Friday, June 26, 2015

Bard's beer returns to Jacksonville

Here's some good news: Bard's beer is back in Jacksonville.

Bard's CEO Brian Kovalchuk tells me that the company finally has found a new distributor to get the beer back to the Jacksonville market. Sure enough, I found it available at Total Wine.

Bard's had been out of the market since late last year as the company searched for a new distributor.

With so few gluten-free beers available, it is disappointing when you can't get a particular brand. Without Bard's, the only pure gluten-free beers that were widely available in Jacksonville have been Redbridge and New Planet.

Yes, beers that are processed to remove gluten like Omission are widely available, but a lot of celiacs won't drink it because of the continued questions about the testing process. Although Omission says its beers test below the 20 ppm standard, many people say the test for gluten content in beers is not reliable, so we can't know for sure.

Bard's is made from sorghum and is safe for celiacs.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reevaluating Trader Joe's....again

When Trader Joe's first opened its Jacksonville Beach store last fall, I was less than impressed because I didn't see enough gluten-free products.

But as time passed, my opinion changed as Trader Joe's seemed to get more and more products. When they introduced their line of gluten-free hamburger buns and bagels in April, I was sold. Their buns and bagels are generally cheaper than any other brands, and the quality is pretty good.

So when I needed to replenish my supply of gluten-free buns, of course I went to Trader Joe's on Monday. And what did I find? Nothing. Not only were there no gluten-free buns available, there wasn't even a shelf tag for them, so I wondered if they still even existed. There were gluten-free bagels on the shelf.

When I got home, I went to Trader Joe's website to see if I could find any information on this, and I found they were still promoting the gluten-free buns. So now I was wondering what happened.

I went back this morning intending to find a manager to talk to about this, but I was surprised and pleased to find a shelf full of gluten-free hamburger buns this time. So I got what I needed.

On the other hand, I noticed there were no gluten-free bagels (and no shelf tag for them) but since I didn't need bagels, I let that slide.

But here's the problem: I live pretty close to Trader Joe's so it was no big deal for me to make two trips this week. But since this is the only Trader Joe's in the Jacksonville area, what about people who make a special trip from a longer distance to buy their gluten-free products? It's quite irritating to not find what you need.

So I'm back to where I was in the beginning, not willing to recommend Trader Joe's as a gluten-free shopping destination. If you're in the neighborhood and want to stop in, you'll probably find something you like. But you can't count on this store.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Segregated dining halls: Good or bad?

Here's an interesting story about two colleges in the Philadelphia area that are offering segregated dining halls for gluten-free meals:

I'm kind of torn whether this is a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, this would seem to provide an absolutely safe meal environment for students who need it, free from gluten contamination.

On the other hand, are these students ostracized for being different? I hope not.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Is coffee a problem for celiacs? Probably not

I've noticed a hot new topic in the celiac Facebook group is an article from some website called the "Healthy Home Economist" warning that celiacs and others with gluten sensitivities shouldn't drink coffee.

I assumed this was complete junk, but I didn't have any evidence to support that. Fortunately, someone on Facebook posted a link to the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center's view on dangers of coffee and other drinks for celiacs. This leading research center says these fears are "devoid of any scientific basis."

Yes, coffees can possibly be dangerous if you order a flavored coffee that contains gluten. But basic black coffee itself is gluten free. I don't have any plans to stop drinking it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Blaze Pizza is different

The new Blaze Pizza restaurant at the River City Marketplace looked interesting, so I decided to check it out.

Blaze tries to set itself apart from the crowd with its "blazing" hot oven that it says can bake a pizza in 180 seconds, and it does have a gluten-free option. I did find this caution on the chain's website about the gluten-free pizzas:

"Please be aware that our folks work with wheat-based flour and pizza dough all day long, and we use the same oven and dough press for both gluten-free and standard dough, so there is a good chance of some cross-contact in our restaurants. If you would like us to change our gloves or use a separate pizza cutter, we would be happy to do that at your request. If you are celiac or highly sensitive to gluten, we encourage you to carefully consider your dining choices."

Most pizza places warn about cross-contamination because they don't have separate prep areas or ovens for gluten-free pizza. The big difference at Blaze is that it takes pizza dough and presses into a crust when you order the pizza. Most places with gluten-free pizza use pre-made gluten-free crusts, rather than rolling their own gluten-free dough.

When I ordered my pizza, the Blaze people did ask if I have an allergy and seemed to understand the need to take precautions. In addition to changing gloves, they also told me they would clean the dough press before putting my gluten-free dough in. The worker even apologized to me for the delay, but I said not to worry and that I appreciated the effort to make it clean.

After the crust is pressed, they assemble the pizza in front of you, like they do at a lot of pizza places these days.

I have to say it took a lot longer than 180 seconds to bake my pizza, although unfortunately I didn't time it. I get the feeling that the gluten-free crust takes longer to bake.

When the pizza was done, it was somewhat disappointing because it was extremely thin. Gluten-free pizzas are generally thin, but this may have been the thinnest one I've had. It did taste good.

The price was right. I ordered a one-topping pizza, which normally goes for $6.50, but they have a $2 surcharge for gluten free. Fortunately for me, the checkout girl didn't seem to realize I was getting a gluten-free pizza so she forgot the surcharge, and I got my pizza for $6.50.

So, there is a cross-contamination risk at Blaze, mainly based on how confident you are about them cleaning the dough press. Otherwise, the risks are about the same as they are at other pizza places.

I did feel comfortable enough, but I'm unlikely to go back because of the thinness of the pizza. There are plenty of other gluten-free pizza options out there.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Maggiano's special gluten-free menu benefits Make-A-Wish

Maggiano's Little Italy is offering a special gluten-free menu through July 8, with a promise to make donations to Make-A-Wish for every order off the special menu.

Maggiano's is a gluten-free friendly restaurant that can customize a lot of dishes on its regular menu for people who can't eat gluten, but it is using its "Eat-A-Dish for Make-A-Wish" campaign to highlight the availability of gluten-free offerings, as well as benefiting the foundation.

The special menu includes a dish called Patricia's Cheese Ravioli to honor a 15-year-old girl named Patricia, who is battling cancer and planning to visit Italy this summer.

Other dishes on the special menu include a shrimp and avocado lemonette salad, grilled jumbo shrimp and flourless chocolate cake.

Maggiano's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish for every one of these dishes ordered and 50 cents for its special "Wish Lemonade."

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Marlins 'Fit Cart': Good thing or bad?

I made my first visit to Marlins Park in Miami yesterday, and I'm not sure if I feel good or bad about the gluten-free experience there.

On the one hand, they have a dedicated cart serving nothing but gluten-free fare, including hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, nachos and two varieties of beer. That's great.

On the other hand, they call this thing the "Fit Cart." Seriously, the Fit Cart, like this food is for people looking to stay fit!!!!

Have these people never tried a gluten-free hot dog bun? They're awful (including the buns at Marlins Park), and when you finish it sits in the bottom of your stomach like you just swallowed a pillow.

Of course, I still eat them anyway because I'm determined to have a hot dog when I go to the ballpark. But that's not the point. The point is, after all the progress I thought we were making during Celiac Awareness Month, the Marlins still think the gluten-free diet is a fitness regimen. Sigh.

Oh well, I'll focus on the bright side. At least they have a dedicated cart, where you know everything you get is gluten free, even if they don't know why they are doing it. I wish the Jaguars would learn this already.

Of course, it is expensive, but what do you expect? My $7.50 hot dog was $1.50 higher than the price of a hot dog with a regular bun at the regular stand, and my $9 bottle of Redbridge was $1 more than a Budweiser. Ballpark prices are always bad, gluten-free or not.

The grilled chicken sandwich or wrap might sound appealing, but not at $14.

Oh, and then there was my adventure finding the cart. I asked at the Guest Services desk where they had gluten-free food (I was aware that they had it somewhere), and I was told I'd find the booth at Section 2. So I go to Section 2 and the only food venue there was a dedicated Kosher stand.

Geez, I hope the guest services people don't think that all specialty food is alike.

Fortunately, a flashing sign at the Kosher booth suddenly told me there was a gluten-free cart at Section 26. Sure enough, that's where I did find the Fit Cart.

Despite the annoyances, I have to count this is a positive gluten-free experience.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A positive Celiac Awareness trend?

One last note as Celiac Awareness Month came to an end.

Over the weekend, I visited Larry's Giant Subs, which I often do on a beach day. When I order my sub on a gluten-free roll, they usually ask me if I have an allergy.

However, this time, the girl at the cash register asked "is it celiac or an allergy?"

That's never happened to me before! I don't know if it really makes a difference -- I have been satisfied that they were taking precautions in making my sub when they thought I had an "allergy." But it was so nice to hear.

Maybe Celiac Awareness Month is making a difference.