We are lucky to have so many restaurants on the Hill. However, I’m offering up my plea for our favorite eateries to offer gluten-free options.
We are lucky to have so many restaurants on the Hill. However, I’m offering up my plea for our favorite eateries to offer gluten-free options and to mark them as such.
Why? First off, for selfish reasons. I was medically diagnosed with celiac several years ago, which means I can’t eat wheat products (and a few other grains). Also, in most cases, anything with soy.
Celiac is not an allergy. It’s an autoimmune disease that can result in serious damage to the small intestine.
Second, many people observe a gluten-free diet without a documented medical reason. I’ll not pass judgment on whether there are any health benefits, although mainstream credible scientific evidence strongly suggests there aren’t. (In fact, there might be harm.) As I say, mine, not to reason why. In fact, I’ll take this opportunity to thank them, if for no reason other than that their dietary preference has led to a vast increase in the number of gluten-free products at the supermarket.
I would also make the point that, given the number of people who do elect to go gluten-free, I would think it makes business sense to offer a few gluten-free options in local restaurants and to clearly mark them on the menu. Restaurateurs should also note that “gluten-free” is an option in searches on Yelp and other review sites. Many people make their choice as to where to dine based on that criterion.
My experience in the UK and Ireland is illustrative. Over there, it is not in the least bit unusual to find restaurants that offer gluten-free options — and when they do, it is indicated as such on the menu. (There is even a small chain of gluten-free fish and chips shops in London.)
I will concede that in many cases, it isn’t possible for restaurants to go completely gluten-free because of the possibility of cross-contamination in the kitchen. And fried foods will always pose a risk because, unless a kitchen has a separate, dedicated gluten-free fryer — a problem for most restaurants — french fries will share space in the fryer with breaded products like onion rings. (Diners without celiac might find this unduly fussy, but trust me, when you have celiac, even a small amount of cross-contamination can lead to intestinal damage.)
I also don’t expect gluten-free beer. Virtually all the gluten-free beers I’ve tried make me think about what might happen if Budweiser and Kool-Aid got together and had a love child. Simply awful.
On the other hand, it certainly is possible to create gluten-free foods without cross-contamination. If restaurants were to accommodate those needs even a little bit — with one or two entrees, the same number of appetizers, and a gluten-free dessert (many ice creams are gluten-free), it would be a godsend.
There are a few restaurants in the neighborhood that do offer gluten-free options, and those options are indicated on the menu. (On the latter score, diners should not have to ask.) And in other cases, it’s easy to modify a product to make it gluten-free. Gluten-free buns for burgers or cheesesteaks, for example.
Pasta is another good example. There are some truly terrible gluten-free kinds of pasta out there, the kind that either take centuries to get to al dente or instantly turn to mush. However, I have discovered many excellent gluten-free pastas—and they are not hard to find. Many chain restaurants offer gluten-free pasta as an option, though given the choice, I much prefer to patronize local eateries.
For that matter, P.F. Chang’s offers delicious gluten-free options. Again, if my previously favorite Chinese restaurant on the Avenue offered even one gluten-free option, I’d be there often. As it is, I haven’t been there for years.
So, that is my plea. I hope it isn’t a lot to ask.