Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Aldi offers a strong selection of gluten-free products

I visited the new Aldi grocery store in St. Augustine yesterday and found an impressive assortment of gluten-free products, at very good prices.

Aldi has its own gluten-free brand called LiveGfree, and you can find these products all over the store. The gluten-free products include the standard stuff like pasta, frozen pizza and frozen chicken nuggets. But I also found a couple of products that are hard to find from other food manufacturers.

These included cans of gluten-free chicken noodle soup that I bought for $1.69 each. There is a brand of gluten-free chicken noodle soup from the company Gluten-Free Cafe that I've bought at Publix which was much more expensive, even when it was on sale.

The other unique products I saw were gluten-free stuffed sandwiches, including a pepperoni stuffed sandwich that looked like Hot Pockets. Since I was far from home in St. Augustine and didn't want to transport anything frozen, I didn't buy it, but it sure looked interesting.

Aldi also has LiveGfree brands of bread and sandwich wraps.

The only product I've actually tried so far was a package of crackers that looked kind of like Crunchmasters and basically tasted like a Crunchmasters cracker. But at $1.49 for a 4.25-ounce package, it was of course much cheaper.

The store is very sparse looking, intentionally so. For one thing, it doesn't offer any grocery bags -- you have to bring your own. But that's one reason the prices are so good.

The St. Augustine store is Aldi's first in the Jacksonville market and the company is talking about opening more stores in Northeast Florida. I hope they do open one closer to my home, because I really liked this store.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Gluten-free options at Hurricane Grill and Wings

I've eaten at Hurricane Grill & Wings a number of times in the last few years, always ordering a salad. But I saw something on the Internet about a gluten-free menu, so I had to check it out.

Actually, Hurricane Grill has a "gluten sensitive" menu and as the manager told me last night at the restaurant at Baymeadows and I-295, it doesn't have a gluten-free area in the kitchen. So there is a risk of cross-contamination.

However, the menu, which has been available since about July, the manager said, does have some appealing options, including sandwiches on a gluten-free bun. It also has several entrees and salads.

Interestingly for a restaurant chain with "wings" in the name, chicken wings are not available gluten free, but there's enough on the menu to satisfy me. I had a pretty good grilled mahi sandwich on a gluten-free bun.

Hurricane Grill is known for its wide variety of sauces, and the gluten sensitive menu does list the sauces that are gluten free.

Unfortunately, like wings, the french fries are not gluten free. But the menu does list several gluten-free side items that you can have with your sandwich. I had cole slaw.

I considered my visit a good experience, and I will definitely be going back again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A gluten-free Chicago weekend

A few gluten-free observations after a three-day weekend in Chicago...

Visiting Chicago for the first time since last fall, I was looking forward to going to Do-Rite Donuts, where a year ago I got the only fresh-made doughnut I've had in four years.

When I checked the Internet before I left I found that not only is Do-Rite still operating on Randolph Street in the Loop, they've added a second location on Erie Street a couple of blocks east of Michigan Avenue. This location happened to be just one block from my hotel!

So, I had a fresh doughnut for three straight mornings. Not exactly the healthiest way to eat, but these were probably the last doughnuts I'm going to eat until I return to Chicago again (likely next fall), so I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity.

Then there was the pizza. I visited a couple of my favorite haunts from the old days when I indulged in deep-dish pizza, which of course I can't eat any more. But my friends love it and both these places -- Gino's East and Giordano's -- do offer a thin gluten-free pizza. So it was no problem for me to join the party there.

The Giordano's pizza was excellent but the Gino's pizza was extremely disappointing. It was very bland. Since Gino's deep-dish pizza used to be my favorite food in the world, this was a huge disappointment.

One place I visited for the first time was Harry Caray's restaurant. We were looking for a lunch place and I just wanted a salad (because I was overindulging everywhere else), so it didn't matter where we went. But I was surprised and pleased to see that Harry Caray's has an extensive gluten-free menu, and gluten-free beer available.

Speaking of beer, my favorite moment of the weekend came at our pregame tailgate before the Northwestern-Nebraska game. The game was very disappointing but at the tailgate, a Nebraska couple stumbled into our area as they got lost looking for their friends. We offered them a beer and the woman said, "I can't, I have celiac."

Well, guess what? I think she was quite surprised when we pulled out a Bard's for her. Since I wasn't intending to drink the whole six-pack, I was very happy to be able to share. Always willing to help a fellow celiac.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More gluten-free restaurant choices

We can never have enough gluten-free restaurant options in Jacksonville, as far as I'm concerned, so I'm happy to see more gluten-free friendly restaurants on the way.

Karen Mathis reports in today's Financial News & Daily Record that V Pizza, which opened in San Marco earlier this year, is planning to open a second restaurant in downtown Jacksonville Beach before the end of the year, and the owners are also looking for two more area locations.

I've been wanting to visit V Pizza, because its gluten-free pizza looks really good, but I never seem to make it to San Marco. So I can't wait for the Beaches location to open.

The main focus of the Daily Record story is that Rock & Brews, a chain founded by KISS rockers Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, is looking for a Jacksonville location.

Rock and Brews' menu has gluten-free pizzas and a number of other gluten-free items. I'd love to see this chain come to Jacksonville.

Also of note is the new restaurant Bazille that opened in the new Nordstrom's store in the St. Johns Town Center. Bazille's menu has gluten-free items marked on it.

There aren't a lot of gluten-free choices at Bazille, from what I can tell, but it's nice to see that this restaurant appears to be attentive to gluten-free customers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A second try at Trader Joe's

I made a second visit to Trader Joe's, when it was less crowded than opening day but still pretty well packed, and found a few gluten-free items I didn't see on my first visit.

I found the gluten-free cheese pizza in the pizza section that I didn't notice the first time. I also found gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and chicken nuggets.

I guess my disappointment with this store is that I'm not really finding anything I can't get anywhere else. I was looking at a package of turkey burgers and by the list of ingredients, it would seem that it was gluten free. However, it's not on Trader Joe's list of products that are gluten free, which you can find on its website (http://www.traderjoes.com/lists/no-gluten.asp).

According to the website, if the product has been validated to have less than the 20 parts per million standard, it will be labeled gluten free. That means I can't assume that other products that seem to have all gluten free ingredients are actually gluten free.

So anyway, that's my take. For my money, Earth Fare is a much better place to go for a gluten-free selection.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gluten and Allergen Wellness Event coming to Jacksonville

I've been to several gluten-free expos in other Florida cities in the last few years, while hoping we could get one of these events to Jacksonville.

Well, my wish is coming true next month. Echo Event Solutions is presenting a Gluten & Allergen Free Wellness Event on Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront hotel in downtown Jacksonville.

The event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. will include educational presentations, but also an opportunity to sample gluten-free products from a number of vendors.

"Availability of high-quality gluten-free and allergen-free breads, baking mixes, pizzas and restaurant menus has exploded over the last few years, making it much easier and more satisfying to live gluten/allergen-free, but not all products are easy to find and are costly. Our events give attendees a chance to try before they buy," says event director Nikki Everett.

National sponsors of the event include well-known gluten-free food companies Udi's, Glutino and Enjoy Life Foods, as well as Delight Gluten Free Magazine and Simply Gluten Free Magazine.

Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for military and senior citizens over 55. Children under 13 get in free.

If you've never been to one of these events, you should enjoy it. It's a lot of fun to sample products you may have already had, while also finding some new gluten-free goodies. You may even learn something.

For more information, visit the event website: http://gfafwellnessevent.com.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Still underwhelmed by Trader Joe's

When we first learned that Trader Joe's was coming to the Jacksonville area, I wrote how unimpressed I was with my visit to a Trader Joe's in Chicago.

But with the new store opening right in my neighborhood, of course I had to visit as it opened up today.

And...I'm still completely underwhelmed by Trader Joe's.

I kind of expect a specialty grocer like this to have an interesting selection of gluten-free products, but Trader Joe's doesn't even compare to the great selection I found at the new Earth Fare store. Actually, it doesn't even compare to what you can find at Publix. Or even Walmart.

I wasn't about to stand in the long lines today and buy anything and it was difficult to get around through the crowds, but I tried to examine every shelf. I noticed three Trader Joe's-brand gluten-free products: frozen mac and cheese, frozen pancakes and Oreo-like cookies.

I've read somewhere about a Trader Joe's frozen gluten-free pizza but while the Jacksonville Beach store had plenty of Trader Joe's pizzas in the freezer case, I didn't see any gluten-free varieties.

The bread aisle is particularly disappointing. They have Udi's breads and bagels. I can buy those anywhere.

I visited the Chicago store because it is near the hotel I usually stay in there and I was hoping to find something for breakfast like gluten-free muffins or breakfast bars, but there weren't any. There aren't any in Jacksonville Beach either.

At least I got something out of my visit today. They were giving out free wine samples.

If you haven't been to Earth Fare, it's worth the trip, even if you don't live in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Trader Joe's.