I’ll admit that living in New York City I am on a high horse about gluten-free fare. There are so many “organic” “vegan” and “gluten-free” restaurants in this city, it’s almost difficult to find one that won’t accommodate the diet of the day. Unfortunately, however, the key word there is accommodate. I have found that there are a lot of restaurants that are willing to “try the gluten-free thing” but aren’t actually capable of maintaining celiac friendliness. There will be cross-contamination, with servers and line cooks unaware of what gluten-free really means. Gluten-free to many restaurants simply means presenting a burger sans bun or a Caesar salad without the croutons (note: be careful, many Caesar dressings are made with Worcestershire sauce, often containing soy sauce, which has gluten!).
I recently traveled to Colorado and was struck by how prevalent the gluten-free options were. For example, I went skiing and at the lodge, where there are limited dining options to begin with, I saw a sign advertising that “any of our sandwiches can be made gluten-free.” I was skeptical, explaining to my friends that what that probably meant was my turkey burger would have either no bun, or an extra large piece of romaine lettuce as a substitute. Much to my surprise, not only was my burger grilled on a piece of aluminum foil to prevent cross contamination, it was also served on a corn and flaxseed tortilla, which had also been warmed separately. I was struck at how diligent a dining establishment could be without overtly bragging what type of accommodation they could make. Moreover, I was amazed that I wasn’t charged extra for the “special treatment.” My dietary accommodation was just that. It was an equal substitution for a food that I needed to keep me on the slopes without stomach issues.
This was not a unique occurrence in Colorado. At a brewery they offered gluten-free beer and gluten-free buns for their sandwiches, as well as providing specific asterisks to denote the gluten-free options. At a Mexican restaurant in Denver there was a box on each menu with the statement
Our menu offerings allow us to easily accommodate most of your dietary needs, including vegetarian and gluten-free. If you require special dietary modifications, please let your server know. Your requests will be handled professionally and with care by our kitchen staff. However, those with extreme intolerances or allergies should know that our kitchen is not set up to be free of cross-contamination.
This statement impressed me because it acknowledged that the staff was educated in what was or was not gluten-free. It also served to notify restaurant-goers that while they are capable of accommodating gluten-free, they don’t make any pretentions about being a dedicated kitchen. There are so many restaurants that don’t seem to grasp the difference between offering gluten-free items, and actually being safe for a gluten-free eater.
After my trip to Colorado, it is clear to me that other cities are doing gluten-free much better than NYC, a city that claims to know how to do food. What is your experience with travel and your own metropolis? What city does gluten-free the best?