Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gluten Free Expo 2014! - Part 1

This weekend was the Gluten Free Expo! It's like my favorite weekend of the year! There are two things I like about the weekend, volunteering and getting to meet and chat with so many awesome gluten free people, or gluten free supports, as well as trying new products and getting new swag. My family is awesome and like trying new things and seeing where new products will be offered, so it doesn't take much to get them to come to the show. My brothers girlfriend likes trying all the new foods, because there is always so many good tasting foods. My boyfriends new term is It's GFF - Gluten Free Fantastic!!

Everyone does their tastings and picking up samples so we get a good selection of GF items to try and well, I get snacks for the next few months. It definitely makes the ticket price worth it! I did the most of my shopping and trying on Saturday, we got there with just under 3 hours, shockingly... Or not, we needed more time to really stop, check stuff out, shop and see everything. The staples were there, Smart flour, Glutino, Schars, Ian's, Udi's, Rudi's Bard's, and Enjoy Life Foods.

Some new comes that really stepped up, were Ultra foods, advertising their new advancements in carrying GF items, they've made a big entrance into the Chicagoland area recently. Other newbies were DeVine Lip Shimmers, Sonoma Flatbread pizzas, Leo's Italian Foods, Canyon Bakehouse, Lovely Candies, and Coconut Milk Ice cream.

I picked up a few items that were super tasty, Simple Mills was tasting the best banana muffin's at the show, and Lia P had oatmeal raisin cookies that melted in your mouth (and she's a local baker, a break off of Le Petite Sweets)!
Virtuous was a new seasoning company. They make 3 seasoning mix, and all are super tasty. 

I think the most Shocking product was a company Delights that is coming out with Stuffed sandwiches, (Gluten free Hot Pockets essentially!!!) Where are they going to be sold you want to know?! Meijers and Aldi's! I was shocked, that means they are affordable too. They were so good, I can't wait, looking at their website there are 4 flavors available.

Voulnteering on Sunday they wanted at least 6,000 goodie bags made up to hand out to people coming to the show. 6,000 on Palm Sunday, WOW! That's a lot of gluten free people "Trick or Treating" their way through all the exhibits. 

This was the back up stash of bags ready to go as the expo opened to people waiting in a line by 8:30. But I guess when you have your plan set, you can go in and get everything you need right away, the show was much busier on Sunday, it felt a lot more crowded when I got to go out and see what everyone was sampling.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

American Wildburger Gluten Free Burgers

A new burger place in Des Plaines called American Wildburger opened up last year to local rave reviews. A couple of my friends live in walking distance of this place, and right away informed me, "They do gluten free, you have to check it out!!" Any time I get a shout out from my friends to check out a place, I have to oblige! Heck I can't find all these places on my own. I happened to be in the area, (Mind you this is the town over from me, but I Never, Never go this direction for anything!) so we decided to stop and check it out for lunch. It's a tiny place, off the beaten path. It's an old hotdog stand with 8 seats at a bar for eating. We opted to take our meal to go! 

The entire menu... with gluten free listings.

They have several suggested burger options they have created as signature items. But they also allow you to build your own burger with all your favorite toppings. One of the unique options is a "burger", made of Chicken, Pork and Beef all in one patty. It sounded so good, but was way too much food for lunch. I have to go back and try it for dinner some time! 
See the Gluten Free Under the D in WildBurger? :)
I decided on the Philly Steak burger, on an Udi's gluten free bun, and cheese fries. Looking at their menu they don't fry anything other than french fries, Score!!! The Lady who took my order confirmed I wanted the gluten free bun for an allergy, and shouted it out to the person making the burgers to make sure to keep this separate due to an allergy. Everything was made fresh and was super tasty.

Honestly some days a nice greasy meal sounds so good, and French Fries... How I miss greasy french fries, with cheese!!! My rating for them is 3 dragonflies. I trust that the fries are GF! But I don't know if it was busier how they would handle keeping the GF bun separate with such a small cooking space, even though they do list the gluten free, and advertise it, they may have more protocols in place then I was able to observe waiting for our meal.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Gluten Free at Wrigley Field

Generally I’m shocked when I attend an event that has Gluten free food. I’m even more shocked that others not in the gluten free food booth know what gluten free is, and where to find it at their event. I was pleased we had good service and food at Wrigley Field. The Friendly Confines are celebrating their 100th year as a staple in Chicago. I happened to get tickets and took my boyfriend to his first Cubs game! I personally haven’t been to a game since I’ve been gluten free so this was an adventure for both of us.

I’d heard they did gluten free, but wasn’t sure where, because the names of places people had previously mentioned didn’t match the names of places currently at the stadium… I guess with their 100th year celebration they changed some names… (Oy!) Luckily we asked one of the beer vendors who was selling RedBridge, and he had some knowledge and pointed us in the right direction, but for more information we ultimately when to the Fan Experience booth and all 3 ladies were super helpful and even had a printed out list of what places had what options! Whoot Whoot! With some time to kill before the game we popped down to the Decade Diner where I had a great conversation with the lady who took my order and even got a RedBridge to drink. 

When they called out our order the server even shouted back “Gluten Free HotDog”! Dogs come plain with all the condiments off to the side to spice it up however you’d like, they actually had Ketchup too. Instead of French fries my side was Lay’s potato chips, so I did feel better there was no CC. We giggled each time they shouted out Gluten Free, there were a lot of GF peeps there before the game!

There were several places around the park to get snacks and Red Bridge. I had brought Kind Bars with me as a backup, because they do through bag searches upon entry, I wasn’t sure if more would be allowed. They were fine with my Kind Bars luckily. For a sporting event, this was the best menu yet!

The over all knowledge of gluten free at the stadium was wowing, I was able to get information right at the park, and everyone was so polite about it. My hotdog was so tasty and I got a beer with it. Sounds cheesy, but it was nice to feel like an adult hanging out with everyone else.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Flat Top Grill Gluten Free menu....

The moral to the end of this review is Stand you ground for what you know!

Flat Top grill is an Asian Stir Fry grill with really no menu options, other than appetizers and dessert. The rest of the menu is a do it yourself stir fry. Over the past 3 years of dining there gluten free their menu has improved to offer more gluten free options. They have rice (Brown and white) for the base, veggies of all types, sauces and meat. Simple enough right? The main thing to keep in mind is their meat is marinated! WHAT?! It doesn't look it, but it is. The main thing I've learned is to Make sure you ask your server for the un-marinated meat in the back. They say pork, chicken and shrimp are gluten free safe, it's not marinated in gluten sauces, but I've learned still ask for the meat from the back! The beef is marinated in soy sauce so that's a major no no. They have 4-6 sauces now that are gluten free, and if you again ask nicely they will bring you more from that back if you are worried they got contaminated by another sauce. 

What's great is when you fill your bowl and take it up to the wok, you can put an allergy stick in the bowl so they know to make sure your food is cooked in a separate wok away from all the others! 

I have several friends who adore going to Flat Top, and really you can make almost anyone happy with dinner there, they have a variety of veggies, meat, and sauces, you can make a bunch of combinations of meals by just making small changes to your meal. 

I've had some hit or miss meals there based on how well the staff listens to you. The main thing is if they tell you the meat on the line is safe, ask for a manager. I've gotten Horribly ill eating there when the staff kept trying to convince me that the pork was gluten free they no longer put gluten containing sauces in the marinated meat. Maybe it was, and the fact that it came out pink is what caused me to get ill, but either way I was so sick the next 3 days, I was furious with myself. 

I spoke with the manager the next day, walked thru my meal ordering process, and the manager agreed, that I was correct, and that he would talk to the staff about allergy practices again. But to always make sure I insist on the un-marinated meat from the back. 

Fast forward a couple months and I'm faced with dinner at Flat Top. I said sure, I as always had their allergen menu loaded on my phone for quick reference (they don't always have a copy on hand in the store. I had one store write it all out for me on a napkin.) I asked our server for the un-marinated meat from the back. He obliged and reminded me to put the allergen stick in my food, so it's cooked separate. The gluten free sauces are in the back row of the sauces so there is less chance someone dripped sauce from another ladle into it. You can also ask for all veggies and sauces come from the back.

They even have gluten free low sodium Tamari sauce for you to add to your meal! Win Win. Now with anything there are risks with dinning out, especially when you have a buffet serve yourself style meal.Over all I like them, I will only give a 3 for training of their staff and the potential for contamination due to the buffet style of the veggies and sauces.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Gluten Free at Italian Village

Italian Village has been in Chicago a LONG time. They are one of the oldest restaurants in the Loop. They are worth a stop and see for that reason alone. They are the oldest Italian Restaurant which celebrated their 85th birthday in 2012. Notables from Chicago, including Al Capone have dined here. They have one of the largest wine cellars in the Midwest, which seems shocking seeing how tiny this building looks. It's quaint, there are 3 restaurants inside (again it's so small!!) each one on a different floor, La Cantina, in the basement, designed like the wine cellar. Vivere is the main level, and really swanky looking, and The Village is upstairs and is like eating on the streets of Italy. Each severs different entree's and different cooking styles from different regions around Italy. All can prepare gluten free pasta for a dish!

We were there for a birthday party recently, after spending the day at Eataly off Ohio, we took a nice stroll over and had dinner here. We were in La Cantina, in the basement. Cute, quaint, small... Not bad things, our group could have been at a bigger table, but we made do. The menu for La Cantina does have GF indicators next to meals. The one thing I didn't like, is it lists their steaks and Chicken Vesuvio (which they were the first place to server chicken vesuvio without peas!) as the only gluten free dishes. I had called ahead and found out they did have pasta available. The specials menu didn't have the nice GF indicators, but our server who was fabulous was able to help navigate what was gf on there. He also confirmed they had 2 different pastas that were gluten free and could be subbed into any dish for a pasta.

The specials menu listed a risotto. I love risotto. I do always ask to make sure it's gluten free, since a lot of place use broth/stock to cook the risotto to add more flavor, and stock/broth is always questionable if it's GF. Our server rocked, he told me he thought so but went back and check to be certain. Yay! I was going to order a pasta premivera dish, but the server shook his head and said, no, I think you should order something that will be more flavorful. I laughed, I hear things like "Servers don't want you to ask what's good on the menu..." Well he volunteered what was good to try! Their minestrone soup was also GF! All meals come with soup or salad, I opted to try the soup, you don't always get a soup option dining out.

It would have been nice to have some bread with my meal. Watching everyone else dunk in the oil and cheese looked so good, But I kept reminding myself, I'd eat more of my meal this way. Everyone enjoyed their food. It was good, the birthday girl ordered the salmon off the specials menu and LOVED it. I liked my risotto, I thought it could have had a little more flavor to it, and the rice seemed a bit undercooked in spots, cause it was hard to chew, but it wasn't so bad I'd send it back.

I struggle with a review rating. Over all it was a good place, and the staff was really nice to work with. I wish their menu gave a full picture of their gluten free options. I feel anyone who doesn't eat steak, or the steak isn't in their price range, may be turned off since it doesn't list the GF pasta on the menu. Plus the other 2 restaurants don't have gluten free indicators on their menu, making it seem like they can't accommodate. Our server totally made the difference, and made me feel safe eating there. He was so sweet and ran around to get the answers I needed, and even announced my meal was gluten free when it arrived to the table. I'll give them 4 dragonflies, thought the menu listing normally would give them 3 in my book, but the history and service made up for it. It's worth a try for date night. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring Break!

Spring Break time!!! My boyfriend and I are going on vacation in 2 days, and my anxiety is right where it should be for getting on a plane in just over 48 hours, complete panic mode!

I've always been the type to panic over traveling, even before my Celiac Diagnosis. I also tend to be the 100% need to plan kind of person. I could probably be compared to Sheldon from Big Bang Theory with drawing up itineraries, planning places to eat, rest stops for road trips, and Road Side America stops along the way with random area facts. You can imagine how much crazier my planning got when we had to add in gluten free destinations. The 7 day Los Angeles vacation I planned out, you'd have thought we were moving there, which I realized was a bit overboard, but while we were in the car, and the question of "Are you hungry?" came up, I pointed to the 10 page itinerary and told my friend to pick out a place. So It had it's merits of simplifying finding a place to eat on a whim. I also include where to find the closest Whole Foods store and check out how much buzz there is about the local grocery store and if they have a GF section.

It was about 2 days after this trip I heard about a brand new App being released, Find Me Gluten Free. Find Me Gluten Free (FMGF) has become my emergency contingency plan while traveling. Like any site that takes user submissions and ranking, it's great for the reviews, but Always double check a place that's on there. They are user submissions. Our San Fransisco trip it gave us some bad info, and we spent close to an hour trying to find a place to eat that knew what I was talking about when I said "Gluten Free"

Packing: For me packing starts about 2 weeks before the trip, while my boyfriend will start packing about 3:00 am the day we are leaving. 3:00 am the day we are leaving I'm running worst case scenarios thru my head. Aside from what shoes and purse to take, and how many outfits I need, I have to start planning the travel snacks. I always pack gluten free snacks in my luggage and carry on. I'd much rather be prepared than scrambling when I get to my destination and can't find anything to eat that's safe. Have we ever been stranded, not really, we have been stuck in the airport for a flash storm until midnight, and the restaurants in our concourse closed somewhere around 9:00pm.

  • Carry on snacks - Kind Bars, Pretzels, a box of cookies, fruit snacks, and some nuts. I have protein carb, and sweet, that way all bases are covered for cravings. 
  • All medications that aren't liquid - This seems like common sense but I carry all Tums, Pepto, Milk of Magnesia in pill form with me in case something still happens before we get to our destination. 
  • Luggage - More of every thing in my carry on, and maybe some crackers or chips in case we stop and I can get a side of guacamole or salsa, I can snack. I also keep San J Tamari packets in an old Q-tip case so they can safely travel. Again a back up if I need to season rice, or a plain steak. 
  • Dinning out cards - I've got multi lingual dinning cards which explain in several languages that I can't have gluten, and what gluten is found in. These are great for every day dinning, but traveling you never know who or what you'll encounter, so I'm always prepared!
Now that I've covered what to take I make sure I've checked FMGF, Urban Spoon, Gluten Free Travel Site, and mapped out what's near each of our destinations, read all the reviews, and seen in anyone around there can back up the reviews? Is this place as good as the reviewer says? Am I kidding myself on finding parking?

I have started to see more gluten free options at the airport, but with a premium price tag attached to them as well. Go-Picnic meals for $10 each, Kind Bars for $5, which is just insane! Most flights don't have snacks these days, let alone gluten free snacks, so I'd rather be prepared. On our trip back from LA we had a lay over in St. Louis, for 3 hours. I was unaware that the previous summer St. Louis had a tornado strike and went right through one of the airport terminals, leaving it completely devastated. To keep up business as usual they moved all flight operations to a back up terminal, which reminded me of a scene out of a bad horror movie. It was so desolate, and empty, and food options were just as sparse. I was glad I had snack options with me. I had NOT expected that at all, so my reminder of always be prepared played out right there for me.

Off to make sure everything is packed and ready to go!! Florida, Here we come!!!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Food Review - Gluten Free Beer Brats; Cupcakes and more

Gluten Free Beer Brats - Say what?! Really??? Sorry for the awful glare. These are Gilberts Brand gluten free Beer Bratwurst. They are made with Lake Front New Grist Beer. They were good, and a little kick to them, but were so tasty. They have no MSG, Nitrates, and no corn syrup. I had mine plain without a bun, like I do most sausages, it's just easier! If someone knows of a good "brat" bun, I'll try it out! These were good, they come individually wrapped too, so you can make 1 at a time. I recommend these 100%

Skinny Pop - Popcorn that's healthy at tasty. What? I know that seems like an oxy moron - but it's good. We get small snack sized bags at work as a healthy treat during the day. It's all natural, cholesterol free, dairy free, nut free, perservative free, non GMO and a good source of fiber. There is enough saltiness to the flavor that it doesn't need anything else. They have four flavors including plain, white cheddar, black pepper and sweet.

Cupcakes at Trader Joes - Plus they're not frozen, score! I hate having to plan things days in advance, based on where I'm going to be, how to get to which store and who can bring what for any get together. I know It's the lifestyle, but it's annoying! I was shocked to see TJ's had cupcakes in their fresh baked section, so I had to try them out. They are a little dry, but not unbearable, and the frosting wasn't too sweet. It felt like a mix of a cream cheese frosting and butter cream. Everyone enjoyed them! 

This past weekend when we were at the grocery store they had some new gluten free items. I've heard Three Bakers make a great loaf of gluten free bread, so I thought maybe I should check out their pizza. I might have a new favorite pizza, over Against the Grain, which has been a huge favorite for me. The crust is slightly seasoned but not too much, and doesn't have a funky after taste! The pizza could have been a little bigger, it was pretty small, but tasty. Total repeat buy!