Portland, OR: Gluten-Free Paradise

I sat down at the bar at Ground Breaker Brewing in Southeast Portland for dinner. The server approached with a menu and I immediately launched into my I-have-celiac-disease routine. She listened and promptly responded, with a smile, that they do not use gluten anywhere in their facility and that I could have anything on the menu. I was giddy. This never happens.

Next she said, “you don’t have to be afraid here.”

She got it.

Eating out for someone with celiac disease is scary. When food is what makes you sick trusting a stranger to take your condition seriously and make sure you are safe is terrifying. Eating dinner out is like rolling dice; you just never know whether you are going to be sick tomorrow or not.

In most restaurant kitchens wheat abounds and special care must be taken with my food to be sure my meal is truly gluten-free and to prevent cross contamination. This means that not only do I have limited choices of food when I go to restaurants; I have a limited choice of restaurants. In the town that I live I eat at 5 places because those are the only places where I feel safe.

I travel frequently and on occasion I happen upon a 100% gluten-free restaurant or bakery like Posana in Asheville, NC or Coffee and a Specialty Bakery in Seattle, WA. These, of course, are the exception and not the rule – unless you are in Portland.

In Portland I felt like I had been set free, at least in the culinary sense. I ate at multiple restaurants that were 100% gluten-free and others that were experienced serving patrons with celiac disease. It is such a pleasant experience to eat without fear that what you are consuming might hurt you tomorrow.

In my short stay I made the following gluten-free stops in Portland (there are others and I’ll get to them next time):

Ground Breaker Brewing – Ground Breaker is a cozy spot with super friendly staff. I had gnocchi with a venison ragout, fish tacos, and their version of Appalachian stack cake (it wasn’t so much Appalachian, but that is another post entirely).

Brooklyn House – This restaurant is in a former home and has lovely little nooks and crannies perfect for a date or small celebration. It has a 100% gluten-free kitchen with a diverse menu. I had sweet potatoes and the white fish over Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots.

Deschutes Brewery – Deschutes is a super popular Pearl District brewery with award-winning beers. They do a gluten-free beer, but more importantly they have a dedicated fryer. So, I had fries, with garlic and cheese, for the first time in forever. Worth the trip.

Prasad – This is a 100% gluten-free and vegan spot located inside Yoga Pearl, a yoga studio located in the Pearl District. They serve full meals and juices. I ate here twice for breakfast. Day one I had a green juice and a rice bowl. Day two I enjoyed the chili farmhouse scramble with tempeh, greens, and brown rice with another green juice. Both were fantastic. The space is small and is open, so you will see the yogis come and go.

Petunia’s Pies and Pastries – Petunia’s is 100% gluten-free and vegan bakery and was a two-stop spot as well. They serve breakfast, sweets, and drinks and it is lovely. They offer biscuits and gravy and while I was tempted to try I declined, I would rather remember biscuits and gravy the way my Mommy makes them (with lots of gluten). But I did have coconut yogurt with fruit and blueberry coconut pound cake. On the return trip I had a maple, pumpkin, carrot, and zucchini cupcake with maple icing. Also, worth the trip.

Verde Cocina – Also in the Pearl District, this Latin restaurant has a gluten-free kitchen and features house-made chips and tortillas from certified gluten-free masa. I had dinner and lunch here. At dinner I had a chili relleno and for lunch chilaquiles. Both were wonderful, but know these aren’t the cheesy, greasy version of Latin dishes you might expect; both entrees were light on the cheese and heavy on the vegetables. Good and good for you.

Andina – This was the event dinner of the trip. Andina is located around the corner from Verde Cocina in the Pearl District, and while not 100% gluten-free it has a robust gluten-free menu and well-trained staff. There was spicy tuna with potatoes and crab salad, marinated asparagus, paella, and espresso panna cotta. All amazing. The server was very helpful; she eats gluten-free and took the time to recommend a number of other places to visit.

I am looking forward to my next trip to Portland and hope that what is happening in the food world there quickly spreads. If keeping Portland weird means keeping it this gluten-free, then I am in.

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Eating Gluten-Free on Carnival Cruise Lines

Traveling with celiac disease is a never ending challenge. Spending a week or more in a domestic or international location is difficult. You have to locate grocery stores, pack your food for the plane and beyond and research restaurants that have gluten-free menus or are rumored to cater to the needs of the gluten free. It is a lot of work.

Instead of requesting a gluten-free meal on the plane, I bring my own.

So, when my sister informed me that the 2014 family vacation would be an Alaskan cruise I immediately started spinning all the potential food-related nightmare scenarios. This was my first cruise.

We sailed on the Carnival Miracle for seven days out of Seattle with stops in Skagway, Juneau and Victoria. I shared the least dramatic of my worries with my sister and she assured me that she had made the necessary arrangements for me. I was to meet with Guest Services and then the maitre d’ to discuss my requirements. The Carnival representative assured my sister that they could safely feed me. My sweet sister then researched gluten free eating on Carnival cruises and she found a blog post by the lovely G-Free Laura. I felt better. I knew I would be worried until I was on the boat and talking to someone but this information helped.

I arrived in Seattle and enjoyed lovely gluten-free meals at Tom Douglas’s Lola, Anthony’s and Elliot’sOddfellow’s in Capitol Hill (I also recommend Elliot Bay Book Company while you are there), and Local 360, which is super awesome spot where everything on the menu is local. All these meals were lovely and gluten-free.

Then it was time to board the ship. The embarkation process took less time than I expected (considering there were over 2000 people aboard). We headed for Guest Services to request the partition between our rooms be opened and to talk about my dietary needs. Unfortunately, my record did not reflect that I needed a gluten-free accommodation, it only noted a special need. I took this as – they aren’t ready for me and I have to be perfectly honest, I was scared. Guest Services confidently advised me that all I needed to do was talk with the maitre d’ and it would be fine. I had packed enough food to eat one or two meals a day out of my bag, but I knew I needed at least one good meal a day from the kitchen. So, scared doesn’t really describe it, I had a minor meltdown.

We made our way to the dining room for our first meal. I met the maitre d’, Ken, at the door and explained what I needed. He promptly dispatched the lovely Jana to my table. I explained to her that I have celiac disease and would need a gluten-free meal. I went on to explain that I am medically required to have a gluten-free meal and that I am extremely sensitive. She was unflappable. She assured me immediately that they could accommodate my needs. In fact, because of my concern she offered to personally order and deliver my food herself since my server would be responsible for multiple tables of people. I happily agreed. She got me. To ensure that the kitchen would have time to specially (separately) prepare my meals I would need to order my meals a day in advance. So, every night at dinner I ordered my meals for the next day. It seems like it might be inconvenient, but I did not mind and it gave my family a preview of the next day’s offerings.

Our server, Damir, was helpful and a pleasure to be around. He understood my need and worked hard with Jana and the kitchen to make sure my meals came out at the same time as the rest of the table. This was a struggle on some nights, but they were aware and working on it. The kitchen is stocked with gluten-free bread and flour. So, many traditional items (sandwiches, French toast, pancakes, etc.) are available. I avoid all grains but rice when I am traveling, so I was slightly more limited and declined to eat the bread and flour-based items. Despite my more restrictive diet Jana was able to work with the kitchen each day to find something for me to eat that was interesting. I did eat a lot of steamed vegetables and plain meat – salmon, mahi mahi, flank steak, filet mignon and ribs. But I was also to have the seafood Newberg revised to meet my needs. Instead of the Newberg sauce they made a lemon butter sauce and put it over rice.

They were willing to go the extra step to help me enjoy my meal. As for dessert, the cream brulee and chocolate melting cake were my go-to items. Although, they did have other gluten-free choices. While dining room service was very good and accommodating, the room service and buffet offerings were off limits. I was specifically instructed not to order room service and as a rule I do not eat off buffets (too many changes for cross-contamination). So, on the ship my meals were restricted to what I brought onboard and eating in the main dining room. Know this ahead of time – eating is not a whenever-you-want-it-option unless you have a large stash of food in your cabin.

Chocolate Melting Cake

I was pleased with the attention and consideration that I was given by the dining room staff. They were genuinely concerned for me and they went out of there way to try to make my meals fun and interesting. It was not a perfect situation but the service was great and the food was better than expected. Tip your servers, maitre d’ and Jana. They deserve it.

Gluten-Free Fine Dining in Fort Wayne

I am over at the Fort Wayne Insider talking about eating gluten-free at The Oyster Bar and BakerStreet Steaks, Seafood, & Spirits. These two fabulous Fort Wayne spots are ready, willing, and able to serve up a great gluten-free meal.

The Oyster Bar impressed me with raw oysters and fish done on cedar. BakerStreet offers a full gluten-free menu and the best steak in town, oh, and a to-die-for flourless chocolate cake.

Check it out and enjoy.

Gluten-Free Dining in Fort Wayne

Gluten-free eating can be pretty easy and very tasty at home. Whole foods do not contain gluten, so eating gluten-free at home is a healthy and naturally low-calorie way to eat. Just whip up a meat and three and you are good to go.

Eating gluten-free outside of your own kitchen can be challenging. The challenges can include the type of cuisine (hello, Italian), the knowledge and understanding of the chef and staff about the dietary restrictions, or your (my) own fear of cross-contamination (you don’t know what happens to your food before you get it). So far in my gluten-free adventure I have encountered uninterested, cynical, and disbelieving servers and restaurant owners. You know, the ones that think you are asking for a gluten-free meal because you are a low-carb weight loss diet (which is fine if you are – just say it and stop claiming you have a disease, allergy, or legitimate intolerance). This is why I have started using the word Celiac as much as possible. I hope to bring at least some awareness to a handful of people.

Anyway, for every one of those people, I run into two or three people who are genuinely interested in making sure I have a positive dining experience. They ask questions, offer suggestions, and take recommendations happily. Below is a list of the places in Fort Wayne where I have enjoyed great gluten-free food and service so far. I plan to share as many as I can find that are worth a share. I hope this helps guide you to the happiest gluten-free places in town.

Acme Bar & Grill – I love the hamburgers at the Acme. So, when I went in recently and asked for one, sans the bun and fries, my server never missed a beat. I had a salad instead of fries and it was a great gluten-free meal. Remember if you are not sure the fries are prepared in a dedicated fryer then they may be contaminated. Booo.

BakerStreet Steak, Seafood, & Spirits – This spot is one of my favorites, it has a great gluten-free menu as well as attentive, caring, and knowledgeable servers. I had a perfectly prepared steak with asparagus, a spinach salad, and a to-die-for flourless chocolate cake. Top notch. Also, if you want to participate in their dining events (they do some farm to fork dinners) then let them know when you make the reservation that you are gluten-free and they will make sure you can participate.

Casa – This Italian eatery has a comprehensive gluten-free menu that will satisfy the biggest, baddest pasta craving! Other than the bread, you would never know that you were eating gluten-free.

Firefly Coffee House – You can get a gluten-free Oregon Chai latte (my favorite) amongst other tasty safe drinks. They serve gluten-free cookies and crustless quiche from their kitchen. The staff is also never too busy to answer a question, show you a product label, or listen to any helpful suggestions. The folks get it. They have also started carrying almond milk in addition to soy for those of us who can’t tolerate lactose.

Friends – They do not have a gluten-free menu but they do have an accommodating kitchen and a flexible menu. Enjoy the chicken souvlaki with potatoes and a great Greek salad (it has pineapple and beets on it – I love it).

Grabill Country Store – Call ahead to this lovely Amish store in the burg of Grabill and they will bake you a loaf of your favorite bread – gluten-free. The Grabill Store also has a large selection of gluten-free flour, mixes, and other fixins. The daily breakfast and lunch buffet has naturally gluten-free options also (eggs and bacon are beautiful things).

J.K. O’Donnell’s – JK’s has outstanding salads that are gluten-free. For those that enjoy a snort every now and again, JK’s offers a gluten-free beer as well as a selection of ciders that are naturally gluten-free.

Madeleine’s Bakehouse – During your next shopping trip to Jefferson Pointe stop into Madeleine’s and enjoy one of their many macaroons and a cup of tea. Both are gluten-free and lovely!

The Oyster Bar – There is no gluten-free menu at The Oyster Bar but the chef is knowledgeable about gluten-free cooking and can whip you up some great fish, gluten-free. There are many things on The Oyster Bar’s expansive menu to enjoy gluten-free, including oysters.

Spice & Herb – Asian food can be tricky in regards to gluten, it is hard to know exactly what thickeners are used and there is typically no gluten-free menu. This is not a concern at Spice & Herb, I had a great lunch of noodles made of mung beans, tea, and salad, all gluten-free. The server was attentive, helpful, and knew exactly what I needed.

There are fast-food joints that offer pretty solid gluten-free options . . . Red Robin has a good gluten-free menu, Chik-fil-a offers gluten-free fries and chicken options (no bun), Culver’s custard in a cup (I only eat vanilla) is gluten-free, Chipotle is accommodating and can make a super gluten-free salad, and in a pinch you can get a bun-less cheeseburger at McDonald’s (although I prefer to go inside as I feel it is harder to mess up my food if you have to look directly at my face).

This diagnosis has been very hard for me – my hobby and great pleasure in life is finding and enjoying good food. I love to eat adventurously and being gluten-free has certainly changed how I can do that now. The days of not thinking about food are over – I have to pre-plan all my meals and carry snacks everywhere I go. But there is hope, in fact, after writing this list I feel a renewed hope that not all of my going-out-to-eat options are lost. That sure is a pretty thought.

Be patient, friendly, kind, and smile a lot and more often than not you will find someone who truly wants to meet your food needs!