Monday, July 21, 2008

Why is Texas so gluten free friendly?

We are going to Dallas in late September for a family related event. Unlike for most people, a trip where someone else chooses the location is fairly stressful for those of use with Celiac. So I started scouring the internet looking for any and all info I could find about dining out in Dallas gluten free. Then I remembered there is a gluten free Bed & Breakfast called Chicken Paradise in San Antonio (that's their pool below).'s just a few hours drive to Dallas from San Antonio. It took some convincing but I talked my husband into letting us make a detour on the way to Dallas. I booked two nights in San Antonio and two in Dallas. We used reward airline tickets which might have vanished soon otherwise. By my own creative accounting methods, that savings more than pays for the B&B, rental car and gas to get to!
As usual, I turned to the Celiac listserv to for help about where to eat in San Antonio and Dallas. Soon after sending my request into cyberspace, I was inundated with tips from people in all parts of Texas - and some who just travel there - about where and even what to eat during our trip. I'll wait until we get back to post about said places as I don't want to recommend any place we havn't actually dined at yet.

But here is what I found very strange about Texas. There are three restaurants within several hours of each other that are either completely gluten free or about 98% gluten free. Another place in Dallas offers daily gluten free desserts made by a pastry Chef who studied at the Cordon Bleu. I mean where is all this coming from? There is not a Celiac center in the whole state that I'm aware of. Please correct me if I'm wrong. The fact that these places exist anywhere in the US is amazing, of course. But to find them in Texas of all places...quite perplexing. I don't remember being told of any 100% gluten free restaurant in NYC and the gluten free bakery there actually uses spelt in about half their goods. So in other words, in NYC there is not even a 100% gluten free bakery, let alone a gluten free restaurant. In Texas there are at least two such places. One of the places my listmates informed me about is in Austin and they do have at least one non gluten free granola. The other two places are gluten free cafes that are bakeries as well.

I really can't imagine walking in to a restaurant and checking out the menu and not having to worry about what is or isn't gluten free. I simply can't put myself in that frame of mind. It will take me being there to really understand what that means. How that feels. One menu lists crab cakes, chicken fingers, french fries, onion rings, fried catfish....the offerings are more extensive than I could dream up. It's simply unbelieveable to me. One listmate suggested that I really study the menus online right before the trip so I won't be tempted to over order, as most people do the first time they visit such a gluten free nirvana. Very good advice.

Another listmate suggested that the catered affair we'll be attending in Dallas will not likely offer me any dessert, though the hotel staff did assure me the Chef can make us gluten free meals for said event. The listmate sugested that I get some gluten free cake (at a cafe we'll visit that day) and put the cake container into a gift bag and keep it under our table. When dessert is served I can ask for a plate and discreetly as possible put my cake on the plate and enjoy dessert right along with everyone at our table. How smart is that? I've done similar things in the past, but never at such a formal event. Of course, if I'm surprised with a dessert that is NOT ice cream, my 'smuggled in' cake will keep for the following day.

So if any of you know why Texas is such a trendsetter in the gluten free world, please let me know. Dr. Kenneth Fine is based in Texas and believes that as much as 20% of the population can't digest gluten properly. That is many more people than the 1% of us that have bonafide Celiac. Maybe his teachings have something to do with Texas' gluten free friendliness. Or maybe like everything else, Texans like to do things big and this is just another example of that. Either way, I can absolutely not wait to get there. I just hope I don't want to move there after the trip!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Gluten Free Pasta in Atlanta - Saba opens a second location!

OK - so it's not a new place but it's still an addition to our quickly expanding 'safe' list of gluten free friendly restaurants in town. And the new location is on the trendy Decatur square, no less. Since I helped Saba on their gluten free path, I'm happy to see that in an economy where many restaurants here are folding left and right, Saba is instead prospering and opening their second location. Shane (the owner) allowed me to take the dinner club in for our July event. The Emory location is not very big and we took over almost the entire space.

My opinion was asked about which pasta to use for our event and I suggested the Bionaturae brand, since it's the best tasting one I can buy locally. It's made in Italy and very good. Bi-Aglut makes the BEST gluten free pasta I've had but it's very difficult to get in the US. Some people with Celiac don't handle soy well and the Bionaturae pasta contains soy. And that's exactly why I think it tastes like the gluten pasta I used to consume. My favorite pancake mix contains soy flour as well. Most places in the area that have gluten free pasta offer corn or rice pasta and I don't care for either. Finally with Saba I got to enjoy great pasta when dining out again.

Last month my husband and I were perusing the wares at the Decatur Arts Festival and I looked up from the middle of the square to see a sign that said 'Saba' on a storefront. What - Saba is moving? But they weren't moving - just expanding. Maaaarvelous! Now we can have dinner on the square and then saunter down to the Chocolate Bar for their gluten free 'Oreos and Cream' dessert (a decadent dark chocolate treat that is not made with actual Oreos, of course or it would not be gluten free). Or if we're looking for a lower fat treat after dinner, Saba offers about the best sorbet in Atlanta. And the presentation for it is really something to see!

Periodically when I'm at Saba, the owner Shane will tell me about out of town customers that stumbled upon his place and were shocked to find he actually has a printed gluten free menu - two in their family had Celiac. Or he'll mention the party of ten who came all the way from Tennessee for a 40th birthday party. Only one person, the guy with the birthday, was gluten free. You see, when we tell restaurant owners and managers that they can increase their business by offering offer gluten free menu choices, we are not kidding. And Saba is the gluten free proof in the pudding of that fact. Thanks to Shane and all his crew for making not only safe gluten free pasta meals for us - but for making them fabulous tasting as well! Maybe you'll expand to Gwinnett one of these days...hey I can dream can't I?

Friday, July 11, 2008

More Gluten Free Crab Cakes in Atlanta - thanks to Meeehan's Public House!

Once again Atlanta has proved itself as THE place to dine out gluten free - at least in the SE. Even Miami can not hold a candle to our fabulous gluten free dining options. Crab cakes are one of the restaurant delights that I've missed most since my Celiac diagnosis. I was born and raised in the Florida panhandle and I love most things seafood...raw oysters being the only exception I can think of. The first place that offered to make me gluten free crab cakes was a place in Orlando called Samba Room. When the Chef offered to make them for me, I almost fell off my chair. He acted as if it was no big deal to do this for me, but I've been hard pressed to find such a Chef in Atlanta since then. My next experience was at Park 75, the Atlanta Four Seasons Hotel restaurant down town. But crab cakes were only offered for their official Gluten Free Week, back in April. That meant I got to enjoy them only once. Of course they were absolutely fantastic, as all of Chef Robert's gluten free creations are!

Fast forward to a few months ago when the corporate Chef from Meehan's Public House contacted Kerry (the organizer of our dinner club) about their brand new gluten free menu. A menu that included gluten free crab cakes.... maybe there is something to this law of attraction thing after all. Last night we took the dinner club to Meehan's with our July event. They offered their regular gluten free menu, and many other things that are not usually available to us. But at least last night our group of 35 dined like gluten free royalty!

Meehan's is more of a pub atmosphere so it was very loud and boisterous inside. Some of the 'regular' patrons there asked one of our members if we were doing a speed dating event. We all got quite a kick out of that, to say the least! After we'd ordered our food, a plate of bread sticks suddenly appeared on the table. Both Kerry and I got a little concerned...someone didn't get the memo. 'We can't eat bread, but thanks anyway'. Then the server explained that these were gluten free bread sticks prepared just for us. What a wonderful surprise! Everyone found it hard to believe these flavorful and perfectly baked bread sticks were gluten free, including me. And they were better than some others that are quite famous and served in NYC at a pizza joint we all love. Yes, they were that great! The dipping sauce was some olive oil with a dollop of balsamic vinegar dropped in. As great as they were, I restrained myself and only ate two of them but I could have downed the entire plate without batting an eye.

For an appetizer I chose the fried green tomato 'stack' with herb infused goat cheese and spicy pepper jelly....the breading was a little heavy for me but that's a good criticism for someone with Celiac to have. The flavors and texture of this dish came together in a taste explosion which I quite enjoyed. For my entree I had the Pan Seared Crab Cakes - of course. It was actually listed as an appetizer but the portion of two was the perfect sized entree for me. My husband had the Steak Au Poivre as his main course, which I didn't taste even though I could have...gluten free gravy over the steak and mashed potatoes and everything. He liked it very much but the winner of the night was the crab cakes, hands down. They were crispy on the top and bottom, full of flavor and made mostly of crab meat. The grain mustard sauce and Granny Smith Apple Horseradish slaw on the plate finished the dish off perfectly. I could not eat both of my cakes and have dessert so I took one home and had it for lunch the next day. Other members in our group also enjoyed the Sheppard's Pie, Grilled Ahi Tuna and Chicken Pad Thai.

Dessert choices included a White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Bing Cherries or a Chocolate Pate with fresh cream and raspberries. I'd never even heard of chocoate pate before so my choice was obvious. And no, this dish didn't have any liver in it, in case like me, you were wondering about that. I don't think I can adequately describe how fabulous this dessert was, except to say it's like something you'd expect to be served in a fine Parisian restaurant. It was very rich so I brought about half of that home too, and indulged myself for several days. Since this dessert contains bittersweet chocolate, my husband could not share it with me. Oh well, I guess we all have our sacrifices to make, don't we?

If anyone had told me two years ago that gluten free crab cakes would be on any menu in Atlanta GA, I would have questioned their sanity. But today we can walk into Meehan's any of day of the week and order this very sought after gluten free dish. We can't get the bread sticks on least as of right now. But who knows what the future holds for us at Meehan's. If my instincts are correct, it is certainly something very tasty. Thanks to Chef Linda and the gang at Meehan's for making this event so special for our group. Hopefully your efforts will be rewarded in kind.

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