Monday, April 21, 2014

Great New Store - Fresh Thyme

Tonight was the soft opening, "friends and family event" for Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Mount Prospect. I'd heard good things in the weeks leading up to them opening. Last weekend at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo several big name brand products were already advertising that they were going to be selling their products, so I was really excited to check out what they had.

Really there were so many options, it was almost overwhelming. There were products that I've never seen in stores around Chicago, and had only seen via the internet. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. Two different employees told me that they counted over 1,100 gluten free items, not including the obvious, naturally gluten free items like milk, or olive oil. Gluten Free items are intermixed with non-gluten free items, but the size of the store lends it to still be easy to shop and many of the products would be tasty to someone who isn't specifically looking for gluten free. Every aisle has gluten free products, and they are very proud of their selection.

They have a nice selection of gluten free Hops and Grapes - and frozen items. I was in heaven. For those quick meal days there were a lot of options and new items from Amy's, Evol, Saffron Road, Ian's and Artisan Bistro

Van's Waffles, Sonoma Flatbreads, Coconut Bliss Ice cream, Immaculate Baking break and bake cookies. They have Annie Chuns and all of the San J products, even the to go packets of Tamari sauce! 

Right when you walk in on the right hand side there is a huge freezer of fresh baked items from Sweet Ali's, Blossom bakery, Udi's, Rudi's and several more. I really had to stop myself from buying the place out.

 There were several brands of gluten free hotdogs, sausage, Chorizo, and Kilbasa's. 

I had to get some items to take home and try out. Compared to the other stores in the area, Fresh Thyme is taking the cake for the selection and products available. I was excited when Mariano's started to carry more gluten free items, but Fresh Thyme has got even them beat hands down. The store is a good mix of a Whole Foods and The Fresh Market. They have a huge section for natural remedies, vitamins and supplements and a well trained staff that can help get you the answer your looking for. The supplements and natural remedies section seemed larger than Whole Foods, there was definitely a better selection of brands to choose from. 

If you can check out this store or one of the many they are opening this year you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Manhattan's Grill Gluten free, sort of....

Manhattan's American Bar and Grill says they have a gluten free menu. Well I guess they weren't wrong there, they did have a gluten free menu. The issue we had for the evening was no one told the kitchen staff there was a gluten free menu. Let's hear the loud *Sigh*. Personally I'd say you have to work with the kitchen staff first to find out what really can be prepped and served gluten free safely. That way you as an owner know what you're getting into. That way the cooks know there has to be a separate mayo jar for sandwiches and burgers. Ketchup and mustard should be squeeze bottles not knife contaminating jars. That way there is a piece of mind they've changed their gloves, washed their hands and started to prep the meal safely.

Originally I got excited to see stuffed mushrooms on the extensive gluten free menu. I ordered a side of those along with Nachos. Everyone else got their appetizers and soups and salad, the waitress came over and appologized that the mushrooms contained flour, so they're taking them off my bill that's why they never brought my food. Well at least the cooks knew flour + gluten free = bad.

I had gotten an order of nachos to pick at, which would have been fine, minus the fact they came out ice cold. I was annoyed, disgusted and pretty well ready to leave, if we weren't here for a birthday party we would have left. This was when the manger came over, and explained that no one had met with the chefs on the new menu, and the stuffed mushrooms would have been fine, had they known they were to make them gluten free (Wow - without the menu you wouldn't make that one change to accommodate a customer??), since the owner worked with a dietician to make a super safe menu. I felt the need to tell the manager that menu is only as safe as the knowledge of their kitchen staff. If the staff isn't trained, the menu is meaningless. I don't care if you worked with a dietitian or not. Which really is the truth in the execution of it all.

First plate of Nachos with Cold meat.
Our friend whose birthday it was felt bad, I felt bad that he felt bad. I assured him multiple times it wasn't his fault, he did exactly what I would have done. He contacted the restaurant, talked to the owner who told him there was an entire gluten free menu. Heck they had a 2 page printed menu, not just 2-3 items, who knew I was also going to have to sit down and interrogate the cooks to find out what they know?!?!?!

Our waitress who was rather MIA most of the night kept bugging me why I wasn't eating, and if I wanted to take them home to eat later. Personally a bad meal makes me queasy knowing there is too much of a chance of getting sick. Being all the way in Carol Stream and having to make it all the way back to Pilsen, I couldn't risk being sick along the way, plus it's not worth my long term health. The nibbles I took of my 2nd plate of warm nachos were ok, nothing to write home about. I heard from everyone else that was their opinion as well. Nothing great, but not the worst. I give them 2 dragonflies for horrible execution, and poorly trained staff, and lack luster food presentation over all. I will make sure to eat before going next time our friends want to go and see the band. Wine pricing was high, but I'll splurge if it's the only thing I'm having. 

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.