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  • Melissa Blanco
    Melissa Blanco

    Gluten-Free Dining in Maui, Hawaii

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Gluten-free travel to Hawaii is possible! Photo: CC-Jordan Emery

    Celiac.com 10/19/2010 - The plane soared above the vast, blue Pacific Ocean as the gorgeous state of Hawaii loomed beneath it.  When we descended into our tropical destination of Maui, my stomach was a bundle of excited energy, with visions of walks along the beautiful sandy beaches and lounging poolside, soaking in the sun’s rays.  My husband and I’d planned this trip for months—budgeted for the most cost effective airfare, researched affordable hotels, packed swimsuits and summer clothing for our family of five.  Yet, as every person with celiac disease understands, traveling has its hidden dangers of gluten-contaminated food, restaurants that aren’t attuned to the needs of food intolerance sufferers, and the common question of: what am I going to eat when I’m away from my comfort zone, away from my home?
              
    Our adventure began in a resort on the Ka‘anapali Shores of Maui, as the sun was setting and a warm breeze rustled through the swaying palm trees.  While my family mapped out their wish list of activities to embark on during our paradise vacation, I brainstormed what I’d eat in the land of sugar cane, flowered leis, and tropical fruits.  As the warm sun rose each morning, I ate the breakfast bars I’d packed in my suitcase along with a cup of Hawaiian Kona coffee, which we purchased after arriving.  For coffee lovers, I highly recommend it, www.konacoffee.com.  Kona coffee was available at the hotel gift shop, grocery store, and sold as whole beans packaged at the local Starbucks.
              
    Although my diet for the week relied heavily on grilled chicken salads, fresh fruits, vegetables, and almonds, I also sampled local restaurants with my family.  We were interested in venues that offered a children’s menu, had a welcoming and fun atmosphere, and were possibly places providing a chance for exploration and cultural experience.

    Cheeseburger in Paradise
    Anyone who’s ever listened to the song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” by Jimmy Buffet, will understand my desire to eat at the restaurant.  Maui’s Cheeseburger in Paradise is located on Front Street in beautiful Lahaina.  The two story restaurant sits beside the water, as a cool breeze wafts through a windowless dining area, while patrons enjoy cocktails and their signature burgers and steak fries.  When I spoke to the hostesses, dressed in festive grass skirts, I was informed that they did not have a gluten-free menu, but could accommodate gluten intolerant guests by serving burgers without buns and salads.  Although I contemplated ordering one of the grilled salads, I ultimately decided upon the signature Cheeseburger in Paradise, minus the bun, and a basket of sweet potato fries.  I might have been tempted to try the steak fries as well, but learned from my server that they are flavored with a seasoning salt containing gluten.  It was a pleasant experience and my only wish was that I’d have brought a license plate to hang on the restaurant wall with others from across the country.  If interested, check out their website at, www.cheeseburgerland.com.

    Old Lahaina Luau
    Also located on Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii, this Luau is worth attending if only for the traditional Hawaiian Hula performance.  The Old Lahaina Luau is a family affair located beside the ocean, providing a beautiful sunset view, as ceremony and tradition are celebrated following pre-dinner learning activities for both adults and children.  Upon entering the Luau, girls are presented with a flower for their hair and everyone is given a fresh flower lei.  Adults are offered the signature island alcoholic beverage, a Mai tai—it is up to the patron whether or not to accept it.  Before attending the Luau we called in advance and requested a gluten-free menu.  This gluten-free request was confirmed by my server when I arrived.  Additionally, I was presented with a complete food ingredient list by him for the buffet.  I would advise anyone with a gluten intolerance to request a gluten-free meal because while reading the ingredient list, I discovered most of the dishes contained soy sauce.  As I joined my family in choosing fresh fruits, salad, and vegetables from the buffet line, my server placed a warm, freshly prepared gluten-free meal of grilled chicken breasts and steamed vegetables where I was seated.  Overall, it was an amazing night and a wonderful time to experience a traditional Lu‘au while enjoying a delicious meal.  For more information or to make a reservation: www.oldlahainaluau.com.

    Pacific Whale Foundation Lana‘i Snorkel and Dolphin Watch Eco-Adventure
    The non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation offers several eco-adventures for people wishing to experience the marine life of Hawaii.  We chose to take the five hour Snorkel and Dolphin Cruise, which provided a continental breakfast, barbeque lunch, and refreshments.  After departing from Lahaina Harbor, snorkel gear and flippers in hand, we sailed patiently through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean in search of dolphins.  We weren’t disappointed when about an hour into our adventure we spotted several spinner dolphins spectacularly jumping out of the pristine blue water to entertain us.  In preparation for this voyage, I called ahead to inquire about food offerings and was assured that a gluten-free meal would be provided to me.  I came to find out, while on the cruise, that it was basically a standard meal for all passengers, in which I was to choose only the food that didn’t contain gluten.  As I live with a family who normally consumes gluten, this picking and choosing was not uncommon to me.  For breakfast, I sampled fresh pineapple and passed on the banana bread.  For lunch, I ate barbecued chicken with lettuce and tomato.  As a service to vegetarians, a veggie burger is provided upon request.  I would certainly recommend this cruise for people that are interested in dolphin sightings or who want to be introduced to snorkeling.  For those who have celiac disease, I’d also suggest bringing along some extra snacks.  For more information, www.pacificwhale.org.

    Hard Rock Café Maui
    In an effort to introduce my children to the cultural likes of good old rock and roll, I suggested that we eat dinner at the Hard Rock Café, located in the Old Lahaina Center, of Maui.  I was happy to find that a children’s menu was available, but slightly disappointed to learn that a gluten-free menu wasn’t.  Our server, however, was more than helpful, willing to look at food ingredients in the computer for me and alert me to items containing gluten.  Unfortunately, the nachos I’d been craving contained wheat, so I instead ordered a cheeseburger, minus the bun.  It was my second cheeseburger of the week and I was truly unable eat a quarter of it because it was such a generous portion.  The atmosphere was lively and loud, nothing less than what I’d expect from a Hard Rock Café.  It was a fun night out and I was happy to leave with a Hard Rock Café Maui tee-shirt from the restaurant gift shop.  If you’re looking for a quieter venue and are interested in seafood, there is a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company located directly across the street from the Hard Rock Café, providing shrimp and lots of Forrest Gump memorabilia.  Hard Rock Café’s website is www.hardrock.com.  Bubba Gump Shrimp’s website is www.bubbagump.com.

    Our vacation to Maui was primary restricted to the beautiful Ka‘anapali Shores and town of Lahaina, therefore I didn’t explore a lot of the island, nor did I locate any grocery stores providing a gluten-free selection.  This is not to say that they don’t exist, rather, that I was not able to shop at one.  I’d recommend travelers to take their own gluten-free snacks, as long as they are approved through the agricultural inspection.  Hawaii is a state full of fresh produce, including savory pineapple, seafood, and sweet potatoes, which provide many healthful options for those with celiac disease.  My family also enjoyed the thirst quenching and tasty shaved ice, www.ululanisshaveice.com, and the extremely delicious frozen treat, gelato, and its dairy-free counterpart, sorbetto, www.onogelatocompany.com.

    For the residents of Maui, I appreciate your understanding and willingness to accommodate my gluten intolerance.  To you I say, “mahalo.”


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    Just leaving Maui this week and found the comments above helpful. We shopped at Whole Foods as well. In the area, where we stayed, there is a farmers market store that has gluten-free foods. We also went to the Seahouse restaurantat Napili Beach which has a very nice gluten-free menu. Safeway in Lahaina has some gluten-free products (bread in the Frozen food section). Thanks for all the comments.

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    Maui Brick Oven is heaven. Super service, casual, kid-friendly and EVERYTHING is gluten-free. Great pizzas, fish & chips and a whole dessert menu gluten-free. Don't miss this place. Only open for dinner, though.

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    I agree about not eating fries here on the island. None of the restaurants on island are using separate fryers, as far as I know. If there are, please let me know. I want fries!

    I work at Ferraros at Four Seasons and we have great gluten-free pizzas and tons of gluten-free options. We are the only place I know of that uses separate oil for gluten-free French fries and the chefs are very careful of cross contamination. I myself am extremely sensitive and will have an asthma attack a couple hours after ingesting any gluten so whenever I'm in doubt I check with the chef! If you have nut allergies call ahead and check with the pastry chef because the gluten free flour sometimes contains nuts and I have a nut allergy so cannot always have the pizza.

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    Great ideas, thanks. I'm dating a girl with celiac and we're planning a trip to Hawaii so I really needed some direction. Quick question, I've heard that coffee from the tropics is to die for and I really want to try some Hawaii coffee beans. Now I want to be sensitive to my girlfriend's gluten intolerance so I was wondering if coffee had gluten in it or not? Probably a dumb question but I'm new to all this.

    Non-flavored coffee is generally gluten-free. Anything containing "natural flavors" is unsafe. Look for 100 percent whole bean whenever possible. Pre-ground coffees sometimes add wheat as a filler and don't list it on ingredients.

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    Non-flavored coffee is generally gluten-free. Anything containing "natural flavors" is unsafe. Look for 100 percent whole bean whenever possible. Pre-ground coffees sometimes add wheat as a filler and don't list it on ingredients.

    Please post your sources for pre-ground coffee and natural flavors, as we've never heard of issues with pre-ground coffee, and in the USA natural flavors do not contain gluten.

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    I agree about not eating fries here on the island. None of the restaurants on island are using separate fryers, as far as I know. If there are, please let me know. I want fries!

    My favorite place on Maui is the Maui Brick Oven in Kiehi! The whole restaurant is gluten-free and serves some of the worlds BEST food! The Fish and Chips will rock your world!

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    IF YOU HAVE CELIAC'S DO NOT EAT AT OLD LAHAINA LUAU. When getting to the buffet I asked if the chef could tell me what was gluten-free and explained that I had Celiac's disease. The woman brought me a menu and I was pleasantly surprised by all of the things I could eat. Until I realized, they had given me the vegetarian menu. I asked for the real gluten-free menu. Ate ONLY what was on that menu despite the limited selection.

     

    25-30 minutes later I started feeling sick. I was dizzy and in pain. I excused myself from the table and ordered an uber thinking maybe it was just some cross-contamination. Knowing that it was a buffet that seemed reasonable. It would pass.

     

    On my way out, the woman asked if I was ok because I was visibly ill. I nearly passed out in the uber, with the wonderful uber driver offering to take me to a hospital. But I went home where I was violently ill for nearly 48 hours. I have not been this sick in years. And this was not basic cross-contamination.

     

    Well my immune system was then shot. I developed strep throat and a sinus infection with fever. Ruined my entire trip and my family's trip.

     

    When I called to tell them about this, just to make sure it wouldn't happen to anyone else, never even asking for a refund or anything at all, rather than take responsibility and say they'd be more careful in the future, they blamed me! "If it is so bad, then you should have called ahead. You should have not eaten from the buffet at all." Just added insult to injury. So apparently you can't trust that what they say is gluten free is gluten free. Unless you call ahead. then you can? Avoid at all costs.

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  • About Me

    Melissa Blanco is a freelance writer and blogger who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007.  You can visit her website at www.melissablanco.com.

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