This is a story I worked on for the entirety of last year, until it was finally published in Points North Atlanta. Hoping these restaurants are all still open and serving gluten-free items, I decided to share it with you guys too. Here’s to hoping your own struggles are under control.
A Bread and Beer Lover Gives Up the Good Stuff
When my cousin said she had to give up gluten three years ago, my first thought was, oh my gosh, that means beer. And then, when I couldn’t picture a diet void of pizza pies and ooey gooey baked goods for myself, I realized my own digestive system was trying to warn me. And, just a year after she was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease, my doctor told me that if I wanted to feel better, I’d need to give up the gluten too.
I panicked, at first, over the thought of never sinking my teeth into a deep-dish, extra-cheesy pepperoni pie, and toyed with defiance that I couldn’t still eat what I wanted. But then the side effects would surface – for me, a nagging headache, bloating, serious fatigue and a feeling that I may never be able to eat again.
The decision to go gluten-free (for real) came just over a couple of years ago, bringing with it a lifestyle overhaul and a summoning of every last ounce of willpower I had to give. Now, with the experience under my belt, I can say I’ve settled into a pretty good routine (I still lose the battle every now and then when faced with said pizza), helped by the gluten-free gems in our neighborhood and a lot of ingredient reading.
So, what’s a Celiac?
Since my cousin was diagnosed, I’ve met many a Celiac sufferer. Unofficially, it’s defined as someone who can’t digest gluten, whether via an allergy, a genetic predisposition or otherwise. It gets bad for some, tearing up the small intestine and bringing with that a long list of varying symptoms, that left undiagnosed or untreated can result in serious lifelong complications.
For the rest of us who “just don’t feel good” when we eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), it may not be a medical reason doctors can pinpoint, but it’s a trial and error process that brings us to realize our body loves us more when we avoid the stuff. Whether you’re on one end of the spectrum or the other, there’s a lot to think about when you order off a menu, shop at the grocery store and browse the finger foods at a dinner party. Like me, or my cousin, it may take months of those headaches, belly aches and downright disgusting taste tests to get it right – but once the new diet clicks (and you realize how many people have Pinned gluten free goodies), the light at the end of the tunnel starts to look a little more tasty … and doable.
Good ole Mexican food — it’s a staple for many of us. And while at home, it’s simple enough to use fresh ingredients, avoid flavor packets (almost all of them have MSG, or monosodium glutamate, a highly processed form of gluten) and stick with corn tortillas, it’s a different story out on the town. And, since I crave some serious queso, tangy guacamole and a layered beef, bean and everything-else burrito almost all of the time, it’s imperative I know how to order it. Luckily, most Mexican-style restaurants already serve a lot of dishes on corn, and fry up the same to dip into their fresh-made salsas. Some, like at Cinco in Cumming, have dedicated gluten-free menus, but double check that the server knows you’re after a gluten-free option, in case there’s a little more mystery to their menu.
Spreading my wings outside of a cheesy concoction usually lands us at one of my favorite restaurant chains in metro Atlanta, Marlow’s Tavern. They’ve got several locations, strategically placed in every neighborhood that I visit, including a brand-new one at Alpharetta’s Avalon.
Their menu isn’t the usual here’s-a-few-items-you-can-stomach dining experience. Theirs includes a huge chunk of their traditional menu, with notations on substitutions, how much cross-contamination happens and more. There are options under every menu category – be it appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches or main courses. It’s a sacrificing food lover’s dream. My favorites are the Shrimp & Grits and the Fish tacos with their famous jalapeno corn grits. But lately, I’ve branched out and discovered two other can’t miss items in the creamy, rich and colorful Quinoa, Beet and Goat Cheese appetizer and the tender, savory and fresh Black and Blue Steak Salad. Both are now items I have a hard time choosing between.
Wear the Wheat-Free Apron
As a married-into Italian, my husband and I relish pasta and garlic-bread-filled dinners. But, with a gluten-free gavel of doom would I be cast out, forced to dine alone during family dinners? Fortunately, no. We’ve found an array of products we can use at home to create those same language-of-love dishes – even fooling my in laws on occasion!
The best cook-at-home pasta is De Boles, which you can get in various noodle styles at the grocery store. We use Mary’s Gone Crackers products for the crunch we need in chicken parmesan, or to hold together meatballs. And, we sub gluten-free Pillsbury Refrigerated Pizza Dough for our pie-nights.
When we’re craving someone else’s Italian cooking (read: we don’t want to do the dishes tonight), we head to Mambo Italian at The Forum. From the endless pasta dishes served with gluten-free pasta, or the naturally wheat-free Carpaccio di Manzo and Ahi Tuna Salad, we’ve got a meal to please me and my Calabrian family.
Sweets, Snacks and Sandwiches
I am a sucker for two things – fresh, deli sandwiches and anything loaded up in sugar. So, when I ran across Good Grub Subs and Mama Bakes Safe Cakes in Cumming, my lunchtime crisis was averted. Good Grub serves every one of their signature subs on gluten-free bread options, so whether you’re a classic turkey gal or crave a napkins-please Meatball Sub, you can eat both guilt-free as well. And, since no one (admit it) likes to polish off a meal without a sweet treat, the fresh-made madness at Safe Cakes is perfect. My favorites include the Strawberry Topped and the Chocolate Boston cupcakes, but I’d be lying if I said that with those I could call it a day.
With a boat load of other restaurants catching on the gluten-free flavor train, the options for us sensitive system diners are always growing. I’ve even found a few pizzas I could eat with gusto (Domino’s and Mellow Mushroom). I recognize that I am lucky to simply have an intolerance, so I can cheat when I want to, but for anyone with a sensitivity, it’s encouraging to know we don’t have to live in a granola town or shop at specialty stores to feel like we’re eating like normal people.