Reader Report: Gluten-Free Melbourne, Australia

Australia is one place I’ve dreamed about visiting for years. Whenever I do finally make it there, Stuart Holding’s advice about Melbourne will come in very handy. Thanks so much to Stuart for writing this wonderful report!

Stuart’s Report on Melbourne

Travelling to Melbourne? Perhaps you live here and crave for that perfect pizza?

Well, I’ve been living as a diagnosed coeliac (celiac) for around 5 or 6 years now and have noticed a marked increase in both awareness and understanding in recent years around Melbourne. I’m no expert on the topic, but I’ve spoken at length with Australia’s leading dietician, researcher and cookbook author on the subject in Sue Shepherd from Shepherd Works. The first thing I can recommend is to get a hold of her cookbooks. They have wonderfully simple recipes and have taken me back to the tastes of some of my old favourite dishes that were once forgotten (post diagnosis).

Most wait staff in restaurants in Melbourne will understand exactly what you mean when you tell them you have coeliacs disease and require a gluten-free meal, and more and more are indicating on their menus which dishes are gluten-free. However, some places I’ve come across show some dishes as gluten-free yet omit some that are naturally gluten-free, so don’t necessarily just order what they say is gluten-free.

Some of my favourite restaurants around Melbourne are below, but I’ve had to keep the list quite brief. If you’re visiting Melbourne as a tourist you’ll likely find a great place to eat in one of Melbourne’s famous laneways that will happily cater for your needs. Just be sure to remind the waiter and don’t assume they know!

Quite simply the best pizza in Melbourne (and that includes all of the famous Lygon Street Italian eateries) is Pizza Farro in Thornbury about 20 minutes on the #86 tram to the north. Vince and Evette are the proprietors and specialize in spelt (non GF) and gluten-free pizzas. They are traditional Italian pizzas in a quaint family-run restaurant setting. Tell them I sent you — they mightn’t give you any discount, but they’ll look after you.

A recently opened “forward thinking answer to the emerging popularity and awareness of authentic Mexican food and beverage” in Melbourne Central Business District (CBD) is Mamasita’s. It’s a Mexican restaurant that serves more traditional tacos, quesadillas, tostitas, etc. Everything on the menu is gluten-free! And the sangria isn’t half bad either.

One of the things I miss most since eating gluten-free is a good “Parma and Pot.” An Australian pub meal at its best! Mrs Parma’s in Melbourne’s CBD specialize in “Parmas” (chicken, veal or vegetarian parmigianas) and offer their entire menu in a gluten-free option. They also stock locally brewed beer O’Briens Pale Ale or O’Briens Lager to help wash down the meal. It’s a must-try, but it’s not the cheapest Parma you’ll find at around $20-$25.

A favourite breakfast treat is located in North Melbourne called Fraus. It’s a creperie and hot chocolate café and all of their gallettes are gluten-free and make for a great substitute to traditional bacon and eggs on toast.

Reader Report: Orlando’s Disney World

The Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Reader Report Contest didn’t get very many entries (there ended up being six in total), but every one was a terrific read and will add lots of valuable information for travelers. I will be publishing them all on the site, starting with the very first entry that came in. Many thanks to Deb for this terrific report!

Deb’s Report on Disney World

Last spring my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease less than a month away from our trip to Florida, including two days at Disney World.  I learned the folks at Disney are fantastic at accommodating guests with celiac, gluten/wheat sensitivity, or any other food allergies.  We returned to Disney again this March and had a second wonderful experience.

Contact at least two weeks before your trip to Disney.  We were sent a guest allergy form to fill out and return.   Then we received a confirmation email verifying that the pertinent allergy information was included on our dining reservations.

Here are reviews for the restaurants we dined at.  To make a reservation at any of the sit down restaurants at Disney World, call 407-WDW-DINE.

Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom)

Crystal Palace provides an upscale buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner.   We’ve had lunch at Crystal Palace two years running.  The chef walks the line with you, showing you which foods are safe.  During our visit, gluten-free foods available on the cold line included several fruit salads, a black bean and corn salad and a spring greens and tomato salad (dressing and croutons were further down the line, so the salad was safe). On the hot line there was flank steak, salmon, and a rice dish — all delicious.

The chef also prepared gluten-free chicken fingers and fries for my daughter.  The gluten-free chicken fingers were rated ‘amazing.’ For dessert there is ice cream, or if you can’t have dairy, Rice Dream.

The culinary team at Crystal Palace was very welcoming. We will continue to dine there on future trips.

Coral Reef (Epcot)

Coral Reef diners order from a menu, so the chef comes out and discusses options with you. Grilled Mahi Mahi and a grilled chicken breast were two of my daughter’s choices. While we waited for our entrees, our server brought out warm gluten-free rolls as an alternative to the bread basket.

The grilled chicken breast served with a side of fries was rated ‘great’ by my daughter.  Fresh fruit, Rice Dream or a gluten-free brownie were offered for dessert. If you do not have an issue with dairy, regular ice cream would also be an option.

We’ve eaten at Coral Reef twice and will return again.

Brown Derby (Hollywood Studios)

Like Coral Reef, the chef comes out and discusses options with you. Disney menus at the sit-down restaurants feature a fair number of grilled meat and fish dishes, which are easy to modify. Warm gluten-free rolls are provided here as well.  My daughter had a delicious flank steak, new potatoes with olive oil and herbs and steamed broccoli. Fruit, Rice Dream and gluten-free brownies were again available for dessert.  While service was a bit slow, we’d dine there again if we ever return to Hollywood Studios.

Welcome to ThrillerFest

One of my favorite events of the year is about to begin: ThrillerFest, a conference that has been described as “summer camp for thriller readers, fans, writers and industry professionals.” It brings some of my favorite writers to the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan for four days, starting this Wednesday, July 7th. (The first two days are for CraftFest and AgentFest, targeted at writers who are working on thrillers; Friday and Saturday are for readers and writers alike). Featured authors include Linda Fairstein, Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen, Gayle Lynds, Joseph Finder, Sophie Littlefield, Rebecca Cantrell… well, you get the idea. It’s quite a line-up. This year, I’ll be on a panel, too: “How Do You Pack for a Thriller?” — about using international settings in your fiction — will take place on Friday, July 9th at 11am. (If you weren’t aware of ThrillerFest but want to attend, you can still register for Friday and Saturday.)

One writer who is attending ThrillerFest asked me — via Twitter — about where to dine gluten-free in New York. This seemed like a perfect time to mention some of my favorite Manhattan spots. If you’re visiting New York this summer, you won’t want to miss these:

Bistango: Almost every item on the menu of this Italian restaurant in Murray Hill can be prepared in a gluten-free version. There’s plenty of gluten-free pizza and pasta dishes, as well as meatier offerings like  rack of lamb. What really makes a meal at Bistango stand out is the graciousness of its staff. The owner, Anthony, goes back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen, talking to everyone and making sure that diners are comfortable. This is a gem. [web]

Rosa Mexicano: My favorite Mexican restaurant in Manhattan now has a separate gluten-free menu. (The gluten-free menus are available at all three of Rosa Mexicano’s Manhattan locations, though the one at the original First Avenue spot is a little different from the others.) There’s a long list of options, but my favorite main dish is the Budín de Pollo, a decadent tortilla pie filled with layers of chicken, peppers, and cheese. There are also amazing — and rather strong — pomegranate margaritas. [web]

Risotteria: The bad news is that Risotteria doesn’t do reservations. When the wait gets extremely long, sometimes the waitstaff comes outside with gluten-free breadsticks, guaranteeing that you’ll hang around. The food is stellar, and the many celiac-safe options run the gamut from Caesar salad to mushroom risotto, and from pizza to panini. All of the desserts are gluten-free, and they are divine. [web]

There are also two bakeries that I want to mention. Both of them deliver to addresses in the continental U.S., though not all of their products are available this way. If you can, check them out in person:

BabyCakes NYC: This Lower East Side bakery is famous for its organic, vegan, and gluten-free options, but keep in mind that the treats made with spelt are not safe for celiacs or the gluten-intolerant (though they’re a great option for wheat-allergic people). I’m wild about the cupcake tops, but other options include cookie sandwiches, crumb cakes, and banana bread. [web]

Tu-Lu’s Gluten-Free Bakery: Formerly known as Tully’s, this East Village bakery is entirely gluten-free. I’m hopelessly addicted to their brownies, which are the best I’ve had in a long time. There are also cupcakes and a variety of cookies, including oatmeal, cranberry, and classic chocolate chip. [web]