Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Where We Eat: Gluten-Free Restaurant Options

Last week I listed some of our favorite gluten-free recipes, so this week includes a confession plus another gluten-free list.  First the confession: we eat out at restaurants a lot. You could even say an inordinate numbers of meals a week.  I am not fond of cooking on a regular basis; nobody else cooks.  So, out we go.

Switching to a gluten-free diet for Amber's and my health put quite a kink in our normal meal pattern. Thankfully, we have found a number of local restaurants to be gluten-free friendly.

Our Favorite Gluten-Free Restaurants
  1. Outback Steakhouse  - I really didn't want to put this restaurant at number one because I was only moderately tolerant of it before going GF.  I don't like their steaks. I know it is a steak place, but given the number of restaurants we eat at, I can and am picky about my steaks.  However, their attitude toward gluten-free patrons is marvelous.  They are vigilant to prevent any cross contamination and will even bring you source food labels if need be.  They have a gluten-free menu that looks exactly like a normal menu except it lists only those items that are gluten-free and denotes any changes needed to the dishes.  I know that it's not a huge deal, yet it is so wonderful to not look like the oddball with a slip of paper or a three ring binder as your menu.  Additionally, the GF menu at most restaurants simply lists the meals that are gluten-free with no description of the dish, you then have to ask for a regular menu to see what you are ordering. Did I mention they have a gluten-free dessert?  It's a warm flour-less brownie, with ice cream, whipped topping and chocolate sauce.  If you order it gluten-free they will ensure it is not contaminated too.  Outback makes it terribly easy to eat gluten-free in their establishment.  So, while I wasn't a HUGE fan before, their grilled chicken is growing on me.

  2. Red Robin - Again, another restaurant that I wish I didn't have to put on this list.  We usually only went because Amber loved the milkshakes.  I ate the crispy chicken salad nearly every visit. Their salad greens have always been fresh and, honestly, Red Robin doesn't make burgers that I feel are worth the calorie splurge.  Yet now I'm stuck with burgers there because I can't stand their grilled chicken.  To me (and the rest of my family) it tastes and feels like salted rubber.  It's not pleasant. The real kicker that puts them on this list is that they have gluten free buns (that taste fairly decent) and a dedicated french fry fryer (check by location).  Be still my heart.  I'm not a big french fry eater, but I do like them on occasion. So to be told that most restaurants have common fryers that cross contaminate the fries was a bit of a shock.  After 3 1/2 months of being gluten-free (and french fry free) we discovered that we could actually eat at Red Robin.  That was it; we were there in a heartbeat. Then, to make it even more GF friendly, we were informed that they clean the grill for GF orders and use GF only utensils.  How can I not eat here now?
  3. Ruby Tuesday - This is a restaurant that we NEVER patronized prior to going gluten-free.  My husband, Fred, had something against the place dating back to the mid 90's.  I'm not kidding.  It was even a different Ruby Tuesday location than where we live now.  Nonetheless, he would not eat there.  Unfortunately for Fred he read about their GF menu and suggested we try it.  We found out first hand that they take wonderful care of GF guests.  You do need to do a little research on your own about their salad bar, but if you have been eating GF for any length of time you can pretty much guess which items you need to steer clear.  They are also quite happy (at least at our location) to provide you with new salad bar tongs if a thoughtless person right in front of you drops the tongs for your innocent bacon into the glutenous chicken salad concoction.  If you are really worried about the salad bar though, they will make you up an uncontaminated salad in the back.   Amber is freakishly sensitive to cross contamination, but we've managed to use their salad bar with some common sense.
  4. Texas Roadhouse - Ok, so if you go to their website and read about their gluten-free policies it's not going to seem like the best place to visit. The bottomless bread rolls enticing you with every breath make it pretty difficult.  Yet we were regulars there prior to going gluten-free.  I don't mean we sorta ate there sometimes.  We've eaten there every Saturday (excepting a few weeks) for the past 4 years. We even have the same server every week (assuming she doesn't take the day off).  So, giving up our Saturday lunch was simply not going to happen.  It turns out, they are more than happy to work with guests (regular or not) who need to eat gluten-free. They won't guarantee the food is gluten-free and in different regions of the country they have different suppliers.  However at our Texas Roadhouse my favorite salad dressing remains gluten free. That deserves a big 'ole Texas Roadhouse "Yee-Haw".   I do love their steaks, but I'm not a steak-for-lunch kind of person so I only eat those on the rare occasion we also stop in for dinner during the week.  I will note though that their steak seasoning is not gluten-free, but they are perfectly willing to cook it without seasoning. 

  5. Stoney River - We eat here on occasion, but if the prices were more reasonable I'd eat here every week.  I LOVE their coffee steak.  This place truly knows how to cook a steak.  If you look online there is no gluten-free menu (or at least last time I looked there wasn't).  Yet, all of their salad dressings are gluten-free.  Additionally, all you need to do upon first speaking with your server is notify them of your GF needs and they will take it from there.  If you request something that absolutely cannot be made gluten-free the server will tell you.  But honestly, come on.  GF people generally have a pretty good idea of the types of dishes that can't be made GF.   Chicken Marsala... not going to happen in your standard restaurant.  The first time we visited Stoney River our server said, "You tell me what you want to eat and we see to it that you can eat it."  It is that simple to them and that's why I LOVE them.
  6. LongHorn Steakhouse - Another steak place, seriously it's a trend with us.  I do order the Flo's Filet here when we are dining for dinner, but never for lunch.  They have a really old gluten-free menu that is available on paper, or on their website.  According to the GF menu, their steak seasonings are gluten free.  I've had mixed results with that though.  I can't determine if it is the steak seasoning or a dirty grill, but nevertheless I've accidentally ingested gluten at LongHorn on a couple of occasions.  I absolutely love their mashed potatoes though.  The biggest downside here is the salads.  I require salads to contain green lettuce, not orange or black, a reasonable request I think.  Unfortunately, I've yet to have a great salad at LongHorn; at best they are edible and at worst I send them back and the manager hand picks my lettuce.  The burgers (hold the bun) used to be pretty good, but the last time we were there it was all gristle and would not even form into a patty. The manager even cut into a new container of meat and it was the same way.  The poor manager didn't know what was going on, but said it looked wrong too. It seems their supplier has changed something (hopefully not the grade of meat).  At any rate, no burgers at LongHorn for a while.

  7. McAlister's Deli - This is the first place we went as new gluten-free people directly after Amber's colonoscopy. (Too much information? Hrmph.  And here I thought we were becoming friends).  Some of the locations have a gluten-free menu, some do not. We haven't tried anything off of their gluten-free menu because it just didn't appeal to us, but we can vouch that their baked potatoes are gluten-free, huge, and enough for for more than one meal.
  8. Granite City Food and Brewery - This is the first place we had a gluten-free hamburger on a bun after our diet change.  Our server and other staff were helpful with our gluten-free needs, but busy and not terribly quick.  The menu isn't anything special, but at least they attempt to feed us safe food. The burger's are huge and much better tasting than Red Robin.  The bun is nothing to write home about, but it's not the worst GF bun I've had.  They don't have a separate fryer, so no luck with the french fries here.  They do have GF baked potatoes and other veggies available as sides.  Just a word of warning, the baked potatoes are definitely in the small category.  They were not any bigger than Amber's fist, but I guess the huge burger is meant to be nearly the entirety of your meal. 
  9. Cold Stone Creamery - It's not a restaurant per say, but they have gluten-free dessert options and the workers are fabulous about mixing our ice cream on a clean spot or in the back. They also ALWAYS use a new container of ice cream, new mix-in containers, and clean scoops when you are gluten-free to prevent cross contamination.  I do usually tip the workers a small amount for their effort, but it's not required.  They are so very friendly and take all the special precautions happily. 


Linking up with List it Tuesday at Many Little Blessings and Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.


  1. Ok this post made me hungry. We don't eat out a lot and some are not up in Canada yet. The Funny bit is we get some US ads and thus ads for restaurants we can't go to. Outback is one but I will admit that the food didn't live up to expectations. I think our expectation were to high.

    1. We get some ads here for restaurants not in our entire metro area. It's funny. I remember when I was much younger thinking that if a restaurant was pricey and I didn't like the food, then it was probably my fault or my expectations were too high. I've come to realize that restaurants will charge as much as they can for crap and it's up to me to decide if they are worth the price. We eat out so much that I have no problem telling the server or manager when their food does not meet my expectations. But I'm polite about it :)