Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Aldi coming to Southside

This won't help you with your gluten-free holidays, but here's some good news: Aldi is going to open a supermarket in Jacksonville.

According to a story in the Financial News & Daily Record, Aldi filed plans with the city to open a store next to the Target store on Southside Boulevard, near The Avenues mall. This will be its first store in Jacksonville.

As I wrote in my November Times-Union column, I was very impressed with my visit to Aldi's first Northeast Florida store in St. Augustine. The company has a great line of gluten-free products under its own brand, LiveGFree, that are reasonably priced. I've been hoping they would open a store closer to my home.

I don't know when the Southside store will open, but I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cabana Grill offers gluten-free choices

Cabana Grill, a fast-casual Mexican restaurant which opened this week at 10422 San Jose Blvd., has a large variety of gluten-free options.

Cabana Grill is a new concept created by Fiesta Restaurant Group, which operates the Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana chains. The Jacksonville restaurant is the second Cabana Grill, after the first opened in April in Snellville, Ga.

I haven't visited the restaurant, but its press materials included a list of gluten-free items. It did say that a common fryer is used for fried foods, so there could be cross contamination issues with the items market with an asterisk. But here is Cabana Grill's gluten-free list:

Menu Items
Any taco substituting the 4.5” street taco corn tortilla
Any nachos*
Street tacos
Any Tostadas*
Any Bowl (without fried bowl and chipotle corn topping)
Chips* and Salsa, Guacamole, or Queso

Individual Items
Steak Fajita Meat
Chicken Fajita Meat
Shrimp Tampico
Street Tacos (Steak)
Beans – Black, Refried Black, Charro, Refried Pinto
Rice – Cilantro Lime & Mexican
Mexican Potatoes with Asadero Cheese
House Salad (without the Chipotle Dressing)
Sour Cream
Cheese - Asadero, Shredded, Queso (cheese sauce)
Poblano Cream Sauce
Salsas – Fuego, Roja, Verde, Salsa Ranch
Pico de Gallo
Grilled Onion & Pepper
Sliced Jalapenos
Produce – Lettuce (Romaine or Shredded), Tomatoes, Onions, Jalapenos
Tortilla Chips*
Tostada Shells*

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

No Ragu sauces for me

I haven't bought any Ragu sauces for a long time, but I noticed yesterday that they were on sale at Winn-Dixie at a pretty good price, so I decided to check them out.

I looked at the labels to try and figure out if they were gluten free. Unfortunately, I saw a long list of ingredients but didn't see any allergen information.

So, when I got home, I found Ragu's website and looked to see if it had any information on which of its sauces are gluten free. To make a long story short, I found this:

"We do not publish a list of gluten-free flavors. Therefore, we suggest reading all ingredient labels carefully. As always, if you cannot determine whether the product contains the ingredient in question, we recommend that you don't use it."

Well, thank you Ragu. I guess I won't be buying any of your products.

It kind of reminded me of Kraft salad dressings. Just like Ragu, all it tells you on its website is you should read the (lengthy) ingredient list, with no guidance on whether any of its products are gluten free. So, I refuse to buy any Kraft sauces.

Meanwhile, Campbell's, maker of my preferred Prego sauces, publishes a list of its products that are gluten free. The latest list (updated in June) lists several variety of gluten-free Prego sauces. Interestingly enough, none of Campbell's soups are on that list.

Also, Barilla, which makes gluten-free pastas, also says that all of its pasta sauces are gluten free.

So there are plenty of choices for gluten-free pasta sauce. I wish all manufacturers could be so helpful.

Friday, December 12, 2014

You can skip Udi's burritos

My Times-Union column yesterday focused on my search for gluten-free Chinese food, but another food I really haven't been able to find at all for the last four years is a gluten-free burrito.

You'll never find a gluten-free burrito in a restaurant, but I have seen some frozen burritos in grocery stores. Unfortunately, they are never any good.

But I keep trying. This week, I found frozen gluten-free burritos made by Udi's in Walmart, which are apparently new. So of course, I gave it a try.

My expectations were low, and the chicken burrito lived up to them. That is to say, it wasn't very good. I'm not going to try this again.

The Walmart had three varieties of Udi's burritos, and Udi's website shows eight varieties. I really don't think I'll be trying the other seven.

I've tried to make my own burritos at home using the various gluten-free tortillas you can find in stores. But of course, the problem is they always fall apart in my hands.

So, I'm still searching

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bard's beer missing from Jacksonville market

One of the interesting things I learned on my Native Sun tour last week is that they haven't been able to get Bard's Tale Beer from their distributor.

It hadn't really occurred to me but when I thought about it, I realized I hadn't seen Bard's in any stores recently. Also, the restaurants that had been offering it seemed to be selling different gluten-free beers instead.

So, I went to the locator on the Bard's website, which will tell you stores and bars/restaurants that offer the beer, and confirmed that Bard's beer is not available anywhere in the Jacksonville market.

I called and emailed the company and got a very quick email response from Bard's CEO Brian Kovalchuk:

"We are currently looking for a new distributor for the market and hope to be back in the stores in the first quarter of next year," he said.

Since we have such a limited selection of gluten-free beers, it is disappointing to find one of the few major brands is not available. Hopefully, Bard's will in fact get this resolved soon. At least the quick response from the CEO tells me that the company is responsive to customer needs.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gluten-free shopping app

Here's an interesting shopping app that could help you find foods that are safe in the supermarket. I haven't tried this myself so I can't vouch for it -- I know I'm behind the times, but I'm just not one of those people who carries my phone everywhere I go -- but it may be worth checking out.

It's called Content Checked and apparently, you use it to scan bar codes and it will tell you if the product has allergens that you can't eat. You store your allergens in the app so it knows what to look for.

Anyway, it looks interesting, so here's the website if you want to check it out:


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

If you see the tag at Native Sun, it's definitely gluten free

I've been shopping at Native Sun and finding gluten-free products throughout the store for the past few years, but I got a new look at the store and its gluten-free program yesterday.

Ginny Nehring, director of research for Native Sun, took me on a tour of the Baymeadows store to show me how they take care of people of people on a gluten-free diet. Of course, Native Sun has a dedicated gluten-free bakery in that store, but its program goes well beyond that.

What I really learned yesterday was the extent of its shelf tagging system. Native Sun's shelves have color-coded tags that help shoppers not only identify products that have "no gluten added," but also no casein, no peanuts or low in sodium.

However, thanks to Ginny, to get a no gluten added label, the store has a much more stringent requirement than the shelf tag indicates. Ginny's son was diagnosed with celiac in 1998, so she's been checking up on this stuff for years. She checks on every company that produces products on Native Sun's shelves to see not only that there's no gluten in the ingredients, but also that the company is using correct procedures to ensure that the gluten-free products are free of contamination from other products.

Even if the product is labeled "gluten free," she won't give it the red "no gluten added" shelf tag if she can't verify that the product is completely safe for a celiac. So you should feel safe if you buy a red tagged product off the Native Sun shelves.

I don't know of any other store where I'd feel as safe as I do buying products there. For example, Publix has green "gluten-free" tags on its shelves, but I really don't think it goes to the same level of verification as Native Sun for products from outside manufacturers.

Native Sun currently has stores in Baymeadows and Mandarin, and is planning to open a third store in Jacksonville Beach early next year. I'm looking forward to that.

By the way, Native Sun is holding a holiday cookie decorating event for kids on Dec. 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at both its Baymeadows and Mandarin stores, and Ginny assures me that they will have gluten-free cookies available for kids who need them.