A restaurant can be a scary place for the celiac or gluten-intolerant person. When you know you’re going to have an uncomfortable “digestive episode” if you ingest a crumb of gluten, you have to be careful!
On the other hand, I know that servers are getting a lot of requests for gluten-free food from people they think have made this dietary choice only because they feel they should. I’ve certainly seen a change in gluten awareness in the six years since I’ve been gluten-free. Generally, people have become much more aware of gluten-intolerance issues. However, I’m also seeing more disclaimers such as that there is gluten in the kitchen and, basically, you have no guarantees. I realize that businesses need to protect themselves legally. Sometimes, I have to go with my “gut” feeling – pardon the pun! – that the people I’m dealing with will make every effort to be careful.
I’ve also found that some areas of North America are more gluten-aware than others. If the server doesn’t know what gluten is, I may walk out and explore other options. Sometimes a restaurant owner will ask me to explain gluten to them and will be eager to work with me. On more than one occasion, they have shown me the ingredient labels on products such as salad dressings that the restaurant uses. I’d much prefer they bring me a container of salad dressing rather than leave me guessing.
If you’re newly diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, or even if you’ve been at this for awhile, you’ll find my Gluten List a handy tool. It lists alphabetically all sorts of ingredients that contain gluten. Download you free list here.
How to Eat Out Gluten-Free
Check out the website.
The best-case scenario is when you can view a restaurant’s website in advance, see that they are gluten-free friendly, and mention to them when you make a reservation that you will be requiring gluten-free food.
Ask when making a reservation.
If nothing about gluten is mentioned on the website, I will say something like, “I’m sure you have some gluten-free dishes on the menu…,” when making a reservation. This will open the discussion, and we will talk it through until I’m satisfied.
See if menu has gluten-free items labeled.
When I don’t have a reservation or haven’t been able to actually talk to a person when making one, I’ll take a quick look at the menu right away to see if gluten-free options have been marked.
Ask the server.
If gluten-free options are not labeled, I’ll ask the server if they have a gluten-free menu or if they know which items on the regular menu are gluten-free.
Choose the most likely-to-be-safe item.
Many times, I will just choose something from the menu that I think should naturally be gluten-free. I will say to the server, “If I order ______ and _______, will that be gluten-free? I find that this is the simplest approach and seems to be the best for putting everyone at ease.
Remind your server.
Always tell your server that your meal needs to be gluten-free. I have ordered a salad that was labeled gluten-free on the menu, and then it was delivered with a slice of toast sitting on top of it! It wasn’t gluten-free toast, either! Apparently the salad on it’s own was gluten-free.
Have a backup.
Then, just to be on the safe side, I always carry Gluten Relief capsules in my purse and take one before eating away from home unless I’m in a totally gluten-free restaurant.
Tips for Restaurants
For food to be gluten-free, it needs to have never come in contact with gluten. Gluten-free food is
- cooked on a clean grill or pan
- not deep-fried in oil that has cooked battered food
- never had wheat croutons on it (You can’t simply pick the croutons off, because crumbs will remain.)
Gluten-Free Baked Goods
You will seldom find gluten-free baked goods made in the same place that bakes with wheat. With all of the flour dust flying around, there is too much risk of cross-contamination. That’s why gluten-free baking is usually sealed in it’s own package and brought in from a gluten-free bakery.
For one bakery to make both gluten-free and glutenous treats, the gluten-free baking must be done first thing in the morning after the kitchen has been thoroughly cleaned.
Eating Gluten-Free in and around Pensacola, Florida
On our recent vacation in Pensacola, Florida, we enjoyed dining out on several occasions.
Nom Sushi Izakaya in Pensacola was probably my favourite place. My son and his wife took us here for an early Mother’s Day dinner while we were in town.
Nom’s serves a variety of delicious, fresh sushi, izakaya (small plates to share), and ramen (house-made noodles and broth). The menu conveniently identifies gluten-free items. Because our server had learned that I was gluten-free and the four of us were sharing an appetizer, she immediately brought me my own little pot of gluten-free tamari sauce and served the soy reduction for the others on the side. Charlie and I shared the Four Ten, Graffiti Bridge, and a Steelhead Roll. All were delicious!
We’ve eaten at George Artisan Bakery & Bistro before and are always happy to go back. Our server seemed to be quite knowledgeable about which dishes are gluten-free and which are not. I enjoyed the Quinoa Kale special salad of the day.
Saltgrass Steak House
Saltgrass Steak House is also located in Pensacola. It’s one of a chain with several restaurants in a number of western states. We went for dinner one evening with a party of six.
Drawn by the photo of meaty ribs slathered in beautiful red barbecue sauce, I asked our server if the BBQ Baby Back Ribs would be gluten-free. (Barbecue without a bun is usually a safe GF choice in the South.) The server was uncertain about gluten issues, so he checked with the kitchen. After he reported that the ribs would be fine, I placed my order. When my ribs arrived without the BBQ sauce, I questioned him. He then informed me that the ribs were only gluten-free WITHOUT the sauce. I would have ordered something else had I known!
Nevertheless, the ribs were tender and meaty, and I didn’t experience a gluten reaction. Everyone else at our table seemed to enjoy their meals.
Red Fish Blue Fish
We enjoyed our lunch at Red Fish Blue Fish out on Pensacola Beach. One of the best things about eating there is the open, waterfront view. You’re actually eating on the beach. Our server Frank kept us entertained, even bringing “gluten-free water!” The menu is varied and there is a separate gluten-free menu. The tacos are made gluten-free by substituting corn tortillas for flour ones. Since corn tortillas tend to fall apart easily, their clever solution is to serve GF tacos with double tortillas.
Also in Pensacola Beach is the Native Cafe. Open for breakfast and lunch, Native Cafe serves lots of burgers, sandwiches, and tacos, any of which they would be happy to serve without a bun. Our server seemed to be quite aware of the needs of the gluten-intolerant. I chose Beach Salad with Chicken and Raspberry Vinaigrette. Without my asking, he brought the generous portion of included shredded cheese in a bowl on the side. My salad was delicious!
One day, we took a drive to nearby Fairhope, Alabama, an adorable town with excellent shopping (more on that next week). Thanks to our daughter-in-law’s advance research, we enjoyed lunch in Sage, a cafe with amazing Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine.
Our server at Sage was excellent. My Beef over Rice, marinated beef shawarma steak served over yellow rice, was delicious! I highly recommend Sage!
All in all, I’m thrilled to have successfully navigated eating out in and around Pensacola without a gluten reaction!
The only completely gluten-free restaurant that I’ve come across anywhere is Nourish Cafe & Market in Columbia, Missouri. Do you know of a totally gluten-free restaurant? If you do, I’d love to have you to share it with us by leaving the name and location in the comments below.
We also enjoyed good coffee while in the Pensacola area. Read about that here.
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