Sunday, September 9, 2007

Trip to England and Italy

Next week I leave for London, England for 1 week, and a tour of Italy for 2 weeks. We'll see how eating gluten-free is like in both places.

I've heard that there are many gluten-free options in Italy since many Italians have Celiac disease. I don't speak Italian, but have an allergy phrase book, and also a business-card sized description of what I cannot eat (with some suggestions of what I can eat) in Italian.

If this is helpful for anyone, this is what an Italian friend wrote up for me:

Soffro di una forte allergia al glutine, per cui NON posso mangiare nessun tipo di frumento, segale, orzo o malto (niente pasta, pizza, pane, fritto impanato, etc.).

Posso invece mangiare prodotti elaborati dal mais, dal riso e dalla patata.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Restaurant Review - Hannah's Tapas Bar in Waterloo

The other night we visited Hannah's Tapas Bar for dinner ( For a Friday night, the restaurant wasn't very busy, but apparently gets busy later in the evening as people are looking for snacks ('tapas' are really just small tasting plates, like appetizers.) Also, Friday night happens to be $4 martini night! You only could choose from 4 different types of martinis, but the 4 they had were still excellent.

The atmosphere was cool, and the waitress was very professional. It was hard to tell if she knew about Celiac disease, but she seemed to know that gluten was wheat and related products.

Our party of 4 ordered a variety of tapas, and I could eat most of them. The waitress went over the whole menu and indicated what was and wasn't gluten-free. At one point the waitress recommended a dish cooked with beer. This just shows you that even though wait staff may know some things about eating gluten-free, it's always best to ask lots of questions.

The highlights for me were the scallops, shrimp, warm olives and tomato & goat cheese salad.

We ended up passing on dessert (even though they had creme brulee - my favourite). Instead, our party went for a walk and ended up at Yukiko's for dessert. (They also had creme brulee which was gluten-free. It was decent, but not the best I've ever had.)

Overall, the food was excellent...but perhaps a bit pricey if you are hungry and are looking for quantity. The bill for the 4 of us was around $110, including a couple drinks each. Service was good, and knowledge about eating gluten-free was definitely better than average.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5
Celiac friendly: 4 out of 5
Value: 3 out of 5

Monday, September 3, 2007

Restaurant Review - Wildfire (in Niagara Falls)

This weekend I went to visit Niagara Falls for a family get-together, and ended up at a newly renovated restaurant called Wildfire Grill House & Lounge. (6788 Thorold Stone Road, Niagara Falls, Ontario, 905-356-3473). Apparently this is somewhat of a restaurant chain (with another location in St. Catherines), but I don't think is associated with a chain of restaurants by the same name in the United States.

Their menu is fairly broad - from pizzas all the way to steak and seafood. I'd rate the atmosphere and menu along the lines of The Keg. It's definitely not fancy dining, but upscale in terms of chain restaurants and prices.

We went on a Sunday night at around 6 pm and the restaurant was nearly empty. We also had a party of 3 children. There was no kids menu but they did have kiddie pizzas or kiddie pasta as options.

Since more of the lower end menu choices involved gluten (pizzas, pastas, etc.) I ended up asking about the Prime Rib with Crab Legs. It was $42.95 - yes, quite steep. (It was really the crab that pushed it up into the 40's, since the Prime Rib alone was much less...but I'm a sucker for good crab).

It was obvious that the waitress had never heard of Celiac disease, but she did apparently talk to the chef to make sure my meal would be safe. As I expected, it turns out that the jus for the prime rib was not gluten-free so she recommended against the whole dish. I ended up with a filet mignon, which cost more money. I wasn't willing to give up on the crab - so my dish was $47.95. Right out - yes, that's expensive. For a high end restaurant with a unique atmosphere...maybe. But for a restaurant somewhat equivalent to The Keg, it was quite over the top for price.

The waitress asked me if I wanted rice or baked potato, and since I always end up with potato, I thought I'd inquire about the rice dish. The waitress said it was wild rice and probably would be fine, but I asked if she could check with the chef anyway in case it was cooked in non-GF chicken broth, which is common in restaurants. I said if rice wasn't gluten-free, then the potato would do.

Because of the price and my worry for such a big meal (steak & seafood), I bowed out gracefully on appetizers.

When the meal came I ended up getting the potato, meaning the rice was likely not gluten-free, or the waitress forgot. The meal wasn't as large as expected, but still was plenty of food. Although the food was decent, the crab was not worth the money. It wasn't really fishy, but it didn't really have that sweet taste that good crab can have. In a way, it really didn't taste like anything. I guess it's hard to expect much from a restaurant chain claiming to be a 'grill house', but like I mentioned, I am a sucker for good carb.

The 8 oz steak was good, but its bacon wrapping (almost the best part!) wasn't superb. The potato came with just butter, and a selection of toppings served table-side.

All in all, the food was decent, but not for the price. An equivalent meal at The Keg would have probably been about $10 less; or I would have expected much better preparation. And even though the waitress hadn't heard of Celiac disease, she did seem to do her homework with the chef.

Would I return? Perhaps. But no seafood next time.

Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5
Celiac friendly: 3 out of 5
Value: 2 out of 5

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Kitchener-Waterloo's Worst Restaurants for Celiacs

Well, I've mentioned my favourite restaurants in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. But which ones should you avoid? Here are Kitchener-Waterloo's worst restaurants when it comes to gluten-free options.

  1. East Side Marios - what a disaster. There's almost nothing on the menu that is gluten-free. The last time I went for lunch, I had a chicken salad, hold the marinade on the chicken, and hold the dressing. (yes, that tasty salad dressing they have is NOT gluten-free). So basically it was plain chicken on a bed of lettuce. My mother (who also has Celiac disease) went to another East Side Marios, ordered a simple steak and got sick. Not cool.
  2. Boston Pizza - along the same lines as East Sides. I think the only thing on the menu that's gluten-free are their ribs, which are not very good. If you want ribs, try Montanas as their Texas Bold BBQ Sauce is gluten-free.
  3. Kelsey's - is along the same lines as East Side Marios. I ended up with a salmon salad, with oil and vinegar dressing.
  4. Barley Works at the Huether Hotel - when I asked the waitress about gluten-free options (after an explanation of what it meant to be gluten-free), she chuckled and said: "Good luck". She was nice enough mind you, and checked with the kitchen staff - but in the end she told me that pretty much the whole kitchen is based around wheat. The end result? A very plain steak without spices or marinade, with boiled vegetables (broccoli, carrots and cauliflower - yuck). At least they tried, but I wouldn't go back.
  5. Tim Hortons - I wouldn't really expect much, but being such a large chain and so prominent in Ontario, I'd expect at least something on the menu for Celiacs (well, besides coffee of course!). Even chili at Wendy's is gluten-free, but not at Tim Hortons.

Seems like a pretty common thread: low-cost dining and pub food is tough for Celiacs. Although I'm not surprised, it's such a shame because you can make many simple foods without wheat and have them taste good. And with so many people suffering from Celiac disease, you would think that these large restaurant chains would start thinking about more gluten-free options.

But besides Tim Hortons and other obvious ones like pizza places, many fast food restaurants have options that are gluten-free.

  • Wendy's - chili and salads (taco salad)
  • Harvey's - some salads
  • Subway - salads
  • McDonalds - fries, hamburger patties, salads

Have your own 'worst' restaurant? Feel free to post your own comments.

Kitchener-Waterloo's Best Restaurants for Celiacs

Here are my current favourite restaurants in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. These restaurants have many gluten free options and seem to know a lot about how to serve a good meal that is gluten-free.

  1. Charbries ( - The food, service and atmosphere is top notch here. They seem very knowledgeable about Celiac disease, and the last few times I've visited there they've mentioned they have a staff member with Celiac disease. Their caesar salad (prepared table-side) is wonderful - just ask them to make it without the croutons and Worcestershire sauce (which contains malt). Their main dishes are all outstanding, and most can be custom made to be gluten-free if they aren't already. Leave room for dessert - home made ice creams or creme brulee. With a new menu every season, you can always find a reason to visit Charbries.
  2. Verses Restaurant ( - Well, I just wrote a post about their amazing gluten-free bread, and just for that they deserve to be in this list!
  3. Del Dente's ( At Del Dente's, all orders are made from scratch. I went with a party of 4 individuals and get this: one had Celiac disease (that's me), one had an allergy to garlic, and one had an allergy to nuts. They must have thought we were part of some strange allergy convention or something. Anyway, they catered to all of us, and none of us got sick. The food was also very tasty.
  4. The Keg - Ok, so I'm a sucker for steak. I've heard rumours that the Keg 'dusts' their steaks with flour, but the Waterloo Keg on Northfield Ave does not. The last time I was there, my server had Celiac disease and we looked at the ingredients in the caeasar salad dressing and there was no gluten. Just ask them to make the salad in a new bowl, so you don't get contamination with croutons from someone else's order. The steak is obviously the highlight, but add some crab or lobster and enjoy the feast.

Well, those are my favourites. Please feel free to leave a comment with your own favourites! And as always, don't forget to ask your server whether your choices are indeed gluten-free, as staff and preparation techniques are always changing.