Roundup: Gluten-Free Advice From Readers


I was thrilled by the response to last week’s post, “Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Eaton Centre.” Thanks to everyone who took the time to e-mail me or to comment. Many readers passed along their own suggestions of where to find gluten-free meals, and I wanted to share those ideas with you.

One reader, Chelsea, e-mailed me about some Toronto spots that she likes:

Have you checked out Fressen in Toronto? It is a very trendy vegan restaurant that also has a lot of wheat-free options (not fast-food but perhaps you would want to try it, if you haven’t already!). I also like Rice Bar in Kensington Market (also not fast food, but fairly cheap/fast). Also, there is a new wheat-free (and I think gluten-free) bakery on Yonge Street near Lawrence, called Organic Oven. So far I’ve only had a rice-made cupcake from there, but it was very good!

I’ve tried both Fressen and Rice and think they’re great, but I’d never heard of Organic Oven. It turns out that it’s a bakery that’s been operating for the past seven years in Brampton, and which has just opened a completely gluten-free bakery and café on Yonge Street, just north of Lawrence. Organic Oven uses certified organic ingredients, and also produces treats that are vegan, dairy-free, eggless, flourless, low-glycemic and/or diabetic-friendly. I’m looking forward to visiting it the next time I’m in Toronto.

Another reader, Marilyn, shared a couple of spots:

We’ve eaten gluten-free often @ the Salad King just north of the Eaton Centre on the east side of Yonge. It’s very informal & busy but good, cheap, cheerful & we’ve found the servers to be GF-aware… also we’ve stopped for pizza with the GF crust at the Pizza Pizza at 346 Yonge St — though it takes at least 20 minutes for the special order crust.

I’m fond of Pizza Pizza’s gluten-free offerings (which I’ve written about; I should remind everyone that many of their toppings are gluten-free, but not all of them are). I haven’t tried Salad King, so I’ve added it to my list of places to visit next time.

Another reader, Tom, told me about Portions, a company based in Guelph, Ontario, that is apparently the place to get gluten-free baked goods. Portions’ website lists its GF bread-baking schedule, which includes Cinnamon Raisin Loaf and Caraway Pumpernickel Loaf. I don’t know when I’ll next be in Guelph, but now I have a reason to visit soon.

Thanks again to Chelsea, Marilyn, and Tom, and to everyone who has taken the time to contact me or to comment. Please keep the great ideas and suggestions coming! Just before I left Toronto, I had lunch at Epic, a gorgeous restaurant at the Fairmont Royal York (pictured above) — another spot with some great gluten-free options.

Gluten-Free Fast Food at the Eaton Centre


Last week I met a fellow celiac who asked me what foods I missed the most since going on the gluten-free diet more than five years ago. I had to admit that there’s no one specific thing that I crave. As far as I’m concerned, the major food groups are comprised of chocolate, cheese, fresh fruit, and wine, and being diagnosed with celiac disease hasn’t stopped me from enjoying them (though it has limited my selection of chocolate, since some brands — such as Lindt — are made with malt). I’ve found gluten-free pizza, pasta, croissants, and even butter tarts. But there is one thing I miss, and that’s convenience.

Most people take for granted that if they’re out for hours — or stranded at an airport — they can find a quick meal somewhere. The gluten-intolerant don’t always have that luxury. Last week, when a business lunch in Toronto was cancelled at the last minute, I decided to explore the options. Since I was close to the Eaton Centre, Toronto’s famous shopping complex, I headed there. The news was better than I expected, and I found a few spots that could work for people with celiac disease as well as those with food allergies.

  • Freshii: The beauty of the construct-your-own-meal concept is that it’s usually easier to avoid the trouble spots. Freshii offers salads as well as rice bowls (made with brown rice) and rice-noodle bases, to which you can add fresh, unseasoned ingredients.
  • New York Fries: This Canadian chain serves up fries and only fries, so there’s no chance of cross-contamination in their fryers (an issue that can be a problem at some of the most famous fast-food chains). The fries are cooked in trans-fat-free sunflower oil. One catch: while the fries are gluten-free, some of the seasonings and sauces are not.
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill: Well-known in the U.S. for its gluten-free options, Chipotle is a relatively new player on the Toronto fast-food scene. There are several options for celiacs, and the chain is allergy-aware, too. Take a look at the company’s allergen information, a chart that shows which ingredients contain wheat, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy, as well as gluten. Chipotle is located across the street from the Eaton Centre in Toronto Life Square ([address] 323 Yonge St., Toronto [tel] 416-596-8600).

Does anyone have a go-to spot for when they need a quick, easy gluten-free meal? (Healthy would be great, too, but I know you can’t always have everything!)

On the Road With Alice Bast


Alice Bast is passionate about her mission to educate people about celiac disease. Diagnosed with the disorder in 1994, she founded the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in 2003. As its executive director, she has worked with leaders in the medical, business, and media communities to raise awareness of the disease. She has also worked extensively with the public to get the word out. The NFCA is based in the Philadelphia area, but its best-known programs may be the Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees, which have taken place across the country and have introduced many to the joy of cooking without gluten. The latest NFCA initiative — training chefs at 28 Philadelphia-area restaurants in its Gluten-Free Resource Education Awareness Training (GREAT) program — has been another huge hit. Alice has also participated in strategic conferences and workshops shaping programs to advance celiac initiatives nationwide, including the landmark NIH Consensus Conference on Celiac Disease.

How often do you travel? I’m a serious road warrior — I’m in a couple of different cities each month.

Where have you traveled since being diagnosed with celiac disease? I’ve gone to so many cities around the country for Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees: San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles — it’s a long list. I also travel to attend medical conferences; I was just in Chicago. Internationally, I’ve been to Australia, Amsterdam and Istanbul.

What foods or snacks do you pack when traveling? Travel can be really wearing, and I don’t like the idea of eating junk food to keep going. I think about health and nutrition when I’m packing. A gluten-free power bar goes right into my purse. I take crackers with me, and a nut mix with raisins — it’s basically trail mix. Also, I keep small gluten-free soy sauce packages with me as part of an “emergency” kit.

What other things do you bring with you? In my briefcase, which is always with me, I have my journal, iPhone, and computer. I take my vitamins with me. If you’re checking luggage, it’s important to have your essentials in your carry-on. I have what I call my “carry-on purse,” which is a big bag that has food, a toothbrush, and other essentials. I have an inflatable neck pillow for flights, and wherever I go, I have something to read.

How do you prepare for a trip? I always do research in advance to find out where I can go in a city. It’s important to be proactive. I look at the Gluten-Free Guidebook, and at the Triumph Dining guide and the Gluten-Free Passport. I’ll do Google searches. But I also challenge myself to find places that haven’t been written about. Sometimes I go to places that aren’t gluten-free to educate; that’s part of my personal mission, to educate and train wherever I go. I carry brochures in my purse. We have a program at the NFCA to train your favorite chef.

Any favorite restaurants? I can’t pick one restaurant in Philadelphia. The restaurants we’ve worked with are passionate about cooking gluten-free; they’re not just making an accommodation. When I go in they want to show off what they’ve learned and what they can do. It’s just amazing. I love Maggiano’s. I had dinner a couple of weeks ago at their Chicago restaurant. I was with a group and we told the chef to surprise us. He really went to town. Maggiano’s has embraced gluten-free, it’s like a challenge to do something really special.

Any favorite hotels? Hyatt has been incredible. They’ve hosted Gluten-Free Cooking Sprees. Their chefs are truly interested and have really worked with us.

What’s your favorite place to visit? My favorite business destination is San Francisco. I love going there. The food is amazing, and they’re really thinking about health and wellness. My favorite personal destination? It’s hard to pick one, but it would involve hiking. I loved hiking in New Mexico, and I’ve spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains.

What’s your dream destination? New Zealand. I’ve been to Australia but haven’t been to New Zealand yet. Also, I would love to visit Egypt.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Make sure you know the words for “wheat” and “starch” before you travel. Always carry a cheat sheet in the local language. Whatever you do, don’t feel that you’re alone; find other people and ask for help. When you’re traveling, listen to your body. Sometimes people think they got “glutened” when they get sick on the road, but the problem was caused by other issues. You have to pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. Even if something is gluten-free, it’s not good for you if it’s junk food.

Photograph of Alice Bast provided courtesy of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

Planning for Gluten-Free Travel


On the weekend, I came up to Toronto on a research trip for a Frommer’s guidebook (I’m currently at work on Frommer’s Toronto 2010, my eleventh edition of that book). Visiting Toronto isn’t a stretch for me — it’s my hometown, and I know it has plenty of places that can serve up a good gluten-free meal. Unlike my trips to Peru or Turkey, I don’t need to stress about learning new words for “wheat” and “starch,” or packing enough celiac translation cards. Still, this seemed like a good time to talk about how to prepare for any trip you make.

  • Do some groundwork before you leave home: The good news is that it’s getting easier to find information. My long-time go-to sites, such as Celiac Handbook and Celiac Travel, have been joined by newer sites such as Gluten-Free Maps and the Gluten-Free Registry as reliable sources of information. Also, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and the Gluten Intolerance Group have great information for travelers to, or within, North America. Don’t overlook local blogs — these can be invaluable.
  • Think of your worst-case scenario… and plan for it: As someone who has had to resort to eating potato chips for dinner at midnight while waiting for a long-delayed flight, I want to warn you to be prepared. Wherever you’re going — even if you think it’s a short trip — pack a gluten-free protein bar… or two. They’re easy to carry, won’t cause problems with airport security (unlike, say, yogurt), and if you don’t need them, you can store them till your next trip. I’m particularly fond of the Organic Food Bar for Vegans. It contains 14 grams of protein, and among the gluten-free bars that I’ve tried, it stands out as the most delicious.
  • Never count on an airline to feed you: This is not to say that I’ve never had a good gluten-free meal on a plane. LAN comes to mind for doing a great job, as does British Airways. On the other hand, I’ve been promised gluten-free airplane meals that never materialized, and one time a flight attendant plopped a wheat roll on my dinner tray (in fairness to her, she was trying to be helpful and thought that I had been shortchanged on dinner). I’ve learned that it’s best to be pleasantly surprised by the appearance of a celiac-safe meal on a plane.
  • Celiac dining cards aren’t just for foreign travel: When I interviewed Beyond Rice Cakes author Vanessa Maltin a year ago, I was surprised that she used celiac cards when she dined at new restaurants. I swore by them for travel — especially when you don’t speak the language — but hadn’t tried the cards at home, or in an English-speaking destination. As it turns out, it’s a great idea: you don’t need to repeat your dietary restrictions to each member of the restaurant staff, and the card can be kept in the kitchen for reference purposes.
  • Keep the spirit of adventure: New experiences are good for mind, body, and spirit. Whenever we step outside of our comfort zones, we have the opportunity to learn something new — not only about the world, but about ourselves.