Eating out gluten free – is it getting easier?

Parents across the country are asked that daily, spouses ask as well; daily I ask myself the same thing; whats for dinner?  Granted eating at home is often the easier thing to do when you have food allergies.  At home in our own kitchen we know exactly what is in our food that we make.  There is no sinking feeling as you order wondering if it is REALLY gluten free. You never know dining out if you will feel good after the experience or it becomes a gut wrenching experience.  Others with gluten sensitivity may not have the gut issues but know when they ate something tainted because their joints hurt, or they have a rash break out, thyroid hashimotos exacerbation or even brain fog.  

How do you know unless you ask.  Learn to ask questions of the person serving the food, or the chef.  We have found that more and more people are not only aware of Gluten, but often are able to tell us what on the menu will be safe.  My favorite is when they spontaneously say, “let me get you a gluten free menu.”  I am always excited that the restaurant owner has already done his homework, hired a nutritionist and published a gluten free, or even better allergy advisory menu.

I love it when restaurant owners or competent managers will talk to me about their menu, and their kitchen.  If I can catch then at a time when they are less busy, and get my questions answered then I am happy to frequent their place and suggest to my clients and friends as well.  

I had such an experience today, talking with the manager of Start, a brand new concept and restaurant.  During the interview he was kind enough to be candid about what they could offer and could not offer.  Just as Jason’s Deli (now offering gluten free bread) does not have a dedicated gluten free prep area, neither does Start.  So many small restaurants just don’t have the space for a dedicated area.  He offered that they do store the gluten free bread, buns, and wraps in a separate container, use a separate knife, cutting board, and always place clean paper to wrap each product in on the counter during preparation.  The changing of the gloves, is known by all employees to be important, however it just can’t be 100% monitored.  People are imperfect, make mistakes especially when busy.  I understand this.  Start restaurant was developed with the concept of healthy food fast.  Let us not confuse that with a concept of gluten free. 

I asked him about hidden sources of gluten from marinades, and they were kind enough to let me see some of the recipes.  I can say from what I was shown that the marinade for the chicken is gluten free.  The turkey, used for instance on the Turkey & Raspberry Chipotle Wrap, is fresh baked un-marinaded and quite delicious.  Their burgers are 100% beef, grass-fed free range beef, made without any additives like eggs or bread crumbs. How refreshing to know that I can go get a burger and not wonder what is in it!  I was truly impressed with the gluten free burger bun, and had to go up and question that it was indeed gluten free, as it was so light, fresh and delicious.  Their Mahi Mahi is not dusted in flour or corn prior to grilling either.

Speaking of bad buns, and most likely you all have had the awful experience of a freezer burned, nuked in the instant it was ordered, and passed off as a good gluten free option.  I won’t name names here – Subway – but that was an experience not to be repeated!  Jasons Deli, has truly delicious Gluten Free sandwich bread.  They, like Dominoes offering of gluten free pizza crust, must assemble the food in the same kitchen as other gluten containing products.  Cross contamination is always a possibility therefore.  At least at jason’s Deli one could watch your sandwich through the process, should you choose to.

The manager of Start unfortunately, was unable to confirm about the Sweet potato tots as to whether they were gluten free or not.  They are baked, which is such a nice change to everything fried, but as I mentioned to him; that so many of the potato goods not made from scratch on the spot are coated in Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (often wheat protein) such as McDonalds, and any other fast food chain, and  that they just can’t be trusted until  further research is done.  It sure would be nice to know, as we all miss our goodies like that.  However a roasted sweet potato will do just fine!

It must be considered, that when dining out with sever allergies, cross contamination is entirely possible due to human error and small spaces.  The choice to “chance it”, has to be a personal decision.  Especially in households where not everyone is dealing with the allergy/sensitivity there need to be options for everyone.  I hope that restaurants continue to see that they can  give us more options, as I’m sure I can speak for many that “hold the bun” gets  old.