All About Joe’s

The news across the U.S. seems to be all about guys named Joe these days. Average Joes, Joe Six-Packs, and — of course — Joe the Plumber are dominating headlines, thanks to the imminent presidential election. I know I’m contributing to Joe-overload by writing this, but I wanted to share a new discovery: Not Your Average Joe’s.

A few months ago, I mentioned visiting my brother-in-law and his family in San Diego and the great gluten-free restaurants he found for me there. The family has since moved to Acton, Massachusetts, and for my first visit there, my brother-in-law went through the research process again. The city of Boston has many options for gluten-free dining, but Acton, a town roughly 21 miles west-northwest of Boston, is a quieter spot. Fortunately Not Your Average Joe’s Creative Casual Cuisine has an outpost there.

The restaurant is part of a chain that has 15 locations in Massachusetts, in towns such as Needham, Watertown, and Hyannis. There is also a location in Leesburg, Virginia (two other locations are slated to open in Virginia in the next few months). Not Your Average Joe’s has a lengthy regular menu that includes pizzas and pastas. However, for celiacs, it offers a short gluten-free menu that features salads (Cobb salad, grilled chicken salad), fish and seafood dishes (grilled salmon, rosemary-skewered scallops), meat and poultry dishes (flank steak with garlic mashed potatoes, grilled chicken breast), and a bun-free burger. The options are limited, but the food is good and the service is thoughtful. Everything on the menu is available for takeout.

The restaurant is also very much a child-friendly zone. Not Your Average Joe’s offers a separate menu for children (with a couple of gluten-free options), crayons to decorate placemats, and high chairs for the littlest diners. It was a hit with my three nieces, so we’ll be back soon.

Not Your Average Joe’s [web]; 15 locations in Massachusetts and one in Virginia, including:

Acton: [address] 305 Main Street, Acton, MA [tel] 978-635-0101

Hyannis: [address] 793 Iyannough Road, Hyannis, MA [tel] 508-778-1424

Leesburg: [address] Lansdowne Town Center, 19307 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA [tel] 571-333-5637

Needham: [address] 109 Chapel Street, Needham, MA [tel] 781-453-9300

Watertown: [address] 55 Main Street, Watertown, MA [tel] 617-926-9229

Celiac Comfort Food in Toronto

My friend Helen is an expert on all things Toronto. (Like me, she is a guidebook author; she co-writes the Rough Guide to Toronto.) Before my last visit to Toronto, she wrote to me about a restaurant called Big Mamma’s Boy, and its many gluten-free offerings.

“I love that place. They make great gluten-free pizza,” I answered. I’d already included a mention of Big Mamma’s Boy in the “Allergy Awareness” section of the Frommer’s Toronto guidebook, noting that my favorite of their pizzas is topped with goat cheese, fresh garlic, kalamata olives, and hot capicolla. I’d planned to mention it on the Gluten-Free Guidebook in a round-up about favorite pizza places. I do love pizza, after all.

But Helen was insistent. “Their entire brunch is available gluten-free, they use organic, local produce wherever possible, their eggs are free-range, and on their dinner menu almost everything is available gluten free,” she wrote back. There was more to Big Mamma’s Boy than great pizza? We made a dinner date there for my next trip.

The place was much the way I remembered it: located in Cabbagetown, one of Toronto’s most charming neighborhoods, the restaurant is in a 19th-century row house with crimson walls, Corinthian columns, and Victorian details (note the chandeliers above). There is a patio in the backyard for warm-weather dining. What surprised me was the lengthy menu. It contains the long list of gluten-free pizzas I remembered… and so much more. In fact, all but one appetizer on the dinner menu (the spring rolls) can be made in a celiac-safe version. Cabbage rolls, pulled-pork sandwiches, and slow-cooked ribs all tempted me, but I ordered the lasagna, which combined naturally raised beef with mushrooms, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce, and brown rice pasta (the lasagna is only available in a gluten-free version). It came with a delicious salad of baby greens with pomegranate vinaigrette.

Dessert was just as memorable: a rich flourless chocolate cake served with whipped cream. Before we left, I discovered that Helen was right about brunch: the entire menu — which includes Eggs Benedict and rice-flour pancakes — is available gluten-free. I’d thought of Big Mamma’s Boy as a favorite pizza place, but its options are far more impressive. Helen could have said I told you so… but she didn’t. She is such a good friend.

Big Mamma’s Boy [address] 554 Parliament Street (one block south of Wellesley Street East), Toronto, Ontario, Canada [tel] 416-927-1593 [web]

Getting Away From It All in Chile

Taking a vacation used to be about getting away from it all. Now, it feels like wherever people go, we’re plugged in almost as well as we are at the office and at home. Most of the travel that I do is for work, so I lug along my laptop, hunt down WiFi hotspots, and respond to e-mails as if I were at my desk. The problem is, I’m just as much of an e-mail addict when I’m traveling for pleasure.

Maybe that’s why I appreciated Hacienda los Andes, a small outdoor lodge in Chile, so much. Getting there was an adventure in itself — the property is roughly a two-hour drive from the city of La Serena — through terrain that ranges from scenic olive groves to dramatic cliffs and valleys (the Hacienda is also accessible from Vicuña and Ovalle; its staff will arrange transfers for visitors from any of those three towns). It had been some time since I’d found myself in a place where my cell phone didn’t get a signal, and that was a good reminder to put away the tech toys.

The Hacienda los Andes is spread over a thousand acres, stretching from the Rio Hurtado to the top of the Cerro Gigante mountain. On the site is an old gold mine, which my husband and I hiked to on our first day there. There’s also a serene courtyard, a series of hammocks strung up around the casa and its terraces, a sauna and a Jacuzzi. The biggest attraction is horseback riding: the Hacienda’s German-Austrian owners, Clark Stede and Manuela Paradeiser, lead incredible tours on horseback that can be tailored even for those who haven’t ridden before. There’s also mountain-biking and Jeep tours of the foothills of the Andes. At night, the view of the southern sky is breathtaking.

What I loved best about the Hacienda was its kitchen. Only a small part of the acreage at the property is cultivated for growing; most of the produce comes from the small farms of the Rio Hurtado Valley. This turned out to be heaven for a celiac: because everything was made from scratch in the Hacienda’s own kitchen and the nearby village, there was no problem with mysterious sauces or ingredients. The staff was incredibly considerate of my dietary restrictions, and they also went the extra distance for me; for example, by baking a gluten-free corn bread for me to have with my breakfast (the results were a little crumbly but still delicious). The staff was equally considerate of my husband’s request for vegetarian dishes and another guest’s lactose-free diet. While I didn’t find any nuggets at the abandoned mine, I did feel as if I’d struck gold in the Andes.

Hacienda los Andes [address] Rio Hurtado, Hurtado, Chile [tel] +54 53-691-822 [web]

Time for Turkey

It’s official: I’m traveling to Turkey this November. I’ve just started planning the trip, and all I have right now is a return ticket to Istanbul. I’ll be in Turkey for 12 days, and I’m still working on the itinerary. I know I want to spend the better part of a week in Istanbul and a couple of days in and around Ephesus; the rest of the time is still unaccounted for (I’m also thinking about visiting Cappadoccia, or taking a cruise to visit Troy — but with 12 days, not everything can fit into the plan). If you have already visited Turkey and have any recommendations for where to stay, what to see — and especially, where to get a good gluten-free meal — I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, let me tell you what I’ve discovered so far. Neither of my favorite translation sites, Google and BabelFish, offers Turkish-to-English translation at this time, so I’ve been using Babylon, which gets the gyst of things but seems to miss many words. The Celiac Association of Turkey (Colyakla Yasam Dernegi) has a website that is available only in Turkish. (I’ve e-mailed the association for advice, and I’ll let you know what I hear from them.) Fortunately, Celiac Travel, my favorite site for celiac translation cards, has one available in Turkish.

One great resource I’ve found is a website called the Turkey Travel Planner by Tom Brosnahan. I’ve met Tom several times (we’re members of the same writers’ organizations), but it was a pleasant surprise to discover his well-written and comprehensive site. Not only does it cover what to see and do, but there are specific pages of interest to celiacs and the food-allergic: “Gluten Intolerance (Celiac) in Turkey,” “Food Allergies in Turkey,” and “Food Allergy Awareness in Turkey” (there’s also a section for vegetarians).

My Frommer’s colleague Lynn Levine, author of Frommer’s Turkey and Frommer’s Istanbul, also runs a website called Talking Turkey. There’s no celiac-specific information, but there are good overviews about Turkish food and drink, as well as pages devoted to regions of the country, museums, spas, and shopping.

I’ve started reading the Turkish Daily News, a 47-year-old English-language newspaper that can be read online. An article from February 2008 mentions Saf, an Istanbul restaurant where “all dishes are low in salt and fat, raw, organic, gluten free and vegan.” I can’t wait to try it. In the article, Saf’s address is listed as: Akatlar Mah. Cumhuriyet Cad. No:4/6 Club Sporium, Akatlar; the phone numbers listed are 0212 282 79 46 and 0212 282 72 91.

On the Road With Gluten-Free Girl

Even before I interviewed Shauna James Ahern, I felt as if I knew her. That was because of the many incredibly warm, humorous, and inspiring posts she has made on her blog, Gluten-Free Girl, which she created after being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2005. The success of the site led her to publish a book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food That Loves Me Back… & How You Can Too (Wiley, 2007), which was selected as one of Amazon’s best books of the year. Since going gluten-free, Shauna has met and married the man of her dreams, and in July 2008 she gave birth to a daughter, Lucy. Shauna and her husband, Daniel Ahern, a chef, are currently at work on a new book, Dancing in the Kitchen, about love and food and how they intersect. Shauna is also working on a book she calls Feeding Us, about eating during pregnancy and through a child’s first year of life.

How often do you travel? Normally, it’s at least three or four times a year. Last year I traveled much more because of the book tour, but now that Lucy has arrived I probably won’t travel as much, at least for a while.

Where have you traveled since being diagnosed with celiac disease? I’ve been to New York and Los Angeles many times; also Chicago, Portland [Oregon], San Francisco, Vancouver, Tucson. I also do a lot of local travel around Washington state. Danny and I went to Italy for our honeymoon. It was the biggest surprise to me — everyone thought you couldn’t go there because of all the pizza and pasta, but it was the best place in the world. People care about feeding you very well, and most food over there doesn’t even require gluten, it’s all about what’s fresh and in season. Every drugstore has gluten-free food, and you can bring gluten-free pasta to a restaurant that doesn’t have it and they will cook it for you. I also learned that Italians with celiac disease get two paid work days to go shopping each month!

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? We all know that on planes they don’t feed you. For example, on the flight to Italy they claimed they had a gluten-free meal but they ran out. When I fly I take a yummy grain salad, like a red quinoa or brown rice or millet, with goat cheese. I keep it cold in the fridge so it’s ready to go. When traveling with a baby, you need something you can hold in one hand, like a granola bar. [Editor’s note: For a gluten-free granola-bar recipe from Shauna, click here.]

What other things do you bring with you? I always travel with an iPod and a journal to write in. You get good writing time on a plane!

How do you prepare for a trip? I don’t like to overplan — it’s not like I map out day-by-day where to go — but I like structure, and I never walk into a place blind. I like Google Earth; before we went to Italy, we used to look at towns in Umbria, where we stayed for a week, and to see the road between towns. I research everything. I ask all my friends, and friends of friends, because I really believe in word of mouth. I love guidebooks. I also spend a lot of time Googling. The more you look for a specific town, or a specific neighborhood in a town, the more you find.

Any favorite restaurants? When we were in Umbria, we went to this tiny village, Gubbio. It’s a fortified 12th-century city where nothing has changed in 500 years. A friend told me about this place, a medieval banquet hall called Fornace di Mastro Giorgio, where we ended up having a 3-1/2 hour lunch with friends. It was incredible. [For Shauna’s post about her travels in Italy, click here.] Another of my favorites I found in New York at the start of my book tour: Gramercy Tavern. My husband used to work there, and the fall tasting menu that week was gluten free. We also went to Hearth in the East Village; it was really superb, and made us feel very welcome. In Portland, Oregon, there is a fish-fry place, Hawthorne Fish House, that is entirely gluten-free — you can have fish and chips, onion rings, everything. Portland is incredible for gluten-free food. Seattle is too — I can’t think of many places there where I can’t eat.

Any favorite hotels? A farmhouse-style lodging, Brigolante Agritourism, just outside of Assisi [Italy].

What’s your favorite city to visit? New York. I lived there for years, from 1997 to 2001. I love the Upper West Side. I go to Danal, Gray’s Papaya (where I get a hotdog without the bun), Babycakes, and Tea & Sympathy. Plus I always love discovering something new.

What’s your dream destination? My husband and I both have Irish heritage, and we want to go to Ireland together. I’ve heard it’s got the largest number of diagnosed celiacs in the world.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Don’t approach it with fear. You can’t approach travel that way, and you can’t approach eating that way. Do your research so you have some ideas where to go, but once you’re there, let go and enjoy the place. You can’t shut down your life. Be brave and try everything that’s gluten-free.

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Editor’s note: While Shauna didn’t mention it by name, she knows of another great restaurant that takes excellent care of its gluten-free guests: Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe, where her husband is the executive chef. This well-reviewed spot is known for its romantic ambience, moderate prices, and sensitivity to food allergies.

Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe [address] 4235 E. Madison St., Seattle, WA 98112 [tel] 206-860-1569 [web]

UPDATE (10/21/08): Daniel Ahern is taking a break from the restaurant business, and is no longer cooking at Impromptu. However, he has trained its new chef to cook gluten-free and to keep the kitchen safe from cross-contamination. For Shauna’s post with this news, click here.

Photograph provided courtesy of Shauna James Ahern.