The gluten-free life has never been better.
New products are constantly coming out, restaurants are putting together gluten-free menus, websites and blogs with useful information are popping up all over the place… there really has never been a better time to be gluten-free.
With all of those advances, though, come high expectations. And naturally with high expectations, you increase your chances for disappointment.
Disappointment. That is the primary word that comes to mind when I look back on this past weekend’s trip to the Cheesecake Factory.
Just Another Visit to One of My Favorite Restaurants
After having followed the gluten-free diet for 10+ years now, I can almost always eat at restaurants without a hassle (except for one recent experience at P.F. Changs). I rarely find the need to tell the waiter or manager that I’m gluten-free, as I’ve developed a pretty good sense for what would be OK for me to eat and what is questionable. When something is questionable (a soup or a certain sauce), I’ll definitely ask, but otherwise, I’ll just trust my past experience.
My experience at the Cheesecake Factory last weekend has made me second-guess my ordering habits. After ordering a Redbridge gluten-free beer, my girlfriend and I decided to get the guacamole appetizer. The menu reads:
Ripe Avocado, Onion, Tomato, Chiles, Cilantro and Fresh Lime. Served with Tortilla Chips, Salsa and Sour Cream
I knew that the chips were corn chips since I had asked on several previous occasions. Sounds good, right? Absolutely not.
The waitress, tipped off by the fact that I had ordered a Redbridge beer, told me that the corn chips were dusted with flour! She knew this, not because of her training at the Cheesecake Factory, but because her friend (a fellow waitress there) also had celiac disease and had been disappointed to learn this fact.
I was a little frustrated to find this out, but the waitress helped us find another appetizer, as well as a main dish, that she knew contained no gluten. For an appetizer, she recommended the Fire-Roasted Artichoke:
Fresh Artichoke Fire-Roasted and Served with a Spicy Vinaigrette and Garlic Dip (Seasonal)
And for the main course, she recommended the Fish Tacos:
Soft Corn Tortillas Filled with Grilled or Crispy Tempura Fish, Avocado, Tomato, Onions, Cilantro and Cream. Served with Black Beans and Rice
Having been to Cheesecake Factory dozens of times, I already knew that I liked these dishes so I was fine with the changes.
That was, until the manager came out. He brought the artichoke appetizer and asked how sensitive I was to gluten. He was asking me this because the “vinaigrette” that the artichoke was cooked in had soy sauce in it. I explained how I couldn’t have soy sauce and asked if it could be prepared with another dressing. He then explained how they had switched over to new salad dressings that all had soy sauce in them!
Since the manager was already over, I decided to ask if the fish tacos I had ordered were OK. After all, the menu specified that they were served in a “corn tortilla” and the waitress had even recommended them as a gluten-free option. Sure enough, he explained to me that the soft corn tortillas were also dusted in flour.
The manager was very nice, as was the waitress, but at this point, we decided to pay for our drinks and leave.
I’m not sure what makes me more upset – the fact that I’ve been feeding myself gluten all these years, or the fact that one of my favorite restaurants is off-limits to me after this discovery.
Or maybe it’s the fact that they label things as being served in a “corn tortilla” yet dust it with wheat flour. This is incomprehensible. Or is it the fact that the waitress recommended two dishes (one with soy sauce, another with tortillas dusted with flour) to someone she knew had celiac (indicating she hadn’t received adequate training in food allergies).
So even though “gluten-free” is a rapidly growing industry and awareness is skyrocketing, make sure to keep your guard up! We are making enormous progress, but in a world dominated by gluten, we can never become complacent. Lesson learned.