GF Friendly Restaurants

Gluten-Free Menus? Watch out!

20 Comments 08 June 2011

Gluten-Free Menus?  Watch out!

I can remember a time when P.F. Chang’s was the only restaurant I knew of that had a gluten-free menu.  That made it our go-to restaurant. In my 8 years of eating gluten-free I’ve only been glutened once at a Chang’s (and I’ve probably eaten there 50 times), but I think my glutening had more to do with a language barrier than cross-contamination.

Here are just a few of the restaurant chains that now have gluten-free menus:

Finding a restaurant with a gluten-free menu can be downright exhilarating.  You breathe a sigh of relief that you’ll eat more than lettuce and shredded carrots drizzled with olive oil, you revel in the fact that there is an entire page of options that actually look appetizing, and you relax knowing that those preparing your food understand gluten issues.

I finally had a chance to try Amerigo’s gluten-free menu, but I was reminded of a basic gluten-free dining rule:

Never let your guard down!

I was immediately impressed with the many options that were listed on a menu that actually looked like a menu.  No flimsy little photocopied paper, a real menu.  And the menu items looked amazing.  They even had gluten-free pasta!

I had to try the pasta.

Most people would just settle for knowing that the pasta is gluten-free.  But this gluten-free blogging geek had to know what the pasta was made from.  I know Maggiano’s uses a delicious corn pasta.  I enjoyed rice pasta at an Italian restaurant in Portland before.  I’m a huge fan of quinoa, and lately I’ve really been enjoying Bionaturae pasta which combines potato, rice, and soy flour.

I really was just curious, so I asked the waitress.

Me:  What kind of flour is your gluten-free pasta made from?
Waitress:  Uh, I’m not sure.  I think maybe wheat?

Me:  Oh no, oh no, oh no!  That’s impossible.  Because WHEAT is NOT gluten-free.  ALL wheat has gluten in it!
Waitress:  Let me go check.

I know it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t know the ingredients in the gluten-free pasta.  But instantly I knew that she had no idea how to serve a gluten-free diner safely.

My waitress never did return with an answer to my question.  In fact, my waitress didn’t return at all.  A new waiter took over who made me feel a lot more comfortable about my impending dining experience.  I’m so thankful, because the Spaghetti Pomodoro with Shrimp was incredible!

I’ll definitely return to Amerigo for another meal.  While I’m very thankful that gluten-free menus now abound, this is a reminder to be careful, ask questions, and never let your guard down.

Your Comments

20 Comments so far

  1. I had a similar experience last week at BJ’s Brewhouse. My daughter wanted to try the gf pizza. The waitress kept offering us gluten-filled appetizers even though we both told her we were ordering from the gf menu. Then she offered us more gluten-filled desserts and I reminded her that we were eating gluten free. She finally confessed that she had never even looked at the gf menu and figured we knew what we could have. So reassuring, not. How can a restaurant have a gf menu and have servers who haven’t even read the menu or be so clueless? Careful out there.

    • Heather says:

      Yikes! That’s scary. I’m glad you both survived your experience. Thankfully, you’re an expert and know what to watch out for. We’ve left restaurants before when we realized that the we weren’t willing to risk it. I just worry about the newly diagnosed trusting gf menus. We all live and learn, right?

  2. Great info! If you are living gluten free it is up to you to know what ingredients are safe or not and what are typically in a dish. This way you know what questions to ask. Great job on asking questions and getting what you needed. Meal looks great.

  3. Miller says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of gluten free menus that have a disclaimer. Do you feel comfortable ordering GF at a restaurant that emphasizes that they cannot guarantee that they are careful about cross-contamination?

    • Heather says:

      Hey Miller! (so fun)

      Comfortable? No, but I may be willing to try depending on conversations with the staff.

      I’ve had great experiences with a few places with disclaimers. I know they have to cover themselves. They don’t want to claim to be gf and then have someone sue because they got sick. That’s fine. I’m more concerned about lack of effort to try.

      The manager of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants told me that he can’t control if one of his employees puts flour products in the fryer dedicated to the corn chips on his lunch break. But the very fact that he’s aware of cross contamination issues shows that they really do try hard.

      I’ll try it once, ask a ton of questions, and if I get sick I don’t return.

  4. bookladyDavina says:

    agreed! hubby and I went to one of the few places locally (Red Robin) we know I can go. Really only have a few options there, but when we’re out, it’s at least something. It was very loud that day, but I started out by stating I was ordering gluten free and what I wanted. We’d had a wonderful experience there several times before so I thought all would be well. While we were waiting something just told us to flag the waitress down and verify that she’d gotten my order correct.. turns out, she hadn’t caught that it was a ‘food allergy’ order and was going to bring out everything bun and all. Even though she was looking right at me and repeated when I placed my order, she still hadn’t been paying attention and I could have had a miserable experience. She quickly ran off to change the order, but just shows that even when we think we’ve gotten our request across, sometimes we need to double check cuz some people just don’t get it.

    • Heather says:

      My husband and I have a rule. “Always go with your gut.” If something feels wrong, it probably is. So glad your gut told you to flag her down!

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Well, this story had a much happier ending than I expected–thank goodness! I caution folks on this all the time, Heather. A gluten-free menu gives patrons a false sense of security. One must still do the same “due diligence.” Wasn’t it Ronald Reagan who said “trust but verify”? A contradiction in terms for sure, but I’d apply that here as go to these establishments, order off the gluten-free menu, but still quiz and be cautious. It only takes one unknowledgeable server or kitchen staff member to make one sick for days. I’ve never heard of this restaurant, but thanks so much for the review and the reminders, dear!


  6. Miller (@MillerP on Twitter) says:

    At out local Red Robin the kitchen manager will typically deliver my plate himself. The first time we went there he came out and explained the process he used to keep my food separate. I was impressed. It’s funny. Since going GF, we began to visit higher end restaurants where the chef is available to talk to us. I had a nice long discussion with the chef at White Chocolate Grill and of course at DaLucianos in River Grove. After all, the chef at DaLucianos is the owner/father of the family restaurant. The hardest local restaurant to verify was our favorite Thai restaurant. I had the waiter go back to the kitchen twice to make sure none of the ingredients had wheat/gluten. He was very helpful despite the language barrier. It’s on my verified list now thanks to his effort.

    • Heather says:

      Chefs visiting table side is always comforting!
      I know what you mean about the quality of restaurant dining improving since going gluten-free. It has opened up a world of food and flavors I never knew existed. Some people think that the gf diet is limiting. But my life has truly been enriched because of it.

  7. Janet says:

    I’ve only eaten at a couple of restaurants since being diagnosed. I was pleased to see that the Outback Steakhouse actually had a GF menu. I’ve eaten there twice and the waitstaff seemed to be well trained in dealing with food allergies.

    My biggest problem was at a local Greek restaurant where I went with a group of co-workers for a retirement lunch. The woman arranging the lunch knew I had celiac and consulted with the restaurant to make sure that there would be gluten free options (we were limited to a choice of two entrees and one appetizer and dessert). When the flaming cheese appetizer came out, I asked the waiter what was in it and he assured me it was “just cheese”. Well, it wasn’t. It had been dredged in wheat flour before it was flambeed. The woman who arranged the lunch knew that the cheese dish had gluten in it but neglected to tell me. One small consolation was that she did have them bring me a plain vanilla ice cream for dessert rather than the pastry that everyone else was eating.

    • Heather says:

      Janet, that’s terrible! I hope you found out about the appetizer before eating it. :(

      Love Outback, especially their chocolate brownie! Chocolate Thunder from Down Under. Yum!

  8. Janet says:

    Alas, no. It wasn’t until after the meal was over that I found out about the flour coating on the flaming cheese dish. And I paid dearly for it the next day.

    I agree about the Chocolate Thunder from Down Under. I usually end up sharing it with someone ’cause there’s too much for me to eat all by myself, especially after a hearty dinner.

  9. Denise says:

    I am leaving tomorrow for Nashville. I will be in Nashville for a few days and am so excited to try Amerigo. Could you please give me some other recommendations? I always do the Carrabbas,Outback,Pei Wei and Pf Changs, so I am looking for something different. What do you think about pizza-is Matteos a carry out only pizza restaurant? If you had to choose…Fiddlecakes or A matter of taste?

    • Heather says:

      Matteo’s is definitely carry out. (Funny story…I didn’t realize that it was takeout when I first heard there was gf pizza in town. The Husband and I went on a date to Matteo’s. I was so excited to be having pizza OUT! When we got there and saw ONE table I was so disappointed. But I was determined to stay and have pizza out. While I waited for the pizza, the Husband went down the street to buy a candle and matches for the middle of our table!)

      Maffioza’s is fun, but their gourmet pizza is very expensive when you add extra for the gf crust. We also have Mellow Mushroom for gf pizza crust.

      My favorite gf friendly restaurant right now is Taco Mamacita – ask for Whitney to be your server. She’s a celiac and has worked with the restaurant to make it safe for us

      FiddleCakes or A Matter of Taste? Oh, so hard!!! I’m on a huge AMOT kick right now because it’s fresh amazing food every time. You may want to check out FC just for the ambiance and to take a few treats home with you though. It’s just down the street from AMOT.

      Send me a tweet while you’re here. Would be fun to meet for a scone at FC! (We’re moving this weekend, but I’d love to meet up if we aren’t in the midst of the mess!)

      • Denise says:

        Thanks Heather! Loved your pizza story! I would love to meet up with you, as well. I have never tried tweeting, but I will try to figure it out and “tweet” you. If you would like to email me I could give you my cell number. I will be getting into Nashville hopefully before lunch. I can’t wait to try the gluten free options there!

  10. Freebies says:

    The “wheat” gluten free comment cracked me up a bit- a friend of mine on learning I was gluten free asked “can’t you just eat white bread, then”.

    Yeah- people just don’t understand, sometimes :)


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A Curious Girl in the Gluten-Free World

I'm a curious girl, wife, teacher, fitness fanatic, gluten-free foodie, high-raw vegan, and Mama Cat living in NYC. I've made the transition from baking and cooking gluten-free to creating raw vegan recipes that are naturally gluten free. My gluten intolerance opened up my diet to a whole new world of nutritious plant-based foods. While I'm not 100% vegan, it's my favorite way to eat, and making and sharing raw foods makes me giddy. Living in the City has its joys and challenges, and I enjoy sharing my experiences with you.

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