Friday, May 7, 2010

What’s the Buzz About Gluten-Free Options?

Guest post today from Jennifer, who asked about gluten-free eating in Howard County.  My only real experience has been watching Portalli's take my friend's allergy very seriously.  So I asked Jennifer for a guest post instead.  More than 3 million Americans have celiac disease where gluten can cause real intestinal damages, and another 10 million are gluten-intolerant that causes painful bloating and gas, among other ailments. Gluten free diets are in the news -- from the Washington Post's 2010 "in and out" list to a restaurant industry survey that put gluten consciousness in its top 10 trends.  And now, it's in HowChow:

Wheat – it’s almost the perfect grain. . .  it tastes good, has elasticity, allows breads and baked goods to be stretchy or light and fluffy.  And it is inexpensive. But it has one major flaw:  people with celiac disease and/or gluten intolerance can’t eat wheat, barley or rye.  Instead, those who are the gluten-free (GF) adapt with  alternatives such as rice flour, brown rice, corn, sorghum, millet, and quinoa.  Easy at home, but who wants to eat at home all of the time? We GF folks need more local restaurants to offer GF options on their menus, so we can spend our hard-earned dollars in their establishments!

"Gluten-free" sounds like some weird dietary restriction, and, in some ways it is.  It definitely can be challenging -- as I found out six months ago when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Out went traditional breads, pretzels, beer (barley hops! darn!), cakes, cookies, and most commercially-prepared and processed foods are now off limits to me. There is no drug to fix or cure my celiac disease – the only option is to eliminate gluten from my diet.

But I’ve found that it’s really not that hard and can be quite delicious! GF foods have had a perception of being somewhat gross – dense and chewy (like an old fruitcake) or dry and crumby (like Styrofoam). However, that need not be true. I bake all the time and no one can tell the difference. (Well, most of the time).

I am a “foodie.” I enjoy baking, and we are lucky to have access to GF flours at great markets such as Roots, David’s Natural, and MOMs.  But it can be exhausting to prepare every meal and scrumptious treat from scratch, and I love new foods and trying new restaurants. I also have a 3-year-old son with celiac disease. So, here is my frustration/question: What are our choices for eating out in Howard County? 

Restaurateurs who can safely serve one GF meal will win the patronage of the rest of my family or group. Really, it’s just like working around a peanut allergy – you just have to understand how to avoid it. I do realize that the wheat thing is a little tougher. It often hides in unsuspecting places like malt, many soy sauce brands, many marinades (especially teriyaki), shared frying equipment, wheat starches, etc. Fortunately, however, with the allergen “top 8” labeling law, wheat must always be listed in packaging.
I have some ideas and need some suggestions. I hope that more and more restaurants will start to make simple changes to their menus to include us GF patrons! Several chain restaurants offer specific GF menus. These are great!
PF Changs - The lemon chicken and lettuce wraps left my taste buds wanting more. My darling hubby even ordered off the gluten-free menu, so we could share. PF Chang’s even has gluten-free soy sauce and they just expanded their menu even further!
Outback Steakhouse – Ribs and Alice Springs Chicken, with the Thunder from Down Under flourless brownie. Not a crumb left on that plate!!!
Carrabbas – Chicken Bryan with mashed potatoes and Pollo Rosa Maria - both delicious.
Red Robin – Burger without bun and French fries (they use a dedicated fryer). My little boy was very happy.
I prefer more unique restaurants, though.  Here are some non-chains I’ve tried (most with no specific gluten-free menu yet) with success:
Great Sage in Clarksville – My son had the mac n’cheese and I had a wrap. Yummy!
Portalli’s in Ellicott City – The chef was very helpful in helping me select a safe gluten-free meal that was delicious!
Eggspectations – I had a tasty omelet, but couldn’t eat the awesome hash brown potatoes because they share a fryer with other foods that have wheat flour on them.
Lee Lynn’s – The Summer Salad with Blackened Chicken and the Maryland crab soup were perfect for my Ladies Night Out.  (I think I ate the only 2 gluten-free items off the menu.)
Sweet Sin bakery – This Baltimore bakery sells through Roots in Clarksville. My son and I enjoyed the most amazing chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter icing.
Victoria’s Gastro Pub – The Parmesan Truffle Oil Popcorn and Cheese Plate, sans crackers, left me satisfied.
I have not ventured into ethnic restaurants, but understand that Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese places would be good places to start. Any recommendations?

Here is what Howard County is missing:
Gluten-free pizza - The shuttered Z Pizza on McGaw used to offer GF pizza, so we need a pizza joint to serve a GF crust like Still Riding. Places are doing this nearby.  Is there one in Howard County?  Listen, pizza joints, when you bake, we will come!
Bagel/Bread shop – In Colorado, Einstein’s Bagels is test marketing a GF bagel, made by Udi’s.  Ask for it at our local Einsteins.  Several (but not all, and not our local one) Great Harvest Bread companies nationwide offer a GF bread. They bake them on specific days, first thing in the morning, to avoid cross-contamination.
Italian restaurants that can offer a GF pasta option - Many sauces are naturally gluten-free – we just need something to put it on! It’s not a big deal, it just needs to be boiled in a clean pot.
Breakfast options (other than eggs) - Many places offer gluten-free pancakes. I just read an article about Crepe du Jour, a French Bistro in Baltimore, that is now offering a GF crepe. Perhaps Café de Paris will join the bandwagon, too?
The gluten-free diet is here to stay. It’s not one of the modern “fad” diets - it’s a mandatory lifestyle for millions. It’s worth the food service industry’s time to understand the intricacies of it, so they can profit and provide safe, tasty meals to an under-served market. I’d love to hear your comments, recommendations, or suggestions for great GF eats and any hidden gems out there!


Sarah said...

Not a gluten-free pizza restaurant option, but I've split the GF english muffins that Trader Joe's has and added pizza toppings to make a pretty good GF pizza for a friend. MUCH easier than crust from scratch.

Eric said...

Great Sage has gluten-free options on a regular basis and has one evening where they have gluten-free dishes (I believe Wednesday)

Alice said...

I've had the gluten-free pizza crust from Pizzeria Uno The texture is a little strange, but it's better than nothing. They also prepare the crusts before they make other dishes, shrink wrap them, and refrigerate them separately.

Anonymous said...

The Melting Pot has a GF menu.

Colleen said...

Jennifer -

What a great post! I also have celiac disease and wish we had more options in HoCo! You said you haven't ventured into ethnic foods yet, which is actually my favorite way to eat GF. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Vietnamese (Pho Dat and An Loi in Columbia): I'd recommend starting with the Vermicilli bowl (pork is my favorite - request no fried roll at Pho Dat), the spring rolls (no peanut sauce, though :( ), or the Pho. All three use rice noodles and the spring rolls use rice paper - delicious!
Thai (Bangkok Delight or Thai Aroma) - If you've never had Thai before, an easy GF place to start is Pad Thai. It's also made with rice noodles and is quite tasty. Most of the currys are safe too (my fav is green curry with eggplant), though, just be sure to ask you server.
Mexican (La Palapa, R&R Deli, Lily's Mexican Market, etc) - Most mexican food is safe as long as it's not served on flour tortillas or fried. All 3 of these places have some great options too! Some of my favorites are: the tortillas from Lily's, the ceviche at La Palapa, and everything from R&R Deli! Also, along the same lines, the taco trucks that HowChow mentions sell these things called Pupusas (from El Salvador) that are GF and AMAZING! They are made from the same masa as corn tortillas and kind of remind me of quesadillas!
Korean - Sadly almost none of the entrees are GF b/c they all use Soy Sauce :(
Japanese - I believe that Ginza of Tokyo will let you bring your own GF soy sauce and they'll use it to make stirfry for you. Also, sushi is safe so long as you bring your own soy sauce and avoid anything fried or with fake crabmeat!

Thanks again for doing this great post!!

Colleen said...

I got so excited about GF ethnic food that I forgot to add to the list of regular restaurants in HoCo.

More restaurants that are GF friendly in HoCo:
Mimi's (GF menu)
Clyde's/Tomato Palace (they don't have an explicit menu, but are really helpful; I usually end up with salad with grilled salmon)
Noodles & Co (GF menu)
Bertuccis (GF menu but no GF pasta)
Unos (GF menu and GF pizza - not bad)

Also, I can't believe I forgot Afghan on my list of ethnic. As long as you request no bread, this is also safe! My favorite dish is the Chicken Tikka kabob from either Mimi's or Maiwand Kabob (not so much Parsa kabob)

Happy Eating!

Colleen said...

Last comment I promise -

If you don't mind venturing out of HoCo, Original Pancake House in Bethesda or Rockville has AMAZING GF pancakes (with options even!) I love the chocolate chip!

Also, I didn't know some Great Harvest sell GF bread - we so need to convince our local store too!

Emily Carter said...

Actually, Tomato Palace will also do rice noodles upon request, so there's your pasta option!

If you're willing to take a trek, Lilit Cafe in Bethesda has some great GF pizza, among other options - not for a quick grab, but when I'm craving, or meeting a friend from that area of town, we'll make the journey.

There's also Chipotle - one of my favorites.

I'm sure I have more options - will post later if they come to me!

Anonymous said...

for a nice dinner out, aida bistro in columbia has gluten-free pasta & other options

Jennifer said...

I recently ran in a 5K to support Celiac research and talked with the GF food vendors after the race. Facci in Fulton/Laurel is HIGHLY considering offering a GF pizza, crust made by Still Riding. I sampled the Still Riding pizza and it was fantastic! Request it often and hopefully they will offer it soon. I believe that Facci is the "parent company" of Pastablitz and if Facci is successful, then perhaps we can convince the 3 Pastablitz locations to also carry the GF Still Rising Piazza. Request it every time you go in! Can you imagine being able to "take out" a GF pizza?!?!

The Dutch Country Farmer's Market in Ho. Co. Laurel (off 198) also carries a great selection of GF baked goods. The Stolzfus Bakery - right inside the front door bakes the treats off sight and freezes them. They are not on display - you have to ask for them. I have personally tried the chocolate whoopie pies and pumpkin rolls and both were as tasty as thier glutenous cousins!

Anonymous said...

I've had the gf pasta at Tomato Palace and Clyde's. On one occasion at Tomato Palace, the manager brought out my gf dish separately and anounced "the gluten free pasta"! I felt so special!
I've had the gf pizza at Uno's. It was OK. Like Alice said, better than nothing.
Two weeks ago, I ate at Facci's. I was talking to the waitress and manager about being gluten free. The manager told me that in two weeks (right around now, I'd say!) they would have a new menu with gluten free options, including a gf pasta. Can't wait to go back and try it!

tedfordgif said...

It looks like most of the choices have been covered, including even the far-afield options like Lilit and OPH.

Other options include:
- Buca di Beppo (far)
- Cheesecake Factory

I'm meaning to try:
- Mama Lucia's (pizza + pasta)

Unknown said...

Does anyone know weather any of the Currey dishes at Columbia's Indian restaurants are gluten free?

I was diagnosed with ciliacs disease this year. However, I do not suffer any noticeable effects from eating gluten and therefore have no way of knowing when I eat Korma, tika misals, etc. if they have any flour in them.

thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

DO NOT eat at Pazani's in Elkridge. They serve the Still Riding pizza crust but are gluten unaware. The owner just doesn't understand the concept of cross contamination.