Over the weekend I had the pleasure of having breakfast with a good friend at Sunny Street Cafe. This friend is also a dietitian that just so happens to specialize in Celiac Disease and writes for Gluten Free Living. We chose Sunny Street Cafe as our meeting place because we knew they had a gluten-free menu which also happened to include bread from one of my favorite places, Eban Bakehouse.
As per usual, I let our server know that I needed to eat gluten-free and dairy-free and asked about cross-contamination issues. Our server assured me that she would let the cook know and they would take all necessary precautions – cleaning the grill, changing gloves, etc. At first I was a little concerned, as the gluten-free menu was dated “2010.” Given that they serve breakfast and lunch and there probably isn’t much that changes with the gluten-free menu, I brushed it off. Turns out I probably shouldn’t have.
I ordered hash browns, bacon, and the cinnamon-raisin bread. When my plate arrived and the bread was toasted, I double-checked that it was made in a dedicated toaster. Imagine my surprise to hear that it was not! They toasted it in the same toaster they toast all of the bread in. I asked to speak with the manager-on-duty and was told that while they offer a gluten-free menu, it really isn’t gluten-free or something along those lines. I don’t remember her exact words because I was shocked by what I was hearing. I understand there are risks when dining out gluten-free, but come on! She went on to tell me that I should have let our server know so she could notify the kitchen staff. I told her that I did that and was assured my food would be made with caution. She offered to remake my food, which I did have her do after asking her to use a clean, separate pan, new gloves, and a clean knife to cut my bread. I also asked for the bread to be left untoasted.
While the food was very good when I finally received it, I would not dine here again. I am at the point with restaurants that if you can’t safely offer a gluten-free menu, don’t offer one. So, here is my letter to all restaurants offering a gluten-free menu:
To Whom it May Concern,
Thank you for including a gluten-free menu in your offerings. I appreciate you taking any and all precautions in your establishment to keep me and my family safe. However, if you overlook some of the following basic, common-knowledge facts concerning serving gluten-free food and how to avoid cross-contamination, please don’t bother to insult me. Educate yourself and your staff. This is not a fad diet for most people, this is our life. We don’t choose to eat like this.
- If you use a common fryer, your fries are not gluten-free, and neither are your tortilla chips
- This also goes for common toasters, ovens, utensils, etc
- Picking the croutons or bread off of the salad is not acceptable
- Change your gloves before touching any food that should be gluten-free
- If you are using condiments with a utensil that has touched gluten, you must use new, uncontaminated condiments and clean utensils
- If you cook gluten-free pasta in the same water as non-gluten-free pasta, it isn’t gluten-free
- If you steam vegetables with pasta water used to cook non-gluten-free pasta, those vegetables are not gluten-free
- If you dust the cake pan with regular flour, your cake is no longer gluten-free (I’m looking at you Cheesecake Factory)
- If you thicken your omelettes or eggs with pancake batter, they are no longer gluten-free
- Most soy sauce is not gluten-free, so dressings, sauces, and marinades made with soy sauce are not gluten-free
- Beer is not gluten-free, so if it is used in any dish, dessert, etc, said dish is not gluten-free
Of course accidents do happen, but an accidental cross-contamination is much different than one that results from blatantly ignoring the items listed above. I choose to accept the risks of accidental cross-contamination and do so willingly so that I can have a social life.
Diagnosed with Celiac Disease in January 2006