Gluten Free Travels… Royal Caribbean Cruise!

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We recently had the pleasure of going on a Royal Caribbean cruise.  We sailed on the Allure of the Seas from Ft Lauderdale to Labadee Haiti, Falmouth, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico.

I have Celiac Disease [About Me] as a result this review will focus primarily on the food and service we experienced not so much the ship itself or the ports we visited.  However, I would like to briefly say that The Allure of the Seas is beautiful.  It’s a massive ship (one of the largest in the world), modern, very well maintained and offers diverse dining and entertainment options.  Even though the ship accommodates 5,000 or 6,000, we very rarely felt cramped.  There is ample room to move around and it was always easy to find a lounging chair.  We’ve taken a good number of cruises, although this was our first Royal Caribbean cruise.  We were very, very impressed.  Overall, this was our best cruise experience ever.  On to the food…

First, Ft Lauderdale

We came in early to Ft Lauderdale.  I always like to arrive at least a day early for cruises.  This time, we actually stayed three nights ahead of the cruise.  We had a great time in Ft Lauderdale.  I always want to be very careful when eating, However, I wanted to be very, very careful while in FLL.  We had a full week of vacation ahead of us and I didn’t want to be sick for it.  For the most part, we ate at exclusively gluten free restaurants.

Weezie’s Gluten Free Kitchen – 1321 East Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park, FL

Weezie’s is that diner you used to go to when you could eat gluten, only everything at Weezie’s is gluten free!  Diverse menu, baked goods, pizza, sandwiches, desserts and pies.  This is run by a Celiac and is a real gem.  We had some great food and service here.

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Roast Beef and Horseradish Cheddar Sandwich with Hummus and Tortilla Chips

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Patty Melt (on faux Rye) with fries.  This was a real treat, I thought I’d never eat a patty melt again.

We also had the key lime pie which was delicious.

Fresh First – 1637 SE 17th Street, Ft. Lauderdale

I cannot emphasize how great Fresh First is.  This is an awesome restaurant.  In the span of two days, we ate here three times.  It would have been four or five if they were open for dinner.  The food was genuinely amazing – not even “it was good for gluten free food”, no, it was amazing regardless of gluten content.  Our server was extremely nice and confided in us about her own food issues, a real delight.  We also chatted with the owners for a minute.  This is a great place, run by great people… go to this place!

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Omelette, Waffle, Griddled Red and Sweet Potatoes and… a Chocolate Chip Pancake.  Just outstanding.  I would nearly hop on a plane to go get another one of these pancakes.  Get the pancake!

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Eggs Benedict with perfectly, I mean perfectly done eggs.  Delicious.

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Chicken Salad sandwich – pulled chicken breast, Granny Smith apples, celery, dill and vegan mayo served on a delicious GF bun with potato leek soup.

Rocco’s Tacos – This was the one non GF dedicated restaurant that we went to.  I was a little nervous eating here because it is A: busy and B: loud.  Two things I don’t like as a Celiac.  I want quite and slow, so I can communicate well and so the restaurant isn’t in too much of a hurry.  I talked with the manager along with my server.  Rocco’s did have a very good rating in Find Me Gluten Free and we ended up having a delicious meal here (tacos for me) and table side Guacamole.  They had a dedicated fryer for their chips, so those were safe.  Overall very good experience.

The remaining two dinners were had at… Whole Foods.  We grabbed a few things in the store and ate in the cafeteria area.  I love that Whole Foods has this area in most (maybe all?) of their locations.  We also grabbed our two bottles of wine for the cruise at Whole Foods.  Royal Caribbean allows you to bring one bottle of wine per adult, up to two per stateroom.  That’s pretty common for cruises, but RC goes a step further and does not charge a corkage fee at restaurants.  Nice!


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Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Note: I purchased this cruise and with my own money.  Beyond that I did not identify myself as a gluten free blogger or the writer behind Gluten Free Finds.  I was an anonymous full fare paying passenger on this cruise.

Before the cruise – Contact Royal Caribbean and inform them of your gluten free requirement.  You can email special_needs@rccl.com or give them a call.

As someone with special dietary requirements your main point of contact on the ship is generally your head waiter.  They take orders for the next day, answer questions about food on board and can help with special arrangements.  It seems people are generally directed to get with their head waiter after boarding.  I was unable to do that until our first dinner at which time I identified myself as having Celiac Disease.  I asked several questions and got the answers.  Notable things I found out…

  • I would pre-order main dining room meals after dinner each night.
  • All specialty dining venues had gluten free options and were considered safe by my head waiter.
  • When dining at a specialty restaurant, you should ask to speak with a supervisor for assistance.

We had chosen My Time Dining.  Even with MTD, I always had the same head waiter each evening.  Our head waiter, Adina, was one of only a couple female head waiters on that particular sailing.  She was… amazing.  Really, actually, literally amazing.  Keep reading for an illustration of that, but she was amazing.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of food, because I have a tendency to want to just eat the food when it arrives, but I did take a few…

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Burger in the main dining room.  Do you ever have those questioning moments, where something looks so good, you’re worried that it isn’t gluten free.  That was my reaction for the first time I saw this bun.  It was very tasty and, the lab I keep built in to my body 🙂 also confirmed that it was gluten free.

A note about Johnny Rockets: I tried to eat at Johnny Rockets for lunch one day.  Can you, as a Celiac or otherwise gluten intolerant, eat there?  Probably yes.  After speaking with the supervisor I learned that the fries were fried in a shared fryer and that my burger would take 30 minutes because they would bake it.  They also weren’t sure if they had a GF bun or not.  So, 30 minutes for a baked burger in a lettuce wrap and no fries?  I appreciate the safety and all of the clear information, but I got up and went to the main dining room.  The Royal Burger is delicious and the fries are safe.

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Fries from the main dining room.  Delicious steak-fry cut, fried in a dedicated fryer.  Umm… yes please.

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Gluten free bread from our dinner at Chop’s Steakhouse.  I had the filet and couple sides and our meal was outstanding…

Head Waiter Heroics… While we were profusely enjoying our dinner at Chop’s I wondered how I would pre-order my meals for the next day.  Towards the end of the meal, our head waiter Adina showed up with the next day’s menus.  She had noticed we hadn’t shown up in the main dining, looked in the reservation system to find where we were…. dressed up in a Chops uniform and showed up at our table to take my pre-order.  Umm… wow.  That level of care and service is amazing to me.

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A carnitas taco (with table-side guacamole) at Sabor.  Sabor was our first eating experience on the ship.  Several reviews I read indicated that Windjammer Buffet (Did someone say buffet!?) was the only venue open for lunch on embarkation day.  That’s just not correct.  At least on the Allure of the Seas, several venues were open, including Sabor.  The fryers at Sabor are not dedicated, however, they will heat up a kettle of oil when you order and fry you up some fresh chips.  It takes a little while to get the first order, but it’s pretty amazing that they do that.  Our food at Sabor was delicious.  Both times we went (one lunch and one dinner) we got table side guacamole.  Great venue with great food!

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I read great things about the (gluten containing) roast beef sandwich at Park Cafe and I also read it was possible to get a gluten free variation and indeed it is.  After talking to the supervisor… Adel (not that one, but a superstar nonetheless… Thank you Adel) he made me a sandwich himself.  When he started warming up a toaster, I objected asking if that had been used to toast gluten containing items.  He pointed out the sign on the top of the toaster.  You can’t see it very well in this photo (click to zoom) but it’s clearly marked gluten free.  Nice!  They pulled a fresh pan of roast beef from the kitchen and assembled the whole thing right in front of my eyes.

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Park Cafe Roast Beef Sandwich on Udi’s Bagel.  Pay no attention to the extra roast beef on the side.  I asked for extra roast beef and they obliged.  Delicious GF roast beef sandwich!

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Another plate of gluten free bread I received.  In all, I had three types of bread (not counting buns) on the cruise.  The topmost one was the most common and my favorite, it has some sort of nut in it.  The bottom-most one was good too, it had a combo bread/cornbread feel to it.  The third variety I received (only once), was extremely white and had very little flavor and the texture of styrofoam.  That was only on one occasion and even then, I had two other good choices on the same plate.

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The Royal Shrimp Cocktail was a nightly appetizer for me.  Remember you can order as many appetizers, entrees and desserts as you’d like.  Portions tend to be smaller, so this isn’t as bad for you as it sounds.

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Here is the breakfast menu from the main dining room.  I think it’s the same menu daily, at least for the most part.  Do you see gluten free pancakes as an option… no, they are not an option.  Keep reading.

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Gluten free pancakes.  Whammo.  Pretty delicious too.  My amazing head waiter special ordered these for me every day.  You could also do gluten free waffles or french toast.  Here’s a secret… your headwaiter can make just about anything (food-wise) happen for you.

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Here’s my standard breakfast.  Gluten free pancakes and the “Classic” with eggs over medium, bacon and hashbrowns.

A visit from Chef Brad… One morning during breakfast one of the Chef’s visited my table.  Remember… I did not identify myself as a gluten free blogger or as a writer, at all.  Chef Brad stopped by my table and introduced himself and said that he was one of the Chef’s responsible for gluten free cuisine.  He told me how important it was to him and Royal Caribbean.  Gluten free peoples of the world… Where does this happen at??  That’s amazing service and it also shows that Royal Caribbean and… Brad really care about gluten free and the health of gluten intolerant people.  Bravo!

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This is an aerial shot of the Boardwalk.  Sabor is toward the end of the Boardwalk on the right side.  “Cups and Scoops” is also on the right side.  It serves cupcakes and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.  I stopped in to Cups and Scoops one day to ask about gluten free options.  The worker quickly listed off gluten free flavors… Yay!  I asked about getting a serving from an unopened and uncontaminated container in the back and the person was unable or unwilling to do that.  I didn’t really push it and if I were, I would have asked for a supervisor, like I was supposed to do anyway, and I’m assuming they would have made it happen.

Odds and Ends…

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GF Beer… Before departing on this vacation, I tried to figure out if Royal Caribbean has any gluten free beer options.  I found an older picture of a beer menu that had Dogfish Head Tweason’ale on it, but couldn’t confirm that that’s a regular offering.  Here’s a photo of part of the menu from Allure’s Bow and Stern English pub.  They indeed serve GF beer!

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Here it is Dogfish Head Tweason’ale.  Really a pretty tasty beer.  I had several just to make sure.  I understand why they chose this as their one and only GF beer.  It’s flavorful, yet mild enough to be drinkable for those who enjoy lighter beers.  It would be nice to see Royal Caribbean pick up a hoppier beer that may have appeal to both gluten free and non-gluten free folks alike, something like Glutenberg’s Pale Ale or IPA.  It is great to have a gluten free beer option!  Cider options and of course wine and mixed drinks are also available.

Labadee Beach BBQ – Food on Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private resort, comes from the ship.  My head waiter told me what was gluten free and directed me to talk with a supervisor at Labadee.  I did so, and the supervisor kindly got me an uncontaminated plate from fresh food.  I had ribs and beans and rice along with some fruit.  I also had the option of pre-ordering a specific meal from the ship.  You can also return to the ship to eat lunch.  Everything is pretty close, so you could do that without too much hassle.

Eating at other ports – I had a large breakfast each day before leaving the ship and brought along protein bars.  I ate at no restaurants what at Falmouth or Cozumel.  I could probably have pulled it off at Cozumel, but with the amount of time we were there, I just didn’t want to hassle with it.

A note when traveling to foreign countries – This is an important tip.  The formula for products you know and are familiar with can be region specific.  For example, Ruffles and Doritos are (as of this writing) gluten free in the sense that they have no gluten containing ingredients.  That’s in the US.  All bets are off when you hit the border.  I almost purchased and consumed both Ruffles and Doritos while in port at Cozumel.  FORTUNATELY…. they both called out the fact that they have gluten in the ingredient list.  Why would Ruffles have gluten in them?  Why?  Ruffles and Doritos in Mexico are… unsafe.  Keep the fact that formulations can change by region in mind when you are traveling.

Udi’s Single Serve Cookies – I read several reviews saying these were available at the Cupcake shop.  On the Allure, I found them at the Promenade Cafe.  You just need to ask at the counter.  I received both chocolate chip and snicker doodle and both were nice snacks.

Other things I didn’t Try – Sorrento’s Pizza – I had read that they can make a gluten free pizza, but I didn’t try it out.  Several specialty restaurants – we went to Chops and Sabor, but every special restaurant has gluten free options, again If you have Celiac Disease or are otherwise very sensitive… speak with a supervisor when ordering.  Windjammer Buffet – they have a gluten free section and some items are marked gluten free, but I didn’t feel comfortable eating at a buffet.

Non food related thoughts – Royal’s VOOM Internet service is amazing.  It’s very fast and the prices are reasonable.  We got one device for free as part of our package and purchased another (20% discount pre-departure) for about $65.  That’s for unlimited internet the whole week.  That combined with iPhone’s Wi-Fi calling meant we could keep in contact with the family.  Valet Luggage Service – If your departure flight falls within certain parameters on certain carriers, you can pay $20 per person and RC will print out your boarding pass for you and check your luggage.  This was a very handy service that I would use again.

Final Thoughts…

This was an amazing vacation that I would relive in a heartbeat.  I was encouraged that a company would take my eating limitations so seriously.  Royal Caribbean does gluten free right.  Thank you to RC and to your awesome staff!  You’ve won a lifelong customer.

Be kind, thankful and generous… Let’s face it folks, we are non-gluten eaters in a gluten filled world.  It takes extra care, effort and cost to safely serve us.  A main concern we have is eating safely.  Be kind and thankful to those that are going out of their way to serve you.  Spread the word about great companies like Royal Caribbean and be generous.  We left the automatic tips on our account and then tipped an extra cash amount directly to our entire dining room staff.  How much is it worth to you to feel well for an entire week of eating away from your home.  For me, that’s worth a lot.

Thank you Royal Caribbean and keep up the amazing work!  You went beyond my expectations and I look for to returning.

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Trip Report: Gluten Free in St Louis!

We decided to take a last minute Spring Break Trip to St Louis.  This was our first time visiting STL since my diagnosis.

St Louis has a lot to offer, it’s generally easy to get around, has a lot of good GF options and great attractions (many of them free).

I always use the Find Me Gluten Free app to scope out an area when traveling.  I suggest that you actively use it as well – write fair reviews and suggest new businesses to add.  That is a service to the gluten free community – we want to know what you know!  Since I have Celiac Disease, I generally filter by the Celiac Friendly tag and see what comes up.  Example – Celiac Friendly in St Louis, sorted by rating.

Our trip was really just a long weekend, so we didn’t visit a lot of places.  I hope to visit STL much more often and will add to this post as I do that.

New Day Gluten Free – This place is awesome!  Awesome!  Dedicated gluten free bakery and cafe located in Clayton, Mo a short drive or MetroLink ride from downtown St Louis.  Go to this place!

Menu board at New Day Gluten Free

Bakery case at New Day Gluten Free.  Chock full of all manner of gluten free things.

California Turkey Melt, Potato Salad & Pickle

Side view of the California Turkey Melt.  New Day Gluten Free has one of the best gluten free buns I’ve ever had.  Almost a flaky biscuit-like texture.

Cinnamon Roll

Chocolate Chip Cookie – this reminded me of Doubletree’s cookies (sans walnuts and gluten).  We snacked on this on our way home and regretted only getting one.

Lasagna and bread stick.  This was delicious.  I would bet that most gluten-eating people could not tell you that this was gluten free.

New Day Sub

Picky Gluten-Eating (Adult) Child Comment: My son had a sub the first time we ate at New Day Gluten Free.  Afterwards he said that he liked the sandwich and said it was much better than (other place).  I said… so you liked the gluten free sub better than the regular wheat bread sub (the sandwich he was referencing was not gluten free).  He said… I guess so, I thought the (other place) sub was gluten free.  My college aged son like his New Day Gluten Free Sub better than a regular sub at another restaurant.  Not to say the the New Day Sub was his favorite sub ever, but still those are some pretty great words for a gluten free sub.

GF Meatball Sub.  Delicious!

A sandwich to-go

Breakfast Rice.  The menu says this is a unique dish and… they’re right.  I liked it, but I’m not sure I would order it for breakfast again.  Maybe for lunch.

Breakfast sandwich and hashbrowns

I’ve had a number of biscuit and gravy type dishes since going gluten free.  New Day’s biscuits and gravy are the most traditional (at least what I would call Midwest traditional) that I’ve had.  They are delicious.  This is another dish that I think you’d be hard pressed to identify as gluten free.  Bravo New Day!!

New Day’s Menu – Also Full Online Menu

New Day also has frozen items available to take with you.  I got Lasagna and Biscuits and gravy.  Their to-go menu has additional items available to order, beyond what’s on their day to day menu.  Some of those do require time to make so, call ahead to reserve yours.

If you can only visit one restaurant while you’re in St Louis, try to get to New Day Gluten Free.  It’s full of nice, caring and talented people that have a 100% gluten free environment.  If all of that wasn’t enough… the food is awesome.

The Corner Pub & Grill – The Corner Pub & Grill is owned by the people behind The Tavern and The Shack Restaurants.  Multiple locations of each restaurant can be found throughout the STL area.  The owners of these restaurants have a daughter with Celiac Disease.  Their daughter Hanna is the inspiration behind their gluten free menus and their desire to do gluten free well.

We went to the Corner Pub for two dinners

Gluten free hot wings and loaded potato skins.  Each is marked as gluten free and was identified as gluten free upon delivery.

Although the Corner Pub generally gets outstanding ratings for Celiac Friendliness on Find Me Gluten Free, I was a little nervous as we went on… St Patrick’s Day.  The place was hopping.  After being seated I explained my situation to our wait person and was met with care and understanding.  She seemed to be well informed about gluten free and cross contamination issues.  When I brought up St Patrick’s Day she said that it really did not matter how busy they are, they take gluten free orders very seriously.

Gluten Free Chicken Strips and Fries

Smoothie King – as of this writing Smoothie King’s Nutritional Guide says “All smoothies are gluten free with the exception of Power Punch Plus, Muscle Punch, The Hulk, and Coconut Surprise”.  Check with Smoothie King for up to the minute information.

I ordered a “Banana Boat” and explained that I have Celiac Disease and need to eat completely gluten free.  I also double checked gluten content using my Nima Sensor.  This isn’t a good photo, but I did get a smiley face which means gluten free.

Dear Smoothie King: You’ve got three that have three things that have gluten in them.  Please consider reformulating these to exclude gluten.  Your chain could be a relaible and stress-free source for those that must eat gluten free.  Three things guys… just change them.  I bet no one will be able to even tell the difference.

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Residence Inn St Louis Galleria.  It’s right by a Metrolink station so getting downtown is easy.  Whenever possible, I like to have a refrigerator, freezer and microwave in my hotel room and this location fits the bill.  We were happy with the location near the Galleria Mall in Clayton, Missouri and felt like it was a nice central location for the places we wanted to visit.  This Residence Inn is also very close to New Day Gluten Free.

I would also consider the Homewood Suites Galleria.  That is within walking distance to New Day Gluten Free.

Didn’t Go, but wanted to…

 

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Hello Seattle… Gluten Free Trip Report!

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Even though I’m from the Midwest, I consider Seattle a second home.  We have a good amount of family there and have traveled there many times over the years.  This is the first time I’ve gone to the Pacific Northwest since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease [About Me].  As always, my trip report will focus primarily on food.  Seattle, in general is an awesome place to visit, has lots and lots to see and do in beautiful, sometimes stunning surroundings.


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Ghostfish Brewery and Gastropub – Ghostfish is a dedicated gluten free brewery (and kitchen).  They don’t produce “gluten removed” beers, they use gluten free ingredients from beginning to end.  The same is true for their restaurant.  We were fortunate enough to visit after their expanded GF kitchen had opened.  Previously, they had offered gluten free pizzas (prepared off site), with the expansion, they now offer a good sized menu.  This was our first stop off the plane.  We also went back one time later in the trip.  Pictures below are from both visits.

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Ghostfish’s Gastropub Menu

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Fish and Chips with Grapefruit IPA tempura batter and grapefruit remoulade.  I had this twice.  The first time it was crazy delicious.  Since I was starving from not eating all day, I had to go back again and confirm that it was delicious.  Confirmed.  We also had a pizza.  Ghostfish serves SODO Pizza‘s thin crust pizzas.  One of the better GF crusts I’ve had.

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A taster of gluten free beers from Ghostfish.  From left to right – Vanish Point Pale Ale, Peak Buster Double IPA, Grapefruit IPA and Watchstander Stout.  I’ve been in a good number of breweries (before being diagnosed with CD).  Ghostfish has a beautiful location and… it smells like an actual brewery.  The beer was delicious.  We also purchased some packaged beer to go.

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A Watchstander Stout.  2015 GABF Gold Medal Winner for the Gluten Free Category.  Ghostfish’s Brewmaster Jason Yerger has Celiac Disease.  All of the founders either have gluten issues or have loved ones with gluten issues.

Razzi’s Pizzeria – In Greenwood.  Razzi’s has a massive, massive GF menu.  Massive.  Comparing the traditional and GF, it seemed nearly everything had a GF option.

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I received bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar prior to ordering.  The bread was one of those… I’m scared this is gluten containing bread, sorts of things.  My kids quickly confirmed I was okay.  Their GF bread and pizza crusts are also available for to go purchase.

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Razzi’s is a certified Gluten Free Restaurant.  Dear people who run restaurants… I’d love to see this symbol a whole lot more.  Razzi’s also offers vegan options.

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I had the beef lasagne and it was very good.

Dick’s Drive In – If you’ve been around Seattle much, chances are you’ve eaten here or at least heard of it.  In spite of being a fast food restaurant, this is one of my favorite places, ever.  It’s the whole package.  It’s the people, the building, the pacific northwest air, the way they take your order and the food, it’s all of it.  After being diagnosed with CD, I literally mourned, losing quite a few things.  Dick’s Drive In was on that list.  This is your classic good news/bad news scenario.  The good news is… I was still able to go there and I did eat.  Bad news… really the only option is fries.  They are great fries, so it’s not all bad.  No tartar sauce for the fries though, according to a Facebook interaction I saw on their page, the mayo contains gluten.  I was glad to at least get some fries here.

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Dick’s Drive in makes hand cut fries from fresh potatoes.  The fryer is dedicated to fries.  Don’t eat the tartar.

Ivar’s – Yeah… no.  Another one of my favorite pre-celiac restaurants. Some of Ivar’s sit down restaurants offer gluten free options, but (as of this posting) do not get great ratings for Celiac friendliness.  I didn’t eat anything at Ivar’s.  I only mention Ivar’s to call them to account.  With the number of restaurants that Ivar’s has, there is no good reason why they can’t do gluten free well at at least one of their sit down restaurants.

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I love my GFF Food Cart– I caught up with I love my GFF at the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market

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A look at their menu.  I love my GFF serves bowls.  You’ve got two main options “Fiesta” or “Sunshine”.  You can also add chicken.

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Of course, I chose Fiesta!  It was super tasty.  You get a lot of food… “Organic, sprouted quinoa layered with Fiesta Sauce (pumpkin seeds/cilantro/lime), organic black beans, spice rubbed organic chicken, fresh cut organic red bell peppers and green onions, topped with avocado, sprinkled with Tillamook cheddar cheese and pumpkin seeds.”

nuflours – nuflours is a dedicated gluten free bakery, cafe and restaurant.  I ate breakfast and lunch at nuflours.  I had a chance to talk with the owner.  She was extremely nice and their food was outstanding.

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Closed on Monday.  As a Celiac, it’s fantastic to be able to go to a dedicated gluten free restaurant.  You don’t have to worry about cross contamination or ask a million questions.  You just sit down and enjoy yourself like a normal person (for once).  If you have these by you… patronize them!

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I got the bacon potato quiche and “Good Morning Muffin” for breakfast.  The Good Morning Muffin is a muffin with an egg in the middle.  Pretty tasty.  The quiche was outstanding.  For lunch I got the Bacon Gouda Panini.  That was as good as it sounds.

Capitol Cider – Nearly everything at Capitol Cider is gluten free.  The menu and entire kitchen is GF.  Their ciders are (presumably) all GF.  I’d ask to make sure the one you’d like is GF.  They also serve Ghostfish GF beer.  They do serve some gluten containing beers.  Those are the only thing you really need to worry about at Capitol Cider.

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Our Capitol Cider meal was roundly praised by my entire family, even my sometimes reluctant and complaining kids :).  I had fish and chips on four different occasions while in the PNW, Capitol Cider was the home of my favorite GF fish and chips. Regardless of gluten content… these were delicious.  The hand cut fries were amazing.  We also ordered fries for an appetizer.  They come with a stone ground mustard aioli.  My plan was to try that and quickly discard it and ask for ketchup.  That didn’t happen as the mustard was delicious paired with the fries.  Also worth mentioning… The cheesecake.  Even my picky daughter raved about this.  Capitol Cider was our most expensive meal.  The tab was a bit spendy for our group of 5.  Having said that… it’s worth it.  Go at lunch time if you want to save some money.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery – After dining at Capitol Cider we walked around the neighborhood a bit and stumbled on Starbuck’s Reserve Location.  I’m not suggesting this as a gluten free destination, but it’s worth a look if you’re in the area.  This is Starbucks putting their best foot forward.  Really cool place, especially if you like coffee.

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A picture at Starbucks Reserve location.

Asiana Bistro – in Redmond.  Run by a wonderful Korean lady who suffers from Celiac Disease.  Nearly everything is Gluten Free, although there are some gluten containing items.  I get the sense that the owner is there much of the time and I know she understands the importance of a gluten free diet for CD sufferers.  I felt safe eating at Asiana Bistro right before flying back home and was not disappointed.

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A got a combo at Asiana Bistro and choice chicken teriyaki and mongolian beef.  Gluten free and delicious.

Cupcake Royale (no photo) – This was another one of those too good it scared me sort of things.  I was actually concerned that it contained gluten for a few hours, but it was in vain.  I didn’t get sick and it was delicious.  Cupcake Royale is not dedicated gluten free.  They have one GF cupcake.  I was told they bake that first thing in the morning before any of the gluten containing items are made.  The website says the GF cupcake is made with Gluten Free Bob’s Red Mill Flour.  – Search Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free on Amazon

Duke’s Chowder House (no photo) – Duke’s has a number of GF options including all of their chowders.  Those were recently converted to all GF.  Our server said that the motivating factor for offering gluten free was that the owner’s son has Celiac Disease.  I just had a medium size bowl of regular chowder here.  It was very good.  I will say this was one of my more disturbing meals, based on something the server said to me when my food was delivered.  She reassured me that she flagged my food as allergy-level gluten free throughout, but said… “take a couple bites and see how you feel”. Not good.  She very nice and seemed otherwise well informed and capable.  I think Duke’s just needs to take another step in the GF arena and make sure servers are completely trained.  In retrospect, I should have asked to speak to a manager at that comment.  It just didn’t leave me feeling well about the safety of the meal.  I should have dug in my heals to see what was up.  I didn’t.  Fortunately, I did not get sick.  To Duke’s… You’ve made some great strides in this area.  I encourage you to keep going and become a destination for those with gluten issues.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries – We visited one of these in the suburbs of Seattle on our way up north.  This was my first Five Guys visit post CD diagnosis and I was happy with it.  I like that I can watch everything that’s going on.  The fryers are dedicated.  I had an order of fries and a burger in a bowl.  I’m usually not a fan of… burgers in bowls, but it was really good.  Five Guys puts a sear on it that gives it some good texture that helps with flavor and expierience.  I did get bacon, but I skipped all of the other toppings to cut down on cross contamination risk.

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Beyond Seattle….

We also ventured north of Seattle to Bellingham, WA and Vancouver, BC Canada.

SMAK – Vancouver, BC.  SMAK is a dedicated gluten free restaurant and offers coffee, smoothies, breakfast, sandwiches, Bowls and more

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I got the Ginger Pork bowl (which I cannot currently find on their online menu) and a bowl of minestrone soup.  Most others in my group got the butterless chicken (which I did not try).  The Ginger Pork was tasty and filling.  I also had a delicious GF berry muffin at SMAK.

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SMAK is a delicious gluten free choice in downtown Vancouver.

Granville Island Farmers Market (no photo) – Vancouver, BC.  Granville is a neat little island in Vancouver that once held the World’s Fair.  We ate at the Farmer’s Market.  Of course there were many fresh fruit and vegetable options, so that’s great.  Prepared food options were few and far between. I ended up deciding to get soup from the Stock Market.  They had a couple GF options and assured me that preparation was Celiac-safe and that was true for me.

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We visited Lynn Canyon Park in Vancouver.  [Photo from lynncanyon.ca]  It offered stunning surroundings and some great trails.  The nearby Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a bit pricey to enter, where Lynn Canyon is free.  I’m sure Capilano is great, but we had a wonderful time hiking at Lynn Canyon Park.

Brandywine Kitchen (no photo) – Bellingham, WA .  Lots of GF options although not dedicated gluten free.  Brandywine was getting great ratings in Find Me Gluten Free for Celiac friendliness and they came through for me.  I had the fish and chips and a Ghostfish Pale Ale… surprise.  The food was tasty and the staff was competent.

Gluten Free Angels Cafe – Bellingham, WA.  Dedicated GF bakery and cafe.  We ate an early dinner here and got breakfast to go for the next morning.

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I got the spicy roast beef panini with Wasabi Horseradish and potato salad as a side.  Both were fantastic.  I want the recipe for this potato salad.  I’m a potato salad aficionado (is that a thing?) and this one ranks right up there.

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Gluten Free Angels had a delicious GF quiche.  I couldn’t wait to take a photo, as you can see I had already taken a couple bites.  I actually got this piece as a side to my panini for dinner (don’t you eat quiche with your panini?) and liked it so much that we got some to go for the next morning’s breakfast.

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A look at the panini.  It has roast beef and pastrami along with pepper jack cheese and wasabi horseradish.

Accommodations – In the Seattle area, we stayed in Lynnwood, WA because our family is farther north of Seattle.  The Homewood Suites that we stayed was new and well located, close to both a Costco and a Whole Foods.  Restaurant-wise, there aren’t really any Celiac friendly restaurants in the area.  Everything was a drive to Seattle proper.  That was okay with us as we really needed to be all over anyway.  Consider staying in or close to Seattle proper if you want to be close to the restaurants in this report.

Rental Car Tip – For whatever reason, rental cars at SeaTac airport seem to be sky hi.  We booked a vehicle via Avis in Kent, WA a few miles from the airport and set the return location to SeaTac.  That meant we only had to get to Kent once.  We took at Uber to Avis in Kent to pick up the car.  We saved a bundle of money doing this.  The whole family was with so we got a mini van.  At SeaTac I was seeing prices at $1,300 to $1,400 for a van for the length of our stay.  The Avis in Kent trick resulted in a rental of about… $550 with taxes.  Of course prices our going to vary and this may not work for you.

Airports – We flew into Seattle Tacoma International (SeaTac) on this trip and that is the closest and most convenient option.  We have flow into Portland for past trips as it’s not that far away and you can see both Portland and Seattle on the same trip.  We’ve also flown into Vancouver, BC (YVR).  Again, you can double dip and see a couple of cities.  You can sometimes find some deals flying into YVR.  I’ve also seen better frequent flyer award availability going into YVR. See: Airfare Deals at Priceline

We had an outstanding trip to Seattle.  Seattle and the surrounding area are aware of the gluten free movement and related health issues.  I felt like I had plenty of options in Seattle proper, with fewer in the suburbs.  Bellingham, Wa has several great options as does Vancouver, BC.

Thank you to at Celiac Safe Eats on Twitter for Celiac Safe recommendations for Seattle!  [Connect with GF Finds on Twitter]

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Gluten Free in Chicago! – A Celiac’s Visitor Guide

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We live in the Midwest and are relatively close to Chicago.  As such, it’s one of our favorite cities to visit.  We typically visit 3 or 4 times per year.

My trip reports [Trip Reports Tag] are typically organized in a chronological fashion.  This one will be a bit different since, over time, it will comprise multiple trips and should grow to more of a GF visitors guide for Chicago.  I will continue to add and update this post as I visit (and re-visit) restaurants.  Restaurants are listed from A to Z.

Note: For restaurants with lots of photos or additional information or multiple visits you’ll see expandable sections.  Expand those for additional information.

I have Celiac Disease [About Me].  I am very sensitive to even small amounts of gluten.  I try to be very careful about restaurant selection, always speak to restaurant staff about my situation and also try to make wise dining choices.  Unless otherwise noted, I did not experience any known reactions to the restaurants listed here.  I suggest looking at reviews, along with asking questions about ingredients and preparation to make appropriate decisions for your personal health requirements.

Continue reading “Gluten Free in Chicago! – A Celiac’s Visitor Guide”

Trip Report: Gluten Free in the Twin Cities!

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Pictured: Burning Bros Brewing Logo

We just returned from a long weekend trip to the Minneapolis, St Paul metro area.  I’m happy to report that there are some stellar gluten free options in the Twin Cities!

I always use the Find Me Gluten Free app to scope out an area when traveling.  I suggest that you actively use it as well – write fair reviews and suggest new businesses to add.  That is a service to the gluten free community – we want to know what you know!  Since I have Celiac Disease, I generally filter by the Celiac Friendly tag and see what comes up.  Example – Celiac Friendly in Minneapolis, sorted by rating.

Here’s where we went…

  • Twin City Grill – We went here for an anniversary dinner.  Very nice restaurant with lots of GF options and professional staff.  I was immediately put to ease after chatting with our server.  Twin City Grill is part of the Lettuce Entertain You group of restaurants and, it’s my understanding, that LEY, takes food allergies seriously.  That’s certainly the case at Twin City Grill.  Excellent meal.  GF items came out tagged with allergy labels.  I love that.  Restaurants… identify GF and specially prepared foods when you bring them to the table.  This let’s us know you cared all the way through the process.  Twin City Grill even had a flourless chocolate cake available (although we were too full).
  • Burning Brothers Brewing – with a motto of “Don’t Fear the Beer”, a completely gluten free brewery (sign on the door says no gluten allowed) and a Celiac brewmaster… this place is my jam.  Excellent GF beer and truly warm and nice people.  This is a great first-ish stop in the TC area, because you can chat with these folks about GF options around the area.  They periodically have food trucks (all are said to have GF food).  This has a cool neighborhood brewery feel – with none of the gluten.  I recommend the sampler and ended getting a pint (and a growler to go) of their Pyro Pale Ale infused with Raspberry.  Burning Brothers also cans their beer and is available throughout the Twin Cities, Minnesota and Beyond.  Dedicated gluten free breweries are a rare sight.  This place is an absolute jewel… go there!
  • ZZQ Smokehouse – This place is…. outstanding.  I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ (in my pre-celiac days) and have made my own bbq at home for years and years.  This place is a legit barbecue restaurant [regardless of gluten content] that stacks right up there with some of the best places I’ve visited in Kansas City and Memphis.  The fryer only fries handcut potatoes and every single side and sauce is gluten free.  The only thing that has gluten is the bun.  I identified myself as someone with Celiac Disease and the owner wiped down the counter and cleaned utensils.  I chatted with the owner at length and he has a relative with Celiac Disease.  We tried to eat here again, but it didn’t work out schedule-wise.  This is an outstanding restaurant.
  • Sassy Spoon – This is a dedicated gluten free restaurant that serves a creative menu along with local gluten free beer (Burning Bros!), cider and wine.  We went on a Sunday.  On weekends that also offer a brunch menu.  I got the biscuits and gravy, which were a treat.  I also sampled the omelette.  The Sassy Spoon is in a cool neighborhood and has some outdoor seating.  What a great restaurant.
  • Freshens – Freshens has a couple locations in the Mall of America.  Their smoothies were all 100% gluten free.  I picked up a smoothy while and the mall and it was pretty tasty.
  • Beer – Burning Brothers – pick it up in the brewery or at local stores.  Glutenberg Beer – Glutenberg has good distribution in the Twin Cities area.  I was able to try a couple of their beers and they were excellent.  James Page Brewings JP’s Acapella Pale Ale was also available at both the wine stores I went to – very tasty pale ale.  I also picked up a bottle of Element Brewing Company’s Plasma Sake IPA, although I have yet to try it.  It can be a trick to find specific beers in stock.  A store may carry it, but it may not be available.  Total Wine allows you to order online for in store pickup.  That way, you have your order reserved.  Total Wine had every GF beer I’ve mentioned here, including Burning Brothers Beers – Pyro Ale and Roasted Coffee Ale.  I also found good availability at Haskell’s a local chain of wine stores.
  • Rojo Mexican Grill – The menu has lots of clearly marked GF options.  Our food was good, albeit it a little on the pricey side for serving sizes.  Serving sizes in general were good, but the tacos in particular are on the small side.  Our service was slow, but the server was nice and apologetic about the wait.  I think they were understaffed when we visited.  It was an excellent experience in that I did not get sick [my #1 priority] and the food was delicious.  I would definitely go and give them another try.

Didn’t Go, but wanted to…

  • Wok in the Park – Although, we didn’t end up getting to go here, I wanted to.  This place get’s stellar ratings online, I had those echoed to me by locals (at Burning Brothers Brewery) that I spoke with.  We did go to this restaurant and went inside, but unfortunately they weren’t open and going back just didn’t fit in our schedule.  It seems like an awesome place, I’m looking forward to trying it on a future trip.
  • The Original Pancake House – I’ve eaten at a couple of these pre-Celiac and had some great breakfasts.  The ones in the Twin Cities area, in particular, get great ratings in Find Me Gluten Free.  Another restaurant on my to-try list.

We stayed at the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Bloomington.  Really great hotel, newer and a good location close to the Mall of America, but not too close.  This was a Celiac Friendly hotel for us since – it has a kitchenette area to make food, it has a Red Robin in it and a great health food store [Fresh Tyme Grocery] is located right across the parking lot.

We enjoyed some of the area parks and rented bikes.  The Twin Cities is an awesome area with a lot to offer including many great gluten free options.

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Review: Triumph Dining Gluten Free Dining Out Cards – English and Spanish

51j3EVs0IDL._SX271_BO1,204,203,200_Gluten Free Dining Out Cards (English and Spanish Edition) by Triumph Dining

These cards help to explain to restaurant staff (in both English and Spanish) that you need to dine gluten free.

I picked these up for a trip to Guatemala that I just returned from.

Prior to ordering these I had been apprehensive about going to a country where I do not speak the language (I do speak a little spanish… a little) with Celiac Disease [See: About Me].  It’s not the traveling itself that has me on edge, I love to travel.  It’s Celiac that’s the issue.  This is was my first major international trip since being diagnosed.

These cards put me at ease, by a good bit.  They are much more detailed when I compare them to free cards or apps I’ve found.  I don’t want to publish a picture because these are a work of Triumph Dining and I don’t want to give away their hard work.  The cards contain the following sections.. First: A statement telling the waitperson that I have celiac disease and that I must eat a special diet.  It asks for their help to do that.  Then… “I Cannot Eat”, “Please Check” and “I can eat”.  Each of these areas contain additional information and examples.  There is a “Thank you” statement and finally a section on cross contamination.  One side of the card is in English and one is in Spanish.

These cards made it much easier to navigate eating while traveling in Guatemala.  I tried to minimize my risk be taking some food along.  For most breakfasts I ate fruit and a bowl of KIND Gluten Free Granola.  Most of the time I did this at the hotel’s restaurant.  I just asked for some cold milk and a spoon and bowl and on every occasion was kindly provided those things.  The rest of my party ate regular breakfast.  For lunches I would typically eat a protein or food bar.  A couple of my current favorites are Luna’s Chocolate Salted Caramel and Nugo Dark, Chocolate Chip

I also brought along some shelf stable and microwavable Hormel Chili with Beans as a fallback.  Things went well enough at restaurants that I never had to resort to eating the chili.

Other foods I brought along – Oberto Original Beef Jerky, Lance Gluten Free Crackers (both the cheddar cheese and peanut butter), Jif To Go and a couple CalNatural Svelt Protein Shakes.  I used Rubbermaid Canisters – the smaller sizes in this set – to pack the liquid items to protect against crushing or leaking.  I used the smallest size to put protein bars in to put in my backpack.  I don’t like the textured of crushed and smooshed protein bars.  Packing them in a container keeps them undamaged.

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance is not prevalent in Guatemala.  Very few people have the condition or have heard of it.  I went to one restaurant that had a GF menu on my trip Epicure in Antigua.  I still used the Triumph Dining card for that meal.  I ended up with some sauteed vegetables and a grilled chicken breast.  It was very good.  Epicure also has a delicious selection of gluten free desserts.  I tried a couple and they were delicious.  They also brought some chocolates with our bill that were identified as gluten free.  If you’re looking for gluten free in Antigua… check out Epicure.

I ate at a variety of restaurants with the assistance of Triumph’s dining’s Dining Card.

One suggestion that I would make is… There is a section at the bottom of the card that basically covers cross contamination.  In my opinion, that’s your biggest unseen risk and it’s probably also the area that’s most likely to be missed or misunderstood.  I would suggest using a highlighter to highlight that section so that servers, cooks and chefs pay special attention.

Without Gluten Free Dining Out Cards, I don’t know if I could have explained my situation in another language to a people that are by and large completely unaware of my medical condition.  I’ll have this on hand with me for every trip I take to a Spanish speaking country.  Based on my experience, I can recommend these to you as a tool to help you eat gluten free while traveling to Spanish speaking countries.

Gluten Free Dining Out Cards (English and Spanish Edition)

 

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Trip Report: Gluten Free in Siesta Key!

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My family and I recently took a Spring Break Trip to Sarasota Florida and the Siesta Key Beach area.  I was very pleased with the gluten free options in the area.  Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights…

  1. Island Gluten Free Bakery – This dedicated gluten free bakery is filled with a couple things… 1. Extremely nice people and 2. Awesome gluten free baked goods.  Chatting with the folks here, I learned more about gluten free options in the area and I learned that they are great people.  We made this a daily stop before the beach for coffee and breakfast.  Everything I had here was good, but in particular, I would recommend the cinnamon rolls.  Everyone in my family including my gluten eating kids agreed that these were great and couldn’t tell that they were GF.  Island Gluten Free also has a pamphlet with gluten free options in the area that serve their products under the Stellar Gluten Free Label.  This place is a must-stop.
  2. Beckham’s on the Trail – The restaurant has a great gluten free menu and takes the issue of gluten seriously.  It’s my understanding that they have a separate gluten free prep areas and they do have dedicated fryers.  I had the deep free fish and it was amazing.  Really great place and Celiac friendly.
  3. Fresh Kitchen – This place is a dedicated gluten free restaurant.  You pick a bowl size and pick your bases, proteins and veggies.  My food was nutritious and straight up delicious.  For what you get, I also think it’s a great value.
  4. Carrabba’s on Stickney Point Road – Part of the Carrabba’s chain.  They offer a gluten free menu chain-wide.  I talked with the manager here about cross contamination and they seemed to understand the issue well.  They were friendly and the food was great.  I had the grilled salmon.  Our server was a delight.  She indicated that some of the cook’s here have been at this location for a long time and that it was one of the best Carrabba’s restaurants around.
  5. S’macks Burgers and Shakes – They offer a gluten free bun (Stellar from Island Bakery) and were very friendly.  If you are a celiac you need to talk with them a bit about your situation.  I had a good experience and the food was tasty.  It was nice to have a burger on a good gluten free bun.  Some frozen custard options are also gluten free, but you need to be careful on toppings and mix-ins.  I spoke with the manager and had a dish of vanilla from a machine they don’t use very often.
  6. Baja Boys Grill – This is a dedicated gluten free food truck serving fresh Mexican.  This is owned and operated by a celiac.  Really great food and nice people.  It was a little difficult to track the truck down.  I have a suspicion they are only open on Wednesdays at the Phillipi Farmer’s Market.  My only complaint is it would be nice to see them open more often.  Great food!
  7. Earth Origins Market – This is a chain of health food grocery stores that has a couple locations in Sarasota.  Great selection of gluten free food and reasonable prices

This was my first big trip after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  Sarasota and Siesta Key are great places to visit if you’re looking for a beach getaway.  I was very happy with the gluten free options.  I highlighted the ones I tried, but even more are available.  It was a great trip!

Got a trip report?  Let us know, we’d be happy to share!

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