Rebecca's Gluten Free Blog

Gluten Free in the Upper Midwest

Chicago: FoodLife Restaurant June 22, 2010

I don’t usually write about restaurants in other cities, but since I’ve been traveling quite a bit recently I thought I’d write about a great place I found in Chicago.

first of all, any nice, upscale restaurants should be able to accommodate. in fact, the first restaurant I went to in Chicago last week, Keefers (which is mostly a steakhouse), started off with the waiter asking if anyone had any food allergies they should be aware of. I was impressed~ that’s the first time that’s happened to me.

however, for quick fare, it’s not quite as easy. you either need to do research beforehand or go to a chain restaurant that you know can accommodate.  but sometimes great treasures can be found by just asking. that’s how we found FoodLife.

FoodLife is located in the WaterTower, an indoor shopping center, which is at 806 North Michigan Ave. if you don’t already know, Michigan Ave is a major shopping street in Chicago, also known as the Magnificent Mile. American Girl store and Macys are in the same building.

anyway, FoodLife is a big food court where each person takes a swipe card as they enter, and you can go from stand to stand of different fares and get what you’d like from each, and then just pay on the way out. the whole process makes things simple. they have various stands: pasta, taqueria (Mexican), rotisserie, comfort, salad, sushi, stirfry, etc, etc. there are probably a dozen different types of cuisine in all.

when I was there last December, there weren’t a whole lot of options. they had a printout of what I could have from each cuisine stand, but I still needed to explain things to most of the workers (to avoid contamination). I also had to grab pieces of my meal from different areas, as there weren’t too many options at any given stand. I still enjoyed it, and was thankful for any options, but it wasn’t worth writing about.

however, I went back last week (I was craving some of their Mexican rice), and they had to print me a new gluten-free menu, as they were recently revising it. and I was impressed…  they had so many more options, including specialty items like gluten-free pastas, a dedicated fryer for tortilla chips, etc. and the staff was much more informed. I had WAY more options. since I didn’t really find much I could eat earlier in the day, I was starving and kept going back for more food. I was so happy.

beyond the expanded menu and greater knowledge of gluten ingredients/ contamination, it’s a really nice place in general. it’s so convenient to have an option right on Michigan Ave. plus it’s quick. and because they offer so many types of cuisine all in the same place, everyone in your group should be able to find something they’ll like.

if you’re in Chicago, I definitely recommend checking them out!


Olive Garden June 14, 2010

I don’t often go to large chain restaurants, like the Olive Garden, because I get nervous about how much attention they pay to my special order. however, I ended up there last week, and since it was late at night and there were hardly any customers, I thought it would be a good time to try their gluten-free menu. I was really pleased with how it turned out.

first of all, the famous Olive Garden salad….  it’s gluten-free if you order it without the croutons. if you’re allergic to dairy as well, it’s a bit tougher. not only do you have to skip the parmesan, but also the salad dressing. you’ll need to use olive oil and balsamic, which is far less exciting. the caesar salad (without croutons) is also gluten-free.

as for the pasta, they have pennine rigata with marinara. I’m usually skeptical of marinara sauces without any sort of dairy in them, as this one was (they can get too acidic and tangy). but this was really tasty! I wasn’t even that hungry, but I finished the whole thing! I was a big fan, and became an even bigger fan when I found out that it cost me just under $10 for a gluten-free pasta dish!

**note that I of course double-checked with the waitress that they use new, clean pots of water for gluten-free orders (I had a friend get contaminated water for their pasta at an Italian restaurant once, and I’ve always double-checked since then, in case it somehow slips their minds). my waitress was very knowledgeable, but there are tons of locations~ which means the wait staff will be of all levels of experience and knowledge. so keep that in mind.

they had a handful of other dinner options as well, which I have not tried. they were mostly meat options: steak, salmon, chicken, and steak/ chicken skewers.

I know that all celiacs have different levels of comfort at restaurants. some will go anywhere that can throw a gluten-free dish together. I prefer to go to restaurants with at least a special gluten-free menu or proven experience at handling gluten-free orders well, as that generally comes with greater knowledge. and others are even more cautious and only go to a handful of restaurants they trust.

to me, big chain restaurants are a little more risky than I generally prefer. however, I think it’s great that such a big company with so many locations nation-wide is catering to the gluten-free and educating their staff about it. I really appreciate that they make an effort to accommodate, as they’re a mainstream restaurant that’s widely available to many people, and generally less pricey than gluten-free meals can often be.


Baja Sol Cantina (Update) June 8, 2010

****UPDATE 3/14/13 Baja Sol no longer feels that their menu if GF-friendly, as there is too much cross-contamination


I wrote about the Baja Sol Cantinas (not pertaining to the Grills), particularly the one in Eden Prairie (I believe that the other Cantina in Inver Grove Heights doesn’t have a dedicated fryer for the chips), and they’ve made great strides in becoming gluten-free, so I wanted to write an update.

Almost the entire menu is now gluten-free. their “gluten-free menu” is more like a small list of things that AREN’T gluten-free, since almost everything is safe. the GF menu is actually a little list of things that can be made gluten-free by substituting corn tortillas for flour ones, followed by a list of probably less than a dozen menu items that contain gluten and can’t be made gluten-free. everything else is free reign. it feels so nice to be able to flip through a menu and choose whatever you want!

the chips are still gluten-free and fried in a dedicated fryer, so the chips and the entire salsa bar are gluten-free (there used to be one salsa that contained gluten, but all are now gluten-free, but I always double-check that that’s still the case each time I go there).

various appetizers, including chips with various dips/ nachos, ribs, etc are all gluten-free.they even have gluten-free chicken wings! I believe they fry them in the dedicated fryer for the chips.

between the salsa bar and all the gluten-free apps, it becomes a great place for a happy hour! they have various specials in the afternoon/ evening on drinks and apps. they have some fund specialty drinks that are gluten-free, including a blueberry mojito, the sangrias, and if you’re just a beer person, I believe they even offer gluten-free beer now! the best time for happy hour is 8pm to close when they have 2 for 1 drinks. but other specials are available earlier.

the ribs are also available as an entrée, as are the enchiladas (and both enchilada sauces now), tacos, fajitas, all the meats to choose from for these items (except the fried fish tacos, which can be modified and grilled without breading), and many, many others.

I believe all the sides are now gluten-free as well~ the cream corn seems to be a fan favorite, but I love the Mexican rice. the seasonal vegetables would need to be grilled in a separate pan.

the managers would be able to guide you through what you can have, and what substitutions would need to happen~ they are very knowledgeable and seem to be very cautious with gluten “allergies”.

I absolutely love going to Baja Sol, it’s really good food, and the meal seems complete since I get to participate in ALL courses, including the chips & salsa! it’s liberating to feel like a “normal person” while eating out. whether you go for a meal or just for happy hour, it’s an ideal place for both!!


Target Field: Minnesota Twins, Gluten-Free June 2, 2010

I recently went to a Twins game at Target Field. I was pleased to see some fun gluten-free snacks, so I thought I’d share.

here are some of the ones that I noticed, that should be gluten-free:

walking into the stadium, I first saw roasted nuts (cinnamon roasted, etc). shortly thereafter there was an Angie’s Kettlecorn stand. they walked through the stands of stadium selling Kettlecorn too, so you could get some during the game without leaving your seat. I didn’t see either of these listed online in their gluten-free foods, but I’ve never known either product to contain gluten. it would be prudent to double-check the ingredients and possible contaminants at each booth when you arrive, if these snacks are something you’d be interested in.  (post-script: Angie’s Kettlecorn is now listed on the website as being gluten-free)

when I check the Target Field website they list a host of other snacks, including veggie kabobs, shrimp skewers, turkey legs, pork chop on a stick, gelato, smoothies, Redbridge, and various bunless hot dogs. (see the link for details on items and where they can be found in the stadium).

I wanted to add some other items that were researched via email from Target Field. the regular popcorn, nacho chips and cheese sauce are both gluten-free, as are the Cracker Jacks, (Rachel’s) Kettle Chips , cotton candy, the Push Up Fruit Bars and Premium Ice Cream Bars, and the North Shore Creamery’s soft serve ice cream.

if you’re lucky enough to have seats in the Champions Club, which comes with an excellent dinner, there are many gluten-free options there. besides the usual fruit and salad, there are also several mixed vegetable salads. then there are various meats (steak, fish, etc) that you can have. my favorite item was a polenta cake with shredded chicken on top. be sure to have someone make these special for you though, because the mushroom gravy on it does contain wheat. several dessert options are also available, including (I believe) the bananas foster dessert~ I didn’t actually try this, although it smelled fantastic. just ask someone when you arrive, and they’ll likely have a chef show you everything that’s available for you.

it’s great to not only see so many gluten-free options at the stadium, but also that they went through and checked ingredients on their concessions in order to compile a list for us. it shows greater awareness and concern, which is appreciated!

if you have any more questions on items you think should be gluten-free, never hesitate to email people to find answers!