All we want is to be able to go out and have a safe dining experience – and maybe sometimes not have to drive nearly an hour to do it.  But as more restaurants pop up with more gluten free menus, the more hesitant I  am about ANY of them.

I do have some tried and true local restaurants I trust for Emma’s gluten free dining:  Wildfire and Pizza Luce (Mad Jacks is coming in a quick 3rd place). But in the last week we have had some totally opposite experiences and I thought I would share them with you.

Duluth Grill

Wednesday we were up in Duluth, MN for a funeral.  While we were told which foods were gluten free at the funeral, my brother and Emma didn’t get in the front of the line in time to get the “fresh goods”.  So we, instead, chose to eat at the Duluth Grill.  They have been doing gluten free foods for a few years now, and my brother eats there often.  Their only breads have been of the darker nature – using some buckwheat, which was fine and not a crumbly or “styrofoamy” mess – but not quite up Emma’s alley.

Then when we went there on Wednesday – there was even better news.  They are now carrying Udi’s Multi-Grain Gluten free bagels!  Emma was so excited to have eggs, bacon AND a bagel (which she dipped in maple syrup) at a restaurant.  My brother was pleased too and also got the bagel.

Turns out, the owner – who started the gluten free menu there a few years ago—recently was told by his doctor he needed to be gluten free.  So he told us we’ll start to see more options for us.  In a way, it’s too bad it took him this long to develop a tastier gluten free menu—however in comparison to most restaurants, their selection was (and continues to be) great.  If you have tried the Duluth Grill and were not happy with the selection, you should go back and try again.  Having the Udi’s Bagels brings a new level to breakfast there.

Boston’s Gourmet Pizza

So Boston’s has had gluten-free pizza crust for some time as well.  But my experience with ordering it for Emma last Friday was less than impressive.

We were on a bit of a family outing— three of the six people needed to “carb load” before their triathlon on Saturday morning.  Emma was not one of them—but she ordered a gluten free pizza with cheese (and no sauce).  Great.

And then dinner came and saw her pizza.  Now I haven’t experienced ANY gluten free restaurant pizza that hasn’t had a very thin crust, Boston’s included.  So when I saw her pizza and this big puffy crust, before the waiter could lay it in front of her I said- “Is that the gluten-free pizza?” and the waiter seemed to be oblivious to whether there would even be a concern.  I said to him, “it appears to be too puffy to be gluten free”. He said he would check on it — now that I mentioned it….

And of course—I was right.  It was a regular pizza crust!  They quickly made a new one and removed it from our bill.  The manager came over and I expressed that the waiter didn’t even know it wasn’t a gluten free pizza.  She only reiterated that they were making one up as quickly as possible and that it would be taken off our bill.  No acknowledgment of my concern about staff knowledge.

Emma got her pizza, done the right way and we moved on.

I was very frustrated with the lack of education here.  Why don’t restaurants do a better job of educating people?  I think it’s because they’re not educated themselves and they’re only doing it because it’s the thing to do: just throw a few “gluten free” items on the menu and you’ll get more business.

What they don’t realize is that people who are gluten sensitive or who have celiac disease can sniff out a “fake” in an instant.  For me, food confusion, lack of knowledge/training about what gluten free REALLY means are definite clues here.  Boston’s is a place, that if I can have any control of the situation, we won’t be going to anymore because they missed the mark in those areas listed above.

If you are the owner or manager of a restaurant and you want to do the gluten free menu right, please contact the Gluten Intolerance Group or the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness for guidance and education.

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5 Responses to “Two Restauarants, Two Very Different Gluten-Free Experiences”

  1. I am actually working with local restaurants all over on development ad training on their menu. Because I have the DH version of gluten intolerance (the skin reaction) its perfect….because they can test me out and if there is any cross contamination in their processing, I will know with a rash in 20 minutes. The chefs have been surprisingly awesome in working with me!

    What I recommend is having a restaurant fax you their menu. Ask if there is a gluten free menu and get that faxed. Even with a regular menu look it over before hand and then phone the restaurant between 3 and 4 when chefs come on duty. Start with what you think they can have and speak to the chef personally about the ingredients, preparation etc. It is their vocation and life. Yes, it is great to have a wonderfully educated server but some are, some aren’t. The chefs will almost always care.

    My quest for helping businesses develop gluten free menus and offerings got started when a chef who regularly came out to speak with me typed up a menu and had me look it over the next time I came in. It was perfect and now they have one available. Now I do the same for other restaurants all the time. If you have somewhere you love to eat….work with the chef, chances are they will be happy to let you– the customer — work on shaping their menu!

    Happy Dining!

  2. Another tip is that I always request that the server write “GLUTEN ALLERGY” on the top of my order ticket and request that the chef be told I am gluten free and to please come speak to me if they think anything I have ordered might make me ill. Very often the chef will visit the table or the server will get a quick education from the chef. That way there is a lower chance of mistakes in the kitchen. As I am writing restaurant reviews my number one standard is not whether they get it perfect the first time but the extent to which they are WILLING to try to get it right. I don’t know that we can expect servers to always know everything about gluten allergies, intolerance etc…..but if I encounter a positive attitude with a restaurant in dealing with allergy customers…it will certainly receive a high rating in my review system! I will keep in contact with you as this project progresses!

  3. My experience with Boston’s was very positive….in attitude from the server to the manager. I just didn’t happen to think their actual menu item was very good. It was overpriced and under-wonderful! I would go back and see if maybe a different topping choice might be better just because they did have good educated servers….but overall I would probably choose Outback or Red Robin as a National Family Chain that is generally well educated AND has tasty menu options. The small restaurants that aren’t national, those might not have something but also are more willing to create a menu item for you that you will enjoy!

  4. My experience at Boston’s has been very similar. In fact, we haven’t been back since our one experience there. Plus, it is outrageous how much they charge for a gluten-free pizza. I wasn’t even impressed with the gluten meal I ordered for myself when we went.

    I’m glad you were able to recognize the puffy, gluteny pizza crust and safe the poor kid some sickness.

  5. I have heard similar things about California Pizza Kitchen and their Gluten Free practices lately. That their “gluten free” pizza is actually contaminated to high heaven, and that their promotion of now having gluten free is actually starting to be a PR nightmare for them as it backfires.

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