Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Gluten-free paninis and more at Vitality Bowls

I visited the new Vitality Bowls cafe in Jacksonville Beach. It's part of a chain, but this is the first one in North Florida.

The "superfood cafe" features bowls which are blends of a lot of healthy ingredients, and it seems most can be made gluten free.

However, I was most interested in their gluten-free paninis. Gluten-free bread is an option on the paninis.

I ordered a sirloin panini. It was good, but unfortunately pretty small. I was hoping for something more filling. It's also pricey. The sirloin panini is $7.99, and they added a $1 gluten-free surcharge, which would have been okay if it was bigger.

You can order a panini for a cheaper price as an addition to another menu item. I think that may be the way to go next time, to order one of their juice bar concoctions and a panini.

On the bright side, the restaurant is very aware of cross contamination issues and told me about the process they go through to make sure my panini is not contaminated with gluten. I did like that.

Vitality Bowls is an interesting place that is probably aimed at the more health-conscious crowd, as opposed to us desperately gluten-free people. But it's always nice to find another gluten-free option at the Beaches.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gluten free at the Omni

I was invited to a business lunch yesterday at Juliette's Bistro, the restaurant in the Omni hotel in downtown Jacksonville.

Since someone else was paying, I didn't say anything about my dietary issues. I figured I would just get a salad, if it came to that, and it would be fine.

When I got there, I asked the waitress if there was a gluten-free menu and she said yes and went back to get it. So I was pleased right away.

I was even more impressed when I got the menu. There was a pretty good number of gluten-free options, including sandwiches on gluten-free bread.

I always take advantage of the opportunity to order a gluten-free sandwich, so I ordered a grilled fish sandwich. It came on toasted bread with french fries, which I hadn't seen on the menu. I asked the waitress if the fries were gluten-free and she said yes.

Unfortunately, the bread immediately crumbled in my hand, like so many other gluten-free sandwiches. I had to eat it with a knife and fork. At least it was a generous portion of fish so it was a filling meal.

Despite the bread, I was pleased with the meal and the gluten-free choices. There really aren't a lot of gluten-free options downtown, at least restaurants which promote their gluten-free choices. Juliette's website doesn't mention its gluten-free menu.

Juliette's would be a particularly good option if you're looking for a dinner site before an event at the Times-Union Center, which is right across the street. It's pricey, of course, but at least it's there.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chick-fil-A now has GF buns

Chick-fil-A yesterday introduced its gluten-free bun nationwide.

Of course, as soon as saw that, I went out to get my Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich.

Chick-fil-A has long been, in my opinion, the best fast food chain for gluten-free options. Most fast food places basically restrict us to salads, but Chick-fil-A has been offering grilled chicken nuggets that are gluten free. Also, its waffle fries are gluten free. Unlike other chains, the fries are not cooked in the same oil as other gluten-containing stuff.

Of course, the grilled chicken patty is also gluten free. Before they introduced the nuggets, I used to order the grilled chicken sandwich without the bun at Chick-fil-A.

Because of concerns about cross-contamination, Chick-fil-A serves the gluten-free bun in a wrapper. They serve the chicken patty and accompaniments (lettuce and tomato) in a separate container, and you have to put the sandwich together yourself. No big deal.

I was quite pleased with the bun. The big test, of course, of a gluten-free bun is whether it will crumble in your hands as you try to eat your sandwich. This bun was soft and held together.

Chick-fil-A says the gluten-free bun is made from "ancient grains quinoa and amaranth" and is "enriched with vitamins and minerals and is lightly sweetened with molasses and raisins."

Chick-fil-A charges $1.15 extra for the bun.

I will be back for more.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Gluten-free hope at EverBank Field

I saw Jaguars President Mark Lamping yesterday at a luncheon at EverBank Field and, as I do every time I get a chance to talk to him, I made a pitch for better gluten-free options at Jaguars games.

On this occasion, he seemed very interested. He said he can't make any promises but he will look into it. I told him I would contact him and remind him as we get closer to the season, and he said yes, please do.

Lamping said there wouldn't necessarily be a gluten-free concession stand (like I just saw at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg). But I see no reason why the Jaguars can't have a gluten-free cart, like I've seen at a number of major league sports venues. Just offer a small menu of, perhaps, hot dogs and hamburgers with gluten-free buns and, of course, gluten-free beer.

This conversation gave me hope. We'll see what happens.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rays offer hot dogs, no beer

I visited Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg over the weekend for the first time in two years, and I was curious to see if the Tampa Bay Rays made any changes to their gluten-free program.

For several years, the Rays had a dedicated gluten-free concession stand behind center field that offered hot dogs and beer, and a few other items. Yes, the buns were awful, like every other gluten-free hot dog bun, but it sure was nice to have a hot dog and a beer at a baseball game.

But they have changed the program. The gluten-free stand is now tucked away in a corner behind first base, which isn't really a big deal except that it's very easy to miss if you're not looking for it. At least it's a dedicated gluten-free stand (take note Jacksonville Jaguars).

The big problem is they no longer offer gluten-free beer. You can get Angry Orchard cider but as I keep telling people who tell me they have cider when I ask for gluten-free beer, it's not the same.

At least they still have hot dogs. Of course, the gluten-free hot dogs cost $9, compared with the $5 hot dogs at the regular stand, meaning they're charging $4 for those awful buns.

But back to the beer. I've told bar and restaurant managers and stadium concession people for years that there's no reason they can't have Redbridge beer in stock. Redbridge is made by Anheuser-Busch and every establishment in the U.S. that sells beer has a relationship with Anheuser-Busch, so they can easily get it from their distributor. You can keep a couple of cases of bottled beer around forever and eventually someone will order it and drink it, and then you can restock. There is no reason to not have at least Redbridge in stock for the gluten-free crowd.

Oh well.

On a brighter note, I also got a chance to visit a dedicated gluten-free cafe in St. Petersburg that is a couple of miles away from the ballpark.

It's called the Craft Kafe and it offers a wide range of baked goods, as well as sandwiches and salads. I had a blueberry muffin that was warm and delicious. I also ordered an ice tea which was freshly brewed and because of that, it took forever to make and wasn't worth it. Next time I'll probably just get a muffin to go.

Strangely enough, there is very little signage to indicate that everything is gluten free but the staff told me that yes, everything is gluten free. It's always nice to find a place where you can order whatever you want without worries.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good news, bad news at TPC

I visited the Players Championship this morning on the first day of practice for the tournament, which runs through the weekend, and I have good news and bad news to report from a gluten-free perspective (is there any other perspective?).

The good news is that, as has been the case in recent years, there are a lot of gluten-free food options. You'll general refreshment stands all over the course offering gluten-free buns as an option for hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and hot dogs.

There are also a number of specialty stands which should also be offering gluten-free options, although most of them were not open yet when I visited. Tacos on 12, a taco stand behind the 12th green run by TacoLu, should be the best bet for that.

But the bad news is, I couldn't find any gluten-free beer available. I checked several beverage stands and none had it, and I know the tournament has had gluten-free beer in the past.

I'm trying to get an answer to my question about the availability of gluten-free beer but for now, I have to assume there is none. Too bad. But at least you won't go hungry.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Happy Celiac Awareness Month

May is Celiac Awareness Month. It makes me wish I still had a column in the Times-Union to promote celiac awareness to a wider audience, but then again with the Times-Union's dwindling readership, maybe it doesn't matter.

Anyway, it's been six years since I began writing about and promoting celiac awareness, and I'd like to think the world is more aware. People still make fun of the gluten-free diet, but it's been a long time since I've had to read about celebrities going gluten free for no apparent reason. So maybe we're making progress.

As we all know, the only treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet. Advocacy group Beyond Celiac is using this month to promote the work being done to provide a cure beyond the gluten-free diet. There are people who think we will see a cure within the next decade. I hope they're right.