Saturday, February 6, 2010

Eating Out, Gluten Free

I am so grateful that if I have to go gluten-free, I'm doing it now and not 20 or more years ago.

Everyone is so much more aware of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity and food allergies in general these days. Pretty much all grocery stores have some gluten-free foods in a special section, no matter how small, plus there's all the stuff mixed in with regular items that are coincidentally gluten free.

And the Internet is such an amazing resource, from the various blogs to the people finding my personal blog and offering advice and support.

Ellie went to a birthday party today at Safari Sam's, a cool place for kids to play. Afterwards, the parents invited folks to join them at Red Robin, a "gourmet" burger place, nearby for dinner. I knew Safari Sam's would be too much for me if I went. I get easily exhausted from overstimulation, and that place is definitely stimulating! I kind of wanted to meet everyone for dinner afterward, but I decided they wouldn't have anything for me to eat there anyway, so why go and be tempted to eat gluten?

Luckily, Scott called from Safari Sam's and put the birthday boy's mom on the phone to talk me into coming out for dinner. And I couldn't resist Jane. :-)

And that's where my love of the Internet comes in.

I googled "Red Robin" and gluten-free thinking I'd find a blogger who'd written about eating there and would be able to get some advice that way. But even better, Google took me immediately to the company's official menu of gluten-free foods, specifying how to order items to be gluten-free. So I printed out the three pages and took them with me.

Of course, I looked at the regular menu and wishfully asked the server if the chicken rice bowl was gluten free. Nope. Server wasn't sure exactly what had gluten in it, but she said if it wasn't on my doc, it definitely had gluten. (The document had been revised on Jan. 26, so it was clearly up to date, and warned that it was only good through March 10. They obviously are taking this seriously as a corporation.)

So I ordered the Apple Harvest chicken salad, following the directions to ask to have the candied walnuts, bleu cheese and dijon vinaigrette held off. I got a different vinaigrette (that was labeled as gluten free) on the side. It made me laugh to realize that, except for the necessary change in salad dressing, that was how I would have ordered that particular salad anyway: I'm allergic to nuts and I hate bleu cheese. :-)

I also knew, thanks to the gluten-free menu I'd printed that if I wanted any french fries, I needed to ask for them without Red Robin's special seasonings. Plus the document warned that the restaurant couldn't guarantee that there wouldn't be cross contamination in the fryer. A little disappointing, but not surprising. And I never would have guessed there would be gluten in the seasonings they put on the french fries, so I was very grateful to know that.

When the food came out, the manager on duty, Matt, brought my dish while servers brought everyone else's. He wanted to tell me the lengths the restaurant goes to in order to be safe for people who can't have gluten. They have special dishes for gluten-free meals to make them easily identifiable. The cooks, he said, have all been trained how to avoid cross contamination. And their company policy is to have a manager talk to anyone who requests a gluten free meal.

I found that really impressive. (Although I also sort of wished they hadn't made a big deal of it when I was with a large group, many of whom I'd never met.) I liked that they're making an effort to cater to folks with dietary restrictions, and to help make people with gluten sensitivities feel a little safer eating at their restaurants. (There's always going to be risks of cross contamination unless the entire restaurant only serves gluten-free foods.)

Matt the manager also told me that PF Changs has a list on the back of its menus highlighting gluten-free meals. I haven't been there, but I guarantee that if I stay gluten-free on an ongoing basis, we will definitely go there too eventually.

So I'm definitely feeling the love for the Internet in general, and the folks who paved the way to make being gluten-free much easier than it could have been (and was in the not-too-distant past).

(I probably don't need to mention this but, just in case, I fully paid for our meals and did not receive any compensation from Red Robin or anyone else for this post.)


Just Jenn said...

LOL... great post! I'm so glad you're finding success! Corbett's fish house is also great and if you've got a craving for pizza I recommend in Sellwood. Happy eating!

Aviva said...

Thanks, Jenn!! It's always good to get a recommendation for a place, not just confirmation that they have some gluten-free stuff. I'll definitely be checking it out!

Kristi B. said...

I'm sure Great Wolf Lodge would be WAY over your stamina threshold, but if you DO ever find yourself there while gluten-free, I was VERY impressed with this article's descriptions about their gluten-free policies. I too am SO amazed at the resources and knowledge available now for gluten-free people.

Aviva said...

Wow! Thanks, Kristi! That's a place I've been hoping we can take Ellie someday (preferably when she gets over her fear of swimming pools ...). Nice to know they offer such great services for folks who need to be gluten-free!

Joan said...

Outback Steak house has a gluten free offerings. The Hawthorne Street Pub and Fish House (or some such name) also is completely gluten free (it's owned by Corbett Street folks).

There's a link of a list of GF restaurants on my resources tab at . Also Bellagios does gluten-free, brick oven, delivered pizza.

It is SOOOOO much better than when I was working in the hospitals!

And don't forget, Glitter Girl Cupcakes and frosting (or some such name) for the EZ Bake Oven are gluten free! Ellie could cook for you!

queenofoptimism said...

Wow! I really enjoyed this post including knowing that you had an opportunity to dine with friends without gluten-free worries! I admire your commitment and self-discipline. ***hugs***

Much love,