Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Beware of gluten-free menus - even more than before!

The amount of restaurants that now have gluten-free menus is staggering and many offer incredible options that are safely prepared (as much as is possible in a mixed kitchen).  But the number of menus that list fried items that are not made in a dedicated gluten-free fryer seems to be on the rise.  Forget chips and fries - I'm talking about even gluten-free breaded items in some cases.

The good news is that many places will denote on the menu that the items are cooked/fried in a regular gluten fryer.  The bad news is that most of us can't take the risk of getting sick, and therefore must avoid those items.  In some instances, avoiding those items will leave you with few safe choices on the menu.  And at least in my case, that's not a place I'd bother patronizing.

So when you're doing your homework, looking for gluten-free options at your neighborhood or on your dream vacation, pay great attention to the little things regarding food prep, etc.  It's not only about the ingredients.  It's not even about those and the preparation methods.  It's about the plating after everything has been done to prepare the meal correctly.  One line cook tossing a piece of bread ruins the whole darn thing.

Years ago, I watched someone throw a roll on my plate at Ted's Montana Grill.  Someone yelled "no bread gluten-free" quite loudly.  The roll was quickly removed and they brought out the plate as though nothing happened.  They had no idea I'd seen the whole thing from our table.  I explained that I could not eat anything on the plate now and I'd take just a baked potato.  We didn't have the time to wait on another steak...and I really had no trust in the place at that moment.  I think Ted's has improved greatly since then, but it's not a favorite because of the incident years ago.

What many companies don't understand is that it's hard to forget simple mistakes, because those mistakes can take us down for the count.  If you get the feeling a place doesn't take gluten-free orders, or food allergies, seriously, it's hard to shake that feeling no matter how much you'd like to.

Restaurants that don't understand how to feed us safely would be better served to do away with their gluten-free menus altogether.  And the places that do get it, and care about our business, are the places we all need to support as often as possible!. 


Monday, July 23, 2018

Best fresh gluten-free bagels ever!

OK - I'll admit that I've had VERY few fresh gluten-free bagels, period.  Even so, I'm reviewing what I think is the best gluten-free bagel, of any type, I've ever had.  It was the kind of amazing experience  that makes you say "I can't believe it's gluten-free!" and "I think I might cry" when you taste a chewy, real-tasting bagel the first time.

I was recently in the Washington, DC area for work so I got to sample some amazing gluten-free things specific to that area.  While pretty much everything I tried was astonishingly delicious, the Everything Bagel from Rise Bakery was good enough to be fearful that it was not gluten-free at first bite!  Of course, everything at RISE is in fact, gluten-free.  Therefore, there was nothing to worry about.

Rise offers many wonderful things (like eclairs and croissants!), most of which I was not able to sample this time around.  This gluten-free gem will be my first stop on my next visit to DC...but I'll likely be ordering some of their amazing bagels well before then! 

Rise Bakery gladly ships to all 50 states in the USA!


Gluten-free and the living is easy....not so fast

Everyone who has to follow a gluten-free diet has someone (or multiple people) in their life that is under the impression that doing so these days is super simple...or at least, it's not that hard.  Why would anyone think such a thing?  To understand, all you need to do is take a look around your basic grocery store and it will become clear.  Companies have slapped gluten-free on pretty much everything they can think of - canned pineapple, salt, cornstarch - you get the drift.

Let's go back a decade (yikes! no one knew what gluten-free meant back then in the USA) and think about how much has changed.  From dressings to marinades to spice packets - it seemed everything contained gluten in the form of wheat.  Nowadays, many such items are not only gluten-free, many are labeled as such.  You can't get too far down the shopping isle without seeing a gluten-free product - or ten.  Even mayo has fallen into the ridiculous items that are marked gluten-free, when the exact product I'm referring to in fact, never ever contained gluten.  I even had a friend remark years ago that since X brand of mayo was now gluten-free, she was going to switch brands.  Yes - that really happened...lol!

While there are many more gluten-free replacement items available, that doesn't mean we have many delicious choices for any of them.  Have any decent, soft, flavorful, fresh (not frozen) gluten-free bread lately?  Not if you didn't get it from your local gluten-free bakery.  Think that bread you found on the shelf was not previously frozen? More often than not, if you're in the USA, you'd be wrong about that.  The same goes for the cupcakes, brownies or anything else you might find in a "traditional" bakery area of a store.  Just ask the staff and they'll tell you those items come in frozen.  There are a few things you might find that are fresh like fudge made in-store.  But most people are too sensitive to eat fudge made in a bakery with gluten flour flying around.  Even the items in the refrigerated bakery section were sent in frozen. 

People are always telling me about some place that has gluten-free pizza.  They're usually excited to share this news, but not once has the place shared had decent gluten-free pizza.  Who wants to eat pizza that tastes like cardboard?  Same goes for pasta.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate friends (or acquaintances) that are thoughtful enough to tell me about a gluten-free menu they found out about, etc.  It's great that people are kind enough to do it.  And of course, they have no idea that said place possibly has terrible food and/or service regarding gluten-free options.

We decided to grill hot dogs recently and I had to go to THREE stores to find gluten-free hot dog buns.  And, I had to buy a brand that was not my first choice at that.  Starbucks just dropped their gluten-free breakfast sandwich and we were all in tizzy over it.  It wasn't any good to start with so this was understandable.  We were likely upset because we always feel like we're being dissed for having to be gluten-free because...well...we are.   

It's just not true that being gluten-free is as easy as pie...at least, not in this country.  And if anyone you know thinks that's the case, you might do well to inform them that they are quite mistaken.  Many companies churn out gluten-free replacement products that are not good (some are literally inedible) on a regular basis, and think we should be happy to have them.  Additionally, we live in a country where food allergies and intolerances are made fun of on a daily basis and it's simply disgusting.  Let's all do our part to set the record straight. 

We can all appreciate how far we've come in the last decade, of course, but we're far behind many other countries on this issue.  And as far as I can tell, history tells us that will continue possibly forever. 




Monday, July 16, 2018

CPK's gluten-free pizza - third time's a charm!

Once upon a time, California Pizza Kitchen (aka CPK) introduced a gluten-free crust.  And, it was the worst I've ever had in a restaurant.  Eventually, it became evident that the crust was a HUGE miss for the company and they made the smart decision to 86 it....offering an excuse about retraining the staff, etc.  But my guess is that the gluten-free consumer's disgust over the taste of the rock hard crust was the real reason behind the dismissal of it.  The fact that no one went to the ER due to cutting themselves while trying to cut this horrid crust is honestly shocking.

Moving on...at some point, CPK introduced a "new and improved" gluten-free crust.  It might have been new, but it wasn't exactly improved...it was just different.  The second crust was almost the complete opposite of the first offering.  Still with NO flavor whatsover, this crust was like soggy bread and nothing like a pizza crust.  As far as I know, that crust is still available and for those who enjoy it, that's great.  I would not eat it if it was free since to me, it's nothing like pizza should be.

Finally, due to a lunch outing with a non gf friend, I had to find out what I could order at CPK.  I was not planning on ordering a pizza, of course, but the salads at the place are usually quite delicious.  To my great surprise, I came across this review of the new gf cauliflower crust at CPK.  It peaked my interest enough to check out the pizza before the lunch outing with my friend.  That way, if I didn't care for the new crust, my husband would eat it.  He'll eat pretty much anything and is not a super taster (food snob) like me.

We ordered the BBQ chicken pizza on the cauliflower crust (you must specify if you want that crust since there are two gf options now) to-go and it was ready when we got to the restaurant.  It's a smallish pizza, like all gluten-free options in the ATL, but with a salad, it's plenty for two people.  The crust was thin and looked different than the gluten crusts at CPK, and different than the last gluten-free crust I'd had there.         

Well, shut the front door - the pizza was delicious!  The crust was like a regular thin crust pizza.  Seriously, I think you could serve it to your pickiest "gluten-free food is yucky" friend and they'd never know the difference!  My husband started wondering if the pizza we'd picked up and were eating was in fact, gluten-free - it was that good!

Please don't misunderstand - CPK's cauliflower crust pizza is in no way shape or form, the best gluten-free pizza I've had.  It's not as good as Blue Moon Pizza's gluten-free crust before they changed it (or the way they bake it).  And it can't hold a candle to the wood fired option at Don Antonio (Atlanta location closed, sadly).  But the new gluten-free pizza at CPK is not only edible - something neither of the first two options offered there were - it's actually worth eating!

The only complaint I have about the pizzas are the limited offerings on the gluten-free crust.  There are only four options, presumably due to cross contamination and/or ingredients used in the many other pizzas available to customers who can enjoy the regular crust.  That's annoying, but I must admit, CPK's third gluten-free crust is definitely a charm!

Photo above is the pepperoni gluten-free cauliflower crust pizza my non gf friend ordered.  She really liked it, and thought it might have been the regular gluten crust, by mistake...told you it was wondeful...lol!    

Monday, July 9, 2018

Top 10 favorite gluten-free things 2018

As gluten-free products in the U.S. change and improve, the list of my favorite finds does the same.  Many of my past favorite things are no more - Glutenfreeda cookies and Amy's Potato Leek soup, for examples - but at least new and amazing items continue to roll down the gluten-free pipeline.  Please note this list is comprised only of items I can buy locally, though many fantastic products are sold online that are not available in the ATL.  The * denotes where I've found listed items.  Most are available are more than one place so be sure to find which store near you carries them, on the individual manufacturers' websites.  If something says one particular flavor "only", it just means that is the only flavor (or flavors) I personally care for. 

Image courtesy of Trader Joe's 

  1. Best Bagel - Canyon Bakehouse Everything  *Sprouts
  2. Best ready-made cupcakes - Lucky Spoon - lemon and zucchini only  *Sprouts
  3. Best whole grain bread - Schar Artisan Baker 10 Grains and Seeds  *Earthfare
  4. Best egg fettuccini - Trader Joe's  *TJ's (possibly made by RP's)
  5. Best fresh pasta - various types - RP's Pasta (now Taste Republic)  *Whole Foods
  6. Best fritters - Katz Gluten Free - apple only  *Sprouts
  7. Best cookie - Tate's Bakeshop Ginger Zinger (gf)  *Bed, Bath & Beyond
  8. Best cookie mix - Fresh Market Chocolate Chip  *Fresh Market
  9. Best frozen meal - Amy's Cheese Enchiladas  *Kroger  
  10. Best frozen pizza - Kroger Four Cheese  *Kroger
To find the above items (if you haven't yet, but would like to), there are a few things to keep in mind.    The Lucky Spoon cupcakes are shipped frozen, but put out in the "fresh" bakery section on a special dietary needs display in Sprouts.  Tate's cookies have their own display at BB&B, but you must pay attention not to grab the green (gluten) bag.  The gluten-free cookies come in a white bag.  Also, the chocolate chip version of these cookies are absolutely horrible to me...odd to say the least.  Sprouts stocks all Canyon Bakehouse goods in the refrigerated cooler in the bakery - not in the freezer.  

Lastly, the Trader Joe's Egg Fettuccine is stocked in the strangest place imaginable.  It's above the produce...yes, I said produce.  And due to the way it's laid flat, you can't even see the label.  At least, it's that way at our TJ's.  It's unbelievable how my friend, Jamie, ever found it and was able to tell me about it.  But, I'm really grateful that she did!  This pasta is also offers the most value since it's $3.99/pk for FRESH gluten-free pasta.   

Monday, July 2, 2018

South City Kitchen comes to Avalon

Almost four years ago, I wrote about the wonderful brunch options at South City Kitchen in midtown.  If you missed it, you can read it here.  South City Kitchen is part of Fifth Group, which I'm thrilled to report is opening another location of the amazing ECCO in Buckhead later this year!

Okay...back to SCK.  When some friends wanted to meet at Avalon for dinner recently, we discovered that there was a new SCK at the swanky complex.  I called to discuss a few things and get a read of their gluten-free knowledge and also contacted the company through their website.  We made reservations for dinner on a Friday night.  Though it's not ideal to try a new place on the weekend, SCK really knows their stuff.

The options on the gluten-free menu were many...in fact, it was hard to choose what to order due to there being so many fantastic looking dishes!  Our friends settled on the meat and cheese plate, served with gluten-free bread, and we started with the deliciously creative scallop appetizer.  We all tried the she crab soup (yes - it's gluten-free!) which was quite delicious if a tiny bit scant on crab.  Everything else we had was also fabulous.

For my entree, I went with the Fried Chicken, though I knew from prior research, it had to be modified to be gluten-free.  My husband got his favorite BBQ sandwich (also available gluten-free) and enjoyed it as always.  The only questionable moment of the meal was when my chicken arrived and looked fried - like normal fried chicken.  I was told it would be modified and I mistakenly assumed that meant it would not be fried.  My husband insisted I ask someone to double check it was in fact, gluten-free.  The manager confidently assured me that it was.  While I can't explain exactly how the chicken was prepared, or how it differs from the gluten option, I know two things.  The dish was gluten-free and it was AMAZING!   

There were no interesting gluten-free dessert choices so we went elsewhere for that.  That's the only slight criticism I have for SCK at Avalon.   Many places there have very good dessert options so it's a bit odd that South City Kitchen did not.  However, it's a new location and I'm sure they will eventually wow everyone with an amazing gluten-free treat that everyone will love.  Can you imagine if they used Sally's Gluten-Free Bakery pound cake to make Strawberry Shortcake in the summer?!

We're looking forward to trying brunch at this location as soon as it's cool enough to sit outside...in other words, it might be fall before we make that happen ;)   

Gluten-free in a pandemic? No problem!

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