Archive for Dining Out

Gluten-Free Travel: Tips

Top 5 Gluten-Free Travel Tips

Brunch: Veggie frittata, sweet potato fries and bacon at Asheville, North Carolina’s gluten-free Posana Cafe.

My first gluten-free trip didn’t go well from a food standpoint. I was hungry a lot because I couldn’t find food that I both liked and that fit my diet. My next trip went much better. These are my road warrior tips for traveling gluten-free.

1. Plan ahead. Research restaurants at your destination when you have time – before you leave home. If a restaurant doesn’t have a gluten-free menu, I find it’s best to call them to get a feel for their ability (and desire) to make something gluten-free. Ask questions both before you arrive and when you’re there. A restaurant is there to serve you, so you aren’t being a bother if you ask questions. If they act like you are, it’s time to move on.

2. Take whatever food you can with you. This is easier when driving than when flying so an option is to go shopping right after you arrive. The drawback is that you may have to hunt down the right store. But, it’s doable.

Carrot Walnut Muffins

My mistake on my first gluten-free trip was not taking food because I assumed that attending a gluten-free event meant easy access to gluten-free foods. Yes and no. During the Expo (I went to Chicago’s in April), you had seemingly infinite choices of snack foods but that didn’t help when it came to breakfast, lunch and dinner. On my second trip, I took Carrot Walnut Muffins, Banana Muffins (recipe not yet posted), Super Simple Date Cashew Butter Balls, coconut cashew butter balls, cashew butter (both a jar and single serving packets) and dates. My husband likes to snack on nuts so we took a pound of roasted cashews. These foods gave us part of breakfast, if needed, and snacks.

3. Stay in a place with a kitchen, if possible. On our last trip, we chose to stay in Marriott Residence Inns in both Charleston and Atlanta. I’ve personally found that breakfast is the most difficult meal to eat out so we ate breakfast – eggs, etc. – at home. We also had a couple of easy dinners in our room – a salad topped with turkey breast from the local Whole Foods. I put everything we might use – plates, glasses, pans, utencils – in the dishwasher when we arrived so I knew it would be safe to use. Remember that non-stick pans can hold onto gluten so don’t use any of those. Oh, and the two nights of the trip were in a Hampton with a mini-fridge and a microwave. I cooked eggs in the microwave and they weren’t amazing but they were acceptable. If you stay in someone’s home and the home isn’t gluten-free, you’ll need to be very, very careful because they aren’t used to being careful with flour and crumbs. Only you will know if it will be possible to cook and eat there.

4. Don’t ignore restaurant chains. While it’s true that some chain restaurants have failed to deliver safe food (a couple that I’ve heard repeat stories about immediately come to mind), my husband and I have found that some are good and they’re often less expensive which is a bonus in a pricey place like Charleston, South Carolina. Both O’Charley’s and Ruby Tuesday have allergen menus. We always speak to a manager before ordering to make sure they understand what we need and we’ve never had a gluten problem with our food. The cedar plank salmon and steaks are good at O’Charley’s. I like the idea that the salmon cooks on the cedar so never even touches the grill. We’ve had several different meals from Ruby Tuesday including chicken salads, steaks and ribs.

5. Most Important – Be willing to change your mind! For one lunch in Charleston, we walked to a restaurant I’d researched before leaving home. After reading about them online, I thought they’d be a winner. When we arrived and looked inside, the lunch that included a lot of sandwiches was made in what appeared to be a tiny kitchen and left me cautious about possible cross contamination with the gluten-free bread they were supposed to have. When I asked the waitress about gluten-free and emphasised that this was for medical reasons (what I often say so that it’s understood as important), she said that for severe celiacs they would change their gloves. So they were reaching into the bag of gluten-free bread without changing them before? How many people didn’t emphasize their need and got gluten? We went to another restaurant.

Two trips. Zero gluten. You do have to be careful but it’s totally possible to travel, eat well and enjoy yourself on a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-Free Travel: Charleston, South Carolina

Eating Gluten-Free in the Lowcountry

I have to tell you that it wasn’t as easy for us to eat gluten-free (and also stay on the budget we’d set) in Charleston as it had been in Asheville. The two cities have very different personalities. Oh, and I didn’t take many food photos in Charleston so I’m sharing some photos from our trip.

Charleston and areas north and south of it along the coast are known as the “Lowcountry” and for their Lowcountry cuisine. Fried foods and butter are important elements in this food. I knew I was going to the coast so wanted fresh fish. I found that the majority was covered in a gluten containing substance and fried, or came with a butter sauce.

Am I saying you can’t eat gluten-free in Charleston? Absolutely not. We always do a lot of research so we had a list of gluten-free possibilities before we’d left home. Once there, we also asked about eating gluten-free at the Charleston Visitor Center on Meeting Street and they handed us a printout listing gluten-free restaurants. (Note: Parking is atrocious in the old part of Charleston and they have a good parking lot. You pay for it but what you save in stress as you drive around looking for street parking . . .)

We ate lunch our first day at 39 Rue de Jean in the old part of Charleston. The building is from 1880 and filled with charm. I’d found the restaurant online as I searched through menus and they had food that looked like it could be gluten-free. When I couldn’t find any reviews on line that said that, I called them. They seemed to know what gluten was and that they could handle it.

They had Nicoise Salade Traditionale (salad with tuna, boiled potatoes and green beans) on their menu and that’s a fave of mine. (When I was in Paris with my mom after high school graduation, a waiter insisted – with some disgust at the obviously uncouth Americans – that a salad before dinner was important and brought us this. He was right :) I enjoyed my salad and my husband had a burger with fries. They didn’t have gluten-free buns but they did have safe fries. (I didn’t remember to take photos of food.)

The next day, we ate at Burtons Grill in Mt. Pleasant which is across a very long bridge from Charleston and basically a suburb. I’d come across something online earlier where a gluten-free person was waxing poetically about the small chain and how they were coming to the Charleston area. Burtons Grill’s website had a gluten-free menu so we figured we had a winner here.

I got their Salmon BLT sandwich without the bun. They have gluten-free buns but I was eating grain-free at the time. This is sauteed salmon with bacon, lettuce and tomato. I don’t know if I would ever have salmon with bacon but loved the combination.

My husband, who as you can tell eats dairy, had their Mediterranean Chicken – sauteed chicken with sundried tomatoes, goat cheese and provolone over spinach risotto and served with a lemon butter sauce. He was very, very happy.

After the lunch where I had the fun salad and he had the simple burger and fries, I thought he could use a treat and he loves barbeque.

We turned to the list from the CVC and tried Sticky Fingers. They had an allergen menu with gluten and diary both listed. All of their five barbeque sauces were gluten-free. I had their half of a smoked chicken with a plain baked potato and coleslaw, and my husband had beef brisket with mashed potatoes filled with cheese and topped with bacon, and green beans. I looked them up today and discovered there are two of them a couple of hours away so we’ll be visiting another Sticky Fingers in the future.

You may be wondering about breakfast and dinner. I’ll have more about it in a later post but, for now, we chose a hotel with kitchens in the rooms so we were able to make breakfast and a couple of dinners. We ate two dinners at the chain Ruby Tuesday (they have a fairly extensive gluten-free menu) and two dinners in our hotel room - salads topped with sauteed turkey breast I bought at the Mt. Pleasant Whole Foods.

We enjoyed our trip and came back healthy. Here’s the sunset from our last night in Charleston.






So what about dinner? The restaurants that might have had what I wanted were priced in what we usually consider the “you must be kidding?” range – $25-$30+ for the entree for dinner. A restaurant would have to come with a great recommendation for us to want to go. We just aren’t wired that way.

Gluten-Free Travel: Asheville, North Carolina

Gluten-Free Restaurants in Asheville

Asheville was our first stop on a vacation that also took us to Charleston, South Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia. Asheville has a vibe similar to Portland, Oregon, what I’ve often seen called “crunchy granola.” A lot of restaurants have a natural, sustainable, local agenda. That often makes for a gluten-free friendly place and Asheville is.

I’d wanted to see the Biltmore Estate for years, had even written an article about the house at Christmas and interviewed one of their staff decorators. Seeing that palatial home was the main goal here in Asheville. The house didn’t disappoint and neither did the food. Shirley at GFE wrote about the Biltmore a couple of years ago, saying there were becoming gluten-free friendly and they were. We ate at the Stable Cafe which had a gluten-free menu. This was the actual stable; our table was in one of the old stalls. Their gluten-free menu isn’t available online.

The Autumn Vegetable Salad with roasted butternut squash, cauliflower and red peppers with an apple cider vinaigrette immediately caught my eye. It came with cheese I had to delete (dairy-free) but they added chicken for me. Oh my! The salad and the dressing were wonderful! (I dove right in before I’d taken the photo and messed up their nice presentation.)

My husband loves barbeque so he ordered their ribs which came with white beans with chorizo in them. I also took a photo of his – after we’d started eating – and the bone in the middle of the plate assures you of their good taste (again, sorry, hungry by this time). He said that they had good flavor but weren’t as tender as some barbeque is. They also came with greens and pickles.

That night, we went to The Green Sage in South Asheville (they also have one downtown). You stand in line here, place your order and it’s brought to you. We’d researched this cafe online and they appeared to understand gluten-free. Yep. They had locally made gluten-free bread and safe fries so my husband had a turkey sandwich with fries.

Since they also make breakfast all day and I enjoy breakfast foods, I had a tomato and sausage omelette. If you have any allergies or sensitivities beyond gluten, please let a restaurant know. The Green Sage’s omelette’s are usually made with half and half. That would have made for an ugly night for me if I hadn’t said something as I ordered. They made mine special and while it wasn’t gourmet, it was good.

We’d planned brunch at Posana for a while. I’d read reviews about Posana from both Shirley and Heather at Gluten-Free Cat. A restaurant with 100% gluten-free food, this is a true haven for those who eat gluten-free.

My husband had Eggs Benedict which is served here on a biscuit:

And I had a frittata with zucchini, onions, and eggplant, along with sweet potato fries and bacon, all gluten-free and all quite good. I also told them I was dairy-free so she noted it for the kitchen.

We could have chosen one of the baked goodies they had displayed on the bar but I bake so that isn’t as much of a treat for us. We had to make our way through crowds of locals lining up for a Christmas parade but it was well worth it. :)

If we go through Asheville again, I’ll be very happy to stop and eat. You’ll know I enjoy eating when I say that the meals at the Biltmore Estate and Posana were highlights of the weeklong trip.

A Matter of Taste in Nashville – A Gluten-Free Restaurant

Gluten-Free, Right
Owner Kellie Hopkins (left) and Jayme Yates

Last week a major pizza chain unveiled their not-so-gluten-free pizza. We’re fortunate in Nashville to have a restaurant that does gluten-free and does it well.

Before A Matter of Taste’s owner, Kellie Hopkins, learned she had to stop eating gluten in 2009, she’d been trying to eat healthy foods. Kellie soon discovered that the gluten-free food in restaurants often didn’t include the fresh produce and meats without nitrates and hormones that she preferred. Having also lived in Texas where small sandwich shops were more common, she was frustrated that she couldn’t find something like that – particularly gluten-free – in Nashville. There were also other problems with finding gluten-free food, things that didn’t make sense. Kellie says, “Salad dressing doesn’t need gluten.”

Skip ahead to 2010. Kellie had access to a location that had been used by a caterer. “The idea for the restaurant stemmed from little things. I just wanted a place where I would want my kids to eat. I said, ‘Let me see if this works.’” She’s seen a “funny, twisted look” on people’s faces when they’re told something is gluten-free, and she wanted to change that. “I wanted people to know that it doesn’t have to taste bad if it’s gluten-free.”

Half of a Turkey Melt on Gluten-Free Bread with balsamic dressing (my husband got a cup of White Bean Chicken Chili with this)

The gluten-free bread is made fresh on site, but Kellie brings in regular breads for people who don’t want gluten-free. There’s separation between the gluten-full and gluten-free areas with separate condiments, cutting areas and different pans to heat food in the oven. It’s a shared oven but she’s looking into a faster CTX system – put the food in one end and it comes out the other – with separate lines for gluten-free and not.

Open for lunch – from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Kellie’s menu includes soups, salads and sandwiches along with desserts. She uses her mom’s chicken salad, egg salad and tuna salad recipes. Desserts include childhood favorites like her mother’s homemade peanut butter cookies. The experienced chef she hired tinkered with the recipe, looking for the right gluten-free substitutions. Kellie knew it was perfect when she was handed a sample hot out of the oven and took a bite. “I felt like I was standing in my mom’s kitchen and I was six-years old again.” Her kids used to cringe when she brought gluten-free sweets home. Now they want anything she brings home from the restaurant.

California Salad with grilled chicken (my favorite)

Inspirational thoughts such as “Be Grateful” are written on a chalkboard, on the doors that open to the kitchen and fill books that sit on each table. Kellie’s seen people taking pictures of a saying on a page with their phones. If you wonder why she doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, there’s a simple answer: “If you go out to eat with someone, I want you to talk to them.” Enough said.

The daily specials are posted on Facebook and twitter. The website is Why “takeout?” When Kellie opened this as a takeout restaurant, the tables and chairs were just so customers would have a place to sit while their food was prepared. When those customers started sitting down and opening up their takeout packages, she bought plates and silverware.

Things have worked out well. Kellie’s enjoyed the restaurant business so much that she’s thinking of franchising this one.

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