Tag Archives: restaurants

Suggestions for restaurants interested in offering gluten-free items

This question recently came in via the Celiac Bay Area email group. I posted a response and figured it would be worth reposting that message here in case other restauranteurs were considering adding gluten free to their menus:

I think it’s great that you’re seeking out more feedback. I wish more restaurants would. Here’s some thoughts:

Of course the pizza process has to be careful of cross contamination. Flour can waft through the air, shared utensils, and doughy hands can carry gluten particles, and those are ways gluten can get in your product, so taking steps to minimize that risk will be very helpful. Separate area, separate equipment, separate toppings, etc., and be sure people are washing their hands before touching the gluten-free stuff.

Consider adding rice pasta as an option. Tinkyada is real good, and DeBoles isn’t bad either. Cook it in a separate pot with water that hasn’t been used for regular pasta. Identify which sauces are gluten free. Consider keeping uncontaminated sauces in a dedicated area too.

Some places keep perishable and pre-made items in the freezer so they don’t spoil, such as sauces and pizza crusts. You could even make a bunch of pre-made gluten-free garlic bread kept in the freezer, and throw them on a frying pan as needed. As we all know, pan frying toast is wayyyyyyy more yummy than broiling… 😉

If you have other entrees such as bisteca, roasted chicken, or salads, see if those can be modified to be gluten free as well. Again the process needs to be dedicated. Salads are usually easy, but they need to be mixed in separate dedicated bowls, check the dressing ingredients, and be sure no-one goes through all that trouble only to place a bunch of croutons on the thing at the end… 😀

If you put a little GF on the menu next to items that can be modified, the gluten-free customers will be very appreciative. Also put text on the menu stating that if customers are ordering gluten-free, to be sure to let the waiter know who in the party has issues so they don’t put the wrong thing in front of them.

Redbridge is a fine commercial gluten-free beer. Some places keep that in stock. Others such as Bard’s Tale and St. Peter’s Sorgham Beer are good too.

I also recommend finding a consultant to review and verify your gluten-free processes and help with training.

I can’t wait to try out your place sometime!

Hopefully this information will provide a bit of guidance in getting started with preparing a gluten-free restaurant menu. This information is by no means exhaustive; merely a place to begin research. For people with any food allergies or severe intolerances such as celiac, eating out can be risky and use the appropriate levels of caution.

At the very least this post might help build some awareness of what a pain in the ass I am to go out to dinner with. ¡Salud!

Maui vacation, gluten-free

I have just returned from a wonderful vacation to Hawaii. We stayed almost the entire time at the Makena Beach and Golf Resort (formerly the Prince Hotel) on the south side of Maui. I had an excellent experience in dealing with this trip on a gluten-free diet, and most of that is thanks to Chef Marc McDowell, who is the new executive chef at Makena. Chef McDowell and the rest of his staff went way out of his way to ensure I had an easy and comfortable trip without worries about gluten issues.

When I was first planning out my trip to Maui, I did a little research on what to expect. I did find a blog post with some useful tidbits of information, especially in the comments section. Encouraged, I sent out an email to the concierge at Makena to see what they could do for me about gluten-free dining. I didn’t want to travel around much – my plan for this vacation was to spend as much time as possible by the beach and the pool, relaxing my ass off. (Mission accomplished, by the way…)

What I got in response a couple of days later was an email from Chef McDowell, saying I’d have nothing to worry about, and that he wanted to give me a call to go over some options. When we talked, Marc let me know he had extensive experience with handling food allergies and intolerances, and he was going to make sure I had whatever I wanted. I muttered something about burgers and pancakes with bacon, and he said we’d be good. Yes, every morning I had gluten-free pancakes with bacon, and on several occasions lunch consisted of a burger on a gluten-free bun with hand-cut and custom-prepared fries, poolside. Just look at this work of art:

Gluten free burger, in paradise

In ordering, I found it was easiest for me to let the wait staff to give my name to whomever the chef on duty. Chef McDowell made sure the kitchen staff were well advised of my situation and how to prepare gluten-free meals, and just about anything I wanted to eat they were able to customize to be gluten-free. Here I am with my two new best friends. Chef Lester on the left, Chef Marc McDowell on the right. I am the well-fed one in the middle:

Chefs at Makena

On the second day of our trip, we booked a tour to Hana and around the south side of Maui. This is a very remote part of the island, with a lot of windy dirt road to get through. Marc had asked if we were going on any excursions, and indeed this was just about the only one we had planned ahead of time. He insisted that they pack a lunch for us, and that morning at breakfast I went and picked up a cooler full of sandwich fixin’s, with the gluten-free parts clearly labeled. This was incredibly thoughtful and we had a great picnic in Hana with turkey wraps for my wife and kids, and a nice big gluten-free turkey club sandwich for myself.

Dinners were quite good. The special evening for us was dinner at Roku, which is the Japanese restaurant there at the resort. I brought my own gluten-free soy sauce (actually black bean sauce to be specific—tastes very similar) for the event. We decided to order some sashimi for appetizers and then a nice big pot of sukiyaki for the main course. We handed a small, travel-size bottle of the black bean sauce to the waitress and she said the chef would have no problem making a special batch of sukiyaki sauce for us.

Eventually we decided to rent a car and explore a bit outside the island. With a little Google research, I was able to find a pasta joint in Lahaina called Penne Pasta. They have rice pasta available for $2 extra per plate, and they assured me that the pasta was cooked separately and with all the appropriate precautions in place. I had some great bolognese and was quite full on our way back to the hotel.

That night we booked reservations at Mala Wailea at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort. Let me just start by saying I generally can’t stand the Marriott chain. There is something kind of corporate and unfriendly that I’ve experienced at every one I’ve stayed at. This place was no different. When asking for directions, the employee I asked looked as if she were thoroughly inconvenienced by my query, and then pointed it out with a rather snotty tone of voice. Once at Mala, things got much better. Very professional staff, and we had our meals served in record time. There was a bit of excitement over the fact that we were seated right near Alice Cooper, who is apparently a part owner of the restaurant – he looks way more friendly in person. Anyway, the menu has gluten-free items indicated right there, but it wasn’t very clear as they only marked appetizers and sides with gluten-free and didn’t mention anything about the entrees. Turns out many of the entrees could be modified or were already gluten free, so it was no big deal, but I couldn’t help but think if you’re going to print a menu like that then at least mark a few entree options. Anyway, the food was decent, although a bit too much on the sweet side overall.

On our last day, we did a road trip up to Wailuku and the Iao Valley. Along the way, we found Maui Tacos, which is a great little chain fast-food joint. On their website they state that everything not made with flour tortillas or enchilada sauce is gluten-free, so that means tacos and the burrito bowls are A-OK. I had a couple of hard tacos and half of my wife’s burrito bowl and they were quite tasty. Maui Taco franchises are found all over Hawaii and in a few locations on the mainland as well! I hope to see one in the Bay Area soon…

My recommendation to anyone traveling to Hawaii is: Stay at a nice place like the Makena resort, and get in touch with the head chef beforehand to make sure they can handle your needs and give them time to prepare. Makena was more than accommodating, and I was really appreciative of everything they did for me. This resort is in a transition under their new management, and I can clearly see these guys are committed to rebuilding this hotel with things like customer service and attention to detail at the forefront of the guest experience. You’d be in very good hands staying at the Makena and letting Chef McDowell and the rest of the great staff there take care of you. And if you do head down to Makena, tell them I said hello!

Accessing the Gluten Free Bay Area Google Map on iPhone

This post is specifically for the gluten-free community in the San Francisco Bay Area in the short term, and I expect this will become a more global effort soon.

Our goal for today is: Access the Gluten Free Bay Area Google Map on iPhone. This can now be accomplished easily using the iPhone Google Earth app.

Why is this cool you ask? Because dining out on a gluten-free diet can be a complicated and depressing experience. Most restaurants don’t get it. The few that do are often hard to find. Many of us in the Bay Area celiac community have lessened this pain by contributing to this map, pinpointing which businesses cater to gluten-free needs (i.e. might have a gluten free menu or a savvy chef or wait staff.) This has turned into a very useful database over the months and years.

But on those times when you need it most, like when you’re on the road, you might not have access to a computer to be able to look up a place for lunch. Now with Google Earth on your iPhone and in your pocket, looking up gluten-free restaurants is more convenient than ever.

Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Add the Gluten Free Bay Area Google Map to your saved maps by navigating to it (a shortened URL for those that need it: http://is.gd/4YuBP ) and clicking on the link indicated:

Click the link "Save to my maps" circled in red

Step 2: Go to the App Store on your iPhone and install the Google Earth app.

Step 3: Launch Google Earth on your iPhone and tap the info icon in the lower right corner:

Tap the info icon on the lower right corner.
Tap the info icon on the lower right corner.

Step 4: Sign in and then tap on My Maps. Tap on Gluten Free Bay Area in the resulting screen. Now when you use Google Earth on iPhone, all the gluten free locations will show up on your map!

Gluten Free Bay Area map detail.
Gluten Free Bay Area map detail.

How cool is that?

Pennini’s Gluten-Free Pizza

Gluten-free pizza. ‘Nuff said.

Gluten-free pizza at Pennini's

OK I’ll say some more. Pennini’s began serving a gluten-free pizza option yesterday. My pizza orders this evening were numbers three and four. The reason I give five stars is this: The guys have nailed it with regards to serving up a gluten-free pizza in a laid back and casual atmosphere.

I ordered two pizzas just for the heck of it, and stuck to the basics: Pepperoni. My two boys and I (they are 4 and 7) dusted everything. Gone. Zip. Destroyed. Game over man! One, two, three, up with the skirt, and it’s gone! I am the only celiac in the family, but the boys could have cared less. They ate more pizza than you could shake a stick at.

The things were delicious. Real pizza on a thin crust, nice and traditional-like. But the best part was that the guy that cooked it, Greg (I asked if I could print his name here), came out and described in detail the steps he took to ensure that this pizza was indeed as free as possible of any potential gluten contamination.

Since I like to work as a human guinea pig, I can attest to the quality of their process. It is several hours later, and I am happily here sitting on my recumbent bike machine at home doing at least an hour’s penance for the debauchery that just ensued – grease, cheese, oil, and processed meats are the stuff of pizza made the way god intended. If there were even a tiny bit of contamination with wheat, I’d be sick by now. But I’m great!

In summary: Great gluten-free pizza, totally laid-back atmosphere, awesome friendly staff, family loved everything else they tried on the menu, and I’m stuffed.

See you guys again real soon.