Iron Cactus

Posted: August 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Iron Cactus

My wife and I recently decided to try Iron Cactus on a night out. They have a gluten free menu and neither of us had ever been there. As the warning at the bottom of the menu notes, they do use common fryer oil, which means the chips are not actually gluten free and neither is anything else deep fried. I confirmed that it was common oil with our server. That’s a common pitfall, so I was prepared for it. (I will note it makes me appreciate Maudie’s even more. They have sealed bags of gluten free tortilla chips they bring to your table still in the bag.)

Even with that caveat, they have some intriguing options not found at the typical Mexican restaurant. I had their Abuelita’s Meatloaf and it was quite good. It’s probably not a place we’ll go frequently, but the food and experience were both good. And I didn’t seem to have any reactions, so as long as you make your selections carefully, it’s possible for someone with celiac disease to eat safely.


Green Mesquite BBQ

Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Green Mesquite BBQ

Our family has long been patrons of the Zilker Summer Musical. In the last nearly quarter century, we’ve only missed a couple. We always donate at the musical and sometimes donate in advance as well. We’re fortunate to live in a community that supports the arts and which provides free offerings. (My daughter and I also attend the free Shakespeare in the Park put on by Austin Shakespeare each year.)

This year was one of those years we chose to be “official” donors so we were invited to the catered outdoor donor dinner and special preview performance (also the final dress and technical rehearsal, but usually with no interruptions). The dinner was catered by Green Mesquite BBQ. I had never been there, so I contacted them by email to see if their food would be safe for my children and me. They responded very helpfully.

“All of our meat is gluten free along with with our barbecue sauce. Our rubs are made by a local spice vendor, Texas Spice, and they do not add msg or gluten in our spices. We don’t add gluten products to our beans or potato salad. Our buns are bread so they are not gluten free.”

We attended, had a wonderful night. The food was delicious and we had no reactions to it. Although we’re not among the group of celiacs who tend to have strong and aggressive acute symptoms to exposure, we do tend to notice it. (The acute symptoms are not the real problem. The autoimmune response and the often more “hidden” damage to the body is the major concern for us with celiac disease.)

Given that positive experience, we’re adding this restaurant to our “safe” list.


Violet Crown Cinema

Posted: June 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Violet Crown Cinema, in downtown Austin, is a place I would call another local gem. My wife and I don’t go downtown that often anymore, which is the only reason I can imagine it took us so long to discover it. (Violet Crown has been open for a bit more than a year now.) The cinema shows independent films in four small theaters with very comfortable seats. They are also built so there really are no bad seats in the house and are stadium style so you don’t have to worry about tall people in front of you. We saw Bernie to celebrate her birthday and had a fantastic time.

The cinema has a snack bar which includes an espresso bar, hummus, and vegetable snacks in addition to the traditional popcorn and soda. The theater also has a cafe, lounge, and bar. Arrive early, enjoy food and drinks. And take anything you want into the theater where the seats have small fold-out tables. I understand if you don’t have time to get your food before the movie starts, they will give you a pager so you can go get it when it’s ready. Unlike places like the Alamo, there is no food and drink service in the theater, but the way their theater is arranged, that’s not really an issue.

The menu is not large, but it clearly marks the gluten free options. There aren’t many options, but it’s a small menu anyway. Moreover, since nothing else is fried, the sweet potato chips and hand cut fries are gluten free! No cross-contamination concerns. I had the sweet potato chips and they were delicious.

My wife and I will definitely be returning in the future. If you live in the area and like independent films, then give Violet Crown Cinema a try. I highly recommend it.


Joe’s Crab Shack

Posted: May 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Joe’s Crab Shack

Joe's Crab ShackPeace, love, and crabs, baby!

My wife loves crab legs (though she usually buys and steams them herself) and BC (before celiac) we used to head over to Joe’s Crab Shack at least a few times a year. It’s pretty good for a big chain and the atmosphere is always a lot of fun. I don’t believe we had been back since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, though. It just never came up on my radar as I was learning how to eat (and eat out) gluten free.

Recently, however, a friend of my wife wanted to meet her there for lunch along with the daughters. They’ve been friends since both were pregnant, so the two girls have known each other their whole lives. In fact, the girls used to play together in the sandy play area at Joe’s while the Moms hung out and talked. (Obviously, that was before they were teens.)

As my daughter also has celiac disease, I naturally checked the restaurant beforehand and yes, Joe’s has a gluten free menu. My wife and daughter enjoyed their visit, so a few weeks later, we decided to make it a family outing. Many of their buckets and steampots are gluten free. I decided to try the Orleans, since it’s been a long time since my last crawfish boil. (I was born in Louisiana after all. And yes, I do suck the heads.) So, what was my verdict?

The crawfish were well-spiced, but under the spicing the tail meat seemed pretty bland to me. I’m not sure why, exactly, but they weren’t bad — just not great. The sausage, potatoes, and corn were all quite yummy. The shrimp were horrible — probably overcooked as they typically take much less time to cook than everything else in the pot. (And my wife confirmed my opinion on the shrimp, so it wasn’t just my tastebuds.) But I didn’t order the dish for the shrimp, so I didn’t really miss them at all.

My wife and daughter had snow crab buckets. I tasted a bit of the crab and it was quite good. They both certainly enjoyed their meal.

Joe’s definitely has some good gluten free options. It helps, I suppose, that their signature dishes are composed of food that’s naturally gluten free and tends to be best prepared in a gluten free manner anyway. Joe’s gets a definite thumbs up from us. It’s true they are a chain restaurant, but they are one of the decent ones.


Mama Fu’s

Posted: May 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Mama Fu’s

Mama Fu’s is a restaurant I had seen on a number of local gluten free restaurant lists for years, but had never visited. We recently watched the release of Titanic in 3D (which was fun) and happened to be near one of the local restaurants and decided to give it a try.

Chinese and Asian restaurants where we can safely eat are few and far between. Most soy sauce is fermented with wheat and soy sauce tends to be everywhere in an Asian restaurant. There’s Pei Wei and PF Chang’s, of course. And there are higher end local restaurants like Uchi’s (which is really more Japanese). But the options are pretty limited.

Their gluten free guide contains a note that not all locations outside Texas have the gluten free sauce, so check first if you live in another state with a Mama Fu’s.

The food was decent. I wouldn’t call it great, but it was pretty good and as far as my daughter and I could tell it was safe. Neither of us got noticeably sick, anyway. And it was reasonably quick, convenient, and not too expensive. I got what was listed on the menu as one of the spiciest dishes and found it somewhat bland personally. But then, I tend to like spicy things.

So if we’re out doing something and need to go grab a bite to eat somewhere, Mama Fu’s definitely makes the list of options.


Maudie’s Tex-Mex

Posted: April 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Maudie’s Tex-Mex

For my birthday, we finally tried Maudie’s Tex-Mex. I’ve heard about Maudie’s for years, of course, but with all the excellent Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants across Austin, had never actually been. Now that my younger kids and I are diagnosed with celiac disease, our options for Mexican food are somewhat more constrained. Some places, like Chuy’s, use beer to marinade all their meat. Other places make flour and corn tortillas on the same surfaces at pretty much the same time. And some use flour to thicken their sauces. As with most other sorts of restaurants, it’s become a minefield.

Maudie’s, though, stands out from the crowd with its gluten free options. It started as soon as we walked in and my daughter and I said we needed a gluten free menu. The waitress immediately told us the tortilla chips weren’t safe as they were fried in the same oil as gluten containing dishes. She brought us gluten free tortilla chips (still in a sealed plastic bag) and our own salsa so there would be no cross-contamination from dipping in the same dish. I was impressed that she did all that without any questions or requests from us. That’s a level of knowledge and care we don’t often encounter.

Their gluten free menu is also a pleasant change. Often, the gluten free menu at a restaurant is really a cross-reference to their main menu listing the dishes (often with modifications) from the main menu that are safe to eat. In order to get a full description of the dish and the price, you have to jump back and forth between the regular menu and the gluten free menu. At Maudie’s, the gluten free menu is self-contained. It describes the dishes and gives the price. It’s a complete menu and you don’t have to refer back to the regular menu at all. That may seem like a small thing, but it really means a lot.

The food was outstanding. My daughter got her usual cheese enchiladas. My wife got some taco plate with gluten-filled flour tortilla tacos. It was my birthday, so I got the grilled chipotle shrimp. They were served fajita style with corn tortillas and were absolutely delicious! I loved the sliced serrano peppers sauteed along with the onions and bell peppers. That was a nice touch.

Maudie’s goes on our relatively short list of safe and fun places to eat — places where you don’t have to think too much about having celiac disease or worry about the food.


Lebanese Taverna

Posted: March 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

I have to periodically travel for work and last week I was in Washington, DC. I arranged to stay in a hotel with a mini-fridge two blocks away from Whole Foods, so I knew I wouldn’t be at the mercy of area restaurants for sustenance. I did, however, venture out to try one restaurant which was not only recommended, but had gluten free options listed on their online menu, Lebanese Taverna.

The restaurant was easy to find. After exiting the Woodley Park metro station up one of the longest, steepest, and scariest escalators I’ve ever taken, it was right across the street. The atmosphere was warm and congenial and the service was outstanding. Since I couldn’t eat the complimentary bread, they offered to bring me rice crackers and my own seasoned dipping oil instead. I’m not particularly fond of rice crackers, but I appreciated the gesture and took advantage of the offer.

For a starter, I tried the lentil soup. I love lentils and I grew up eating various dhals from Indian cuisine. This lentil soup was different, but absolutely delicious. The lemon seemed to combine with the rest of the dish to make it seem lighter than most lentil soups.

For my main course, I had the stewed lamb on spicy rice, which is not listed on their online menu. It was tender with spices that enhanced, but did not overpower the lamb. It was a large serving and, if I hadn’t been traveling, could have easily provided two meals.

And, perhaps most importantly for someone with celiac disease, I didn’t get sick.

If you live in the DC area or have to travel there, I definitely recommend this restaurant.


Black Eyed Susan

Posted: June 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , | Comments Off on Black Eyed Susan

Last week I traveled to one of my employer’s computing centers in Martinsburg WV for a major installation for one of my projects. When I travel for work, I take enough food to sustain me in a pinch. In this case, it turned out my hotel was right across the street from a grocery store, which was convenient. (I always stay in hotels with microwaves and refrigerators.) It was a good chance to meet some of the people with whom I’ve worked for a decade or more in person. They also wanted to have a dinner out with my coworker and me one night. (That’s fairly normal on our business trips, especially the first time people meet in person. Since I was diagnosed, I’ve noticed that a lot of interactions between people revolve around meals and food.) Since I have celiac disease and my coworker is vegan, that presented more of challenge than usual.

The restaurant they found was called Black Eyed Susan. The atmosphere was great and the food was safe and delicious. I tried the shrimp and grits and the steak salad. They were both excellent. Even more than the food, I appreciated the extra effort my Martinsburg coworkers made to include me. I so often have to either decline or go somewhere and just get something to drink that I deeply appreciate it when people make an additional effort to consider my needs.

You can’t mistake true hospitality.


Uchi’s

Posted: June 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Uchi’s

For her birthday, I bought my wife tickets to see her cousin’s band, Explosions in the Sky, at the new ACL Live venue. For our pre-concert dinner, I made reservations at Uchi’s. My wife wasn’t sure if she would really enjoy either the restaurant or the concert, but she’s always game for new experiences and appreciated the thought and effort behind the planning.

The dinner was simply magnificent. It exceeded our wildest expectations. I’m not sure where to begin, but I think I’ll start with the service. Our waiter listened to my wife’s preferences and made recommendations for her. She tried his recommendations, though for a few of them she was a little hesitant, and loved every one of them. However, my experience was even better. For every single sushi or tasting about which I asked, our waiter instantly knew if it was gluten free or could be modified to be gluten free. He didn’t have to stop and think about it. He didn’t have to go ask the chef. He just knew. Unfortunately, some of my favorite sushis, like tako and unagi, are not gluten free but the food was so wonderful I hardly missed them.

I had a gluten free chef’s selection of sushi. I’ve eaten a lot of sushi over the years, but I honestly can’t recall ever having any better. Everything was perfectly seasoned and the fish practically melted in my mouth. The same thing was true of every tasting I tried, whether raw or lightly cooked. The balance of flavors and texture were always as perfect as anything I could imagine.

I’ve heard people in Austin raving about Uchi’s for a good while. Now I know why.

And the Explosions in the Sky concert? It was one of the best concerts I remember attending. Moreover, my wife loved it. The venue is wonderful. Michael came up to give my wife a hug and say hi before the show, which impressed her. And while I had heard their music, it doesn’t prepare you for the power of a live Explosions concert. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that Michael was their front man, but his stage presence was a joy to behold. He’s a wonderful performer. It all added up to as close to a perfect night as you can get. My wife and I both loved every minute of it.


Kerbey Lane Cafe

Posted: March 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Kerbey Lane Cafe

I’ve waited until I visited Kerbey Lane Cafe a couple of times in different locations before writing this review. My readers have to understand that this was one of my favorite restaurants before my diagnosis. It was hard for me to believe that the restaurant that made the best pancakes I had ever had could also safely prepare gluten free dishes. I wasn’t willing to even risk disappointment until my wife had some health issues that left us greatly relieved right by the original restaurant on Kerbey Lane. After that experience, I risked another visit at a different location with my daughter.

I’m happy to report that despite their well-deserved pancake fame, Kerbey Lane Cafe is able to prepare certain dishes without cross-contamination. The first time I risked a visit, I discovered they have a gluten free menu. On that visit I ordered the migas. They were as good as they’ve ever been and I had no adverse reaction. On the next visit I ordered one of their enchilada options. It was similarly fantastic with no adverse reaction.

If you are a celiac visiting Austin, give Kerbey Lane Cafe a try. You’ll be glad you did.