Jack Allen’s Kitchen

Posted: March 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments »

I’ve realized that I don’t post many restaurant reviews. There’s actually a good reason I don’t. Since being diagnosed with celiac disease, I eat out significantly less than I once did. Moreover, when I do eat out, I tend to return to restaurants where I’ve had a positive experience in the past. Unless my experience changes, it seems rather silly to keep writing posts on restaurants I’ve already reviewed. I also tend to be rather cautious with new restaurants, which is another reason I only have one post about a more negative experience. (Ironically, that post on Red Lobster is one of the most popular I’ve written. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get multiple visits from people who found it via a search.)

This past week was one of our large meetings with our business customers. Our development project team leader planned a dinner out at Jack Allen’s Kitchen after the last day of our meeting. I wasn’t optimistic that a restaurant with a Chicken Fried Anything section on their menu would have anything I could eat, but I dutifully emailed them to ask. I received a really nice response that I want to go ahead and share.

Hello Scott,

Thank you for choosing our restaurant for your office dinner.  We do offer a few Gluten Free items on our menu such as our taco platters, bacon wrapped Texas quail, smashed guacamole, chips and salsa, and our Country Club Fancy Chicken Salad.  We will also gladly grill you any piece of chicken, meat, or fish that we are offering that day.  None of our items are certified gluten free by the Gluten Intolerance Group and there is a chance that cross contamination may occur as we are not a gluten free establishment. I hope this helps you and if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to call or email.

Thank you,

Shannon

@Jack Allen’s Kitchen

I didn’t actually get to meet Shannon, but I decided to give them a try based on his or her response. (Shannon being one of those names that both genders get to use.) In Austin, when a restaurant is familiar both with the Gluten Intolerance Group and the risk of cross-contamination, I’ve never had a problem despite their disclaimers. I believe such kitchens have good food preparation discipline, at least in Austin. There tends to be a sensitivity here to special dietary needs that I’ve not found in other cities that I’ve visited.

I’m really glad I decided to give them a try. Our waitress, when I described my special needs and the response I had received, told me they had a gluten free menu and brought me a copy of it. Later, when she was describing the special of the day (tostadas with a layer of beans, pork belly, grilled scallops, and a relish of jicama, peppers, and some other things), I realized that it didn’t sound like it contained anything with gluten. I asked her if she could check with the chef and she did. When she came back, she said Jack (Jack Gilmore I presume) confirmed that there were no gluten-containing ingredients. However, the tostadas were fried in a fryer that was also used for dishes that did contain gluten. I was impressed that he immediately recognized the risk of cross-contamination, but the waitress went on to say that he could prepare the dish without the tostadas and substitute corn tortillas instead. The “crunch” would obviously be missing, but everything else would be the same.

So I ordered the special with that modification and I was not disappointed at all. Every element of the dish was exquisite. I loved the beans. The pork belly practically melted in my mouth.The scallops were grilled to perfection. And the “relish” was magnificent. Oh, and the corn tortillas were pretty good as well. It was a fun evening and I heard just how much our customers are going to miss me while I’m working on my new job.

My vegetarian and vegan friends can now be appalled at my dinner selection. 😉 What can I say? I can resist many things, but pork belly and scallops? In one dish? Willpower only takes you so far. Of course, my meal also didn’t conform to Orthodox Lenten fasting rules. So I guess that night it was a good thing I’m not Orthodox! The restaurant is a very long way from our home, otherwise my wife and I might be dining there a lot. I noticed they have shrimp tacos that sound exquisite and are a particular weakness of my wife. We will almost certainly go there sometimes, but not frequently because of the distance.

Jack Allen’s Kitchen, though, has definitely made my list of the restaurants at which I will eat. Even if you do not suffer from celiac disease, you will like them. In fact, you will be able to eat a whole lot more off their menu than I can. Everyone enjoyed what they got that night. It was a success all the way around, not just for me.


Promise Pizza

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Today my wife and I decided to try a new pizza place in Round Rock, Promise Pizza (also on twitter @promisepizza), for lunch. They offer all natural and organic ingredients, have a gluten free crust, gluten free sauce, and gluten free toppings, and, for the vegans or lactose intolerant out there Daiya “cheese” and a vegan crust and sauce. They also have a great lunch special, a personal 8″ one topping pizza (additional toppings at a small added cost), a drink, and cinnamon knots for $5.95.

My wife got the lunch special with chicken and mushrooms for her toppings. She enjoyed the pizza (and I was jealous of the thick, puffy, chewy crust), but absolutely loved the cinnamon knots. She said they were much, much, much better than the typical cinnamon pizza or stix you get at most places.

As is fairly normal, the gluten free crust was only available in one size, the 10″, and wasn’t part of the lunch special. I checked and the italian sausage was gluten free, pretty rare for sausage at a commercial restaurant, so I decided to get that along with red peppers for my toppings. The pizza was very good. They use a more complex and flavorful dough than the typical rice flour crusts I’ve encountered since I was diagnosed with celiac. It was more than simply a platform for transporting the cheese, sauce, and toppings. I actually enjoyed the crust itself. Oh, and they had natural gingerale at the soda machine, immediately endearing their restaurant to me. 😉

My wife’s assessment was that Promise Pizza is a place she wouldn’t mind going back to in the future. Since I have so few quick lunch options and the ones I find are not always thumbs up for her, that was good news. Moreover, it’s the closest place to our home that offers any sort of gluten free pizza. It’s my luck that it’s the best I’ve found so far. Pizza is not really “health” food, but more “comfort” food. But they offer pizza that is as healthy and eco-friendly as pizza can be!


Red Robin

Posted: September 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Red Robin

A couple of weeks ago, my wife was craving a good hamburger (as in nothing from a fast food joint), something we’ve not really gone out to get since I was diagnosed with celiac. I looked online and discovered that Red Robin might be a safe place for me to try since they had a gluten free menu online. So we headed out to the Red Robin at IH35 and Parmer in Austin.

The waitress was knowledgeable and helpful. She brought me the current gluten free menu and stayed around to answer questions. I asked about the fries and she said they were cooked in a dedicated fryer and that she had had other customers with wheat or gluten “allergies” (easier just to go with allergy than to try to explain celiac disease while ordering food) who had experienced no problems.

I decided to try their cheeseburger (with no Red Robin seasonings) in a lettuce wedge rather than simply without the bun. I have always thought the Atkins diet was a strange way to eat, but I was grateful that day that the craze taught restaurants like Red Robin how to create bun-less options. I also ordered the steak fries (again without the seasoning). The food was good. The burger was well-wrapped so I actually could pick it up and eat it like a burger, though lettuce is not the same thing as a bun.

I didn’t have any sort of reaction I could detect. And I loved actually being able to order and eat french fries at a restaurant! Definitely a thumbs up!


zpizza

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on zpizza

After skating at our favorite skating rink, my daughter and I decided to try the new zpizza in Round Rock. They use quality, organic ingredients and, most importantly from my perspective, offer the option of a gluten free pizza crust! As the employee who greeted us was explaining how to order for our first visit, my daughter actually spoke up and told him that I couldn’t eat gluten before I could say a word. He didn’t miss a beat and immediately told me the crust was available for the 10 inch pizzas and handed me the list of gluten free ingredients. I ordered the Greek pizza on the gluten free crust and my daughter ordered her personal favorite, ham and pineapple, on a white glutinous crust.

As we waited, I observed the preparation. While they don’t have a great deal of space in which to work, I noticed they have a smaller, separate work area for the gluten free pizzas. It had its own cutting board, its own slicing knife, and everything. I was concerned about the risk of cross contamination in the confined space and was impressed with how well they had thought it out.

The pizzas? Mine was delicious and my daughter assures me hers was as well. Two thumbs up to zpizza! We’ll definitely be going back again someday.


Alamo Village & Inglorious Basterds

Posted: August 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Movie Reviews, Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Alamo Village & Inglorious Basterds

Alamo Drafthouse

One of the joys of living in Austin has been the opportunity to experience the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for years. We first visited Alamo Village not too long after it opened when the original downtown location and it were the only Alamo Drafthouse cinemas to be found. Recent years have seen a lot of growth with franchises and new owners. Today, the Ritz (downtown), Lamar, and Village cinemas are owned and operated by the founders. The also have their own, Original Alamo, site. I have visited some of the other Alamo Drafthouses and while you will have a similar experience at any of them, the ones operated by the founders continue to have a somewhat different quality to them.

I haven’t been to Alamo Drafthouse since I was diagnosed with celiac disease because the thought of trying to navigate the process of locating safe foods in the more chaotic theater environment intimidated me. However, when my wife said she wanted to see Inglourious Basterds this past week, I decided it was time to investigate. I easily and quickly found comments online about gluten free menus at the original Alamo theaters, but not much about any of the others. So I sent an email to Alamo Village explaining that I had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease and asking about their gluten free options. Jay Nolan quickly responded and attached a PDF of their current gluten free menu. (Note that this is the menu in August, 2009 and may not reflect the current menu. Ask for the current one when you get to the theater.) When I had questions about the menu, he referred me to the Alamo Village executive chef for answers.

We arrived at the theater early and ordered the Nachos Libre for an appetizer. For dinner, I had the Once Upon a Time in Mexico salad and it was spicy and delicious. (My wife had one of their amazing, but decidedly not gluten free pizzas.) The waitress understood that I was ordering gluten free and passed that information on to the kitchen so they could be aware as they prepared my food. For dessert, we shared the Creme Brulee. All in all, it was a great experience. Have I mentioned before that I love living in the Austin metropolitan area? 😀

Inglourious Basterds As I already mentioned, my wife and I watched Inglourious Basterds. It’s definitely a Quentin Tarantino film. Don’t expect any sort of correlation in the movie with actual history. It’s more a reimagining of the WWII war movie genre. And it’s a lot of fun in a rollicking, gory, tongue in cheek way. Every character in the movie has at least one screw loose and often more than one.

This film is not as good as Pulp Fiction, the standard against which every Quentin Tarantino film is judged these days. But it is a great deal of fun. If you liked Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, you will enjoy Inglourious Basterds. If you find the Quentin Tarantino style too gory or vulgar, you probably won’t much like this movie either. It’s very much in the same vein.

And, of course, if you live where you can watch the movie at an Alamo Drafthouse, so much the better!


P.F. Chang’s

Posted: August 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on P.F. Chang’s

My brother called last week as he was driving back to LA from working the past six months on a film that will be released in the future sometime and wanted to have lunch as he came through Austin. I had to pick something quickly and decided on P.F Chang’s because I haven’t had Asian food in a long time and they have a gluten free menu. I thought it would be a good time to test and see how well they managed meals for celiacs. I was impressed that their gluten free menu is apparently updated monthly.

I was very pleasantly surprised. After I went through “the explanation” of my condition with the waiter he immediately knew the menu I needed. Even before I saw the menu, he knew the only starter we could get that I could have was the lettuce wraps. He also told me that the soy sauce on the table was not gluten free and brought me a cup of gluten free soy sauce. And then he made a point of letting me know that he would discuss my order with the kitchen to make sure they knew to be careful about accidental contamination when preparing my food.

Wow!

The food was good and that level of knowledge and service was beyond what I expected from a chain, even a more upscale chain. I was definitely impressed by our North Austin P.F. Chang’s!


Brick Oven on 35th

Posted: July 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Brick Oven on 35th

After an afternoon of rollerskating yesterday, my youngest daughter and I got dinner at the Brick Oven on 35th restaurant. The restaurant is an old house in one of Austin’s older areas near the Seton Medical Center. They have lots of artwork by local artists on display (and for sale) on the walls. The old plaster walls and hardwood floors provide a certain ambience. We enjoyed it.

They have an extensive gluten free menu that includes pizza! I ordered their Hawaiian pizza on a gluten free crust. Even though it was a small personal size, I thought I would only eat part of it and take the rest home. But it was soooo delicious I gobbled the whole thing. My daughter ate all of her pizza (with gluten crust) as well. It’s now the next day and I’ve had nary a sign of any gluten contamination. Of course, if they are going to claim a gluten free menu in the middle of all the medical buildings and practices that surround a major hospital, I suppose they better know what they’re doing!

This is now officially on my list of favorite restaurants! I just wish it was closer to us. Their gluten free pasta dishes are made using brown rice pasta. Their gluten free menu even included gluten free beer! I didn’t have any, but the fact that there’s a place in Austin where celiacs can safely order the classic American combination of pizza and beer is pretty amazing to me.

Definitely two thumbs up!


Outback

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Outback

Tonight after watching Harry Potter 6, my family and I decided to try the Outback Steakhouse for dinner. They are one of the chains that have a gluten free menu. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I needn’t have worried. The words, “I can’t eat wheat. I have celiac” were barely out of my mouth when the waiter interrupted, “You need the gluten free menu.” I said yes. Exactly. It’s always a relief when I get better than a blank stare. When I ordered, our waiter made a point of telling me he would double-check with the manager to make certain that what I had ordered was safe for me to eat and that he would make sure to let the kitchen know so nothing got accidentally contaminated.

Wow!

That’s the level of service, knowledge, and concern I had previously only associated with premium restaurants like Flemings and locally owned non-chain restaurants. I liked Outback somewhat before my diagnosis with celiac. My opinion of them just went up several notches. Needless to say, we will be going back. Definitely impressed.


Shady Grove

Posted: July 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Shady Grove is a wonderful and very “Austinish” local restaurant. It’s located on Barton Springs in south Austin and is one of the places the people with whom I work like to go for lunch. I haven’t been to Shady Grove (or many restaurants really) since I was diagnosed with celiac.

Last week, my coworkers were planning a lunch and were also planning to meet a friend of ours who is now retired. I really wanted to go, so I called the restaurant the night before and went through my normal spiel and discovered they had a gluten free menu! (I suspected they might. It’s that sort of restaurant.)

We went to lunch on Thursday and I explained my need to the waitress and she came back with a gluten free menu. Actually, it wasn’t just a gluten free menu. They had sections for dairy free, vegetarian, and vegan selections as well. I had the brisket tacos which were great. There weren’t a huge number of gluten free options, but there were enough for some range of choice. And mostly I was just happy to be able to go out and have lunch with friends safely somewhere.

Two thumbs up and a shout out to Shady Grove!


Taste of Ethiopia Take Two

Posted: June 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tonight, after our new roof was installed, we had made plans to go back to Taste of Ethiopia for dinner. My wife had called the owner, Woinee, several days in advance so that she could make her gluten free injera (Ethiopian flat bread made primarily from teff). Unfortunately, she had a catering engagement when we got there. Her husband is very nice, but we missed her personality and conversation at dinner. However, before she left, she had left the special injera for me!

I ordered the vegetarian sampler so I would could share and still have plenty of leftovers tomorrow. My younger son got a ground beef dish. I believe it was called kifto or something like that. My wife had the doro wat this time. My wife and son shared one family style dinner plate on the normal injera. I had a separate plate on top of my injera. We both had rolls of injera on the side. I also splurged with two cups of their coffee. I love it.

My injera? Wonderful. It was flexible and spongy, not the slightest bit crumbly. It had the texture of a real bread. And I loved being able to tear off pieces of it to use as my utensil picking up bites of food. I’m looking forward to my leftovers tomorrow. If you live in Pflugerville or the Austin area, you have to try out the restaurant. If you can’t eat gluten, call Woinee at least three days in advance and explain your special need. Otherwise, show up any time and indulge. If you can make a lunch visit and try their vegetarian buffet, I recommend that as your intro to the cuisine. If you have younger kids who tend not to be adventurous, they do have very American options like chicken nuggets for them.

My wife does recommend the doro wat with rice the way I had it last visit rather than eating it with injera. The rice mixes with the sauce and makes it easier for you to get more of the full flavor of the dish in every bite. My wife loves Woinee and missed her tonight but does not love the food as much as I do. Still, she likes it and will be happy to go there with me any time I crave another dose of Woinee’s food.