I still remember the first week I realized Celiac was the source of so much pain in my body. I determined then I would NEVER intentionally eat gluten again.  Oh yes, I had that moment of “well, I’ll try it once to make SURE” but I never had to.  The first accidental ingestion of gluten solved that delimna for me and I have been staunchly determined ever since.  I also knew that if I allowed it, this gluten factor could insulate me and I would become a willing hermit.  I breathed this fear to my sister and asked for her help.  I asked her to help me leave my own kitchen and venture out into the world.  I printed every gluten free menu I could find and stashed them in a notebook to keep in the car.

I thought I was ready but I discovered a terrible truth.  A gluten free menu does not mean  “safe gluten free eating” is possible.  Some places are really good at it.  Others?  They offer striped down versions of food that are barely edible much less enjoyable.  I refuse to pay good money for food that tastes bad.  I wouldn’t do so if I were eating gluten, why should that change now?  What has changed?  Eating out is complicated.  There is no way around that.  I have to talk to people.  I prefer to be rather invisible but to be safe, I have to talk. I have to talk to the waiter, the manager, the chef if possible.  If they are not available?  My advise – leave.  Just walk out.  It’s not worth it.

Some people can handle minuscule amounts of gluten and not pay too dearly for it.  I’m not one of those people.  I’m incredibly sensitive and the longer I am gluten free the worse the reactions get when the gluten does find me.  These places are all looked at from that perspective.  It’s not easy, being as demanding as my body requires I be, but losing four days of my life each time I get poisoned makes it a requirement so I grit my teeth and open my mouth and am politely demanding.  That polite thing?  It’s important.  If you start with an apologetic attitude you get further.  Sometimes I’m lucky and the staff knows what gluten is.  Sometimes they think gluten is glucose, if they have a guess at all. I’ve also discovered that eating with a larger party where some people are ordering “regular” food can be problematic.  The food all goes on the same tray.  The plates touch, the sauces splash, the napkins . . .yes the napkins – the ones with the chip crumbs? They made me sick once.  Really sick.  You have to watch every single step.  It’s worth it though.  That meal you didn’t have to make, the labels you didn’t read, the dishes you didn’t do?  It’s worth it.  It gets easier.  I promise it gets easier to give those words over, eventually.  I still don’t like it, but they flow better now than they did the first few times.  The less timid I am, the more conversational the staff become and the safer I feel.  I still have to take a deep breath before I begin but the tears no longer form.  In a year or two I doubt I’ll even notice I give those words at all.  It just has to become part of what you do, who you are, becuase you are worth it.

1.  Have an apologetic attitude

2.  Make sure you are speaking the same language – what is gluten and where is it found?

3.  If you are ordering with a larger party make sure the wait staff understands that your food touching theirs is not safe.

4.  Review the menu BEFORE you go to establishment and if possible call in advance to make sure the staff can accommodate you.

Favorites –

This is a list of places I am completely comfortable dining.   I have yet to have a bad experience with the staff, they prepare FANTASTIC food full of flavor and they never give me any attitude about it.  They are not the cheapest places to eat, but I have found that the lack of stress on my part makes it well worth the extra few dollars I spend.

Picazzo’s – Awesome pizza with a slightly thicker than thin crust pizza, quinoa pasta, delightful salads, and gf dessserts.  They make my heart happy.  The location in Tempe is quiet with a jazzy feel to it.

PF Chang’s has 28 gluten free items and the best gf dessert I have ordered yet.  It’s “just” a flourless chocolate dome but it’s wonderful.  They have gf soy sauce they will bring to the table if you ask them and I have yet to run across a wait staff that does not know what gluten is and how to handle it.

Brick’s Family Sports Grill – This place KNOWS how to do allergy friendly food.  The staff has always been excellent and will bring me whatever bottles/labels etc I need to review.  The chef has yet to lie to me about the food being safe, with one exception.  In a random conversation with the owner I asked her where they found gf chipolte since so few brands don’t use flour to thicken. Their chipolte is NOT safe and last time we were there they had not updated the menu.  This is the ONLY place I know where everything EXCEPT what is marked is GF.  There are five-ish things that you can’t have marked by little wheat stacks!  It’s awesome.   The owner’s family has quite the allergen history, and I love finding family run places that know first hand the risks of not being safe.  They don’t seem to have a website but I linked to their FB page.  (p.s. Their chicken tenders are amazing!!  My hubs likes them better than the “regular” chicken tenders)

Macayo’s – The have a GF menu and the chef has come out any time I had any questions or concerns.  Per the owner’s they do not use MSG and thus far they have never made me ill.

Mediocre –

B.J.’s. – This has long been a family favorite and it was the first place I ventured gluten free.  I didn’t get sick.  I ate food.  The options are pretty limitied.  Salad and potatoes were the only offerings when I was there.  I read that they are doing gf pizza now but I have not talked to the staff about how they do this so I am not certain how comfortable I would be.

Places I won’t dine –

Jason’s Deli started serving gluten free bread in July 2010.  I was ecstatic, finally a fast food place I thought would serve me well.  The first visit was awesome.  The staff knew what gluten was and the manger hand made my food.  I was safe.  The second visit I noticed the chips were the wrong chips, the ones with gluten.  The first staff person I spoke to would only replace the chips, not the sandwich they were covering.  A manager eventually fixed it but not without a big fuss.  The third visit made me violently ill.  I am still not altogether certain if it was the napkins or the fruit.  I sent the first sandwich back, after much debate, because the sandwich was on a tray with gluten food and had slid into that food.  My sis and I debated it awhile and I finally approached the manager.  She remade it.  Did she not change her gloves?  Was the fruit cut on the cutting board with the bread?  Was it the napkin with the chip crumbs?  I’m not sure.  I will never know.  I know that I was sick before we left.  I know I missed work over it.  I know my sis had to come over and let my pup out because I was so dizzy I could not get out of bed.  I won’t eat there again.  At least not until they figure out that gluten free is about so much more than the bread.  I applaud their effort, but it’s more dangerous to try poorly than to not offer gluten free at all.

Where I live there are not too many mom and pop type places.  I have found I much prefer those to the mainstream places.  I found a delightful bakery on vacation that taught me something vital.  If a place offers gf food to make money, I don’t want to eat there.  If they offer gf food because their (insert family relation here) has celiac, I want to eat there.  Those people?  They get it.  That little bakery I found?  She can do phenomenal things with pancakes and I still wish someone would send me some more of those muffins she made.  The cinnamon rolls?  Oh yeah, we ate a half dozen of them.  In two days.  We ate them three meals in a row.  Not a bit of made me sick, and I would bet you couldn’t tell me they didn’t have gluten in them.  That’s the sort of food I want to eat.  I am hopeful that someday I will find some little places like that here, and when I do I’ll post them here.  Until then, I’ll remember that it’s possible.  A little bakery in Pagosa Springs, Colorado taught me that.  If you happen through town, go visit Dawn at the Floured Apron, she’ll take care of you.  Oh, and eat some blueberry pancakes for me, okay?