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!