Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gluten free dining at Boston Market

It has been difficult to find quick and inexpensive gluten free dining options. While fast-food is not very healthy, it comes in handy with young children. I missed having a quick and easy to find option since we have been living gluten free. It was only after living gluten free for 5 months that I learned about Boston Market's great gluten free options. They even publish an allergen list detailing out 9 different food items (wheat, soy, milk, egg, tree nut, peanut, fish, shellfish, gluten). Although there is a cross-contamination warning:

This list is compiled based on production information provided by Boston Market approved food manufacturers as of the date published. Boston Market does not guarantee that cross-contact with other gluten-containing products or allergens will not occur. We encourage anyone with food sensitivities, allergies, or special dietary needs to check back on a regular basis for up-to-date information.

At Boston Market it is possible to have a fresh and complete gluten free meal. Both the rotisserie chicken and the roasted turkey breast are gf, as is the poultry gravy. And there are so many gf sides: squash, apples, creamed spinach, fruit salad, steamed vegetables, new potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes, and sweet corn. There are more sides without gluten than there are with gluten! Obviously the corn muffins are off limits and there are no dessert options...

Strangely (and also VERY inconsiderately) the market chopped salad with and without chicken is gluten free BUT both of the offered salad dressings contain gluten. How have the corporate chefs who are planning these menus not caught this huge error? Can you imagine the disappointment to be able to order a fresh and delicious salad only to learn that there is no dressing for the top? Here's a description of the salad- doesn't it sound great? It has looked fresh and light the last 2 times I have seen it in the refrigerated case.

Market Chopped Salad More fresh veggies than a farmers market! A wondrous collection of crispy crunchy vegetables, mixed green lettuce, and flavors mixed with Craisins®, toasty-roasty sunflower seeds, and crumbled blue cheese. Tossed with our signature champagne vinaigrette. For a little extra, top your salad with your choice of chicken, turkey breast or beef brisket.

I wonder how hard it would be to alter the dressing to make it gluten free OR to have some pre-packaged options kept behind the counter?? I would love to see Boston Market fix this salad dressing oversight and then target some advertising toward the gluten free community. According to their website there are 4 outlets throughout Lake County just waiting for you!

Added 2.15.2010- I emailed Boston Market through the website contact us function to ask about gf salad dressing options and 2 weeks later have not yet received a response.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eating gluten free at Tsukasa of Tokyo in Vernon Hills

My husband and I had wanted to take our boys out to a Japanese Steakhouse for a fun dinner. Following the celiac diagnosis, we assumed that we would be unable to do so. But we had a special event at the preschool and we wanted to go out for a fun celebratory dinner afterward. I googled all different word combinations of gluten-free-Japanese-steakhouse-Illinois and nothing popped up. I decided to call the local Japanese place to ask about gf options and I was absolutely delighted to learn that Tsukasa of Tokyo offers a gf option! Upon arrival, it was noted in the reservation log that we would be eating gluten-free, I really like this attention to detail.

Tsukasa offers wheat free tamari and wheat free teriyaki sauce. GF foods are cooked tableside first, and then the regular food is cooked to avoid any cross-contamination on the cooktop. We've been there twice- on December 6 and again on January 2. Sushi dishes are OK ordered with the wheat free tamari. The ginger sauce and hot mustard sauce both have soy sauce in them so are off limits. Too bad because the ginger sauce is really good. Our chefs were very happy to give us small dishes of the wheat free teriyaki sauce for dipping. The soup and salad are off-limits. We ordered plain salads and I brought my own Japanese steakhouse-style salad dressing. Here is the recipe:

There is no gluten free menu and both times our waitress spoke very little English, so it was very helpful that I had already spoken to the manager. Basically, any of the hibachi or teriyaki dishes are OK to order. The fried rice is OK, also. As you can see in my picture, the teriyaki sauce is in a clearly labeled bottle. The tamari was also clearly labeled.

We are so happy to have this option for a special dinner. Our boys had a great time, they loved the theatrics and the cooking and both boys are the food, as well. However, we did have problems during both visits. During our first visit we were a party of 5 and we all ordered gf. The manager approached us just prior to our food being cooked and he was angry that we were all eating gf as it would delay the orders of the 2 other people at our table. On our reservation it had been noted that there was only 1 gf diner. He moved those people to another table. His irritation was very obvious. During our second visit we were a party of 8 all ordering gluten free and we had our own table. The waitress brought us soup and she insisted that it was gluten free. We did not eat it because of my prior discussion with the manager. But there was clearly a discrepancy and due to the language barrier it was hard to discuss the specific ingredients with the waitress. During a follow-up telephone call the manager confirmed that the soup is not gf.

A Japanese steakhouse is only as good as the chef cooking and we had great fun during both visits. During the second visit, my 4 year old really really wanted to catch a piece of broccoli in his mouth. He began talking to the chef about it as soon as we arrived. After several misses, the chef told my son to tilt his head back and close his eyes. He then handed me a piece of broccoli that I dropped into my son's mouth. What a fabulous trick! My son now has a favorite restaurant and we will definitely be back.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gluten free Wildfire Lincolnshire

My husband and I had a date night on New Years Eve. Just us, no kids. We wanted to go somewhere nice and we had heard that Wildfire handles gluten free dining really well. On the whole we had a great dinner and our server was very helpful.

First off, however, my husband did mention when he made the reservation that I would be dining gluten free and that did not get noted in the reservation log. And our server did not get that information until we declined the loaf of bread that she brought to the table. I've noticed that some restaurants note special diet issues upon reservation and I really like that attention to detail.

The GF menu is extensive- 6 appetizers, 6 salads, pizza, 2 sandwiches (served with a gf bun!), 20 entrees, 6 sides, 3 desserts, 1 beer. Although the GF menu (strangely) does not detail each item. The regular dinner menu offers explanations of each dish that the GF menu does not. I bet this is an oversight- Wildfire really provided a delicious and safe dinner- but shouldn't my menu give me the same information that the regular menu provides?

We had fresh, hot bread at our table! On-site homemade rolls! These are the same rolls offered up as a bun for sandwiches. They taste more like a biscuit. Light and fluffy. There was a back taste of tapioca flour, unfortunately, but that is so hard to avoid. We learned that these rolls used to be purchased from a local bakery but now are made on-site. And the recipe is not given out.

We ordered the oven baked goat cheese appetizer. It was served with a pita-chip like product that is also used for the pizza crust. I love goat cheese and found the pitas to be just perfect for scooping.

I ordered a fillet crusted with straight blue cheese. Unfortunately the steak crusts all contain breadcrumbs so are off limits but my server offered to put plain blue cheese on my fillet and that was a great idea! There was so much blue cheese I could not finish it all. I chose the au gratin potatoes for a side dish and they also were great- creamy and rich.

And the chocolate cake sounded really delicious but neither my husband nor I had saved room. Maybe next time.

The things I liked the best about eating gf at Wildfire: the comprehensive menu that addressed all parts of a normal meal, the warm and fresh bread, our knowledgeable server who took time to answer all our questions about gf eating.

This was a pricey dinner but worth it for a special treat. A great option for a safe gf meal. 5 locations in Illinois with only 1 of those being in Lake County.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gluten Free Vacation in the Wisconsin Dells

My husband and I want to take a winter vacation up to a water park resort. I know that Wisconsin is not in Lake County, but we all need to get away at some point! This will be our first water park vacation since the celiac disease diagnosis. I thought it would be easy to look up online which properties can best serve our dietary limits. But I only found one GF reference to a Wisconsin water park resort!! I found no information on resort websites nor on any blogs. So, I spent 5+ hours researching options. And I now want to share what I learned to save everyone some time. I was looking for a hotel/indoor water park property in Wisconsin with a pool suitable for young children. And because my kids like french fries, I asked specifically about their availability. Here's what I learned:

Timber Ridge (Lake Geneva)- no gf menu, very willing to accommodate but only offer naturally gf foods, can serve safe french fries, aware of safe cooking practices.

**UPDATED 2/28/10** Timber Ridge now offers a breakfast, lunch, & dinner GF menu at Smokey's restaurant (

Blue Harbor (Sheboygan)- no gf menu, very accommodating, offered to cook us items that I bring like pancakes/pasta, no gf ice cream options, can serve french fries.

Chula Vista (WI Dells)- no gf menu, offered to be very accommodating but can only provide oven-cooked items. No fries, no ice cream. At breakfast there is only a buffet with no option for cook-to-order food.

The Wilderness (WI Dells)- no gf menu, very UNaccommodating, told me that they will bend their rules and allow me to bring my own food into their water park and restaurants. I actually think that Jay who returned my call did not work in food & beverage and was probably not the best person to respond to me.

Kalahari (WI Dells)-they have 2 gf menus, aware of safe cooking practices, no french fries, only serve naturally gf food. For example, menu lists BLT sandwich (hold the bread/hold the fries) and a panini (hold the bread/hold the fries)-- can you picture what is left?!?. Only safe starches are mashed/baked potatoes. Possibly an OK option for an older child/adult.

Great Wolf Lodge (WI Dells)- they have a gf menu, VERY accommodating, they prepare gf pizza, gf pasta, gf pancakes, gf sandwich wraps, gf brownies/baked goods. John Williams is the food & beverage manager- everything gf they make to order from scratch (including pizza dough) so it takes longer to sanitize cooking area and cook from scratch. Baked gf goodies ARE available in their sweet shop but kept in a separate area. And yes, they have safe french fries. Reportedly there is a website re-design coming soon that will include this wonderful GF information.

So, come February, off we go to the Great Wolf Lodge! I will report back upon our return.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Gluten free eats at Walker Brothers Original Pancake House

Walker Brothers is one of my very favorite restaurants. I had regrets that I would be unable to take my son there to eat after his celiac diagnosis. A few weeks back during a GF cooking class I heard a classmate mention the GF pancakes at Walker Brothers! I was surprised and so happy!

I called the Walker Brothers in Lincolnshire to ask about the pancakes and safe cooking practices. It actually took me 3 phone calls to get all the information I was seeking. I learned that each Walker Brothers has an allergy book listing relevant information for various food intolerances.

Each of the restaurants does now offer GF pancakes, prepared to order. Walker Brothers is using a Bob's Red Mill mix that the company has modified to create a flavor profile most similar to the traditional pancakes. 6 pancakes cost $6.95 with an additional cost to add in blueberries, bananas, pecans, and bacon. The kitchen cooks GF in a dedicated area using specific utensils to avoid cross-contamination. Additionally, the kitchen can prepare the GF egg dishes and omelettes using safe cooking practices. For the breakfast meats, the bacon gets cooked as normal but in the GF area. Careful when ordering sausage, however, as normal practice is to coat the sausage in flour prior to cooking. The sausage can be prepared GF when asked, but obviously make sure to be very clear about this.

We've had 2 visits to Walker Brothers and the pancakes are great! They are light and fluffy and obviously fresh. Color-wise they are similar to the traditional pancakes. In a side-by-side comparison I did find that the GF pancakes were actually fluffier. And for my son, he can order a GF smiley-face pancake.

I just don't understand why Walker Brothers does not put up huge signs or advertise the GF options more. The only information in the actual restaurant is a card propped up on each table. I hope that this post will help lead more people to a safe meal at Walker Brothers.

There are multiple locations; 3 in Lake County- Highland Park, Lake Zurich, and Lincolnshire.