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Celiac.com 03/08/2019 - How many times have you gone out to dinner and tried to find a gluten-free meal that wouldn't make you sick? How many times have you eaten that gluten-free meal, only to think, "gee, I wouldn't feed this to my dog?" This leads to the question, do restaurants that serve gluten-free menu items taste test their offerings? If not, why not? Why do they think that people with gluten-intolerance or celiac disease want to eat cardboard? These and other questions continue to baffle me. There are a few things that restaurants could do better. The gluten-free wave is sweeping the nation. Restaurants need to learn how to swim, or be swept away with the tide. These are some of my pet peeves when it comes to dining out gluten-free. Running out of gluten free items, such as hamburger rolls or bread It is really easy to buy really good packaged gluten-free hamburger buns or bread. How many times have you been told that the only gluten-free offering is a lettuce wrap? Really? If I want to eat salad, I will order salad! Offering inedible gluten-free items Have you ever had a really awful gluten-free muffin in a restaurant, or for that matter, on a cruise ship? I am sure that if the kitchen staff tried these stale pieces of sawdust, they would not want to eat them. Why do they think someone with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance would? Trying and Failing to do it themselves (especially with dessert) Believe me, I really do appreciate the effort a chef makes to give me a gluten-free dessert other than sorbet or a fruit plate. I had a wonderful experience on a cruise a few years ago. The chef attempted to make me a gluten and dairy free cake (I am also dairy intolerant). It was really great. Unfortunately, they waited until the last night of the cruise, and I could only eat one piece of it. But I have to admit, by that time I was really tired of eating fruit plates. It's not that difficult to buy a ready made gluten-free cake, cookie or muffin mix and give us some options. Removing the "offending" gluten-free items until there's nothing left How many times have you ordered a wonderful sounding dish, only to receive a pale, gluten-free comparison? Believe me, before I go out to eat, I study the allergen menu really closely and try to find something that will not be entirely ruined if it is made gluten-free. I am not always successful. Sometimes the chef goes overboard in the interest of caution, and removes everything that could "possibly" contain anything remotely containing gluten. What I get is a tasteless shadow of the original dish, and resounding disappointment. I don't order certain items, like crab cakes, because even though gluten-free breadcrumbs actually exist, it wouldn't occur to the chef to try to use them. Improperly trained staff I am sure you have all seen the eye-roll and the deer in the headlights look of waitstaff who panic, or sneer at the mere mention that you are gluten-free. Nor do they have a clue about menu items that might contain gluten. It might be obvious to those of us who live this life everyday, but the waitstaff and kitchen staff don't seem to know. It is imperative that waitstaff and kitchen staff know what contains gluten, and what does not. I can't even count how many times I have gotten sick because I was told something was "fine". Cross-contamination with gluten-containing foods If you think your restaurant has a dedicated area to handle your gluten-free meal, you might be sadly mistaken. Using the same fryer, using the same pasta water, using the same utensils; these are just some of the things that are going on in the kitchen. It is far easier for a busy kitchen staff to take shortcuts than to properly prepare a gluten-free meal. I have also noticed that the attention to detail goes up with the price-tag of the meal in question. You are likely to get more attention in a fine-dining restaurant than in a small mom and pop owned one. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. You are also more likely to get "glutened" on a busy night, as opposed to a slow one. In Conclusion I know in my heart that as the numbers of gluten-intolerant diners grows, so will the improvement of our collective dining experience. My love for dining out has waned since I became gluten-intolerant. I find I can make better food at home. I know this is not an option for everyone. But why should gluten-free be a tradeoff?
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Every year I go to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, the largest repertory theatre in North America. It is one of my favorite places on earth. But when I went looking for postings about gluten-free restaurants there, I found only a few menus and a lot of out of date articles. And last year, i had a rough time figuring out what I could eat. But things are MUCH improved now. So I decided to add current info here. Here is what I found a number of local places: - The Annex - gluten-free pizza and pasta, made in a gluten-free environment - many pizza options, knowledgable staff and their creme brulee is fantastic - start here! - Fellini's - Italian place that does have quinoa spaghetti, though they do warn you that it falls apart, so I ended up eating it with a spoon - still yummy, though! Their steamed mussels and salads are gluten-free, and they have a flourless chocolate cake that is to die for. - Rene's - the owners are friends of mine and they make top notch food. The only place in town where I was served gluten-free bread, which is a rare treat. They have excellent mussels, too, and the chef even made me his seafood mac and cheese with gluten-free pasta - it has no flour and is rich beyond imagining. - Foster's - another good spot, also has gluten-free items for brunch on your Sunday. Their burgers are all gluten-free, and they will substitute anything you need. I had a salmon salad, as well, which was quite good, maybe not great. The Stratford Festival itself has become more aware of celiacs and our dietary needs - if you eat at the Festival, there is always a gluten-free option, though not much selection. Bentley's is a mainstay in Stratford, having been there for over 30 years. They do have a yummy Thai Noodle dish, but not much selection otherwise, just a couple other things. The owner promises they are working on it..... Down the Street is another popular haunt, but their kitchen is small, and I had their yam fries last year before realizing they only have one fryer. Even if they have dishes they say are gluten-free, they do not have the space to deal with cross-contamination. Finally, I would mention that there is a Natural Food store in town called Gentle Rain, that has lots of organic, gluten-free and natural foods - not cheap, but if you want local food, organic, non-GMO, healthy, etc., take a walk around there. Servers are much more knowledgable than they used to be about gluten-free needs, but do ask about prep, cooking and storage if those are concerns for you. Just knowing the ingredients is sometimes not enough! I know this town like the back of my hand, so if anyone is going there and has gluten-free questions, send them along - happy to help!!