Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jaguars gluten-free guide

As I said in the previous post, I was scheduled to visit the Jaguars this week to find out about gluten-free options at EverBank Field this year.

Needless to say, that visit was cancelled after Irma, but they did send me a link to a helpful new web page that tells you where you can find gluten-free options.

I expect to visit the stadium before the next home game in October to learn more about these items and -- importantly -- how safe they are for celiacs and others with gluten intolerance. Remember, I had a very bad experience a couple of years ago at EverBank Field.

So if you're going to the opener Sunday, you may want to ask questions before ordering anything. But you'll want to check out the webpage:

                                               Jaguars gluten-free guide

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Give Aldi hot dog buns a try

Before the storm, I visited the new Aldi at the Town Center. I like Aldi because of its in-house gluten-free brand, called liveGfree, which has a variety of products.

When I went to the new store, I found something I hadn't seen at the other Aldi stores in the area: gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns.

I was particularly interested in the hot dog buns because, as you may or may not know, I have been searching for a decent gluten-free hot dog bun for more than six years. They don't seem to exist.

I picked up the liveGfree hot dog buns and they seemed soft -- usually, gluten-free hot dog buns seem stale, no matter what you do to them (toast, microwave, etc.). So of course I bought them.

Irma delayed my taste test but when I visited Publix yesterday after the storm, I found it well-stocked with hot dogs. So I figured this was the time to try the buns.

The verdict? They weren't great, but they were definitely softer and better than other gluten-free hot dog buns I've tried. I'd say if you're determined to eat hot dogs, these are buns you will definitely want to check out.

Speaking of Irma, with the first Jaguars home game coming up Sunday, the team had actually invited me to visit and try out their gluten-free items for the upcoming season. Obviously, we had to postpone that this week, and I don't know what they'll be offering. But hopefully, I'll be able to visit before the next home game and give a full report.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Papa Johns now offering GF pizza

Papa Johns is the latest pizza chain to introduce gluten-free pizza, so of course I gave it a try.

Now I know you probably saw headlines about how Papa Johns said its gluten-free pizza isn't safe. Here's my take on that, which you may or may not agree with.

Basically, Papa Johns' procedures are the same as every other delivery/carry out chain. None of them have facilities that can guarantee a gluten-free pizza absolutely free of cross contamination. That doesn't mean the pizza isn't safe, just that they can't provide a guarantee. This is what the company said in its announcement:

"Operationally, Papa John’s employs procedures to prevent contact with gluten, and while the crust is prepared in a separate, gluten-free facility before being shipped to stores, it is possible that a pizza with gluten-free crust could be exposed to gluten during the in-store, pizza-making process. Therefore, the brand does not recommend its Gluten-Free Crust made with Ancient Grains for customers with Celiac Disease or serious gluten intolerances."

I have celiac and I'm still going to try it. I really, seriously believe that any contamination, if at all, will be okay and be below the 20 ppm standard. Everybody needs to make their own decision about how comfortable they feel, but that's my take.

So anyway, what about the pizza? I would rate it okay -- not great. The crust (made of sorghum, teff, amaranth and quinoa) was decent, but the ingredients didn't have as much flavor as I would have hoped.

The best thing about Papa Johns is the price. They are charging $9.99 for a two-topping gluten-free pizza, but they have a lot of specials where you can get a pizza for 50 percent off. And in my case, Papa Johns is the closest pizza place to my home offering a gluten-free pizza.

And no, I felt no ill effects after eating it. I will probably try it again when I want a cheap, quick pizza.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Red Robin finally in Jacksonville.

I've been waiting for years for Red Robin to come to Jacksonville, and the hamburger restaurant finally opened a Jacksonville location a couple of weeks ago at the St. Johns Town Center.

There's two things that make Red Robin very appealing: they offer gluten-free buns as an option for $1 extra, which isn't too bad considering the surcharge at other places. And, they say their french fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer and are gluten free.

Also, the french fries are "bottomless," so you can get more if you want them.

You can also get an Omission Beer, which some people want to avoid but if you're okay with Omission, that makes Red Robin one of the few places you can go for a gluten-free burger, fries and a beer.

So I went last night to the new Red Robin and it was everything I hoped it would be, for the most part. The best part was when I ordered another plate of fries, it came almost instantaneously. It was very impressive.

The one drawback to the restaurant was trying to get allergen information. There are numerous burger options and I was interested in one called "Red's Tavern Double" that included "Red's Secret Tavern Sauce." I asked the server if the sauce was gluten free and he went to the kitchen to ask, but nobody had an answer. So I just ordered a conventional burger.

Your best bet is to check on the menu online (www.redrobin.com) before you go. The menu has a link to an allergen check, but it doesn't seem to work so well. I found the best way to get to the allergen menu is to go there directly at www.redrobin.com/allergen-customizer.html

Just click on "gluten" as your allergen (or whatever other allergens you need to check) and go to the menu from there to find out what you can eat.

I have visited Red Robin in other cities, and I'm glad we finally have one in Jacksonville.

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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Barely Bread's softness makes an impression

I got some samples last week of bagels, bread and rolls from a company called Barely Bread.

The company says its certified gluten-free bread products are different because they are grain free. The front of the boxes say the breads are made with almond flour.

What really stands out about Barely Bread is how soft the breads are. That made me particularly impressed with the bagels. I don't need to toast them -- I was able to just warm them up in the microwave.

That's significant to me, because it means I can take it with me to have as breakfast when I'm visiting someone else's home. I'm pretty sure you all know the feeling of being unable to eat any breakfast breads on the road, even if you bring your own, because you can't put them in a foreign toaster without getting them contaminated with gluten. I was able to wrap up the bagel in a paper towel and know it wasn't touching any gluten.

The sandwich rolls, which were also soft, held up well with my sandwich. I have to say I was disappointed with the regular bread. The texture was good, but I just didn't like the taste of it.

But I was very happy with the bagels and rolls. According to the company's website, the only store in Jacksonville selling Barely Bread is Earth Fare. So if you're shopping there, you may want to give it a try.

You can read more about the company's products here: www.barelybread.com/breads

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Jumbo Shrimp with Omission

If you go to a baseball game in Jacksonville this year, you'll see lots of shrimp.

Unfortunately, you won't see a lot of gluten-free options.

In case you missed it, our Southern League team was renamed from the Suns to the Jumbo Shrimp this season. Seriously.

Not only will you see Shrimp all over the field in the form of logos, you'll also see various shrimp dishes available at all concession stands.

Some of that shrimp is naturally gluten free, like the shrimp cocktail. But Ernest Hopkins, director of food and beverage, is very aware of cross-contamination issues and advises caution about eating at the ballpark.

And because of his concerns, the Jumbo Shrimp will not offer gluten-free hot dog buns, which is a big disappointment. But Hopkins said he would rather be safe than sorry and not take a chance that a celiac will be served the wrong bun. Remember, the Jaguars did that to me a couple of years ago, which is why I will never get anything to eat at EverBank Field again until they have a dedicated gluten-free stand (maybe this year?).

There will be Omission beer available. That of course is also risky, because there are major questions about Omission's claims that its process for brewing its barley-based beer removes the gluten. I would probably drink it if I went to a game, but not everyone will feel comfortable with that.

I went to the Shrimp's food-tasting event at the ballpark and the only thing I felt comfortable eating was the shrimp cocktail. They have various other shrimp items including coconut shrimp, a burger topped with shrimp and popcorn shrimp in a waffle bowl. None of those work for us.

I also feel compelled to say the most interesting food item is the Bold City Burger Pie, a 16-ounce burger served between two 8-inch pepperoni pizzas. I think I'm glad it's full of gluten because I wouldn't want to be tempted to try it.

Hopkins said there are a couple of gluten-free options available at the ballpark: salad shakers and fresh fruit cups with yogurt. You can also bring your own gluten-free food to the ballpark.

But if I go to see the Jumbo Shrimp, I think I will have to eat before I go.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

New GF breakfast sandwich at Starbucks.

I generally avoid Starbucks at all costs. Besides the fact that, if I'm going out for coffee, I'd prefer to visit a local establishment, I've never thought Starbucks coffee was any good. I've never understood why people are addicted to it. If I actually need coffee to go, I'd rather get the $1 McDonald's coffee which tastes better and is obviously much cheaper.

But when Starbucks introduced a gluten-free breakfast sandwich to its menu last week, I figured I had to try it. So I went this morning.

It's called the Smoked Canadian Bacon sandwich and it features, according to Starbucks, "cherrywood-smoked Canadian bacon, a peppered egg patty and reduced-fat white cheddar cheese on a gluten-free roll."

The most encouraging part of this new item is the company's gluten-free procedure. The sandwich is shipped from a certified gluten-free kitchen and sealed in an oven-safe parchment bag. So, you don't have to worry about gluten contamination. They served it to me still in the bag, so no employee at this Starbucks ever touched it.

And, yes, I thought it was quite good. I was pleased, although at $4.75, it's not going to be a regular stop for me.

What I like best about this item is it gives all of us a new travel option. How many times have you been on the road, trying to figure out where you can get a quick gluten-free breakfast? Since you can find a Starbucks just about anywhere, you have a good chance of finding something safe to eat just about anywhere.

Another sign of progress in our gluten-free world.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Hospitals need to do better with gluten-free options

My mom passed away this week, which is not the point of this story.

The point is over the last month, I spent time with her in five different Jacksonville hospitals. I could tell you stories about the state of health care, but again that's not the point.

The real point is wondering why hospitals, of all places, don't provide better gluten-free options for patients and visitors.

You really don't see gluten-free options on patient room menus. The Mayo Clinic, of all places, lists about eight different diet options but not a gluten-free option. I mean, the Mayo Clinic is one of the leading celiac research institutions in the country. Do they not understand the need for a gluten-free diet for some patients?

And it would be nice if the hospital cafeterias had some gluten-free options for visitors. I settled for way too many salads with dressings that I hoped were gluten free. At least I didn't get sick.

The rest of the food service world seems to be catching up with understanding why some diners absolutely need safe, gluten-free meals. I think it's time for the hospital industry to get on board.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

GIG study sees danger in gluten-removed beers

Here's some news I didn't want to hear. A study conducted by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) at the University of Chicago's Celiac Research Center found that so-called gluten-removed beers, such as Omission, may be unsafe for people with celiac disease.

This has been an ongoing issue since these beers were introduced. There are several gluten-free beers brewed from grains such as sorghum. Omission (the most well-known gluten-removed beer) and several other brands claim they can brew beer from barley but remove the gluten, so that the gluten content falls below the 20 parts per million standard which is considered safe for celiacs.

However, there has not been a reliable test for gluten content in beers, so many celiac advocates have questioned the actual safety of beer made from barley.

GIG is a trusted organization. In fact, GIG runs the gluten-free certification program, the one that certifies that food products are made according to accepted standards to ensure they are gluten free.

GIG said its study tested blood samples of celiacs and found that none of them reacted to gluten-free beer, but some did react to gluten-removed beers.

“The medical and scientific community has not validated or accepted that these low-gluten or gluten-removed beers are safe because available gluten testing methods have not been sufficiently accurate with fermented and hydrolyzed products,” says GIG Chief Executive Cynthia Kupper, CEO of GIG.

“That is why we conducted this first-of-its-kind study, because even if one person with celiac reacts to gluten-removed beers, it shows it would not be appropriate to certify this product category according to our standards."

Kupper says she hopes a bigger study will be conducted to assess the risks of gluten-removed beers.

I will often drink a gluten-removed beer in a bar or restaurant that has no other gluten-free options but since questions about those beers first emerged a couple of years ago, I stopped buying them in stores to keep at home.

Now I guess I'm going to have to reconsider my options when I'm out. I'm going to be very reluctant to drink another Omission.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Number of gluten-free options at Noodles & Co.

Noodles & Co. opened its first Jacksonville area location last year at the St. Johns Town Center but unfortunately, I was unaware of it.

I say unfortunately because Noodles & Co. has a good variety of gluten-free items on its menu. Fortunately, franchise owner Leigh Lommen invited me to come by and try it out, and I'm glad he did.

First of all, Noodles & Co. has a small pocket "gluten guide" with general information about gluten and what menu items can be made gluten free, and also cautions that the kitchen is not a completely gluten-free environment. Of course, most restaurant kitchens can't guarantee a gluten-free environment but I've always felt a restaurant that acknowledges it at least understands what our problems are.

The restaurant also has an allergen guide you can check to see if a menu item or an ingredient contains gluten or other allergens.

The Noodles & Co. menu has items such as Pad Thai with rice noodles that are already gluten free but also has pasta dishes that can be made gluten-free by substituting regular pasta with gluten-free fusilli.

Desperate to try something different, I ordered Pesto Cavatappi, a pasta dish I don't think I've ever heard of before and definitely hadn't seen gluten-free in any other restaurant. It was quite good and was a good portion size (I took the photo after I was already halfway through it).

You should be able to find something you like on the menu, including salads and other pasta dishes or rice noodle dishes that are gluten free.

If you're looking for it, it's at the end of a strip center beyond the Chick-fil-A (which may be why I hadn't noticed it. It's not visible from the main road). You can visit the website (noodles.com) to find out more about it.