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Celiactive: What to do when it’s time to eat out

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Isabela Moreno

For anyone with diet restrictions, eating out borders on nightmarish.

Between servers who don’t know what certain allergies are to the uncertainty of cooking environments, one might not know what to do.

I certainly struggled with this during the first few years after being diagnosed. For the first few months I refused to eat out, terrified that I’d eat something mischievous.

Gradually, I climbed out of my dark, tasteless cave into a world of uncertainty. And I’m glad I did. I love eating out now that I know what may lie on my plate. And luckily, from my gastric adventures, I have a list prepared of “big name” restaurants as well as a field guide for specific cuisine.

Many big restaurants now have gluten free menus. Feel free to ask for those but keep in mind that your food may share environments with gluten contaminants.

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Dave Dugdale (www.rentvine.com)

Photo Courtesy of Dave Dugdale (www.rentvine.com)

 P.F. Chang’s: They’ve had a gluten-free menu for a long time and have thankfully integrated it within their normal menus. While their entree selection is diverse, including vegetarian options, the appetizer and dessert selection is minimal and disappointing. I once had a server let me in on a rule of theirs: plates with a black line around the edge are reserved for allergen-free meals.

Black Angus -- avlxyz/flickr

Black Angus — avlxyz/flickr

Black Angus: Since Black Angus is a steakhouse, the kitchen is relatively clean of contaminants. They used to have a gluten-free menu attached to a drinks/dessert display but have since gotten rid of them. A server can bring you a separate gluten-free pamphlet. Again, I wouldn’t call it a dessert “selection” but they do have an option or two. Regardless, almost any steak and seafood option is up for grabs with the exceptions of salads and most appetizers. The restaurant’s artichokes are to die for.

Pizookie - Britt and the Bees/Flickr

Pizookie – Britt and the Bees/Flickr

BJ’s: I don’t care for BJ’s. The majority of the menu is not available save for giant stuffed potatoes that I could make at home for cheap and pizzas that I can, again, make at home for cheap. There are steak and salmon options but I might as well go to Black Angus if I really want that. The pizookies, while too rich for my taste buds, are good and I’ve never had a better mug of root beer.

Karl Strauss - quinn.anya/Flickr

Karl Strauss – quinn.anya/Flickr

Karl Strauss: I’ve always been impressed with Karl Strauss. Every location I’ve visited had very kind employees who were knowledgeable and quick to get back to me. They had a few options of salads and entrees as well as a few desserts. Interestingly, they don’t have physical copies of their gluten-free menu. The server has to read them to you though this may have changed since the beginning of this year. They do acknowledge that their kitchen is not a gluten-free facility so they can’t guarantee 100% gluten-free food though I’ve never had a noticeable issue. It is a brewery but they do serve wine and have a few selections of gluten-free beer to choose from depending on the location.

Mike Saechang/Flickr

Mike Saechang/Flickr

Chipotle: Fortunately, Chipotle is a line restaurant. What I mean by that is that it’s a restaurant that operates in an assembly line fashion and has all its ingredients on display. These places tend to gross me out but Chipotle is remarkably clean. Make sure to ask for corn tortillas or go for a bowl. If informed of the allergy the employees will usually wash their hands and change gloves. They’ll even shield their heating press with tin foil when heating the tortillas so nothing gets contaminated. Everything on the menu is available except for the flour tortillas.

greychr/flickr

greychr/flickr

In-N-Out: The favorite burger joint of nearly every Californian. This is obvious though needs to be stated for completeness. Always opt for the protein burger. It’s messy but it’ll sate any burger craving. Animal style is also safe. The Thousand Island dressing is made with distilled vinegar and they make their fries with real potatoes on site. Just about anything without a bun is safe from this place. On a different note, I have the utmost respect for In-N-Out as a fast food establishment. From what I’ve heard, the company treats their employees very well and it shows in the service. I’ve never met a rude In-N-Out employee nor an unkempt In-N-Out.

cnishiyama/flickr

cnishiyama/flickr

Sushi: Though expensive, sushi joints can offer options though there are giant limitations. Almost every Asian sauce (soy, teriyaki, eel, etc.) is made with soy sauce which is made with wheat (40%-80% depending on who’s making it). Make sure to ask for sauce on the side. Anything with “tempura” is off-limits. “Tempura” usually means deep fried or coated in panko, which is a Japanese style of breadcrumbs. Also the term “deep-fried” means about the same thing. Because of these distinctions, the majority of the menu is not available to those with gluten ailments. These places usually don’t offer separate allergen menus but list the individual roll contents on their menus. Cucumber, fish, seafood, avocado, rice and all the other fresh veggies that are not dunked in bread should be good for consumption. However, contamination is possible during preparation. Eat at your own risk.

Todd Dwer/Flickr

Todd Dwer/Flickr

 Mexican/Latin: Mexican/Meso-American/Latin restaurants usually stay on the same guidelines as Chipotle. Don’t let flour tortillas grace your plate. Salsa is usually safe and anything with veggies, meat, and dairy(provided you don’t have issues with these food groups) are good.

avlxyz/Flickr

avlxyz/Flickr

 Italian: I’m obsessed with Italian-based foods and flavors. I happen to be an Italiaphile despite not being able to digest much of what we think is “Italian.” If the restaurant is made up of authentic Italian courses (appetizers, first course, second course, side dishes, dessert) then it’s fine, usually. Just stay away from pasta and risotto and cake-like desserts. If it’s Olive Garden, then you’re not looking to eat Italian food. This also holds true for most Mediterranean food. As long as you know it’s not flour-based it should be fine for consumption. It never hurts to ask a waiter though.

Always keep in mind that the kitchen is most likely not 100 percent gluten-free. It’s impossible for most businesses to keep a kitchen contaminant free when they offer products that contain gluten. This is true for any allergen or intolerance.

Servers are there to create a hospitable and memorable dining experience, and this includes answering questions. Don’t keep them bottled up. Chances may be that the food you thought you couldn’t have ends up being safe to eat. Lastly, let the restaurant/server know you have a food related ailment/allergy/intolerance. This strips the guest (i.e. you) of any responsibility in case something wrong ends up in the food which it shouldn’t because they’ve been informed.

Eating out can seem and be daunting but it is really too easy after a while. It’s really just a recycling of knowledge from past experiences. Sure, having to substitute items and give additional notes is vexatious time after time. But I don’t see reasons why that should stop me from trying new foods in new restaurants in new cities. Especially since good company and good food brings lovely memories that override these annoying rituals. For me, it’s worth all the trouble.

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