Bland, Boring, Blaa!

Eating out is a scary maneuver for people with celiac disease.  Just a touch of cross contamination from the food cooked on the grill or pan just before my steak or seafood can make me feel pretty sick. Or a careless chef with flour on their hand gets just a few specks on my plate.  Or gf pasta cooked in the same water as regular pasta. That is all it takes to get glutened. But, I love to try new places so occasionally I brave my fears and dine out.  A few weekends ago we ate at Bravo at the Lehigh Valley Mall.  Their staff was really friendly and welcoming.  The place was hopping on a Saturday night at 6 pm. We had reservations but still waited about ten minutes for a table.  Families were all around us chowing down on good looking pasta.  I was hopeful.

There were no appetizers that were marked gluten free.  Bummer.  But I had an okay chopped salad with a decent dressing, the iceberg lettuce had some lumps of saggy pale lettuce but other than that it was tasty.  After a bit of a wait, our entrees were served. Mine was shrimp scampi with a white wine sauce and rotini gf pasta.  There were tiny squares of pallid tomato on top and a few microscopic flecks of fresh parsley.  The nice waitress piled on the freshly grated cheese, anything to improve the looks of this sad dish was my thought in that moment. Diving in, I couldn’t even taste any garlic. None, nadda. The shrimp were on the small side and pretty much flavorless.  The pasta wasn’t half bad even though I have never seen rotini served hot with an entrée: it is mostly used in pasta salads.  The sauce was mildly enjoyable but totally unmemorable. What the flecks of sad tomato were doing there is anyone’s guess.  Maybe a touch of color?

I see this dish as one of those gold standards that every Italian restaurant should be able to knock out of the park.  I make it myself, mine has fleck of fresh rosemary, lemon zest and bread crumbs (gf of course) and I tend to serve it with steaming hot rice. My guy is always enthusiastic when this is what’s for supper. The scampi at Bravo was nothing like homemade.  It was pale, extremely mild in flavor and as bland as you would never want.  Shrimp scampi should have bold flavors of garlic and butter that announce themselves on the first bite.  soup-003The shrimp should be large and plentiful, firm and full of flavor; they are the star of the dish after all!  Sadly, this dish had nothing going for it other than the pasta was not overcooked.

My guy had a lasagna bolognese which was similarly dull in flavor but fairly edible.  Same rule applied to the Italian wedding soup which was his appetizer. Nothing special.

Dessert was the highlight of our visit; a Crème Brulee which was perfectly constructed with a creamy rich custard and a true hard crack brown sugar crust.  There were some pieces of fresh fruit on top.  Naturally gluten free and quite yummy! I wish I had taken a picture of its perfection!

The gluten free menu choices are very bland looking; this was the most exciting thing on the list as far as I could tell.  We folks with celiac love good food just like anyone else.  We don’t want dull mildly flavored meals that could be fed to a toddler.  I wanted true Italian zing and that was totally lacking in the food I was served.  This nationwide chain should be ashamed of itself. I did call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager, identifying myself as a food blogger. No response was ever given.  If you want bland gluten free; then this is your place. We won’t be going back. Still searching for anything even half as good as Bella’s in Hellertown.

Musikfest 2016 – Gluten Free Eating

Just a quick Musikfest gluten free update for my peeps.  I have enjoyed just a few food items there: not volunteering as much this year so not around the place to test more things.

I had the corn on the cob from Aww…Shucks.  It was great as always; I had them leave off the seasonings as they are not gluten free. corn on cob

The other choice I had as a meal was from Hogar Crea: their chicken and beans and rice.  It was pretty awesome.  My plate was piled high with everything including some big chunks of yams; great seasoning and very filling.  My pocketbook was happy: good deal for this pricy issue of eating at the Musikfest; only 8 tickets which is cheap if you look at how much other entrees cost there!

Hogar crea

Looks like some yummy shish kebab grilling here at Hogar Crea’s stand at Handworkplatz.

The only  drink I had there was the half and half lemonade and ice tea incredibly thirst quenching on a hot day as I sold beer mugs! ice tea and lemonade

 

Musikfest has only have one cider this year; Gumption: I saw it at Festplatz at the small specialty truck next to the beer tent.  It is a fairly sweet apple cider but better than nothing if you want an alcoholic treat but can’t drink wheat beer and don’t like to drink wine. hard cider

 

Not sure what else is celiac safe there; in past three summers I ate bbq pork over at Volksplatz at that big polish food stand.  Pulled pork poured over a big baked potato.  Amazing! GF delight. So there are a few options out there.  Let me know if you find something else safe for we celiacs.

 

Eating Out GF in Boston: Yummy!

Traveling again; in search of great gluten free food…in the Boston area. I ate at Legal Seafood, two different locations, two great meals.  I had mussels in wine sauce followed by a steamed lobster for supper one night.  It came with two gf rolls, warm and tasty…side of brown rice which was a bit drab: I think they left off the seasoning in a probably cautious decision (seasonings can be problematic due to flour in spice blends).  And my second side was sautéed fresh spinach.  Everything was tasty. The gf food arrives at the same time as everyone else’s but via a different waiter who is tasked with making sure you eat safely.  I had a dark chocolate mousse for dessert that was incredibly rich; couldn’t finish it! You should know that the owners of this chain have celiac family members so they really try hard to give you a great and safe gf eating experience.

Legallegal lobster

For lunch a couple days later my sister and I ate at a different Legals as the Thai restaurant we planned to go to was closed. I had some Portuguese seafood chowder full of perfectly cooked white fish, mussels, clams, chorizo sausage and tomato based broth.  It also came with those tasty gf rolls. I had a side of coleslaw, very fresh and crunchy. So nice to feel I can eat food that is safe for me and really tasty.  seafood chowder

There are three Legals in the Phila. and south Jersey area; check out the one at King of Prussia mall: http://www.legalseafoods.com/restaurants/king-of-prussia-king-of-prussia-mall.  So you can eat great gf seafood right here in PA.

myers

I also ate at a hipster kinda of Thai/Chinese restaurant in the Back Bay area of Boston: Chang and Myers… http://www.myersandchang.com/.  My shredded pea pod salad with green goddess dressing and sunflower seeds was simply amazing.  I had salmon with rice and soy sauce, all gluten free.  Perfectly done salmon.  I could have done with less sauce; not used to much of that salty stuff.  I enjoyed a wonderful baby bok choy stir fry with scallions and fresh ginger.  My only issue was the disjointed service; lots of gaps there….plus my companions’ food and mine were off synch and that took away from the wonderful flavor of my food.  I hadn’t eaten in an oriental restaurant in over three years, since going gluten free so it was a great treat to eat there. Small gf menu but everything I ate was wonderful.  I took no pictures there and couldn’t find any on line of the gf foods I ate.  You will have to trust me on the wonderfulness of my gf foods there.

the cottagecrab and shrimp salad

Ladies luncheon out at The Cottage was as great as ever. I had crab and shrimp salad with hearts of palm and a delicate lemon dressing.  It was refreshing, filling and so fresh and just beautiful to look at.  Hot gf rolls were a very nice touch.  We three ladies shared our traditional flourless chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream.  Not a scrap of that delicious dessert was left on the plate! chocolate tort

 

Finally, I had a super gf ice cream cone in Lexington at a small ice cream shop; they only charged 25 cents for a gf sugar cone.  Marvelous homemade dark chocolate topped with coffee ice cream.  Mmmmm.

 

So, if you are heading to the Boston area; there are a lot of great restaurants which have gluten free options.

Legal Sea Foods….Another Lovely Meal (and GF)

My favorite restaurant to eat out at is Legal Sea Foods.  I try to always make it there when I am in Boston visiting family.  This July’s vacation was no different.  I was looking forward to the great service and even greater seafood and their menu has a number of gluten free items.

legal sea foods

We were seated promptly and ordered a bottle of delightful white wine.  The server was knowledgeable and selections were made.  For starters we three shared a dozen oysters on a bed of ice; made up from three different varieties.  They came with two sauces: a champagne vinaigrette and the traditional horseradish cocktail sauce.  I had several, they were small and succulent and I tried both sauces.  Loved them; should say I am only in the last couple of years learning to like raw oysters. I like the really small fat ones; easier for me to swallow.

oysters

Then we shared an order of deep fried calamari.  Gluten free of course! It came with a large dish of tarter sauce and was very tasty; the three of us ate most of it, my sister and her hubby are not celiac although my sister often eats gluten free.  I had a pair of gf tasty muffins which disappeared quickly.  Elaine ate half of a muffin and declared it quite good.

calimari

Then our entrees showed up; all at once and in the arms of our young server.  My sister, being quick on the uptake, queried her; normally gluten free items are delivered by a separate server, usually a manager. The server’s pretty face fell and she admitted she had forgotten to put my entrée in as gluten free.  So I had to wait while they remade my meal. Our server was very apologetic. All their staff is very friendly and helpful as to eating gluten free.

My meal was pretty tasty when it showed up ten minutes later; a surf and turf consisting of a 6 ounce fillet mignon, four sautéed scallops and four shrimps.  The beef was utter perfection, had a sauce on it that really added to the flavor and my scallops were delish!  The shrimps were kinda dried out.  I did eat some of them but not with much delight.   This was the first time they messed up my order in like 4 or 5 visits there and the first time any seafood was even a bit less than perfect.  Every place is allowed a few glitches; don’t let that stop you from heading to Legals.

My sister’s chowder and salad was tasty; chowder gone in a flash!  My brother-in-law enjoyed his fish and chips; it smelled wonderful. Made with haddock and a very healthy serving. We shared a chocolate parfait which was delightfully light and disappeared in moments.  We were all content and quite full when we left Legals.

All in all a very nice dining experience and I thanked my sister for catching their error before I could taste my food and get ill.  Moral of story; double check to make sure your gf food comes via a separate server when you eat at Legal Sea Foods.  Legal has locations all over the mid-Atlantic; two in NJ, two near or in Philadelphia and a couple in New York State as well as two in the Boston area and others in a few more states.  Well worth a drive for the legendary seafood and safe gf food.

We Are Longing for Gourmet GF Entrees

My latest pet peeve is boring gluten free restaurant food.  If there is anything gluten free on the menu it is often simplistic and there are very few choices compared with the rest of the menu.  This is a major bummer.

Last weekend I was eating supper at one of the few restaurants where I feel truly safe in eating gf, BigBites BBQ located along Route 309 in Quakertown. Not boring food, just plain delicious!  They make the majority of their food GF, have dedicated areas for GF food assembly and cooking and they specially order their Udie’s GF buns for their sandwiches directly from the factory. The owners have 3 family members with celiac disease so they know what they are doing to make food safe and gf.

pulled pork signbigbites

Plus their BBQ is the best in the entire area.  Love their pulled chicken, their ribs with ruby red sauce and their sides: smoky baked beans, cornbread and coleslaw.  The owners were telling me about their plans to add gf tacos to their menu. They are going to make their own tortillas from scratch. Just hearing the owner describe those tacos made my mouth water. Can’t wait!

What I am getting around to spelling out is that we were also commiserating on why no restaurants make really complex gf foods.  I had been thinking that but it was interesting to hear the owner of a mostly gf restaurant making the same point. The few places that serve gf raviolis or pasta seldom dress the gf food up with fresh herbs or other additions, like the rest of their entrees have.  It is like they think we celiacs don’t like gourmet tasty food; that we just want it bland and plain.  No, no, no! We love fresh basil on our pasta, spices, cheese and all the yummy things that can fancy up a dish to make it delightful and memorable.

The only other place I have gotten some really tasty and well made gf food is Bella’s Restaurant here in Hellertown.  I wrote an entire blog post on their fantastic shrimp with pink vodka sauce, a few months back.  I just wish they would translate more of their incredible entrees into gluten free versions. Same for Nick’s on Main Street in Bethlehem.  Their gf baked ravioli is very nice but I think it could be fantastic with a few added flavor touches. bella sign

Maybe 2015 will be the year more restaurants get that concept and expand their gf menu making dining out gluten free a better experience. I am personally hoping to find somewhere that has gf perogies as their nightly special. Heavenly!

Big Bites BBQ in Quakertown is Awesome!

If you are craving some tasty barbecued pork or brisket and can’t decide where to go, head South to Quakertown along Route 309 below the 663 junction.  On the left you will find Big Bites BBQ in a small strip mall.   bigbites I read about it on FaceBook and had to give it a whirl.  I had been feeling the need for all the yummy goodness of BBQ and couldn’t imagine where I would find barbecued meat safe for me to eat.  I didn’t have to look any further; this place is run by a family with three members who have celiac or another wheat allergy.  So they definitely know how to cook and serve GF foods.

You can get regular wheat buns there which are tasty according to my man.  But they order their GF burger buns directly from Udi’s in Colorado to get them as fresh as possible.  All the bbq and the fixings are made gluten free. Safe, safe safe!

On my first visit I ordered a brisket sandwich as well as smoky baked beans, coleslaw and some GF cornbread that came with a small cup of honey butter. It was all delicious. There was a lot of meat in that sandwich and it was tender to say the least.  I added extra bbq sauce from a squeeze bottle on the table.  The slaw was some of the best I have ever eaten in a restaurant.  My dish of baked beans was indeed smoky with great flavor including some shredded pork. And the corn bread was lovely; tender, flavorful and sweet after I poured on some of the BigBites special butter.

Joe had a fat juicy pulled pork sandwich and the same sides as me.  He polished it all off and didn’t have a single negative comment.  I know he was glad I could relax and eat without worrying about food safety.  He took home a second sandwich for lunch the next day.

The service was pretty fast and the owner came over to check and see how we liked our meal.  BigBites only has counter service with maybe 8-9 tables for customers to chow down at.  As we ate people came in to pick up orders, turns out get takeout to eat at home is a popular option.  There is a cooler full of ice tea and other drinks to have with your meal.  The small restaurant is comfortable and cozy if not fancy.

I wrote this October 2013 but have eaten there 3-4 times since then.  I tend to get the same thing, the half a bbq’d chicken platter which includes a quarter rack of ribs and two sides.  The chicken is so tender and smokey I had hardly bear not to have it every visit. We took some friends with us last time and they loved the barbecue too!

I am longing to go back and try some more of the menu including a bbq parfait that a friend says is awesome.  It is not a huge menu but for someone who loves barbecue and all the sides, it is exactly the right size!

 

A Great Place for Gluten Free Italian Food!

Since I went gluten free it has been tough to eat out, often it is stressful worrying about where we can go and what the food will taste like, plus how safe the food will be for me.  Places say they have gluten free food but it does not always seem safe so we don’t eat there if there is any question on food safety.  When you have celiac disease it is not an option to occasionally eat wheat, it is a necessity to not eat even a tiny bit of it.    bella 2

Planning a mid-week date, I wanted somewhere close to home for supper out.  We had eaten at Bella’s when it first opened but someone didn’t like their entree so we hadn’t gone back. But I wasn’t giving up as I had loved my meal there two years ago.

Someone told they had gf options. So, I did my homework; called and asked if they still had GF food and if they used a dedicated gf colander for rinsing pasta.  Yes, and yes.  Good, as I won’t go to a place that doesn’t have a dedicated gf colander.  The sticky stuff in wheat pasta really clings to the tiny holes in colanders so a separate gf colander is a necessity to avoid contamination of your gf pasta.Image

Bella’s on Main Street in Hellertown is a lovely restaurant with actual murals on the walls, soft Sinatra style music playing, high ceilings with beams and a number of cozy booths.  We asked for a booth and a gluten free menu for me.  It was a brief list, maybe 8 or 9 options and they looked somewhat basic. Feeling skeptical I chose the penne with pink vodka sauce and topped with shrimp.  It came with a green salad.  The salad was okay if rather uninspired but it came with a tasty Parmesan vinaigrette.

My pasta arrived without too much delay, a big bowl of it.  Fat shrimp were nestled into the penne and it was well coated with sauce and a good sprinkling of Parmesan cheese with some finely chopped parsley.  One bite and I was totally hooked.  The pasta was perfectly cooked, not over and not underdone, a feat in and of itself for GF pasta.  And the pink vodka sauce was the best I have ever had, loads of flavor and just the right amount of it.

The shrimp were meaty and succulent.  There were also tiny salad size shrimp sprinkled throughout it. It was a lovely pasta dish.  As good as any wheat pasta I have had in a restaurant.  I will gladly go back to eat that again!

Joe’s food was also good, if full of wheat! He had mussels with a Frau Diablo red sauce and linguine.  He is a tough food critic but found nothing amiss and ate pretty much every scrap of it!  We were both too full for dessert although they waved a tray of elegant but wheaty looking cake slices in front of us! Maybe they will come up with some gf desserts this summer.

They gave us each a small complementary glass of wine.  My white wine was very good.  The service was fast and very friendly. I had read some negative comments on service but I found no faults at all, we couldn’t have asked for a nicer waiter!

Lots of parking out back and outdoor seating should be available soon, the creek is right there so I plan to try dining outside before the heat of high summer arrives.  Image

If you are looking to eat GF Italian in Saucon Valley, look no further, Bella’s is clearly in a class above most any other place in the Lehigh Valley.  The atmosphere is wonderful and the pasta is divine.  I consider it a great restaurant to enjoy a delicious gluten free meal.