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.