Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lunch at Whole Foods

One of my favorite places to go for lunch on Saturday is Whole Foods in Alexandria (1700 Duke Street). First of all, I could spend hours wandering the aisles at Whole Foods, looking at all of the beautiful items. There is so much for the celiac to eat at Whole Foods and they even make their own line of gluten free foods which can be found in the freezer section. The apple and pumpkin pies actually taste like real pie!

While I could write all day about the incredible gluten free products, the part of Whole Foods that I love the most is their prepared food section. Oftentimes when friends suggest a lunch date, I choose Whole Foods. The store even has a large area to sit at the store or you can take it to go. Today I went with my friends Meredith and Ellie and we each had yummy and very different meals.

I love the salad bar at Whole Foods for many reasons. Their ingredients are always fresh and everything actually looks good...not like it's been sitting there all day! Also, they list every ingredient in every item on the salad bar.

A word of warning though: Celiacs should always be careful about any kind of buffet/salad bar because of the potential for cross contamination. One of the things I check out first is where the items are located in the salad bar. For example, if there's chicken next to a cold cous cous salad, I will avoid that chicken as well because of its close proximity to the cous cous as it's likely people have dropped cous cous into the chicken. While sometimes I'm disappointed that there are things I can't have, there are so many options that I always have plenty of healthy and yummy items in my salad.

Today in my salad I had a variety of goodness on top of my greens. I had the usual carrots, corn, and grilled chicken, but I also topped my salad with snap peas, a quinoa & chickpea salad, grilled veggies and a cold red bean and rice salad. I also purchased the new Mary's Gone Crakers 'Twigs and Sticks' that I substituted for croutons so as to add a little saltiness to the salad. I usually go with the balsalmic vinagarette dressing, but as I said before all of the ingredients are listed for every item, included salad dressings, so there are many options! Enjoy!

Whole Foods
1700 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

Blue Duck Tavern

The husband and I had been reading about Blue Duck Tavern (24th and M) for awhile and hearing great things about the cuisine. Before even eating at the restaurant I loved their philosophy of using fresh and local ingredients. (As I'm a 'wannabe foodie' I'm a bit obsessed with the local food movement...more on that later!) We knew nothing about whether or not Blue Duck would accommodate my dietary needs, but I figured that simply due to the fact that they use such natural and fresh ingredients, there would be something I could eat. And fortunately we were right!

This summer the husband and I decided to experience Blue Duck cuisine first hand and we took his parents and sister for a birthday celebration. The decor of Blue Duck is very unique. There are wooden rocking chairs in the lobby and there's a rustic American feel. Blue Duck is attached to the Hyatt, but you never notice or realize it while you're in the restaurant. The kitchen is totally open to the restaurant so you can watch the chef in action...that always makes me feel safer about my food because they have to be clean if people are watching! We sat at a huge wooden table (at times it was hard to hear each other, so I would prefer a booth) and started examining the menu.

I had mentioned my celiacs when I made the reservations and the hostess I spoke with assured me that it shouldn't be a problem. Once we arrived they already had documented my allergy and my waiter immediately told me to pick exactly what I wanted and he would ask the chef. The waiter was very knowledgeable about the ingredients, but he always double checked with the chef which made me feel safer. (Sometimes I get concerned when a waiter acts overconfident and doesn't want to talk to the chef because he insists that he knows everything.)

Not only did the waiter check with the chef about the items I wanted, but he also asked the chef whether or not there was gluten in the selections of my family members. This was awesome because one of the things I miss as a cealic is being able to share bites of food with the people I'm with! There were very few things I could not have on the menu. I believe there was only one entree that I could not have or that couldn't be modified in some way to accommodate me.

So what did I get? The menu changes all the time because they use fresh ingredients. I ordered lamb that was unbelievable. It was so tender and the sauce was delicious. I could have it totally as is. They didn't have to modify it at all. I believe the lamb I ordered this summer was different from what's currently on the online menu so you'll always want to check with the chef about their current items. The best news was that pretty much all of the sides were gluten free, including the grits and mashed potatoes! We also shared a baby green salad, white asparagus and a pate.

Blue Duck was the perfect venue to celebrate with family and friends because the meal was very much family style. We passed sides and appetizers around the table and I could participate in the culinary sharing. When people ask me what food I miss the most since being diagnosed as a celiac, I tell them that it's not the food, it's the experiences. Wedding receptions and birthday parties where you have to watch everyone else eat together are difficult and even a little lonely. Fortunately, I have wonderful family and friends that are always looking out for me and finding ways to make me feel included. At Blue Duck, I felt a part of the festivities! I could even share homemade peanut butter ice cream for dessert.

Overall, the food at Blue Duck is amazing. They are committed to fresh and simple ingredients, which is a perfect combination for celiac customers. The waiter did not pretend to know everything about celiacs, which I actually appreciated because he checked on everything. When going to Blue Duke (which I high recommend) you definitely want to make reservations in advance.

Blue Duck Tavern: 24 & M Streets, Northwest
Washington, D.C.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What do I say?

I've had a request to go through what exactly I say to restaurants when trying to explain my gluten free needs. It can be scary, awkward and intimidating, but this is for our health, comfort and it will ultimately make the next celiac visit to that restaurant a little easier so it's worth it...I promise!

1: Always be polite and appreciative, BUT never apologetic. Not apologizing is tough, and I have trouble following my own rule here, but you should never apologize for a disease over which you have no control.

2: I ask, "Have you heard of gluten?" I can immediately gauge whether I'm going to attempt to eat anything here based on the confident "yes, we train all of our employees in food allergies" or the puzzled expression on the manager's face.

3. If they know about gluten, but don't have a special menu, I remind them where gluten can be found (wheat, rye and barley) and that I have a disease that requires me to abide by a strictly gluten free diet.

4. If they assure me that I can eat here, I then select a few dishes in my mind that I would be interested in eating and that possibly don't contain gluten. I ask the manager about these specific dishes. (It can be overwhelming to both the manager and the celiac customer to ask about the entire menu).

5. If they tell me those dishes are fine, I proceed to ask them about the not as well know things gluten is found in: soy sauce, marinades, salad dressings, fryers that could be contaminated.

6. I also ask about how they prepare their food and what their kitchen is like. If they prepare everything on the same griddle, it's likely to be contaminated. I've found that people are very honest about this. I've had waiters tell me that I probably shouldn't eat at the restaurant because of the way they cook their food and that it's a busy day for them in the kitchen so they don't have the time to clean as well as the should. (This is why I tend to avoid Sunday brunch at restaurants and diners.)

7. Continue thanking them throughout the meal. A little bit of gratitude goes a long way. If the meal went particularly well (i.e. Tortilla Coast), I'll even contact the restaurant the next day to thank them for accommodating me.

8. A word of warning: this can be a lengthy process, but it's so worth it! None of us want to be a pain to the restaurant or the people we're with, but the pain and damage it will do to our bodies if we don't, is more important.

A final note: Never feel like you HAVE to eat something. Go with your gut...literally and figuratively. You can politely leave the restaurant at any time. If the meal arrives and you don't feel comfortable, double check with them and if you still don't feel safe, don't eat it! I was at a restaurant in Portland, Oregon this summer and I had a bad feeling about the meal when it arrived, but I ate it anyways, and I regretted my decision to not double check for the next 3 days (including a cross country flight)!

So don't avoid restaurants and dining experiences because you're scared! There's so much yummy food out there and just because you have celiacs, doesn't mean you should miss out!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clarification: Firefly (Dupont) vs. Fireflies (Del Ray)

There's been a little bit of confusion about Firefly. There are two restaurants in the DC area that have similar names: Firefly, which I blogged about yesterday (Dupont) and Fireflies, which is a restaurant in Del Ray. These restaurants have different owners and no affiliation. The husband and I used to frequent Fireflies (Del Ray) before my diagnosis.

Unfortunately their menu mostly consists of sandwiches and pizza, which aren't so good for a celiac customer. I do love their Sunday brunch, however, and their omletes are delicious with many fresh ingredients. I like to get grilled chicken, gouda and spinach in mine. They serve two types of hash browns and one of them is gluten free. (The ones that look like a McDonald's hash brown patty are NOT gluten free.) When I went to Fireflies (Del Ray) right after I was diagnosed, the waitress was very knowledgeable about gluten (she's a nutritionist) and she did caution me that they make the pizzas (flour in the air) in the same small kitchen that they do all of their cooking. I took the risk and I was fine. I have not been back in awhile but we had a good experience.

You don't need to make reservations here, and there's great blue grass music on Sundays. While the music is great, I try to avoid sitting too close to the can be difficult to talk to the people with you if you're too close to the music.

I think it would be harder to find things on the lunch/dinner menu though. They do have some salads that look yummy so let me know if you go there and inquire about the salads.

Sorry for the confusion about the two restaurants!
Fireflies (Del Ray)
1501 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexanria, VA 22301

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Evening Star

The husband and I love going to Del Ray, a cute 'up and coming' neighborhood in Alexandria. One of our favorite restaurants is Evening Star Cafe. They have a quaint dining area and two bars. The downstairs bar can get a bit smoky, but we just discovered the upstairs bar, which is non-smoking and has TVs for watching sports. Besides the food, I also love Evening Star's lengthy AND reasonably priced wine list. The owners also own Planet Wine, a wine store next door to Evening Store that also has a wonderful selection of wines and they are very knowledgeable and friendly. Sometimes they even sell gluten free brownies from Buzz bakery.

Now to the best part...the food! Every time I have gone to Evening Star, the wait staff has been more than willing to accommodate me. Their menu changes seasonally, but usually a large part of the menu can be modified to fit my gluten free needs. I'm a big fan of the salmon and their sides are delicious. Just make sure that the waiter clearly understands about the potential for contamination as well. It's a small kitchen so it's always good to give a friendly reminder.
For lunch I enjoy one of their salads with grilled chicken and one of their vinaigrettes. I have not been to Evening Star for brunch since I've been diagnosed, but from my 'pre-celiac days,' I can tell you, the brunch is awesome! I'm not sure, however, what their GF options are for brunch.

The staff at Evening Star is very friendly and the chef has even come out to talk to me before to make sure that I feel comfortable. Evening Star doesn't take reservations so plan on having a drink at the bar if you want to go on a Friday or Saturday night. It's worth the wait!

Note: The owners of Evening Star also own Rustico, Tallulah, and Buzz Bakery...I'll be blogging about them soon!

Evening Star Cafe: 2000 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301
Telephone (703) 549-5051


The husband and I discovered that Firefly (in Dupont) is gluten free friendly last winter. We called ahead and when I arrived at the restaurant, the chef had created a special menu for me on which he crossed out the dishes that I could not have. I was left with many delicious options to choose from. Now Firefly actually has a gluten free menu and every time the husband calls to make reservations, they have in their computer that I cannot have gluten.

Even if I didn't have celiacs, I would still love Firefly and its food! The atmosphere at this small restaurant is warm and not too loud. The decor is very cool and there's even a tree in the middle of the restaurant. You can order off the menu in the bar or the restaurant and there is a nice wine selection. The wait staff is very friendly and helpful. They always tell me what specials I can and can't have as well and they're always willing to change the dish so that I can get what I want.

My absolute favorite thing on the menu...the mini pot roast. This dish is cooked so perfectly that it falls apart in your mouth. The sauce is gluten free and the mashed potatoes that it comes with, so not a thing has to be changed.

I just checked the Firefly website and they now have a GF menu posted online:
(The bold items are the ones that are GF.)

Also of note about the menu, the Truffle Fries are totally gluten free because they're not fried in contaminated oil! So, if you're craving fries, Firely is the place to go! I've never had the grits...they say they're gluten free but I would ask about the bacon before I order them. Next time I'll inquire about those!

If you want to try Firefly, you should definitely make reservations because the restaurant is small and a popular spot for many DC folks.
Firefly: 1310 New Hampshire Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20036

Tortilla Coast Side Note: Thank you Hilary!!

Side note about Tortilla Coast: Apparently there's a woman named Hilary who goes to Tortilla Coast and she has celiacs. Brandon (my favorite manager) says she's been great about educating the restaurant staff about Celiacs, where gluten is found, contamination, etc. Thank you, thank you Hilary! This is why it's SO important that all of us celiacs inform and explain clearly to restaurants what are needs are. I know we feel like we're being a major pain, but the more restaurants know, the better! I've found that places are so helpful and want to cater to our needs but it's imperative these places know just how serious we are about our disease and that we're not just on some version of the low carb diet...definitely a pet peeve of mine!
So again, thank you Hilary!

Tortilla Coast

Hooray for Tortilla Coast! My parents have always loved Tortilla Coast which is a Tex-Mex restaurant located on Capital Hill. Since my diagnosis I have assumed that I would not be able to eat there. Last night my Dad and I attended a history lecture at the Freer and he suggested Tortilla Coast after the lecture.

I decided to give Tortilla Coast a call to see if they had ever heard the word gluten. To my surprise, they were very knowledgeable about gluten allergies, so much so that the woman on the phone told me not to eat the chips when I arrived because they are fried in the same oil as foods containing gluten. Already I was thrilled! She told me that all of their staff is taught about food allergies and that I should ask for Brandon, the manager, when I got to the restaurant.

When we arrived, the waitress was so friendly and Brandon made me feel confident that they knew what they were talking about! For example, Brandon knew that I couldn't have the steak because the marinade contained soy sauce. He also assured me they are very careful about contamination when preparing dishes for those with gluten allergies.

Brandon also walked me through the menu and he was so nice about the fact that I had a ton of questions. I stayed away from the chips, but there were many things on the menu that I could have. The spinach and mushroom enchiladas are fine as is. The quesadilas are fine as long as you use corn tortillas. Brandon cautioned that if I wanted the chicken enchiladas, I should order them with the grilled fajita chicken and not the enchilada chicken because of all of the spices they use...he just said there was more room for error and contamination from earlier preparation. (I'm very sensitive to contamination so it made me happy to hear him say this!)

So what did I order? I got the chicken fajitas with white corn tortillas and let me tell you, they were the best corn tortillas I've ever eaten! They were warm, soft and and full of yumminess! The grilled veggies, guac, beans and rice were all fine too.

Needless to say, I give Tortilla Coast 5 gluten free stars! There were many options and the entire staff was knowledgeable, friendly and understanding! Most importantly, I did not get sick! Like I mentioned before, I'm very sensitive to contamination so I get sick pretty easily.
The same people that own Tortilla Coast own Cafe Deluxe (Bethesda, Tysons and DC locations) so I'll have to check them out too!
Tortilla Coast: 400 First Street SE
Washington, DC
202. 546.6768

Who Am I?

Welcome to my blog! Ever since I was diagnosed with Celiac's Disease in August 2007, I've been telling myself that I would start a blog for foodies restricted to a gluten free diet. While there are websites that post gluten free restaurants, you typically only find Outback, which don't get me wrong, I think it's great that they have a gluten free menu! That being said, there are so many restaurants that are willing to accommodate gluten allergies that aren't as well known as Outback. I live in Alexandria, VA (right outside of Washington, D.C.) so I'm particularly interested in finding and supporting restaurants in this area that are gluten free friendly. The Husband and I love food, whether cooking at home or going out to eat and we actually eat such better food now that I've been diagnosed. I hope that others will share on this website what restaurants they've been to that accomodate their gluten free needs.