Sweetwater’s Low Gluten Menu Excels and Perplexes

Some things in the gluten-free world have really perplexed us over the years. Like Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s  declarations throughout her book that celiac disease is an allergy. Or Starbucks’ recent decision to trumpet the addition of a new gluten-free offering followed, only weeks later, by a decision to remove said gluten-free offering with no more than a 140 character announcement via Twitter.

As perplexing as these decisions may sound to you, we found Sweetwater Tavern’s “Low Gluten Menu” equally bizarre.


Sweetwater Tavern is a northern Virginia, Texas-style barbecue restaurant and steakhouse popular for its home-brewed beer and falling-off-the-bone ribs.

Not so popular at this establishment? As far as we could tell, lawsuits.

Such, we can only speculate, is the motivation behind the labeling of its menu for people with celiac disease. “Low Gluten Menu” reads the top of this listing of wheat-free, barley-free, rye-free and oat-free offerings. People who come to this restaurant aren’t on a “low gluten” diet. It isn’t the “low-G” diet or the “low gluten market.” It’s the gluten-free diet and the gluten-free market. So why doesn’t Sweetwater Tavern just call its menu gluten-free?

No one, managers and waiters alike, seemed to have an answer. The restaurant takes every possible precaution when handling menu items ordered off the low-gluten menu. A manager, specially trained to defend against cross-contamination, handles the entire cooking process. Special knives and utensils are used to cook the food. Separate counter space is allotted for the entire preparation process. Extra effort is constantly expended to ensure people with celiac disease have the safest meal possible.

Various 168

Annette ordered the pulled pork, while I went for Sweetwater’s savory, mouthwatering baby-back ribs. Annette said her pulled pork was fantastic – as good as she’s had any place else. My ribs were phenomenal, and fell off the bone with just the right amount of chewiness and flavor. They were cooked perfectly – not overdone as many restaurants in my area often err. A flourless chocolate cake for desert was delicious as well. It equaled that of Wildfire Grill, which we reviewed a few weeks ago, and paired nicely with ice cream, caramel sauce, whipped cream and a chocolate star on top. It was gone before we knew it.

Most importantly, however, Sweetwater’s low gluten offerings didn’t make us sick. None of us would hesitate to return to this delicious and outstanding restaurant.

Have any of you been to Sweetwater? What do you think of its low gluten menu? A necessary precaution? Or an unneeded hedge against lawsuits? Let us know!


5 thoughts on “Sweetwater’s Low Gluten Menu Excels and Perplexes”

  1. I’ve never eaten at Sweetwater Tavern but I’ve eaten many times at other restaurants that are part of the Great American Restaurants group. I’ve had a wonderful meal every time and I’ve never gotten sick. I always ask for the gluten-free menu (“low gluten” sounds silly to me). I assume their attorney came up with the “low gluten” name. I realize that I’m somewhat taking my chances when eating outside my home, but I have no hesitation in dining at any of the Great American Restaurants. I’ve had very good experiences at Mike’s in Springfield, Coastal Flats in Tysons, and Silverado in Annandale.

  2. I think the “low gluten” menu name is absolutely appropriate and intelligent. There is no way to 100% guarantee food is gluten free if gluten is served on the premises. People who think it’s possible either haven’t worked in a kitchen or simply don’t understand the complexity of cross-contamination. Places can and do take a variety of precautions, but the # of places where mistakes can happen is huge. And gluten in flour is airborne. So with the exception of Lillit in Bethesda and other places that don’t serve gluten, they’re being honest. There is risk, no matter where you are.
    The Great American Restaurants are one of the few that I am willing to go to because they know their stuff, and their food is delicious.

  3. We went last week after hearing that they now had a “gluten free” menu! We printed it out and decided to try it. Well the restaurant still hands out their “low gluten” version. After telling the wait person our gluten free order, it arrived with flour tortillas in the salad! The comment when questioned after eating quite a bit was “oh, I forgot, I’ll get a manager.” The manager’s comment was, “would you like another order?” Avoid with all costs or you’ll pay the cost!

  4. We went last week after hearing that they now had a “gluten free” menu! We printed it out and decided to try it. Well the restaurant still hands out their “low gluten” version. After telling the wait person our gluten free order, it arrived with flour tortillas in the salad! The comment when questioned after eating quite a bit was “oh, I forgot, I’ll get a manager.” The manager’s comment was, “would you like another order?” Avoid this restaurant at all costs or you’ll pay the price!

  5. We went last night and asked what does “low gluten” mean??? We were told my husband with Celiac would be fine. Maybe it was just an off night, but my husband did get ill. We are very disappointed. We’ve dined at Carrabas, Out back, and a few local places without any issues. Although we love their food we will not be able to risk it again.

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