was almost too much to think about. Since we could not order for a bit, we started ruling out what we could have at home - crab cakes, pasta, salads, etc. That left pizza, onion rings and fried catfish - or at least those tempted me the most. So for an appetizer we had a pepperoni pizza. It was a personal 8" size so it was just enough to share and it was very good, with a crust that was somewhat similar to a Cheebe but better. Next up came an order of catfish with fries AND a basket of onion rings. The onion rings were really, really bad. When the server noticed we were not eating them she asked why and when we told her she admitted they bought them frozen and didn't make them there with their own batter....that would explain it. We asked her to take them away and she did but never mentioned taking them off the check. We were so happy with the rest of the food we didn't mind paying the $6 for something we found inedible. The catfish was some of the best I'd ever had but without the onion rings, my husband thought we should order something else to eat. So he ordered the crab cakes and we split them too. They were fabulous though I didn't care for the sauce served on the side so the husband got all of that.
When we were sufficiently full from the largest lunch of our lives, it was time for dessert. This place is also a gluten free bakery and they supply cakes to a fancy bakery Dallas for gluten free weddings and special events. They make great cakes but don't pretend to be expert decorators (see photo of cakes above). I knew I had to try their award winning chocolate cake but that would be my dessert for the wedding reception. For that day, we decided on the strawberry cake and since they had chocolate cake doughnuts, my husband had to have one of those as well. The sandwich shown below was not ours, but the people at the next table were nice enough to allow me to take a photo of it. It's a simple BLT with fries but oh how the simplest things can excite our set!
My husband said the doughnut was okay but we agreed piece of strawberry cake we shared was incredible! I don't even like strawberry cake but it was moist with a great flavor and the icing was also exceptional. It's hard to believe but I really didn't feel overly full when we left Laura's but I wasn't hungry again for many, many hours.

For the wedding reception, the staff had been made aware of my dietary needs and indicated to the Bride's Mother that it was not a problem to accommodate me. When everyone else's salads arrived, I was a little surprised to see they brought me a fruit salad instead. There were no croutons on the salad so the only thing I could think of was that the candied nuts in it contained flour. The fruit was fine and it was clearly gluten free so I just ate it and didn't ask about the salad or nuts.

When the dinner plates arrived, everyone at our table was served exactly the same thing. The server insisted my meal and everyone else's was gluten free. Considering the plate has a potato casserole of some kind on it, we were not too sure he was right but at that point I could have eaten the tablecloth since I'd had to skip all the appetizers served before the reception doors were open. So I ate almost every bite on my plate. The steak wasn't quite done enough for me so I ate the outside and gave my husband the middle. The salmon was perfect and both sauces were very good as well. The veggies were tasty and the potato casserole was amazing! It was my favorite part of the meal. My meal was indeed gluten free and delicious!

Obviously neither wedding cake served was gluten free and I was a little surprised that I was not offered anything else for dessert. No worries though - we simply asked for small plates and pulled out our huge piece of chocolate cake from Laura's. I'd put the take out container in a small gift bag and stuck it under the table on arrival. We split the cake and it was absolutely the best gluten free chocolate cake I've had to date. I like my own chocolate icing better but the cake itself was out of this world delicious! No wonder it won a taste test against gluten cakes! Way to go Laura!

So, if you're ever invited to a wedding or event at The Adolphus in Dallas, be assured you can get a great gluten free meal. You just need to request it when you rsvp for the event. The Chef said he'd prepare gluten free Afternoon Tea service with advance notice but we didn't have time for that. If any locals try it, please let me know how it is. And if you're within driving distance of Plano or are ever in Dallas you have GOT to go to Laura's Bistro for a gluten free meal. You will not be sorry you did!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gluten free in Austin Texas

On Friday morning we sadly had to say goodbye to Anne and Joe at Chicken Paradise and head to Dallas for the wedding - the real reason for this trip. We had to arrive in Dallas in time to press clothes and change for the rehearsal dinner. Of course I had called the restaurant to figure out what I could eat and it turned out I could eat nothing being served on the buffet...such is the life of someone with Celiac. No problem, they were happy to make me some beef soft tacos (fryer issue) rice and beans. All were checked to confirm they were gluten free. My meal ended up being not only gluten free but pretty darn tasty as well!

As it turns out, when you are driving to Dallas from San Antonio, you drive right through Austin. There is a place there called Wildwood Arts Cafe that has a gluten free bakery onsite and they serve many gluten free dishes as well. They serve lunch so of course we had to go - no question. We'd been warned that traffic in Austin is horrid but being from Atlanta we always think people that say that have no idea what real traffic is. Unfortunately for us (and Austinites), the warning about Austin traffic was accurate. It took forever to get to Wildwood even though it was not that far off the interstate. We arrived during the lunch rush and it was crazy busy so I had plenty of time to figure out what to order while waiting in the long line. We snagged a table (they don't have many there) and waited for our meals to arrive. I had pork tamales with rice and beans and my meal was outstanding. My husband ordered some kind of sandwich and said the rice bread it was made from was ok.

When it was time to pick a dessert from the massive gluten free offerings, I started reading ingredients and realized most things there seemed not only to be gluten free but dairy free as well. Some of my favorite treats are made with canola oil and not butter so I was not completely scared away. I chose a cookie to have later (it wasn't good) and my husband chose the brownie, which was made with margarine instead of canola oil. I'm sure at some time I've had a worse tasting brownie but I'm not sure what or when that was. I could not believe my husband ate the whole thing after admitting he didn't like it...but he couldn't bring himself to throw it out.
For the following morning I needed something to eat in the room unheated so I chose a pumpkin muffin. My husband chose a blueberry breakfast bread which was huge. Considering the traffic delays and the quality of the baked goods, I would not bother returning to Wildwood if I was ever in Austin again. There are more places in the area than Wildwood that can provide safe gluten free meals. You'll find them on the Celiac Alamo site.
The pumpkin muffin turned out to be the best thing we bought at Wildwood and I should have gotten a few more. The blueberry breakfast bread was inedible except for the blueberries that my husband literally picked out of it...he had some protien bars to supplement his breakfast as there wasn't time for him to get service in the hotel cafe at this point.
Like another well known 'almost' gluten free bakery in NYC - I don't get what all the fuss is about regarding Wildwood Cafe. I can make better gluten free baked goods at home and I'm no baking expert. I just use the very best mixes on the market and that doesn't take much skill - except to find said mixes. I guess people accept these less than stellar tasting items just because they don't want to make every single cookie or piece of cake at home, and for that I don't blame them. But for me, if something isn't good enough for a discriminating glutenoid to eat, I usually don't like it. Life is too short to eat bad food - gluten free or otherwise.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Texas trip - Part 3 / Eating out in San Antonio

As most people who've been to San Antonio know, the Riverwalk is a famous attraction there. We found it to be lovely, if a bit too touristy for us. Still, we knew we had to dine along the Riverwalk during our stay. But unlike most visitors, we had to find a gluten free friendly place to go. Like at home, I try and avoid those large impersonal chains with gluten free menus. In Georgia, most servers and even managers who work at such places could not explain what gluten is if their life depended on it.

Luckily for me, Anne at Chicken Paradise was able to steer us to several great options for safe, yet interesting gluten free meals. We were tired our first night in town (I'm always tired from flying regardless of the length of the flight) so we settled on a casual dinner at Paloma Blanco for Tex- Mex fare. Once there we were seated quickly at a nice table for two and handed gluten free menus. Interestingly, their version is called a Celiac Menu there. This is the first time I'd seen this and found it delightful. We knew from Anne's gluten free hand book that we needed to stress we had to have Celiac chips and so we did. But after a good long while our server appeared to tell us they were totally out of gluten free chips and they were very sorry. Since I have a place at home that has a dedicated corn product fryer and have Mexican fare often with safe chips, I got over it. The VIP margarita made up for the lack of chips and I loved that it was served in a martini glass!

The place was super busy but finally our meals arrived and mine was excellent! I ordered a stuffed poblano pepper with shrimp, veggies, cheese and spices and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My husband got the fish tacos and would not order them again. He said they were fine but nothing special. He says that about that about most everything he orders at Mexican restaurants these days. Maybe eating this fare in Mexico (work travel) has spoiled him. There wasn't any dessert I could have but I ate all my meal so I could not have had anything anyway. Knowing my husband loves Tres Leches cake I convinced him to order a piece but he didn't like that either. In his defense, the version served here is nothing like we're used to in Atlanta or in Mexico for that matter. It was dry and we thought maybe they gave him the wrong thing but they didn't. I loved the ambiance here and would go back when in San Antonio. Maybe next time they'll have the Celiac chips!!!

For lunch the next day we tried a real honky-tonk kind of place called The Cove. It's a restaurant with a garden, a playground and for some odd reason, a car wash. We knew they had gluten free buns and grass fed beef but the ordering process was sketchy at best. The gluten free menu was hand written on a yellow note pad sheet and didn't say gluten free on it except to describe the buns. They had sweet potato fries listed which my husband ordered but I knew they didn't have a dedicated fryer. He can eat gluten so no worries there. It was nice that the cook came to our table to explain the fries were not gluten free and was shocked to hear they are listed on their 'so called' gluten free menu. In any case, she was really nice about it. The bar tender insisted that they didn't carry Redbridge beer and offered only what was on the menu. So my husband had to carry the menu - with Redbridge clearly printed on it - to the bar and the guy finally found one for me. Our burgers were killer but I could have done without the bun. The frozen Whole Foods GF Bakehouse buns are better and I'm not in love with them by a long stretch. Still, if you get the chance to order a burger with a gluten free bun, I suggest you do it. You can always remove it if you don't like it. At The Cove, I ate only the bottom bun and it was okay that way.

We went to The Cove on an 'off' day, to say the least. And because my husband was so concerned they messed up my food, I could not enjoy the place or my meal that much. It's nice that he's so protective but sometimes he acts as if I'm going to drop dead if someone messes up my meal. I'm happy to report that my meal at The Cove was most definitely gluten free. If I were to go back I'd eat before going, and go at night when they have live music.

I have to say that our dinner that night more than made up for the lunch experience. Upon Anne's recommendation (and others on Trip Advisor) we dined at Las Canarias in the Omni Hotel on the Riverwalk. We were seated at a romantic table by the window and had a lovely Riverwalk view down below. Our server immediately explained that I should review the menu and ask for whatever I wanted and she would ask the Chef if I could have it prepared gluten free. When I eyed the duck entree I knew I had to order it, if it was not full of wheat starch like all the duck dishes I'd inquired about before. The server quickly returned to tell me the duck would be prepared safely for me so I ordered that and we ordered a salad to split - which was almost too pretty to eat. I could not eat what my husband ordered but he enjoyed it, though neither of us can remember now what it was. The salad was fabulous and I rarely get excited about salad when dining out. But my duck entree was probably the best I've ever had, and I've had duck in many high end places in the US and even in Paris. All I can say is if you live in or visit San Antonio and you like duck, you must go to Las Canarias and order it. I don't care of you eat gluten or not - this dish is not to be missed! There was nothing I could have for dessert except for creme brulee with cherry compote and I can have that (or plain creme brulee) most anywhere so we skipped that course. I had a Kahlua and creme instead. If you enjoy fine dining without the air of pretentiousness that is present at many please offering it, don't miss this special dining experience in San Antonio. Chef John Brand is happy to accommodate his special needs guests and is extremely creative and well versed in gluten free food preparation. Excluding tip our bill was $107 and we considered it quite a deal! I know I say it all the time but when you dine where there is an actual Chef cooking REAL food, you'll always have a better experience than at a large chain where they roll their eyes when you mention gluten, even when they have a gluten free menu.... There is just no comparison in the two types of places, and that is as it should be.
To the left is my favorite shot taken at The Alamo which we visited before lunch one day. Last but not least, is a shot of The McNay Museum which we visited upon Anne's recommendation. Luckily for us, they have a reciprocal membership deal with the High Museum of Atlanta which we're members of, so we were able to get in for free which allowed me to purchase a gorgeous glass art bottle stopper in the gift shop. It's hard to believe the place was once someones home but it was. One of the most interesting exhibits to us was Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'. They had actual mini sets from the movie and it was truly fascinating! If you enjoy seeing fabulous art in a most spectacular setting, do not miss The McNay when visiting San Antonio. The general admission only runs $8 and I think one day a week you can get in for free. Check their website for details. Oh, and don't miss the spectacular sculpture garden on the McNay grounds!

Collectively we've been to eight cities in Texas and we agreed that San Antonio is by far our favorite place there now. I just wish it was within driving distance so we could visit more often!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Texas trip - Part 2 / Chicken Paradise - our home away from home!

When you drive through the colorful gate at the Chicken Paradise B&B, it's hard to believe you're in the middle of a residential area of San Antonio but in fact, you are. The sprawling property is part farm, part garden and part resort. It's run by the Alamo Celiac leader Anne Barfield and her husband Joe. The Paradise Suite is huge and offers a private entrance, full bath and small kitchenette. The garage to the house separates the Suite from the main house where Anne and Joe reside. Guests have access to the lovely pool, deck and patio out back. There is even a private outside shower which offers hot and cold running water and two shower heads!

Below is the breakfast served our first morning there. And yes we ate every bit of it. First up was a huge fruit plate, complete with some of the best mangoes we've had anywhere. Then we each had a homemade Teff waffle - the first non frozen waffle I've had in almost three years - and it was excellent! Last but not least was a goat cheese basil omelet served with bacon. They served the tomato slices on the side. The eggs came from the on site Chickens of course, and the tomatoes and basil came from the garden!

Since Anne and Joe are used to dealing with all kinds of food intolerances (unlike most B&B hosts), she asked me what we liked to eat before we arrived. She even had Agave sweetener for my coffee - both in the Suite kitchen and at breakfast. They thought of everything at this place! I've never experienced anything like it and we've been devoted B&B patrons for over fifteen years now.

To the left is one of the many Chickens that rule Chicken Paradise. I'm not really an animal person per se but these Chickens were very friendly and interesting to observe. It was hysterical to watch them all run to the coop for dinner when Joe called them to dinner. The tree below is in the center of the backyard and is actually two trees next to each other. The private outside shower sits under these gorgeous trees!

Below are photos our breakfast on the second morning of our lovely visit at Chicken Paradise. The hosts made sure the day before, that we didn't have a seafood or shellfish allergy and that we liked crab meat. After our lovely fruit plate course, out came these lovely Asian Crab omelets, served with jicama and a sliced apple salad. Anne took this photo inside the house. Oh, and we had excellent toast made from bread from the LAB with homemade fig preserves. Yes, they even have a fig tree at Chicken Paradise!

We only stayed two nights in San Antonio and were sad to say goodbye the Chickens, the dog Chutney, the outdoor shower and especially to our new friends Anne and Joe. We vowed to return to Chicken Paradise one day. San Antonio is our favorite city in Texas now. True Southern hospitality is alive and well there, with an extra dose available at Chicken Paradise.

Below are photos are the magical trees in the afternoon, the pool water fountains and lovely fresh flowers in our Suite. They came from the garden too, of course. I'm telling you they thought of everything at that place! Check out the tree house, complete with a bed on their website!

Without question this was THE best B&B experience we've ever had - gluten free or not! About half the guests at Chicken Paradise are gluten free (and many have multiple food intolerances) and the others are glutenoids who rave about the food just like we did! There was one thing we could not get over though. The rate was ridiculously low, considering all you're
getting. For selfish reasons we hope it stays that way but we would not flinch at paying more to return. The breakfast alone would set you back $30 or more and would not be nearly as good anywhere else in town. And certainly no Chickens would be welcoming you to breakfast!

Thanks Anne and Joe, for giving us a home away from home in Texas! We hope to come back again and again!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our gluten free tour of Texas - Part 1

We had to attend a wedding in Dallas so I negotiated a trip to San Antonio before the wedding weekend. Our flight on Wednesday landed at 10 a.m. and after picking up the rental car we headed straight to the Little Aussie Bakery for an early lunch. It is the only 100% gluten free restaurant in San Antonio and it's in a little house, complete with a fireplace and a shower in the rest! It reminded me of a place that would have been in the Highlands here, before that area became so upscale. Upon entering the place I saw a dessert case, filled with six fancy looking cakes. They looked like cakes you'd find in a gluten bakery in NYC. It was hard to believe they were all gluten free but of course I knew they were. Our server Crystal actually apologized that the desserts didn't look that nice since their pastry chef was on vacation. I can't imagine how they could have looked any better that they did. Check it out....

After choosing a table by a window in the back we started reviewing the menu. It is not that extensive but includes varied sandwiches (made with on site baked bread), pizzas, soups, salads, lasagna, garlic bread and even a leg of lamb. To say it was overwhelming to stare at a menu that had nothing off limits to me is quite an understatement. I teared up just like I did at Risotteria in NYC (the first place I'd been able to have pizza out since my diagnosis). It sounds like a silly reaction to people that don't have any dietary restrictions and I'm not someone whose life was ever controlled by food even. But the reality is that in our world every social event, client lunch, company party, wedding, funeral, etc. is a mine field full of something that is poison to us. Most of the time I do fine but sometimes it gets old, especially when people don't get it. And most people don't get it, trust me. So at the LAB (as they refer to themselves) I got to do what most 'normal' people do. Walk into a restaurant, sit down, read the menu and order whatever the heck I wanted. And that felt like winning a million dollars to me! Or maybe better since money truly can not buy happiness. Shortly after we ordered, Crystal brought out some garlic bread. It was soft in the middle with a crunchy crust. It was unlike any gluten free bread I've had and I absolutely could have eaten my own weight in! Luckily for me (if not my waistline), even more bread was served with my meal.
The lasagna of the day was chicken (with bechamel sauce) which I'd already heard was excellent so I had no problem making my choice. My husband finally settled on a pepperoni pizza but I have no idea why since Pizza Fusion is opening here next month. Whatever - it was his lunch but at least I got to taste it. The pizza was very good but did not compare to my lasagna which was excellent. The side salad served with had an interesting sweet citrus dressing. The lasagna was not a large portion so I had plenty of room for dessert. And since we could not decide on anything we wanted to share, we each got our own dessert.
Choosing which of the six desserts to have was quite challenging. I wanted a tiny piece of everything but they use a cake cutting tool to cut huge slices so that wasn't possible. I'd have to order six huge desserts to taste it all. Finally I settled on the passion fruit sponge cake since I'd never had gluten free sponge cake before. My husband chose the lemon cake with lemon icing. He loved his cake and I thought it was excellent but the sponge cake made me fantasize about playing (and winning) the lottery so I could fly to San Antonio any time I wanted. Shipping it frosted would not work well and the frosting was almost outstanding as the cake itself! I can not accurately describe how great this cake was except to say is was without a doubt the BEST gluten free cake I've had to date and after many cakes later on this trip, it still ranks on top! It was also the best sponge cake I've ever had, regardless of ingredients. Below is the lemon cake with lemon icing (not frosting which is fluffier) and under that is the my sponge cake - both side and back views. Isn't is gorgeous? It's hard to believe that it tasted even better than it looked!

After a somewhat surreal lunch experience, Crystal told us how to get to the Riverwalk (she even wrote directions for us!) where there was a mall. I'd left my dress for the wedding in Atlanta so I needed to buy something - anything - to wear on Saturday night. We had couple of hours to kill before checking in to the B&B so it was all good. Well, except for the spending money on a dress that looked quite similar to the dress left in Atlanta! But the dress I found was on sale for $79 and it even came with a jacket I can wear later. My own black sparkly bolero style cover up (that I didn't forget to pack) worked fine with the new dress. So less than thirty minutes after walking into Macy's, we walked out with what we needed and the damage was not as bad as I was expecting. The husband was happy and we headed back to the parking garage to head to Chicken Paradise. More about that coming soon but just know that if you live anywhere near San Antonio you need to treat yourself to a stay there. A better lodging value you will NOT find in the state of Texas, whether you're gluten free or not!

Below is the cupcake display on the dessert counter and the Australian flag flies outside the restaurant, next to the USA flag. My only regret about our visit to LAB is that Rita (the owner) was on her way out when we got there. I didn't know who she was until she was gone. Thanks Rita, for giving gluten free people there a place to call home!

Gluten-free in a pandemic? No problem!

Not to make light of the current situation the world finds itself in, but I'm so thankful that I learned to self isolate when I was diag...