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!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Moe's Southwest Grill Gluten Free

A friend told me that Moe's Southwest grill was "just like Chipotle, but better." Well when you give me a recommendation like that, I can't help but try them out. Well..... Post taste test; Not as good as Chipotle, at all, but good. We don't have many around our area, but I've seen more of them when we're traveling. Actually when I mentioned it to my boyfriend he told me "Sounds good, what is it?"

Unlike Chipotle they don't have as many gluten free options. The burrito bowl is really it.They give you fresh chips with every meal but nothing said they were fried in a dedicated fryer so I avoided them. I liked the extra ingredients to add in it was a nice way to break up the variety from Chipotle (Olives, pickles mushrooms, and jalapeno's). Moe's have more locations Nationally than they do in Chicago. I've seen them come up a few times looking at places to eat while traveling. 

Chicken Burrito Bowl
My boyfriend got this cute little taco thing wrapped in a flour tortilla - It looked good, he said it tasted good. It was like a crunch wrap supreme from back in the day at Taco Bell. Unfortunately due to the flour burrito shell used it wasn't gluten free, it would be nice to have something like that since it'd be a nice different option. Over all it was ok, they get two dragoflies, nothing to go crazy over, not a huge selection, but it's there for a quick meal when you need something different. But I won't go out of my way to stop there for dinner or lunch. I wish I could get more information on their chips since they had a salsa bar, that would be a nice change as well. Maybe I'm in a food rut, I want some variety here!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Meli's Cafe

Meli's Cafe has 3 locations in Chicago. They do great smoothies healthy breakfast, and vegan options as well as gluten free. We've been here two other times over the past couple years. The first time we went was before heading to the Auto Show, their Greektown location is near Union Station so it's easy to grab the bus to McCormick Place. I've had their polenta pancakes and a scrambler.

This time I noticed they could do gluten free crepes.. Crepes?! I had to try them, it's so rare to find crepes on a menu. The waitress nicely came over and told me the crepe batter would be lighter in color than the normal crepe batter. These were Nutella crepes, with strawberries and banana's how can you turn something like this down! 

The "regular" Nutella crepes had chocolate in the batter. So the crepes were chocolate, and much darker than the gluten free ones.

Their bacon was a bit tough and chewy, I think Yolk a couple weeks before spoiled me on what good crispy bacon tastes like. They have a lot of good healthy choices which would probably be a better option, since I don't think they are using a separate grill for the crepes. about 4 hours later I had some major stomach discomfort and ended up getting pretty sick. I'm still not certain it was a gluten exposure, maybe the batter wasn't refrigerated like it should have been, or the bacon left out. It was a weird feeling and after getting sick I felt instantly better.

I would give them 3 dragonflies, mostly because I did get sick afterwards, though it was my third visit, so I have had safe meals there in the past. I probably got overzellous on wanting crepes. Next time I'll stick with a scrambler and not a side of bacon to go with it! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pinched Mediterranean grill Gluten Free-able

Pinched Mediterranean Grill in Lombard is a cute little family run place, that has amazing tasting gluten free options. Their menu board has everything that has wheat marked with a little stalk of wheat. It's great because they have a lot of gluten free options! I was a fan of this place when they opened up a couple years ago, and recently they added a bonus to the menu, gluten free pita's! Whoot Whoot, now they're more like Roti. The one thing that kills me, is it's an extra $3 for a gluten free pita, $3 can buy you a whole bag of regular pitas. 

Generally I go with the plate, salad is an option too, and now a regular pita as well, but there is something about tearing a part the pita bread and eating it as a side that i adore. 

The menu even walks you thru what, and how to order, pick a meal, plate, pita or salad, then pick your protein. (Falafel is the only not-gf protein in their list) Then you pick 3 sides to go with your meal, and a sauce to top it off.

This was the first place I tried Mediterranean food, I was a little apprehensive at first, heck I didn't know what it was! The lovely lady who is always at the counter walked me thru what the best items to get for the plate were, and which sides and sauces went best together. I highly recommend checking them out for a quick meal, which very friendly service. One of our trips the server brought out my meal with a pita on top, the lady in charge quickly had them remake my meal sans the pita, and gave the chef a stern lecture on making sure it was gluten free. I give them 4 dragonflies they have a very flavorful entree selection as well as great options to choose from. By no means will you leave here hungry!