Tag Archives: Dining

GF Chicago– Bountiful Eatery

IMG_0267Have you ever liked the IDEA of something more than the actual thing itself?  That is how I feel about Bountiful Eatery, a gluten-free, quick service restaurant located in the Lakeview Neighborhood. Yes, GLUTEN-FREE!  I could eat everything here and not have to ask a bajillion questions about cross contamination or ingredients.  When I first learned of this restaurant,  I did a happy dance. And my happy dance is a sight to behold.

The first time I visited, I ended up getting my order to go. I was feeling lazy, cooking was not an option I wanted to entertain, and I had a movie waiting at home to watch, so I decided to try them out on my way home from work. Originally I was going to order the chicken kabob, but the person behind the counter made me feel like it would be such a hassle to get that,  Instead, I ordered the chicken breast pita with a side salad. In general, it is known that I am a bit of a character,  but I thought I would have pieces of chicken inside the pita with the spinach, tomatoes, and the “zesty yogurt spread.”  What I received was a whole chicken breast placed in a pita. This was not easy to eat, and a disappointment because I really wanted hand food. The side salad was also a disappointment as it tasted like something that I could get out of a bag at my grocery store.  Overall, I was disappointed, but they have brunch!

IMG_0268My second trip was my first attempt at trying their brunch menu,  but I missed the end time by about 30 minutes.  So instead of pancakes I ordered a grilled cheese and turkey from the kids meal  and had them add some avocado.  Since I had the option of a side salad or chips, my instinct was to go for the salad, but when I saw that eating in would get me the same plastic container of salad I didn’t care for my first go round, I opted for a bag of sweet potato chips.  As an added bonus, I decided to try their smoothie menu and got the Choco’Nut (low fat chocolate yogurt, banana, skim chocolate milk, and all natural peanut butter).  YUM all around!  The avocado added a fun twist to the grilled cheese that had me wondering why I had never tried it before, and the smoothie was a further celebration of my new found love of chocolate, peanut butter, and banana.  This is a meal I would come back for, and with the 20% discount they are giving for flashing your gym card, one that clocked in around $12!  If my sweet tooth needed further tempting after that smoothie, they have brownies and desert bars from Rose’s Wheat Free Bakery for sale.

Third time was the charm, in terms of FINALLY getting brunch and I eagerly ordered the Pumpkin Pancakes and another Choco’Nut smoothie.  After a bit of a wait, my 4 pancakes arrived with a side of fruit.  Issue #1 — I had to ask for butter, or a similar substance, for my pancakes.  Maybe it is just me, but shouldn’t that just come with the pancakes, along with the syrup (maple, in this instance)??  Issue #2 — the pancakes just kind of tasted blah, until my last one.  That last one had that distinctive pumpkin taste with melted butter and maple syrup that I had been longing for the entire meal.  Overall, the experience was just a bit meh.

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Pumpkin pancakes, fruit cup, and choco’nut smoothie.

I know I am going to come back here, as I hear other items are good and I want to give them a try.  Plus they have a nice smoothie menu, which is always a win in my book.  I just really wish I could drum up more enthusiasm for the food, because I like the concept so much.  Here is hoping…

 

Bountiful Eatery, 312 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657

 

ToM

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The Search for a Delicious GF Bunch – Meli Cafe

If you had not already guessed from my Gluten-Free Disneyland-Days 2-5 post, I love breakfast. Specifically pancakes, french toast, waffles, and crepes. You know, the gluten-y, yummy stuff that is pretty much poison to my body. Not quite skull and crossbones I am going to die poison, but bad enough that I feel like I am going to die and am miserable (and miserable to be around). And even though I know how to pop some frozen waffles in the toaster, or dunk a GF bread in eggs, milk, and cinnamon, or even use Bisquick or Pamela’s to make pancakes, there is something nice about going out to a nice brunch. While I know omelets are always an option, I am looking for the taste, textures, and aromas that make my mouth do a happy dance and make me wanting to lick my plate because I cannot get enough. That is not too much to ask, right?

Cover of the menu, with the shadow of my hand/phone.

Cover of the menu, with the shadow of my hand/phone.

My first adventure in GF brunching was at Meli Cafe. This corner cafe is located in the heart of Greektown, and was chosen by an amazing mezzo-contralto,and fellow Glutard, Cece Otto.  Since I knew nothing about the restaurant, I poked around their website a bit and saw that they were well-reviewed by the Chicago media.  Maybe I should have raised a couple of red flags when their site’s “About” section talked more about the eggs they used then about the food they made…

Cece arrived before I did and went back into the February air to wait for me with our pager from the restaurant.  I am not sure how long we ended up waiting, but Cece had been told about 20 minutes.  We heard people coming out saying upwards of 40, so the wait kept getting longer.    Inside the decor is bright and welcoming, with sunshine yellow paint on the wall, natural wood stained trim, beautiful paintings of flowers and some interesting floral displays on the walls.  Other than the insane crowd, this place was saying, “Welcome, enjoy yourself and your meal.”

One of the things that attracted us both to Meli was their selection of smoothies.  Cece ordered the Vegan (almonds, pecans, soy milk, maple syrup), while I tried the Peanut Butter (peanut butter, banana, frozen non-fat yogurt, milk, chocolate, and whipped cream).  They were pretty tasty and something I would go back for again.

Upon opening the menus we were shocked and surprised in the very best way.  The second page of the menu was their GF offerings!  Page 2!  Of the regular menu!  Since this is not something you see very often,  our smiles got wider by a few degrees.

Page 2!

Page 2!

2 orders of french toast, 2 sides of bacon, and 2 smoothies.

2 orders of french toast, 2 sides of bacon, and 2 smoothies.

After looking it over, and weighing the pros and cons of trying the Polenta Pancakes, we both decided to try the Vegan Gluten Free French Toast.  To me, the polenta pancakes did not sound as appetizing as GF bread dredged through a soy milk custard, topped with raspberries, blackberries, banana, and paired with an agave syrup.   It sounds AMAZING!!!!  Plus, add a side of bacon to the mix and it is almost a brunch lovers dream.  Sadly, the dream ended with the visual presentation of the meal.  After putting that little bit of butter and then drizzling that warm agave nectar syrup over my slices, I eagerly dug in.  What I found was dry, dry, dry, weird texture, not delicious at all.  Did I mention dry as the Sahara Desert?  I slogged my way through a slice, ate all the berries, drizzled a bit more nectar on it and still could not bring myself to finish it.

This is where the service started to get weird.  Our server comes back, asks how everything is, I mention being less than pleased with it, and she whisks it away.  Oooookay.  About 5 minutes later she comes back and asks Cece if she is done (clearly she is not), and I mention that I would like to look at the menu to see if there is anything else I would like.  While all of the following is going on Cece is letting her french toast sit, and sit, and sit in a puddle of agave syrup.  For 20 minutes!  At this point she declares that her french toast have enough moisture to not be a torture to consume.

Menu comes, I look it over and decide that a crepe look really good (in small print under the crepes I saw they had a GF crepe batter).  We ask about the preparation of the crepes and discover that, while they do not have a separate crepe maker, they clean it really well between batches.  Seeing as how I was still hungry (and hearing Sapps voice in my head calling me an idiot for risking it), I decided that the Symphony Crepe (chocolate infused crepe filled with Nutella, strawberry, and banana, topped with banana, strawberry, and pecans) sounded pretty freaking amazing.  As I ordered, the waitress let me know that I would still have to pay for my french toast, and I assured her that I was willing to do that.  Maybe because I have a service industry background, but I found it weird that she felt the need to tell me that fact.  However, I know there are people out there who want something for nothing, so whatever.

Sympony Crepes after Cece and I gave them a try.

Symphony Crepes after Cece and I gave them a try.

My crepes arrive and they look DELICIOUS!!!  By this point in the meal, I am very apprehensive.  Not 5 minutes after the crepes are set in front of me, and BEFORE  I EVEN HAVE A CHANCE TO TRY IT, the waitress is back asking if I am done and if she can box everything up.  Wha-WHAT!?!?!  Do you not see this fresh, untouched plate of food sitting in front of me?  Do you not see Cece’s 1/2 drunk smoothie and the french toast still on her plate??  Instead of getting irate, we calmly told her I had just been served and we were going to be a while.  The crepes, by the way, were tasty, but by this point in time the service and overall experience had been so bad that I was losing my appetite.

The final nail on the coffin of my desire never to return came not long after when they brought us our bill.  Along with a plastic cup and straw for the remains of Cece’s smoothie.  Tactless, classless, and rude.  At that point, we knew we decided to talk to the manager.

I don’t really know if it was because they were super busy, I do not really care.  But the fact they advertise gluten-free, yet cook it on the exact same surfaces as everything glutenous, is the first reason that I will not return to Meli Cafe.  The second is the service issue.  Brunch is a time to relax, catch up, gossip a bit, and enjoy the company you are with.  It is not something for the servers to rush you through.

Another friend of mine told me that their omelets are good, which I may (but probably may not) keep in mind in case I ever want to go back.  But for me, the cross contamination possibility paired with not enough indoor waiting space and poor service  is enough to keep me from making a return trip.

PS:   Cece is preparing to go on a cross-country trip along the Lincoln Highway doing an American Songline (basically singing the songs of the road from the time when it was a popular path across the US).  Check it out and think about contributing to her Kickstarter campaign.

Gluten Free Disneyland: A Wrap Up

Hi Friends!

I have been trying to write this for a couple of days now, and keep hitting a brick wall when it comes to the best way to organize my thoughts.  I finally decided that I am going to lump the things together and pray that it makes sense.

1) Guest Relations will no longer give out a list of the Gluten Free options available in the park.  This is because ALL restaurants will have GF options and sometimes they change so frequently it is difficult to keep that list up to date.  While I applaud the fact that all dining establishments will have GF options, sometimes that option is a plain old, run of the mill, boring, garden salad.  At least, that was my experience at The Golden Horseshoe where all of the food options were deep fried.  YUCK.

2) If all restaurants are going to have GF options available, there needs to be signage available so that people know what options are available GF.  When I was there in February (not a busy season), the line at Jolly Holiday was still 10 minutes.  If I had been able to know what I could eat in advance, then I could have used the time I stood in line to make up my mind.  Instead, I had to wait until a manager came out (not complaining about that, in fact, that is one of the things I greatly appreciate) to let me know, then decide between my options.  When I asked about desserts (because it is a bakery and there were many baked goods on display), I was asked if I saw their sign.  I hunted and I finally saw, in about a 2×2 square: “Gluten Free Options Available.”  TINY SIGN!  IN A CORNER!  And it did not say what was available.

3)  This is something I experienced at WDW and I think DL needs to incorporate it.  At counter service locations at WDW, when you mention you have a food allergy they bring out a binder.  This binder has a copy of the ingredient label from EVERYTHING you may be eating.  That way, you can look for other allergens and make an informed decision.  This is especially important and necessary when people have multiple food allergies.

4) I liked that the staff took the time to prepare my food in a safe environment.  If it was warmed up, they ensured that it was in something clean and not contaminated.  That level of care and concern is amazing and hard to find.

5) Ok.  Peeve of peeve.  The incident that irritated and pissed me off like no other.  First off, knowledge.  The fact that the chef in charge did not know everything that was available GF, but acted like he did, therefore putting my health into danger — not cool. It is important that you know everything, and if you do not know everything admit it and find the answer.  The fact that he blamed his delay in getting to me on it being busy in the kitchen?  Not good because I know that park will be much busier during the Summer and over Christmas.  Another part of this peeve is that the chef with the knowledge was at another location.  I do not know if it was scheduling because someone was out/on vacation, something being done because of budget cuts, or what, but it would be nice to have someone on hand to answer guests questions/concerns at all locations.

6)  It was a pleasant surprise when I was in the Marceline’s Confectionery and wondered out loud if any of them were GF.  The cast member who heard me stepped right up and let me know that, unfortunately, I could not have any of their treats as the pans are coated in flour.  I stood there, torturing myself for a couple of minutes, when she returned and let me know that I COULD have the chocolate dipped pineapple wedge.  AWHA!?!??!  What is this??  My mouth had never heard of this.  OF COURSE my chocolate craving, pineapple loving self was going to try it.  SO GOOD!!!!  And bonus points to the Cast Member who made the recommendation!

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I am trying to think if there was anything else that I really wanted to say.  Overall, I would say that if I were to rank my Theme Park Dining Experiences, WDW would be first (those binders seal the deal), DL would be a close second, and Universal Studios Florida would be a so far distant third it is 3 states over stuck in traffic.

Thanks for reading!

ToM

Universal Food Disappointment

If you have not gathered by now, I am a bit of a theme park nut.  Not only did I have annual visits to Cedar Point growing up, but I moved to Orlando (after a boy) and lived and worked at either Universal or Disney over the better part of the 8 years I was there.  Since I am still Seasonal at the Mouse House, I have made many return trips.  But I had not been back to Universal Studios since they opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  And as a Potter fan I was determined to right that wrong this trip.  (it also helped that I am now working again and could afford the ticket.  But that is just details).

Anyway, I knew in advance I was going, so I decided to look online to see what the Gluten-Free options were.  Basically, they told me to see a chef at one of their “Fine Dining” establishments.  Oh oh.  This could be very, very bad as my budget, both time and monetary, was for quick service dining.  So, I was scared.

But, Friday morning came and I headed out to get my ticket for Islands of Adventure (aka IOA).  After you find your parking in their GINORMOUS parking garages (I take a picture on my phone of where I park so I can remember), you walk.  A lot.  Before you reach the park entrance.  So, you walk to a hub between the 2 parking garages, then you walk to CityWalk, then you walk THROUGH CityWalk, then you pick your direction.  Right leads you to Universal Studios Florida, Left takes you to IOA.  And past Margaritaville, which is always tempting. But the park icon is always there, leading you in like a sailor lost at sea.

Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

So, it is always better to buy your ticket online.  Learned that the hard way.  The longest line I stood in all day was the line to get into the park.  But it made for some fun people watching.

Once inside the park, I made my way to Guest Relations.  I should have known I was in for a hard time when the person at the desk had to ask someone else what they had.  When they finally found someone, I asked if they had a printout of their GF dining options.  The person tried to tell me, but I told him that I would forget if I did not have a printout and I would like a list so I could peruse it at my leisure.  And I had to ask a couple of times.  After receiving the printout, I learned why.  They spend a paragraph talking about how great the chefs are at their 4 full-service restaurants (2 in each park), in dealing with guests with gluten allergies and creating meals to “suit individual tastes and needs.”  Mention was also made about how Confisco Grille at IOA has a dedicated GF menu with the following options: “Pesto Penne & Tomato Basil, made with rice noodles: Mussels; and Caesar Salad.”

I am going to actually type out the next paragraph regarding the quick service because it made me see red.  And I quote:  “We are pleased to provide a variety of  gluten-free quick-service options.  The International Food & Film Festival in USF, and the Thunder Falls Terrace in IOA, offer the following gluten-free items:  roasted chicken; smoked chicken; smoked ribs; smoked turkey legs; roasted potatoes with onions, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper; roasted corn; baked potatoes; french fries cooked in canola oil; and salads.”  1 restaurant in each park offering the same menu is a “wide variety???  Plus, you know, the fruit that is available throughout the park is safe.

Needless to say, I was not a very happy person.  A variety of options, with 1 food option.  I am going to blog later about how much I enjoy this park, but I want to finish up on the food.  Hopefully y’all will come back to read the next part where I go all giddy and fangirl.

When I finally made it to Thunder Falls, located inside the Jurassic Park section, the first thing that I noticed was that the

Rotisserie Chicken, Roasted Corn on the Cob, and French Fries at Thunder Falls in IOA

food was served cafeteria style.  That put me on alert.  Then I talked to a supervisor, who was not much help, and finally got Chef Reuben.  Reuben was very good about answering my questions, letting me know that while the food was GF, it was prepared in a central facility that might not be, and while I could have BBQ sauce from the line, i could not get it out in the restaurant, because that one was GF.  My options were: Rotisserie Chicken, the BBQ Chicken, the Rotisserie/BBQ combo platter, and the Grilled Chicken Salad. Then I was told to join the line, and ask that either he, or Youza (his 2nd) make my meal.  So, waited in a long line for food, asked for Youza, and she put my Rotisserie Chicken plate together in the kitchen and brought it out to me.

And it was….alright. The portion was HUGE and I did not eat again that night, but the flavor was just average. But Youza and Reuben were fantastic. So, on my way out I wanted to make sure they got recognized for being knowledgeable when no one else in the restaurant was. And the new person in Guest Relations told me I didn’t have to leave Harry Potter to eat after all! Not on the list of places to eat is the Three Broomsticks. So, you can have everything served at Thunder Falls at the Three Broomsticks, as well as Potato Leek Soup and a Wedge Salad. And it is not served cafeteria style. Wish I had known that in advance…

Food cost:

Med Soda:  $2.59

Rotisserie Chicken Platter: $10.99

No piece of mine that I was not contaminated.

Next time, I am bringing my own lunch in.

Later this week I want to talk about how much fun IOA is!

Thanks for reading!

ToM

A Gluten Free Tale of 2 Disney’s — Part 2, The Cast Member

So, the other day I wrote about my experiences as a guest with Celiac Disease at the Walt Disney World Resort.  Today, I am going to pull a bit of the curtain back and share life as a Gluten Free Cast Member. And sadly, as fantastic as my experience is whenever I am in the park as a guest, it is just as bad as a cast member.

First off, I must make it absolutely clear that Disney uses a third party provider for their employee cafeterias.  This outside vendor is the one with employees that are, in my opinion, not well versed in cross-contamination, ingredients, and other things I feel I have to look for before I eat.

When I go down to work now, I make it a point to stop at a grocery store and pick up a few staples.  I always buy cereal, for I know getting breakfast is a wash.  While there is a short-order cook at the parks ready and willing to do breakfasts, an egg will be cooked in the same space a pancake was 2 people before.  So, the short order line is out, as a bun will also go where a chicken breast was cooking.  And the fryer is used for everything.  Thankfully there is fruit and yogurt available for purchase.

If I am there over lunch or dinner, it is not nearly the nightmare that breakfast is.  There is a salad bar, but we all know about the cross contamination there.  There is a hot line, but they do not know the ingredients, so you have to wait for them to get the containers for every thing that you may want to eat to find out if it is safe or not.  The grill line was already mentioned as a pass.  And then there is SubWay.  Not my first choice, and I try to make sure I eat either before or after the meal rush has gone through.  I always ask for clean gloves and knives when they make my salad.  Thankfully I have not gotten sick, mainly because I tend to go with the chicken salads, since the meat is already pre-measured and packaged.  Oh, and there is always my good friends, yogurt and fresh fruit.

So, in my limited experience as a gluten-free cast member, it seems I have 3 choices.  The first is to bring my own lunch.  Staying on friends couches makes this a bit difficult as I don’t generally have time/space/ability/supplies to cook with.  The second is to brave the employee cafeteria, read ingredients if the hot line looks like it may have something I can eat, or brave Subway.  Or, I can pray that my lunch break is long enough for me to change out of my costume, go to a quick service restaurant, have them make something, eat, change back into my costume, and get to my work location on time.

Maybe it is time for the powers in food service to look at the size of the gluten free population on staff and start making changes to provide them with allergen free alternatives backstage.  Any thoughts?

Just my .02

ToM

OH!  And I will post a follow-up of my experiences when I get back from my latest trip to the House of Mouse

A Gluten Free Tale of 2 Disneys — Part 1, the Guest

I love Disney.  I am a HUGE Disney villain fan.  I worked full-time in the parks for 3 years and have been seasonal with them  since I moved North.  I am getting ready to do my last Disney work trip, as they have changed the rules requiring more availability then I can give.  But this is blog is not about that.  This blog is about the two Disney’s I have experienced since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease:  The side that I experience as a guest, and, tomorrow, what the experience has been like as a cast member.

Disney Girl

As a guest, WOW!  My first stop of any Disney trip is to Guest Relations of whatever park I visit first.  While the list is available online, I love to go in and talk to the cast members and get a paper copy on site in case there have been any changes.  This list tells me which Quick Service locations have gluten-free options and what they are.  It also lets me know the options available from the stands.  So, when the mood hits for a Mickey Ice Cream Bar (seriously, the BEST thing ever), I know that they are safe.  If I want to go into a bakery, I know that they have gluten-free brownies and cookies.  The ones I have seen sold in the parks come from a vendor, which I recently heard that OMG…It’s Gluten Free.

When the time comes for food and you do not have reservations, you whip out your list, or I believe they have an app for this now,

and head into the restaurant that has what you want.  I always let someone know right away that I have food allergies, which gets them the manager/floor supervisor on duty.  This person has always been SUPER helpful.  They tend to bring a binder that lists all of the ingredients in everything they offer so that you can make sure that you are safe.  They then make several mentions when I order that it is gluten free, and often times, go into the back to make it themselves to make sure there is no cross-contamination.  The only downside I have ever experienced with this is the waiting for my GF pizza to be cooked.  If I was traveling with others, they would have finished theirs before mine came out.  But I would be safe.  And the last time I was there, the pizza was Annie’s.

And back to dessert!  For one of my birthday’s, I went with some of my amazing Orlando people and her parents to Beaches and Cream, an ice cream shop at

The "Kitchen Sink" Gluten Free version

the Beach Club Resort.  They have an item there called “The Kitchen Sink”.  It is literally hot fudge, butterscotch, peanut butter topping, banana, vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, strawberry ice cream, mint ice cream, coffee ice cream, chocolate syrup, marshmallow cream, strawberry topping, pineapple topping, almonds, white & dark chocolate shavings, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, chocolate sprinkles, rainbow sprinkles, maraschino cherries, and an ENTIRE CAN of whipped cream.  Oh, and since I could not have the following, due to their glutenous nature, they put them on the side for my dining partners to enjoy:  cinnamon spice cupcake, angel food cupcake, brownie, candy bar, jellied orange slices, and oreos.  Again, the server and the manager came out to make sure that we could enjoy this treat, which took 5 of us to eat, without my getting sick.

The one experience I have had with a full-service restaurant has been BEYOND amazing!  One of my favorite Orlando couples made reservations for us to see the HOOP-DE-DOO MUSICAL REVEUE.  We made our reservations last minute, so I was not that surprised when they could not find our reservation.  I made a point to tell, pretty much everyone involved in the seating process, that I had food allergies.  The seater knew, the person who got our drink orders heard, the server heard.  They all told me that it was noted and they would let the chef know.  (side note, I learned when I had surgery that it really is important to let multiple people know, as I was almost given crackers post surgery).  ANYWAY, back to the story.  Even though they lost the advance notice, the chef personally came out to our table, introduced himself, and then told me EVERYTHING that I could eat.  If I could not eat one of the primary dishes, as the restaurant is family style dining with a set meal, he gave me options for everything.  Seriously, everything that I could not eat, I was told, “we can do a or perhaps, b”.  Up to, and including, dessert.  AMAZING!!!!

I am really excited to be going down to The Happiest Place on Earth for 5 days next month.  Disney has always been at the forefront of providing GF options to their guests.  And when I am playing in the parks, it is going to be fantastic.  And I will let all you wonderful people know how it went and what I experienced.

But when I am working, it will be a completely different story.  One that I will talk about tomorrow.

ToM