This is a tender subject for me today friends.  

I am having a moment of frustration with restaurant menus. Last night we had family in town and it was suggested to go to a place called The LowBrow in south Minneapolis.  I looked at the menu and there were many gluten free logos showing that an item could be prepared gluten free.  

I picked up the phone and asked how they treat the gluten-free foods when cooking them regarding cross contamination.  And I was told they treat gluten free requests very carefully.  I was also told there was a dedicated fryer for the fries and gluten free buns for the burgers.  Okay.  So I thought we could try it.  

We got there and the server proceeded to tell us that indeed the fries were not in a dedicated fryer, and that the fries themselves are gluten free BEFORE they go into the fryer, they will be cross contaminated during cooking.  Ugh! I explained that is not what I was told when I called earlier in the afternoon.  

So now what?  As many of you may have experienced, you’re with a huge group of people…are you going to get up and leave?  And then go where — at 8:00 p.m. at night?  So we stayed and Emma got a burger with a gluten free bun.

After the evening was over, I talked to the server again.  I did tell her I appreciated her honesty and being adamant about the fries not being gluten free. She could have just played along with what I was told on the phone.  She said she is working on notifying staff so the incorrect information doesn’t get out there again.  

But, in my opinion, the menu is still a problem for this restaurant and many others….

Are Gluten Free French Fries Labeled on a Menu for real?

I have been to many restaurants whose menus have a gluten free label next to the fries.  Some are accurate, but many are not.  

1. ALWAYS be skeptical when a menu says they have gluten free french fries because most often they are cooked in a shared fryer.  Ask these questions:  

  • Are the fries themselves gluten free (is there a coating or anything on them before cooking that contains gluten)?
  • If the fries are genuinely gluten free, then here’s your next question: Are your french fries cooked in a dedicated gluten-free fryer?  The reality is most kitchens don’t have room or time to manage a dedicated fryer.  So it is a rare (and delightful) experience when they actually do have a dedicated fryer. 
  • Do they put on an additional seasoning and is that gluten free?
  • Is there anything else that is put on the fries you should be aware of?

2. Be prepared to discuss semantics like I did with the server.  She explained their fries indeed are gluten free…before they go in the fryer.  That is definitely a red flag.  You could ask for them to be baked.  

3. Be wary of the menu.  There is a difference between one menu that “denotes gluten free options” and  a separate gluten-free menu.  The menu from yesterday’s location was one main menu with GF symbols.  The key at the bottom of the menu said “GF= Gluten Free”.  Some of my family members thought that meant those items were gluten free, not that they had to be requested to be made gluten free.  This includes the fries — and that brings me back to point #1.  

Some menus need clarification.  Always order with the words gluten free.  This is the menu from The LowBrow

Some menus need clarification. Always order with the words gluten free. This is the menu from The LowBrow

Make sure when you order anything, whether from a gluten-free menu or a combo menu that you talk through the gluten-free needs and preparation with your server, manager or chef.  You need to do this even if you have discussed this earlier on the phone.  Our experience at The LowBrow is a perfect example.  Here’s another example of what you could say when ordering:  “I would like the gluten free Caesar Salad.  So just to confirm with you that means no croutons”.   And then when you get your meal, always reconfirm, “this is the gluten free salad?”  Some restaurants actually serve gluten free on a different plate, which is helpful.

4. Even if you have had french fries safely in one franchise restaurant, for example, the same franchise but in a different location may not have safe fries.  Mad Jacks (food pictured below) is one such restaurant.  The Vadnais Heights, MN location has a full, separate gluten-free menu and dedicated fryer.  The one located in Brooklyn Park, MN does not.

Triple Decker GF Grilled Cheese & Fries

Gluten-Free Grilled Cheese & Fries from Mad Jacks in Vadnais Heights, MN. Separate GF menu and dedicated fryer makes this location very gluten-free friendly

Do I Really Need to Worry about the Oil?

Gluten Free Dietitian Tricia Thompson wrote about fryers, oil and french fries on her website glutenfreedietitian.com.  

She addressed what we need to know when it comes to contaminated oil. Does the hot oil break down the gluten that may be in it?  Her interview with Thomas Grace of Bia Diagnostics in Burlington Vermont helped get scientific information out there for us.

She mentioned the Joy of Cooking recommends the best temperature for deep frying is 365 degrees.  Grace told her, “Remember some breads are cooked at 500 degrees F for 10-15 minutes (pizza) and the gluten remains intact. So the short answer is that hot oil for the most part can not be trusted to completely hydrolyze gluten.”  Thompson’s final recommendation is until further testing can be done, only eat fries from a dedicated gluten-free fryer.  

Her article goes into much more detail, and you can read it here, I recommend it.   It has a lot of good information.  

What experiences have you had? Do you have any other tips on dealing with restaurants and gluten free fries?  Feel free to share them below.

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One Response to “Dining Out: When are Gluten Free French Fries REALLY Gluten Free?”

  1. I’ve experienced this frustration many times.

    About 6 months ago I went to a local restaurant and was told by the waitress, when asked that their clam chowder was GF. I was shocked but happy. I had the waitress check again with the chef. She came back and said that they use potato flour as a thickening agent. Yea. I ordered it and loved it.

    I was back there the other day and thought that I should ask again. This time the waitress said that it was NOT GF. I was confused and very mad as I had trusted the last waitress/chef. I asked if they changed their recipe and she said no.

    How do you trust eating out? I guess that I could ask for the chef personally. A big RED Flag is when I ask if an item is GF is when they say, ” I think so.”

    One restaurant that I can trust 100% is Razzi’s in Seattle. The owner and his own family have food allergies and his restaurant goes out of it’s way with a dedicated kitchen and menus for Vegan, dairy free, GF, corn and soy free. Go,go,go when ever in the Seattle area.

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