Sunday, June 6, 2010

oh, the days when life was simpler!

i used to eat out a lot, like many people that have busy lives.  i could just grab something on my way home from work, or order delivery (which was a recent accomplishment in the face of social anxiety).  all that changed four years ago when i realized that gluten was causing me a slew of nasty symptoms.  i tried to say goodbye to some of my favorite places and gluten filled foods.  that, of course, only helped to affirm that pizza made me run to the bathroom, while a nice apple or some rice kept me from looking three months pregnant.

i remember my last chicago dog...  it makes my mouth water to think about that soft bun, the vienna beef dog, charred of course, covered in grilled onions, slices of pickles and tomatoes, celery salt and of course some mustard.  those were the days.  the days of agonizing migraines, dangerously fluctuating weight, dizzy spells, anemia, exhaustion...

in the last two years my symptoms have gotten more acute and my ability to eat at restaurants has diminished while increasing my fear for social functions containing food (which is a whole post in itself).  i've also learned of a few more hidden ingredients and can scan a label for gluten in a matter of seconds.

my current list of chicago restaurants and what i can eat there

tank noodle i can eat spring rolls, beef pho, chicken pho minus the dried onions, and curry chicken; there are probably more options but our language barrier keeps me from being adventurous
chipotle any kind of burrito bowl; gloves are changed and my meal is made by one person
jimmy john's any kind of unwich except for the roast beef; gloves are changed and paper is put down on the cutting board
osaka express and shiroi hana i avoid unagi, teriyaki and soy sauce, tempura, and imitation crab meat; i've had bad luck at a few other sushi places; i prefer to stick to one place so that i know what i can eat
gino's east and aurelio's both have gluten free pizzas and salads and prevent cross contamination
falafill only gluten items are the pita and two noodle salad bar choices; i wish they'd just make it completely gluten free!
flat top grill they cook food for people with allergies in a wok and had decent gf dressing and seasoning options; i've only been there once
wendy's baked potato, side salad and frosty
george's they have a list of allergens and everyone is ready to pull it out and make sure the flavor i want is safe, now only if they were to get gluten free cones, that would make me cry tears of joy...
da luciano is a one of a kind place!  members of their extended italian family have celiac disease so they have an extensive gf menu.  i got to go here for my birthday last year on our way to rockford to see journey.  when i saw the menu i wanted to cry.  when my ravioli arrived i wanted to hug everyone that worked there.  we got frozen cannoli to eat after dinner, there are no words for that.
joe's i've only been here once; our server was knowledgeable and made sure that what i ordered was safe; there was an appetizer of scallops that was fantastic and i had king crab legs
cy's crab house i get crab legs with a side of mashed potatoes or broccoli, i've also had oysters but didn't care for them; i make them take the basket of pita bread off the table, it is too tempting; they carry strongbow cider which is gluten free

two nights ago we went to cy's for ash's 31st birthday, along with two friends, one of whom is gluten intolerant.  it's a fantastic meal, and is decently priced, though it is currently difficult for me because of my wrist injury.

i've been told that i can eat at demera, as long as i call ahead, but i haven't yet gone.  i went to p. f. chang's in denver, co and was fine.  i went to the chicago location for my birthday last year and got very sick, but it didn't ruin my day!  i am willing to give them another shot to see if it was just a miscommunication on the part of the waiter because they have identical menu items that do contain gluten.  i was reading another gf blog and heard mention of roy's having a gf menu.  that might be a good one to try for a special occasion.

just because a restaurant has a gluten free menu, or items marked as gluten free, doesn't mean that they have safe practices to keep those items gluten free.  there are so many ways that cross contamination can make a simple gluten free item no longer safe.  utensils, pots/pans, grills, cutting boards, hands, sauces, and friers can all cause cross contamination.  for example, gino's east has taken great care to keep me safe.  they make their gluten free pizzas at a separate facility and freeze them to send to their restaurants.  then, they are cooked in a separate oven and cut with separate knives.  this means i only have the choice of cheese, sausage or pepperoni, but it also means that i will not get sick!

i used to be a very adventurous eater.  i would try anything at least once and loved eating at different ethnic restaurants.  i definitely miss chinese, indian, thai, korean, italian...  i would like to be able to travel one day, but am scared of getting sick, especially away from home in a place i have paid money to be.  i have heard of a few different kinds of dining cards, which are used to explain to waiters and chefs what you can and cannot have.  the free ones don't have a lot of information, but come in many languages.  the ones you can buy online, have less language options but include a list of common gluten ingredients for that cuisine.  i haven't committed to buying or printing any of these yet, though i think they would help prevent miscommunication.  i often get flustered trying to explain things to people, especially when eating out.

anyways, this post had been brewing for a while.  thank you for reading.  i go through a lot to be able to eat out and when it goes wrong it can be bad very bad.  i want to be able to eat at more places but it scares me.  tips, restaurant suggestions and invitations to try new places are welcome.  a special thanks to my core pho phriends jill, tim, alex, joe and ash, as well as those who have joined us carolyn, jim, bill, andrea, glenda (and her mom!), jet, jera, jeff, debbie, amy and dan for making so many tuesday nights a special occasion.


  1. Having dinner with you almost every night now for a year and a half, I know this struggle. The worst part is when neither of us knows what to eat, have no ambition or want to cook, and going without or just eating ice cream isn't an option. I'll pass out, being hypoglycemic, and you'll just get crankier, which for either case, just sucks.
    I look forward to Pho Club at Tank every week because it is one of the few places where I feel less anxious about eating there; just knowing you're going to have a good meal and are likely not to get sick is reassuring. Also, frankly, I enjoy the break from cooking and washing dishes. ;-)
    I'm sure Chicago has more to offer for gf food that we've yet to discover. I did get a reservation for Roy's for your birthday this year; you'll be able to write about that restaurant soon. So, would you like to go to dinner with me?

  2. This is great! Even though I'm not gf, makes me want to think of making lists of lupus friendly things. Although I haven't yet decided if that's even possible ;)

  3. AAAAAAAAAUGH! I've been looking for this list for 10 years! Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)

  4. ash- of course i will join you at roy's for my birthday dinner!

    leslie- it's because of you that i decided to try blogging. i need to keep thinking positively and writing. it has been therapeutic and has helped me to articulate a lot of things better than i've been able to before.

    amy- thank you for reading my post! what sent you on a quest like that? i'm sure there are more places to eat in chicago and techniques for eating out safely that i don't know about. a commenter on the post before this one said she had a list of restaurants. (if you're reading this, please comment with a link to any lists you've made or techniques for eating out.) i think you and i could have some good conversations!

  5. Wildfire also has a GF menu.

    We hadnt quite gotten to this point in our conversation but I have some severe GI issues (which is why I now know I am not a celiac) and know what you mean about traveling. As you know, I travel alot and confront this each time I go (not to mention each time I leave the house in general). For me, I just had to really accept that at some point, something terrible might happen to me in public (and it happened once already). And that I'll be embarassed and I wont know what to do and I wont be able to imagine getting over it, but I will get over it and I'll live.
    There are (literally) millions of beautiful people in the world who cant wait to meet you, to see the special grace that you will bring to their lives, and they cant wait to share the joy that they will bring to your life.
    It'll be nerve-racking, and totally worth it.

  6. megan- thanks for reading! i haven't had anything that i could call a terrible public event, but i've had some embarrassing moments. i used to get horrible gas, it was painful and noxious and continuous. i used to go to the bathroom at mcdonalds because their bathrooms were more private than at work. i used to be mortified to go in public bathrooms, and i still hate it, but sometimes you just have to. i just started enzymes, thanks to amy. you should take a look at this site i can't say a lot about it because i only just started, but it could help you.