Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gluten-free beer at the arena

Here's some good news: The Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is now offering gluten-free beer.

I learned this while working on my next column for the Times-Union, which will focus on gluten-free offerings at sports arenas. Unfortunately, there's not much to choose from in the way of food at the arena, but at least you'll be able to get a beer.

The arena is testing gluten-free beer to see if there's a demand for it, so I hope everybody drinks up.

The beer should be available at the next Jacksonville Sharks home game on June 7.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Gluten-free beer on tap at Mellow Mushroom

On a trip to Chicago last fall, I was very excited to find a gluten-free beer on tap and have my first draft beer in three years.

The beer is called Prairie Path and when I checked it out, I found it is similar to Omission. It's a barley-based beer, but the brewers say most of the gluten is removed in the brewing process. When they test the beer, it falls well below the 20 ppm standard, they say.

The beer is made by an Illinois company called Two Brothers Brewing, so I figured it was just a regional thing that I couldn't get again until my next trip to Chicago.

But last week, a friend of mine (who is not gluten free) told me that Mellow Mushroom in Jacksonville Beach has a gluten-free beer on tap. I hadn't been to Mellow Mushroom in a while because it is so expensive and because I've found a lot of other gluten-free pizzas that are much better than Mellow Mushroom.

I did read recently that Mellow Mushroom changed the recipe for its gluten-free crust so I had been meaning to try it, and the possibility of gluten-free beer on tap made it a must visit. So I went yesterday and found, of course, Prairie Path. I had no idea the beer had made it to this part of the world.

So I ordered a Prairie Path, which was great, and a pizza, which I have to say was better than the previous gluten-free crust I had. But yes, there are still other gluten-free pizzas I prefer to Mellow Mushroom.

However, what really will prevent me from frequenting Mellow Mushroom is the price. My tab for a specialty gluten-free pizza and two beers: $33!!!! Before the tip.

I'll try Mellow Mushroom again on trivia night, when hopefully I can win some bar cash to actually afford my visit.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I couldn't stomach 'Grain Brain'

A few months ago in my Times-Union column, I took a look at the popular book "Wheat Belly."

I've been saying for the last three years that there is no reason to go on a gluten-free diet unless you have celiac disease or some other type of gluten intolerance, and I kept getting e-mails from people saying I'm completely wrong and I need to read "Wheat Belly."

So, I read the book and found that it basically says the same thing I do about the gluten-free diet.  You can decide for yourself is wheat is bad for everyone (it's certainly a debatable point) but "Wheat Belly" author William Davis does say in his book that gluten-free alternatives to wheat are not necessarily healthy. That's exactly my point about the gluten-free diet.

Which brings me to the latest fad book, "Grain Brain." This book by neurologist David Perlmutter argues that grains are bad for your brain.
People started telling me that I need to read "Grain Brain," so I put my name on the waiting list at the library and finally got it and tried to read it this weekend. I couldn't get past page 51, where Perlmutter wrote about celiac disease.

His facts were so wrong that I couldn't come up with any reason to read any further, because I have no faith in him at all.

First of all, before page 51, he was writing about getting his patients tested for gluten intolerance. The problem is, there is no test for non-celiac gluten intolerance. If you want to know more about that, read this entry from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

Then there's this long paragraph on celiac disease that actually starts on page 50:

To quote from the book: "although many experts estimate that 1 in every 200 people has celiac disease, this is a conservative calculation."

No, most expects say 1 in 133 have celiac -- wait, let me correct that -- EVERY expert says it is 1 in 133, which is based on a comprehensive study. It's not a guess.

To continue from the book, "the number is probably closer to 1 in 30, since so many individuals remain undiagnosed."

No, many of the 1 in 133 are undiagnosed. That's the issue.

To continue, "as many as one in four people are vulnerable to the disease due to genetics alone... what's more, people can carry genes that code for mild versions of gluten intolerance, giving rise to a wide spectrum of gluten sensitivity."

No, the actual expects (the ones that use the 1 in 133 stat) say there is no genetic marker for gluten intolerance.

If you're comfortable with his ignorance of celiac disease, fine, go ahead and read "Grain Brain." I can't stomach it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Campeche Bay has gluten-free menu

Thanks to Jennifer of Gluten-Free Jacksonville, I learned that Campeche Bay Cantina in Jacksonville Beach now has a gluten-free menu.

I haven't been there since going gluten free but it is a restaurant I liked in the past, so I'm looking forward to trying it out. The gluten-free menu, which you can find on the Campeche Bay website, has a pretty big selection.

It sounds like they are well aware of cross-contamination issues. A note at the top of the menu warns that the corn chips are fried in the same oil as flour tortillas. It also says "when ordering from this menu please ask for Manager assistance." They don't even want us to rely on servers.

It all sounds good.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gluten-free menu changes

I noticed a couple of changes on gluten-free menus at restaurants I visited in the last few days -- one positive and one negative.

The negative was during my visit to P.F. Changs China Bistro. Now don't get me wrong, I still love P.F. Changs and the efforts they make to prevent cross-contamination. However, I did not notice that the gluten-free menu had shrunk a bit. There were fewer items available than on my last visit.

I asked the waiter about that and he told me that the menus change seasonally, and that may be why some items were removed from the menu.

I still have a very enjoyable meal and would still highly recommend P.F. Changs, however.

The positive change was during a visit to Jason's Deli. It's menu, which it calls "gluten sensitive," includes a build-your-own sandwich option on gluten-free bread, which is what I always get there. In fact, that's why I go there -- to get a sandwich on gluten-free bread.

The new item was actually on the kid's menu, which I probably wouldn't have noticed except for a sign promoting it near the door. It's called "J.D. Nuggetz" and is a gluten-free chicken nuggets meal breaded in cornmeal and baked. It looks like a pretty good option for kids.

If you've never been to Jason's, you may be scared off about their warnings that their gluten-free menu is not recommended for people with celiac disease because they are concerned about cross-contamination. However, I've made numerous visits to both Jason's restaurants in Jacksonville and if you tell them you have a gluten allergy, they seem to make a good effort to try and prevent cross-contamination. I have no issues eating there.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Final word on gluten-free options at The Players

Well, as I said in my Times-Union column today, I did get my TacoLu gluten-free taco at the Tacos on 12 tent at The Players this morning. But it's not the only gluten-free taco available at the golf tournament.

I really wanted to get a second taco from Corner Taco, which brought its food truck to the Trucks on 10 area near the 10th hole. Unfortunately, they weren't going to be ready to serve until after noon, and it was just too hot to stick around the tournament. I liked it a lot better when they held it in March.

Anyway, according to the sign on the Corner Taco truck, they are offering a fried mahi taco that is "always gluten free." I did get to ask them if their fried mahi was really gluten free and they assured me it is.

The other area I visited this morning, which was not part of the two media food tours I had before the tournament, was the food court behind the 16th green. The best option there is the Winn-Dixie tent where they are serving sandwiches with Dietz & Watson deli meats -- they probably could have just called it the Dietz & Watson tent.

Most if not all Dietz & Watson deli meats are gluten free and at the Winn-Dixie tent, they are offering the option of getting a sandwich on gluten-free bread for $1 extra.

The other gluten-free option in the food court is the MShack tent, where they have a burger with a lettuce wrap option, instead of a bun. Unfortunately, they told me the french fries are not gluten free.

I should also mention that the tacos are some of the best-priced items, at least as far as gluten-free items go at the tournament. TacoLu's tacos are only $4 and Corner Taco's is $5.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Jimmy Kimmel takes on non-celiac gluten-free dieters

Great bit by Jimmy Kimmel, which basically illustrates why I get so irritated with people who eat gluten free and have no idea what they are doing:

Encouraging gluten-free talks with local restaurants

I went to a second media food tasting event at The Players yesterday (sometimes it's good to be in the media -- free food), and the most interesting part of it was I got a chance to talk to representatives of several local restaurants that I don't normally visit.

The conversations were very encouraging because I really felt these people understand what the gluten-free diet is really about. It's a good feeling during Celiac Awareness Month.

The first place I visited was the tent for Indochine, the downtown Jacksonville Thai restaurant. They told me that a good number of dishes on their menu can be made gluten free and while they don't have a gluten-free menu, they said the staff is very knowledgeable about gluten-free issues. We discussed the fact that the big problem with Asian foods is that most soy sauces contain wheat. That told me that they do know what they are talking about.

Then I went to the Metro Diner tent. I was actually surprised to see Metro Diner on the golf tournament's gluten-free list and, in fact, they said that only one of the dishes at their tournament tent is gluten free: stuffed tomato with chicken salad.

The Metro Diners in Jacksonville don't have a gluten-free menu either but Mark Davoli, one of the owners, told me that several dishes on their regular menu are gluten free and they are talking about providing a gluten-free menu because they realize that so many people need it.

Next to the Metro Diner tent is Pele's Wood Fire, which is offering pizza at The Players but, unfortunately, not gluten-free pizza. However, they did tell me that the restaurant in Five Points has gluten-free pizza and from what they described about the process, it seems that they are taking the proper precautions to prevent cross-contamination as well as possible.

On the other side of the Metro Diner tent at The Players is the 4 Rivers Smokehouse barbecue tent. They assured me that all of their barbecue sauces are gluten free (which is always the big question at a barbecue place).

All of those restaurants are located in an area at the golf tournament called Taste of Jax between the 11th green and 12th tee. We also visited a food truck area between the 10th and 11th fairways and the 15th green that included another barbecue place called Up in Smoke BBQ.

What I liked about Up in Smoke is that they warned me that their sauces for their pulled pork are not gluten free. They did offer me some brisket and said they could put coleslaw on top, but they admitted that there has been some debate over whether or not the coleslaw is gluten free. I considered all of this a positive because they clearly understood the problem and were open and honest about it. That's all I ask.

So, I came away feeling good about some local restaurants that I haven't been going to, and I also have to say that there are some awesome gluten-free choices at the golf tournament this week.

Monday, May 5, 2014

No need for special tortilla chips

In anticipation of Cinco de Mayo, Glutino sent me a bag of their Tortilla Dippers, a bag of tortilla chips shaped for dipping.

They were good but the truth is, there is no need for gluten-free food companies to produce their own brand of tortilla chips because most tortilla chips are naturally gluten free. There was nothing to separate Glutino's chips from any of the others out there.

I'm much more interested in gluten-free crackers, and there are more and more of those out there. Last month, Glutino sent me samples of several of their cracker brands. The best of the bunch was their Rosemary & Olive Oil crackers, which I thought had a really good taste.

As far as tortilla chips go, I just look for bargains. It's pretty much hard to go wrong in the supermarket, unless there is some special flavoring involved.

Restaurant tortilla chips are a different matter, because they are often fried along with other gluten-containing food and can't be trusted.

That can be disappointing. At a place like TacoLu, you need to ask the server for gluten-free chips and they will replace the fresh chips with some commercial brand of chip. It's nice that they offer that option, but you know the fresh chips are better. Just another thing we have to miss out on.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy Celiac Awareness Month

It's May 1, and that means it's the first day of Celiac Awareness Month.

It's a month when hopefully we can tell the world why we're on a gluten-free diet -- not because we think gluten-free food is healthier but because with celiac disease, we have no choice. The world needs to know that gluten-free is not a fad diet.

As Alice Bast, president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness said, "gluten-free has taken over celiac disease." I'll have more on that in my Times-Union column next month.

Anyway, I'll be doing my part to try and spread the message this month.