This past weekend I had the joy of visiting my two college-aged children at their college, Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. The weather was beautiful and it was just an all around great time.
Since I have Celiac Disease [About Me] I must eat strictly gluten free. The Ames area has a few really good choices. One excellent choice is Hickory Park BBQ. This enormous restaurant is always busy, absorbing mass numbers of people in relatively short order. It reminds me of a bbq-themed amusement park. All of this would normally make me nervous, but Hickory Park does an excellent job of serving celiac safe gluten free food when I’ve visited. I’ve eaten there lots of times without issue and always walk away impressed. Their menu is expansive and they really understand the issue. We did visit Hickory Park on Sunday and had a great meal.
On to the subject of the post…
We also ate at a local-ish Outback Steakhouse. Normally this location does an excellent job and I’ve never had an issue. I’m thankful to Outback Steakhouse for having a nice-sized gluten free menu. The other times I’ve gone to since being diagnosed have went well. Thank you Outback Steakhouse your gluten free offerings.
This visit was different though. Even though the restaurant usually does well with safe GF and the location gets excellent Celiac Friendly ratings on Find Me Gluten Free, I still went over my standard spiel. The server said her mother has Celiac disease and she also said she was gluten sensitive herself. I was assured there was nothing to be concerned about, that I would be taken care of. Yay!
As I ate my salad, a foreign texture and sensation came from my mouth. A distinct crunch I haven’t felt in a long time. It confused me at first and for the first couple of seconds I continued to chew. When the dots connected, I immediately spit out what I had it my mouth and rushed to the bathroom to rinse my mouth.
I shared the incident with our server and received a quick and chipper “I’m sorry about that, can I get you another salad?” Yeah, ummm, no I don’t want another gluten-filled salad, thank you. The staff’s response went downhill from there. No additional follow up and no reduction of the bill for the salad I wouldn’t eat. It was “have a nice weekend and pay up”. When I realized nothing was going to be said or done, I asked to speak with a manager. Although he meant well, he really continued to handle the situation somewhat poorly. Among other things, he said the salad should have been made from ingredients directly from the cooler instead of the salad line.
Outback Steakhouse should ensure that their staff is properly trained when it comes to everything including salads.
If you have a similar experience, I encourage you to kindly and respectfully speak up. It’s important that restaurants know what’s going on. You are an ambassador of the gluten free community. Your effort to help educate food service providers benefits the entire community. Likewise speak up when you receive good food and service. Talk to staff and management and add fair reviews to Find Me Gluten Free.
How Safe are Salads?
Let’s face it, there’s probably a lot going on at most salad prep stations. Multiple ingredients, some containing gluten (croutons, chow mein noodles, bread, maybe more) all in close proximity. People building salads on top of other ingredients with things falling everywhere.
I don’t believe that a salad is the safe go-to some make it out to be. Not saying there aren’t plenty of safe salads, just saying that they are not a slam dunk, “of course, it’s gluten free, it’s a salad!” just isn’t accurate or fair.
The silver lining is… I did not get sick. My takeaway is… I’m leaving side salads behind. They offer little nutrition (iceberg lettuce and oily dressing) for a lot of risk.
If you’re sensitive to gluten don’t assume a salad is safe. Ask about prep and cross contamination. If gluten containing ingredients are close by, ask for a salad made from fresh ingredients from the walk-in.
Related: Outback Steakhouse Gluten Free Menu and FAQ
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