Since Groupon is the new black, we've been finding all kinds of awesome deals for restaurants, classes, etc. So when my father-in-law bought a Groupon for dinner for six at a local restaurant/pub a few months back, Luke and I were psyched to go. We never turn down free food, and getting to see his parents is always a blast. But that was all B.C. (before Celiac, in case you missed that).
So when the hubbs informed me that we would be trekking out for lunch on Sunday to a place that has wheat stalks in its logo, I got a little nervous. We both called the place, and the manager assured us (separately) that though they didn't have a formal GF menu, they were very "gluten-free friendly" and that my server could give me options for many dishes that would be safe and delicious. But I couldn't shake the feeling that this place was either going to cross-contaminate me or just outright gluten my face in. But Luke told me that I should give it a try, that I can't live in a bubble, and that I am going to have to trust people (fat chance, friend).
I was petrified. Since I have been glutened, twice now, I know what it feels like, and I was in no hurry to experience that again. Our waiter was a guy with a whole lot of personality, but not a lot of culinary knowledge. When he came over to the table the first time, I told him I was Celiac and needed to eat gluten-free. He looked at me blankly for a minute, but then had the decency to admit he didn't really know what that meant. I took out my handy-dandy restaurant card and gave it to him, and as he scanned it, he asked if he could keep one for the kitchen. I let him take it, hopeful that maybe someone else's meal would be easier because of it. But then he told me that I should be fine if I got something that wasn't pasta. Face palm.
While everyone else enjoyed their beer, I sipped on a wine (not bad), but when it came time for appetizers, I was out of the loop. Even the "gluten-free special" appetizer was some chicken skewers marinated in a sauce our waiter couldn't explain. So I watched, as everyone noshed on nachos, and chicken, and crab cakes and jalapeno poppers. I watched.
Salad course was okay, basically just lettuce with olive oil on it. Figured that was safest. I gave him pretty explicit instructions that croutons should not be anywhere NEAR my plate, and it came out clean, so I think he was listening. But when it came to the main course, he didn't seem to know any of the answers to my questions. He couldn't tell me how the asparagus was prepared. Or what was in the mashed potatoes. So I simply asked for a steak and baked potato, both cooked in foil, please. Not the most tasty thing I've ever eaten, but I am pretty sure it was safe.
The hardest part was dessert. Not one thing. NOT A SINGLE THING on the dessert menu was even close to being gluten-free, and as someone with an incredible sweet tooth, it was
It's hard to get mad at the waiter, or even the manager, for not knowing what restrictions that we GF diners have to follow. I mean, for normal people, this is so off the radar that it's impossible to blame anyone for not realizing that you can cross-contaminate in the blink of an eye, or that even things that seem safe (sauces, marinades, etc.) could be dangerous. I guess it opens up a good opportunity for dialog with some of these places, and I admire the fact that our waiter took the card from me (now, whether or not he threw it in the trash is another question entirely).
*Typically, restaurant reviews would fall under the Gluten-Free Gluttons post, but since I didn't want to name this place (they are a one-location restaurant), I handled it differently. I think it is admirable when restaurant staffs want to learn, so I am not going to call them out for ignorance. I will be contacting the manager though, to let her know that "gluten-free friendly" is a little different than what she thinks it is. I also have to explain that my dinner guests were not in favor of watching me suffer - the appetizers and desserts were part of the coupon, not just exercises in Alissa's restraint.