Florida part 2 – The Food!

Me and my little man, out for a stroll near the water in Clearwater, Florida.

Eating out is always a challenge for me, especially when I’m away from home. I worry about finding somewhere safe with a low risk of cross contamination, that will understand how serious it is when I say that I’m celiac, and that isn’t a drag for everyone else in our group. I feel like that last part is the key when you’re with a larger group. No one wants to make the call about where to go since they don’t necessarily know what would be safe for you, which means that over the years I’ve become accustomed to having to be the person that chooses where to eat. It typically involves a lot of googling, checking other bloggers for recommendations, and searching for the words “gluten” and “celiac” on yelp reviews. While we were visiting family in Clearwater, Florida last month, my husband and I did a bunch of searching, and found a few great gems in the process! Here are my three favorites from our time in the sunshine state. I hope you all enjoy them as much as I did.

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill – Our first meal out after arriving, I was pleased they offered a separate gluten free menu. Upon walking in, we were greeted by a steel drum player, and a fun island atmosphere. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this restaurant. Our server was super helpful both to me and our table’s two young children. I ordered the grouper reuben sandwich (without a bun of course), and stole some of my husband’s ceviche appetizer. Ceviche might be one of my favorite dishes from my visits to Peru, and this one certainly lived up to my memory of the dish.

Marina Cantina – This was completely a google find. I had been searching for fun local spots to eat, and took a chance on this after reading a couple yelp reviews that specifically referenced gluten free. We happened to be there on a Monday night, which amazingly was $5 margarita night! I have to be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I ordered, but I do know the wait staff was very friendly, courteous, and helpful in figuring out what was safe and how to modify each dish.

Pearly’s Beach Eats – Another google find that was close to where we were staying, Pearly’s was our pick for lunch the last day. They had fairly quick takeout, and it was easy for me to get there, park, and get back without too much hassle. When I called to explain my situation, I was told my best bet would be to order a baja bowl without the taco bowl…even though I really wanted the nachos. I’m not one to be picky when it comes to food, if the kitchen staff tell me that’s my best bet, you better believe that’s exactly what I’m ordering. Since we were doing takeout and it was only lunch, my expectations weren’t high. Turns out, this was a great choice, and the baja bowl both tasted incredible and was very filling. Everyone else in our group enjoyed their orders as well 🙂

All in all I was very impressed with the options I had. Typically, places that seem a little more touristy can be very dicey for a celiac, but I didn’t get that vibe in Clearwater at all. Everyone was very well educated on safe kitchen standards, and how best to modify meals to make them safe.

*Mom warning – there was NO changing table at Marina Cantina. I’m learning to pay attention to that when we’re out now, and even though I don’t always need it, that was one night when I really could’ve used the help…and an extra margarita when all was said and done!!

Dining Out…with kids!

A couple months after our son was born, we were in desperate need of a night out at a restaurant. I was craving sushi post-pregnancy, and we’d heard rave reviews from friends about a restaurant not too far from our home. I will never forget that first dining out experience. We thought we timed it well, and the little man snoozed through the beginning, waking up just as our food was about to be delivered. The restaurant was noisy, and we hoped he wouldn’t disturb anyone as we got a bottle ready. Suddenly, it seemed he was near impossible to calm down. He wasn’t loud, but I quickly turned frantic and nearly started crying at our table. We were still so new to parenting and it was all overwhelming. As my husband started to soothe our son, a woman approached us out of the blue. She sat down beside me, and told us what a wonderful job we were doing. To keep it up, keep going out, and enjoying our life. She mentioned she heard the cries and knew it must be a newborn; both a mortifying thought upon seeing how far her table was from ours, and soothing at the same time. I will never forget the kindness of that stranger, and how she made me feel in that overwhelming moment. We’ve taken our son out since then, but I’ll be honest that it isn’t frequent. As he transitioned to solids, the mess he makes and everything we need to bring discouraged us from venturing out.

Fast forward to the holidays. Our son is now 10 months old, and quite the active little man. The car seat no longer comes in with us, and he can eat small bites from the table! It was time to venture out again, this time with quite the crew. We had family and close friends in town for the new year, and decided it would be fun to eat out on the water one evening; however “evening” can be relative with a little one in your life. I’d heard good things about Surf restaurant in downtown Portsmouth, overlooking the water, and serving true New England food for our out of town guests. I called to make reservations, clearly mentioning that we were 6 adults and 3 children, no one batted an eye. Trying to coordinate the timing of dinner with bedtime, our reservations were an early 4:30pm! Oh how times have changed.

Upon our arrival, we were escorted to a long table overlooking the Piscataqua River. Even though the sun had set, you could still see how beautiful it was outside. We received smiles from wait staff and patrons alike when they saw our little boy smiling and giggling back, but the fun didn’t last long. The table next to us held an older couple, near the end of their meal. As soon as we were seated by them you could see the side eye and feel the glare pointed directly at our table. Clearly they were not pleased with our presence, even though the restaurant was clearly accommodating to families. Thankfully they were not there long, and the table turned over to what appeared to be a more friendly couple.

Our food was delicious, and everyone was enjoying themselves. That quickly changed when not one but two of the little ones got sick over dinner. Call it bad luck, a full moon, or whatever you will, we suddenly found ourselves in a mix of panic and clean-up mode. Our waiter could not have been nicer, bringing water, paper towels, and whatever else we needed. He did not miss a beat, arriving with our check not long after we asked. All in all, it was a fun night night out, but it certainly taught us some lasting lessons.

  • Early reservations are perfect with little ones, you can still enjoy a nice restaurant without impacting bed time, and clearing out just before the dinner crowd arrives.
  • Expect the unexpected. Although our son is a great eater at home, and nearly never spits up, you can’t predict what will happen in public.
  • Not only did I have to worry about what was safe for me to eat, but what my son could reach on the table, and whether or not he could get gluten near my plate. I’d never thought of it before, but now that’s obviously a concern.
  • No matter how accommodating an establishment and its staff are, there is always a chance that its patrons do not feel the same way. Don’t let that stop you from going!

Lexington, KY – A fun family weekend!

Since it’s Thursday, I thought I’d post a throwback to a trip we took last year.  I started this blog post on our flight home, but never quite finished writing.  Hubby and I took advantage of a three-day holiday weekend, flew out to Kentucky to visit his family, and witnessed Keeneland first hand.  We took a late Thursday flight and started the weekend midday on Friday 🙂  I have to admit, this was one of those trips that I wasn’t able to do recon beforehand on the gluten-free options we’d have.

We started our Lexington fun with a local chain, and favorite of hubby’s cousin, Saul Good.   There honestly could not have been a better start to the weekend.  One of the things I was really bummed out about in Italy was that I only found gluten-free pizza in two restaurants.  Saul Good not only had gluten-free pizza crust, but they also had my favorite spicy Italian red sauce as one of their options!   The staff was more than friendly about working with me and double checking each item I ordered.  They offered to put together a fresh vegetable platter for me when I told them I really wanted to try the dip, but could not have their chips.

Our tailgate fare was all low-key, and made for very little prep work that morning.   We’d stopped at a grocery store early in the trip so I could help make sure we had enough gluten-free food for me.  Be forewarned, I did search around to find gluten-free food options inside the track before we went, but didn’t have much luck searching online.  Armed with that in mind, we packed enough pregame food to be sure I wouldn’t go hungry.

We hit up Local Taco for brunch Sunday morning,  where I was pleased to find that their menu had gluten-free options marked with a convenient “GF”.  After confirming with the manager that their chips and salsa were safe for me to eat, I put in an order for four specialty corn tacos along with the chips.  I can not put into words how good those tacos were after a full day tailgating at Keeneland.   The smoked brisket was by far my favorite, but trust me, they were all pretty delicious.   Thankfully,  I remember to snap a picture of my plate before devouring all of it!

Smoked Brisket, Tequila Lime Chicken, and Steak & Eggs  Tacos from The Local Taco

Smoked Brisket, Tequila Lime Chicken, and Steak & Eggs Tacos from The Local Taco

Later that night, we decided to hit up the movie theater after a quick dinner.  Hubby had been in the mood for barbecue, so we made our way to City Barbeque.  In frustrating fashion, my phone froze just as I’d started downloading their allergen listing.  Thankfully, the list was also printed out and kept at the front register.  Without hesitation, I went straight for the naked brisket.  After combing through the gluten-free sides, I settled on baked beans and sweet vinegar slaw.  As we completed our order I mentioned that my meal would need to be carefully handled, and that the staff would need to change their gloves for safety.  Just as I said that, the woman at the register told me she’d already put our order in, and quickly called over another person from the kitchen to ensure my dinner was safe….phew!  I made a quick mental note that all of their sauces were safe, but realized I’d need more help when I saw the condiments station.  All of the sauces were kept in large serving vats, with a single ladle in each one.  Knowing this was a sure-fire way to make myself sick, I grabbed the woman manning the pickup area to see if she could help.  Once I explained my concerns about cross contamination with the sauce ladles,  she came out with two fresh to-go containers of sweet sauce for me to enjoy.

Our final culinary stop in Lexington was at the one and only Shakespeare & Co.  I have to say, the Victorian decorations were very unique, and I totally wanted to stop at every table so I could sit on their vintage couches.  We made it here about midday, making it the perfect time for a late brunch.  Upon asking for a gluten-free menu, I was told the restaurant had gluten-free bread, pizza crust, and quinoa for substitution in nearly any dish.  I asked for some help since I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted.  Our waiter told me hands down that I should go with the Salmon and scrambled eggs.  Let me tell you, that dish did not disappoint!  The gluten-free bread had been cut into rounds as if it were a biscuit, with perfectly shaped salmon and eggs on top.  It came with a side of roasted potatoes and hollandaise dipping sauce, which I obviously smothered all over the eggs 🙂 one word ladies and gentlemen: heavenly!

Our final stop before going home was to the Town Branch Brewery and Distillery.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any gluten-free beers for me, but the first part of the tour was pretty cool anyways.  We were each given four tasting tickets at the beginning, so I stashed mine away for the Kentucky Bourbon.  I’d done some research about whether or not it was actually safe for me to drink Bourbon, and come to the consensus that the distilling process should make it safe, but that some celiacs still have issues.  Personally, I’m a fan of Bourbon, so it was worth giving it a shot for me.  I tried their Bourbon, Rye, Pearse Lyons Reserve, and an especially tasty Bluegrass Sundown.  My favorite hands down was the Bluegrass Sundown, which is a dark roasted coffee infused with Bourbon and sugar.  Our tour guide served it with hot water over cream, and it just might have to replace the Irish coffee on my list of cold weather spirits!  The best news is, I had no reactions to the Bourbon…line ’em up 😉

Copper pot stills at Town Branch Distillery

Copper pot stills at Town Branch Distillery

Kentucky Bourbon straight from the source, aging in fresh barrels!!

Kentucky Bourbon straight from the source, aging in fresh barrels!!

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) – Honeymoon Part 2

After spending about a week in Bora Bora, my husband and I flew back to the main island of Tahiti for our next adventure.  Like I said in the first honeymoon post, we decided to make it a bucket list trip, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) was near the top of the list.  Truthfully, this wasn’t our initial plan.  After telling some friends about our Bora Bora plans, they brought up extending our trip since we’d already have flown halfway around the world to get to Bora Bora.  What an incredible idea!!  We looked at a few maps later that night and realized that Rapa Nui was surprisingly close to Bora Bora.  Not only that, but there is a direct flight from Tahiti to Rapa Nui, albeit only once a week.  We could make it work!

We struggled initially in the planning stages, there aren’t many sites that have a lot to offer about planning to visit Rapa Nui.  We ran into some challenges finding a travel agent that could help us as well.  It turns out, not many people actually make it to Rapa Nui each year.  The entire island is approximately the size of Washington, D.C., and though tourism is their number one economic provider, there aren’t a ton of places to stay either.  Thankfully, we were finally put in touch with a great travel agent that locked down our travel, hotel, and excursions within a week of first speaking with us.  I’m not sure we could have pulled this trip off without her!

Having learned a few lessons in Bora Bora, I felt a little better prepared when we touched down in Rapa Nui.  Although the flight was a red eye, LAN Chile really took care of me and had prepared gluten free meals and snacks each time they served food to the other passengers.  This may not seem like such a big deal, but I frequently have to ask for a gluten free snack on international flights.  While airlines are great about getting gluten free meals, they tend to forget about the snacks.  When we arrived at our hotel, the Altiplanico, we were armed with a Spanish pocket dictionary (I suggest the Berlitz Phrase Book & Dictionary for any language) which informed me that my key phrase of the week would be “sin glooten.”  Thanks to our travel agent, the hotel had already been made aware of my dietary needs, and they were prepared to help me order from their menu.

To my delight, Rapa Nui restaurants were full of fresh fish dishes based on their catch of the day.  The locals were incredibly friendly people, that were very happy to work with our struggling Spanish, and understood what “sin glooten” meant!  Thankfully, I never once felt as though I’d been even the slightest bit cross-contaminated.  While we were there, we visited two restaurants more than once because we truly enjoyed their food and surroundings so much.  Although I can’t remember exactly what each of the meals were, I can share with you my thoughts on the restaurants, and a few pictures of my favorite meals from our trip.

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto

Catch of the day from the Altiplanico hotel with mushroom risotto

Ceviche

Fresh ceviche, served in a conch shell with a side of rice

Kuki Varua:  This restaurant was located just on the edge of the water in Hanga Roa.  The location was great for people watching, sunsets, and enjoying the island mentality.  We found ourselves here a few times, each visit staying for a longer period of time, and drinking in our surroundings.  Great for their catch of the day offerings and surprising local side dishes (green mashed potatoes and purple potato chips!), I enjoyed every single bite at the Kuki Varua.

Tuna and Mashed Potatoes

Seared and salted tuna with green mashed potatoes (Kuki Varua)

Catch of the Day

Same meal, different day…yes it was that good! (Kuki Varua)

Hetu’u Restaurant:  We stumbled upon this gem while we were walking through the downtown area (Hanga Roa).  The service was very quick, and though they did not have many tables, they certainly seemed to be a more popular spot.  The menu was incredibly diverse, and thankfully included pictures which helped with the language barrier.  The restaurant also had a nice sized wine cellar, which I have to say really drew me in!

Fish in Peanut Sauce

White fish in peanut sauce with a side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Fish in Caper Sauce

White fish in caper sauce, side of potato chips (Hetu’u)

Columbia Firehouse – Alexandria Restaurant Week

I’m a little behind on getting this entry up, but Alexandria Restaurant Week was the week following DC’s, and naturally I had to try out another new place!  I had plans to meet up with a good friend of mine, and she happily agreed to trying somewhere new.  After going through all of the menus, we settled on Columbia Firehouse thanks to their incredible sounding seafood dishes.  I had called a few of the restaurants in advance to see how they reacted to my request for a gluten free restaurant week selection.  Columbia Firehouse was quick to tell me that although they did not have a separate selection for gluten free guests, the chef was very knowledgeable, and could work with me to ensure I had a great meal.  SOLD!

This next part of the reservation was something I wish I’d figured out earlier.  I’m not sure how many people out there are already using Open Table, I used it occasionally, but it’s now become my best preemptive move when making reservations.  Remember my last entry about Bora Bora?  At the end, one of my lessons learned was to notify the resort in advance.  Hint: That concept doesn’t just apply to resorts!  I’ve updated my profile on Open Table to include the following automated special request (which will be sent to the restaurant anytime I make a reservation): “Guest has a severe Gluten allergy, must eat gluten free and restaurant will need to be aware of potential cross-contamination. Thank you!”  It’s short and sweet, and while we all know it isn’t a gluten allergy, the response I get to that message is incredible!

When I arrived at the restaurant, my friend had already been seated and was gushing about how concerned the staff was that they prepare my meal safely.  After realizing the request was for me and not her, they held back further information until I was seated.  Once I was handed my menu, our waiter discussed with me the items that would definitely not be safe.  He then asked what I wanted so he could discuss modifications with the chef.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I personally prefer ordering items with the least modifications necessary.  It’s the easiest on the kitchen, and has more of a chance to taste the way the chef initially intended.  I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted, so I let the waiter tell me what the most popular and “famous” items on the menu were.  Being a cold day, I settled on the soup of the day, along with their scallops, and a slightly modified apple – pear compote for dessert.

Every last bite of each course was delicious!!!  Not only that, but the staff were so accommodating.  When my friend didn’t want the potatoes that came with her meal, they allowed her to substitute the side with an additional helping of greens without batting an eye.  When her sauteed kale came out, I have to say it looked great!  Open Table’s special requests section was definitely a success.  All future reservations I make will without a doubt include that message 🙂 Now for the fun stuff…pictures of my dinner!

Sweet Potato Soup

Pureed Sweet Potato Soup with Pesto and Cream Garnishes

Seared Day Boat Scallops

Scallops, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, House Cured Bacon, Turban Squash, Mulled Cider Syrup

Spiced Apple & Pear Crisp

Cinnamon-Vanilla Apple and Pear Compote & Ginger Ice Cream (ordered without the Oat Streusel to make the dish gluten free)

Local Flavor – Lincoln Restaurant Review

Here goes nothing!  I’m new to blogging, so we’ll keep this first entry simple.  This past week was restaurant week in Washington, DC and I love trying new places at a great price.  For those of you that have never heard of restaurant week, it’s essentially one week that local restaurants offer a three to four course dinner for $35.14 (or $20.14 for lunch).  My husband and I decide to venture somewhere new after a good friend told me about Lincoln’s gluten free menu.  This restaurant did not disappoint!  The service was incredible, the ambiance was so unique and patriotic in a glamorous way, and the food was absolutely delicious!

First of all, they had a specialized gluten free menu which was almost completely separate from their regular dishes to help the kitchen staff differentiate between gluten-sensitive guests.  Our waiter seemed very knowledgeable about cross-contamination, and assured us that the staff would be incredibly careful in making my dishes.  Overall I give them an 8 out of 10, definitely a restaurant I’ll return to!  Without further ado, here’s what I ordered.

Yellowfin Tuna - Poke Style Tuna, Coffee Bean Vinaigrette, Grapefruit Ponzu Jam, Honey Compressed Jalapeños, Candied Grapefruit, Smoked Crème Fraiche

Yellowfin Tuna – Poke Style Tuna, Coffee Bean Vinaigrette, Grapefruit Ponzu Jam, Honey Compressed Jalapeños, Candied Grapefruit, Smoked Crème Fraiche

Beet Salad - Grilled Baby Beets, Whipped Goat Cheese, Sunflower Sprouts, Candied Walnuts, Creamy Horseradish Dressing, Olive Soil

Beet Salad – Grilled Baby Beets, Whipped Goat Cheese, Sunflower Sprouts, Candied Walnuts, Creamy Horseradish Dressing, Olive Soil

NY Strip Steak - Black Garlic Gelée, Duck Fat Potatoes, Smoked Sea Salt

NY Strip Steak – Black Garlic Gelée, Duck Fat Potatoes, Smoked Sea Salt

Burnt Banana Sundae - Fudge, Stracciatella Ice Cream, Toffee Popcorn

Burnt Banana Sundae – Fudge, Stracciatella Ice Cream, Toffee Popcorn