Dining on the Book Tour

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My first standalone thriller, Blood Always Tells, just came out in paperback. (It’s actually my fourth novel, but it’s the first one that isn’t part of the mystery series I also write.) When Macmillan’s Tor/Forge division first published it last year, I went on a whirlwind tour across North America, which gave me the opportunity to suss out some celiac-safe places to eat… though no time to write about them! But I kept notes and want to share a few favorites that stand out in my memory.

Pizza Fusion in Denver, Colorado

The restaurant’s tagline is, “You like pizza. We have pizza. Let’s be friends.” And Pizza Fusion is ready to be friends with everyone — including celiacs, vegans, and lactose-intolerant types. Ingredients are organic and locally sourced, whenever possible. In addition to exceptional pizzas, there are gluten-free salads (I recommend the pear and gorgonzola) and desserts. In addition to wonderful food, Pizza Fusion is ecologically aware (here’s a list of its impressive eco-initiatives), and the Denver outpost I dined at is operated by the Coalition for the Homeless. Food that tastes good and does good? That’s the best. (Plus, it’s not far from the Tattered Cover!)

Bistro 241 in Delray Beach, Florida

The truth is, I ended up at Bistro 241 because it was a few doors down from Murder on the Beach, a terrific independent bookstore, and there was a terrible storm raging the night of my event. I was literally looking for the first indoor spot that was open for dinner, and I lucked into this one. There’s no gluten-free menu, but the restaurant’s owner is familiar with the GF diet and willing to make modifications wherever necessary (substituting a variety of veggies for the pita bread in the Mediterranean Plate, for example). A number of dishes, including the delicious chicken paillard, require no modification at all.

Sauce Pizza & Wine in Phoenix, Arizona

I should be embarrassed to admit that I like eating at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, but I’m not. Sauce Pizza & Wine is phenomenal. The gluten-free pepperoni-and-porcini pizza is so good that I’m already looking forward to my next visit. (Take note: Sauce has several locations throughout Arizona, including Tucson, Chandler, Mesa, and Scottsdale.)

Old Town Tortilla Factory in Scottsdale, Arizona

I have plenty of reasons to recommend the Old Town Tortilla Factory. Great Mexican food? Check. Dedicated gluten-free menu? Check. Neon-bright margaritas? Check. A short walk away from the fabulous Poisoned Pen Bookstore? Check. What more could you want?

Cafe Zuzu at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona

On my first first to the fabulous Hotel Valley Ho in 2010, Cafe Zuzu didn’t have a gluten-free menu, though it did have well-trained, thoughtful staff who were able to make recommendations and accommodations (which I wrote about previously). While the staff is still terrific, I’m pleased to say that the restaurant now has a dedicated GF menu, complete with roasted cornish hen, grilled lamb, and blackened shrimp. Best of all, my beloved tomato burrata is now served with rice bread.

Z’Tejas in Austin, Texas

Yes, it’s a chain (with outposts in California and Arizona as well), but its proximity to BookPeople and solid Southwestern food (and margaritas) make it a must-visit in Austin. Z’Tejas‘s dedicated gluten-free menu isn’t large, but it includes several vegetarian options (not always easy to find in these parts).

Il Fornello in Toronto, Ontario

This local Italian chain always stocks rice pasta and gluten-free Quejos pizza crust at all of its locations. Il Fornello also offers great salads (the naturally gluten-free Roma salad is a solid bet, with its mix of greens, goat cheese, walnuts, and roasted peppers), and a reasonably priced list of wines by the glass, including several from Ontario wineries.

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Gluten-Free

I can’t believe my third novel, Evil in All Its Disguises, will be out in three weeks. I haven’t even finished writing about all of the places I hit when I was on my book tour for my second novel, The Next One to Fall. Case in point: Denver, Colorado. I’d never visited the Mile-High City before, and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was a gluten-free mecca.

My stay in Denver was all too brief (when I’m touring, I often get only 24 to 48 hours in a city, sometimes less). But I was lucky enough to stay at the stunning Castle Marne Bed & Breakfast (pictured above), which gave me an incredibly warm welcome. Located in the historic Raymond House, a three-story stone mansion that dates back to 1889, the B&B is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever stayed. I’d told them in advance that I have celiac disease, and they assured me they’d have no trouble accommodating that. They weren’t kidding — they offered me gluten-free snacks and, at breakfast, had gluten-free bread and blueberry muffins ready. The staff are incredibly kind and thoughtful.

I wish I could recommend Encore, the fabulous restaurant where I had dinner before my event at the Tattered Cover Bookstore, but it closed about a month after I visited Denver. Naked Pizza, just around the corner from Castle Marne, closed up shop as well. Fortunately, the Tattered Cover itself is still going strong, and that includes its excellent café, which offers gluten-free and vegan treats. Denver overall has an abundance of dining options for the gluten-intolerant. Some places that were recommended to me (and are still in operation!):

  • 3 Guys Pies: Their claim to fame is their New York-style pizza, hand-tossed and baked right on the stone. Offerings include gluten-free pizzas, and they’ll deliver for free within a two-mile radius of their location on Capital Hill.
  • Cucina Colore: Contemporary Italian cuisine, complete with gluten-free pasta and other main-course options
  • Lime: a local chain with multiple locations, all offering Mexican staples, from corn-based flautas to ceviche
  • Modmarket: Another small local chain, health-conscious Modmarket offers a gluten-free menu, complete with salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and soups
  • Phat Thai: I love how this restaurant describes itself: “This isn’t a traditional Thai restaurant. We are not Thai. We’re not even Asian. Not even close. Hell, we’ve only visited Thailand!” I love the honesty, and their willingness to accommodate gluten-free diners (much of the menu is naturally gluten-free; some dishes require modification)

Denver also has several gluten-free bakeries, including:

  • Deby’s Gluten-Free: a dedicated gluten-free, peanut-free, and shellfish-free kitchen that offers cooking classes as well as a long list of products (more than a dozen different breads, English muffins, pizza crusts, hotdog buns, cakes, pies, cookies). Deby’s goods are carried by a number of restaurants and grocery stores in and around Denver (check out this list for more celiac-safe places to eat in the city)
  • The Gluten Escape: I love how the spot describes itself: “Our mission is to give people a place to find great food without unwanted ingredients! Welcome to choice, welcome to creativity, and welcome to a place where food differences are no big deal.” The Gluten Escape is also soy-free, dairy-free, and vegan, and can accommodate other dietary restrictions.

Next time, I need to spend more time in Denver. I’ll be back there on March 20th, reading from Evil in All Its Disguises at the Tattered Cover Highlands Ranch Bookstore at 7:30pm. If you’re in the area, please stop by to say hello!

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Evil in All Its Disguises will be published by Forge on March 5th, 2013 (it will be released as a hardcover, eBook, and audiobook that day). I’m giving away advance copies via my author newsletter; if you want to enter the draw, all you have to do is sign up. Book reviewers who are registered with NetGalley can download a copy right now. My second novel, The Next One to Fall, will be released in a paperback edition on February 12, 2012; there is a giveaway on GoodReads right now. Also, for a limited time, the eBook price of my award-winning debut novel, The Damage Done, is down to just $2.99. If you’re a mystery reader, I hope you’ll check out the series.

On the Road With Author Rebecca Cantrell

According to her website, “a few years ago Rebecca Cantrell quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Hawaii to write a novel because, at seven, she decided that she would be a writer.” It turns out that was a very wise idea. Cantrell’s debut novel, A Trace of Smoke, was widely acclaimed when it was published in 2009, and it went on to win the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Its sequel, A Night of Long Knives, came out in June (both novels are published by Forge, which is also my publisher). Thanks to Twitter, I discovered that she is also on a gluten-free diet, and since she was just on a book tour across the U.S., it seemed like a terrific time to talk to her about it. For more information about Rebecca Cantrell’s books, check out her website.

I read A Trace of Smoke and loved it. Your new novel, A Night of Long Knives is waiting in my TBR pile. For people who haven’t encountered the Hannah Vogel mysteries yet, how would you describe the books?
I’m glad to hear that you loved it! The Hannah Vogel books follow one woman through pre-World War II Berlin. Hannah tries to fight the Nazi Party, protect those she loves and bring out the stories of those being crushed by the rising regime. They are painstakingly researched literary historical mysteries. And they have some funny bits too.

You’ve written a book for young adults as well, under the name Bekka Black. Can you tell us about that?
I certainly can! My next project is called iDrakula. It’s a retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula using only text messages, voicemails, emails, photos, and web browsers—basically it’s as if you stole Mina Murray’s cell phone and read through it to watch her unmask and battle Dracula. It’s not just a new storytelling method, though, it’s also a brand new delivery system: iDrakula comes out first on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch (in a week, I can hardly believe it’s finally almost here!) and then as a beautifully designed print book. The early reviews are quite positive, and Kirkus Reviews says: “Black brings Bram into the modern age with e-mails, smart phones and websites, all while preserving the brooding heart and vicious nature of Dracula, the literary ur-vampire….Mina’s heartfelt final e-mail to Lucy blends a traditional goodbye with the ephemeral nature of today’s digital technology.”

How long have you been on a gluten-free diet, and how difficult was the transition for you?
I’ve been on a wheat- and oat-free diet for about 13 months, and the transition was awful! The first two weeks all I did was mope around in mourning for bread and pastries. Then I got hold of myself and started trying to discover what I could eat, which must have been plenty as I’m still around.

You were on your book tour for A Night of Long Knives recently. Was that your first big trip since going on the gluten-free diet? How did you prepare for it?
It was my first long trip since I found out. I’ve done 4-5 day stints, but for the A Night of Long Knives tour I was away from home for a month. I stocked up on Zone bars (peanut butter) and made myself a few bags of my favorite snack food (dried apricots, pecans, and dark chocolate chips). Then I resigned myself to eating a lot of chicken Caesar salad, since most restaurants have it and so long as I skip the croutons I can actually eat it.

The thing that was the hardest was explaining to everyone I ordered food from that I was really allergic to wheat and oat and tomatoes (plus a variety of other stuff). It got very old, very fast and I constantly felt like Sally from When Harry Met Sally. Almost everyone was really wonderful about it, but I hate asking for special meals even though I pretty much have to these days.

Where did you go on your book tour, and were there any restaurants and/or hotels that did a really great job at taking care of a gluten-free guest? I seem to remember you tweeting about a castle in Colorado…
I hit 10 cities: Phoenix, Arizona; Encino and Westwood, CA (Los Angeles area); San Diego, CA; San Mateo and Tiburon (San Francisco area); New York; Chicago; Milwaukee; and Denver.

Au Bon Pain in Westwood (right across the street from The Mystery Bookstore) had a great quinoa salad that was quick, tasty, and filling. Bar Breton in Manhattan had tons of gluten-free items clearly marked on their menu (hooray!). And Castle Marne in Denver went out of their way to make me a tasty gluten-free breakfast: from my own scones to my own bread. It was all delicious and I was very touched! I also have to thank Jerrle Gericke who made me delicious gluten-free peanut butter cookies when I stayed with her. She gave me a box to take with me and that helped me through those hours I was stuck in O’Hare airport.

What was the toughest thing about traveling gluten-free?
Until I realized I was allergic to wheat, I never noticed how many events have only wheat foods. So, it’s tough when you go to your special debut author breakfast and they have a wide selection of muffins, croissants, and pastries you can’t eat. Often this gets followed up by lunchtime events filled with tons of sandwiches and then a few wraps that you can’t eat either. I ended up eating a lot of Zone bars and fruit. The worst experience was when I was stuck in the LaGuardia airport for several unplanned hours and the only thing I found I could eat was a boiled egg (man, was I ever grateful for that egg!) and I’d run out of my own snacks because it was near the end of my tour.

What things do you always bring with you when you travel?
My apricot/pecan/chocolate chip trail mix, my iPhone (cannot travel without it. I even dedicated iDrakula to my phone), my netbook, and a couple of pashminas.

You live in Hawaii, which is many readers’ dream destination. Have you found restaurants/shops near you that you’d recommend to others?
I like the Keei Café up in Kainaliu. Their buckwheat noodles are gluten free and tasty, but their open hours are odd, so it’s best to check before you go.

What’s your own dream destination to visit?
Berlin in 1931. Failing that, Berlin now. And Barcelona. And China. Also Japan. Really anywhere with good food and soft pillows.

Do you have any other advice for gluten-intolerant travelers? Also, any readings or conference appearances coming up?
Pack a meal before you leave the house and be prepared to spend hours more at the airport and on the plane than you think (after I was delayed on my way to Chicago, I got delayed again on the way out and this time we were stuck in the plane for three hours with only those snack boxes full of wheaty treats to eat). Of the 10 flights I took, two were delayed by more than three hours.

As for appearances, I’ll be at Bouchercon in San Francisco from October 14-17 and also will be launching iDrakula at the Books, Inc. book store in the Laurel Heights area of San Francisco at 5 pm on October 17. Please come! If they let me serve food, at least some of it will be gluten-free!

Roundup: With a Little Help From My Friends

It’s always a pleasure to get restaurant recommendations from readers. But I need to acknowledge another group that has been sending a lot of great information my way: my non-celiac friends. Blessed with eagle eyes, they are sharp when it comes to picking up gluten-free news, and thoughtful when it comes to passing it along.

My friend Leslie, author of The Ladies’ Room Reader Quiz Book: 1,000 Questions and Answers About Women and the Things They Love, has a particularly keen eye. While researching a story on Tampa, Florida, she discovered that the Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant chain (named for the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer enshrined in the National Football League’s Hall of Fame) has an extensive gluten-free menu. Another of her finds is Café Formaggio, a Long Island, NY, restaurant that serves gluten-free pasta, pizza, brownies, and beer. Her most unusual discovery so far has been Chiarelli’s Religious Goods, also on Long Island, which makes gluten-free Communion wafers. Leslie also discovered the impressive Gluten Free Diet Center on Eating Well’s website, which includes extensive information about the diet, many recipes, and a Q&A with the executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group.

Another friend — Yvonne, author of The Everything Family Christmas Book: Stories, Songs, Recipes, Crafts, Traditions, and More — told me about a new cafe in Calgary, Alberta: Primal Grounds Cappuccino Bar & Eatery. It has two locations and a broad list of gluten-free meal options that includes curry pineapple chicken, shepherd’s pie, and beef lasagna, as well as sandwiches that can be prepared with rice bread.

Jenna, who co-writes The Haiku Diaries, found out that Firefly restaurant in Washington, D.C., offers a glamorous menu for gluten-free gourmets, and that Panzano, an Italian restaurant in Denver, bakes gluten-free focaccia. Both properties are owned by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.

Stephanie, who lives in Toronto, passes along the names of celiac-friendly restaurants she hears about from a co-worker who has celiac disease. She was the one who told me about Four, which I wrote about in June. One spot she told me about recently is Mio RistoBar, which is located in Toronto’s Financial District and offers gluten-free pasta and entrees.

Some of my friends find gluten-free spots even when they’re not looking for them. Ellen was taking her kids to the optometrist’s when she passed an Italian restaurant offering a gluten-free menu. It turned out that the restaurant, Sambuca, was one I’ve dined at but haven’t yet written about for this site; it’s an institution on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

As I was finishing off this column, my sister-in-law Michelle e-mailed me about gluten-free recipes from Gourmet magazine, including one for chocolate chip cookies and one for lemon layer cake. The recipes are from Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts, a book that has just been reissued. That reminded me of all of the help I’ve had from certain family members… but that will have to wait for another time.

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I’m leaving for Turkey tomorrow (November 6th), so this blog will be quiet for the next two weeks. But I will be back after that to share my latest finds.