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.

Reader Report: Burleson and Fort Worth, Texas

I’d like to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who entered the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s Fifth Anniversary Contest. It means a lot to have readers sharing their own expertise with traveling and dining out gluten-free. This one from Cynthia Ross is particularly terrific. Thanks so much, Cynthia!

Burleson and Fort Worth by Cynthia Ross

What can be more stressful than moving halfway across the country? Leaving everything you know and soon after learning you must also entirely change the way you eat. After relocating to Texas from California, I was already skeptical that I could find the fresh organic vegetables and free-from junk food that I was accustomed buying. Then I learned I had to give up gluten and dairy. The only place these things were available when I left Texas 14 years ago was in Whole Foods Market and that is quite a drive from our little town. Fortunately we do have some options.

HEB in Burleson has a reasonable selection of gluten-free, organic, and natural products. However, their organic fresh produce section is not up to par in my opinion. Their organic fruit is often not fresh enough to last more than a day or two and the selection of organic fruits and vegetables is slim. There is also a small 24-hour market called Tiger Farms, which has a good selection of gluten-free food and stocks fresh organic vegetables purchased from the Dallas Farmers Market each week. Their produce tends to be much fresher, better quality, and less expensive than HEB.

Eating out is a little tougher. Although there are restaurants with gluten-free menus in the area, they seem to cater to those on the diet by choice. The responses to my queries about the prevention of cross-contamination make me very leery of eating around here. But hope is not lost! Fort Worth is a mere 25 minutes away.

After living without sushi for over a year, we discovered Shinjuku Station near downtown Fort Worth. Not only do they have a dedicated gluten-free menu (delicious!), they only choose fish that are sustainably fished and use very fresh ingredients. The owners, chef, and wait staff is very knowledgeable, completely understanding of our food issues, and never make us feel like we are a bother. They always make us feel welcome and I know I am safe eating there.

A couple of other places we enjoy are the Mellow Mushroom near TCU and Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth. The Mellow Mushroom has a dedicated gluten-free pizza menu with a gluten-free vegan crust. It is better than most gluten-free pizzas that I’ve tried but I quickly get bored with it. I’m sure it would be much better with cheese but I can’t have it and cannot stand vegan cheese. Sorry, but there is no substitute for real cheese. If you do eat here, make sure you confirm that your pizza is gluten-free when they bring it to your table. Mistakes have happened.

Cantina Laredo in downtown Fort Worth has upscale Mexican cuisine. It is delicious. The prices are decent and they are very accommodating. The chips, salsa and guacamole are gluten-free and they have a dedicated gluten-free menu. If you are also dairy intolerant, the chef can make those items without the dairy products. I especially enjoy their steak or chicken fajitas. A bonus is that margaritas, champagne and wine are half-price on Thursdays during happy hour.

That said, my favorite gluten-free place is my own kitchen. My husband and I are both good cooks – he has only accidentally poisoned me once. I can eat our cooking without fear and my “limitations” have forced me to become more adventurous in my food choices. By taking our own food with us, we can eat whenever and wherever we want which can lead to some interesting adventures. Just this weekend, we popped into Luckenback, TX on a whim to eat our lunch and discovered there was a Waylon Jennings birthday celebration. If we had gone to a restaurant, I would never have learned what “Chicken-poop bingo” was or met that cool steer named “Tumbleweed.”

Reader Report: Austin, Texas

Every Reader Report that comes into my mailbox is a welcome find, but Susan Mack’s report on gluten-free Austin is extraordinary. While I knew that the capital city of Texas was a paradise for music-lovers (Asleep at the Wheel, one of my favorite bands, is based there), I had no idea it was a mecca for gluten-intolerant people, too. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use the information in Susan’s report when I visit Texas on my book tour in October. (I’ll be discussing and signing my debut mystery novel, The Damage Done, at Houston’s Murder by the Book on Saturday, October 30th at 5pm; I’m hoping to add an Austin event to my schedule soon.) A huge round of applause for Susan’s incredibly helpful report, and a heartfelt thank-you to her for taking the time to share so much information!

Susan’s Report on Austin, Texas: Gluten-Free Mecca

I’ve lived in Austin for seven years, and have had to go gluten-free in the past six months. In talking to friends from other cities, I have to say that if you have to be gluten-free, Austin seems to be the place to do it.

If you’re looking for a vacation spot – Austin is famous for our Austin City Limits music festival in October (where you will find carnival food stands with GF options) and our SXSW music, film and interactive festival in the spring. But any weeknight of the year, you will find at least 75 live music events, several local theatre production, some UT sporting event, or a great organized athletic group. Plus, in the spring, we have wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country.

We have a plethora of good, locally owned restaurants in a wide variety of price ranges. Almost every one of them is sensitive to gluten intolerance.  There is no reason to go to a restaurant that doesn’t have a gluten-free menu. If your waiter doesn’t understand your needs – walk out.  You can find a perfectly good option within a couple blocks. And although I’ve picked out several places that I think are particularly good or sensitive – I’ve even gone to food trailers that had gluten-free lists. Almost any restaurant is going to have safe options.

We have a strong locavore culture. We’re the headquarters of Whole Foods. And until recently, the local Whole Foods was dwarfed by another store: the HEB chain flagship – Central Market. In addition, we’ve recently gotten Sprouts, the Natural Grocer, and Sunflower Farmer’s Market – all of which join the local People’s Pharmacy in delivering gluten-free options.

So, without much ado, here are some gems that you can find in Austin.

Entirely Gluten-Free Restaurants:

  • Wild Wood Art Café — 3663 Bee Caves Road, #4A Austin, Texas 78746. Wild Wood is an entirely gluten-free bakery and café. Imagine walking into a restaurant and ordering a sandwich or lasagna! But really, it is their tamales, salads and desserts that shine. Their gluten-free ding dongs are to die for — even if you didn’t want to eat ding dongs in your gluten-eating days.
  • TalkHouse — 1221 W. Sixth Ave, Austin, TX 78703.  This small café connected to a beauty salon serves food that tastes so good, you might not even notice that it’s good for you!  A raw food restaurant that is entirely gluten-free, TalkHouse is shocking. Their ‘pizza’ and chile rellenos are so good that my gluten-eating, meat-eating husband wants to eat there more often!  No gluten comes through the door.
  • MyFitFoods — Various locations. This place serves single serving meals that you can reheat in the microwave. They specialize in supporting a 21 day cleanse — but they have many quick meals that are worth saving for a hotel-room breakfast or lunch on the go. No gluten or soy enters their facilities.

Diner-ish Restaurants With Good Gluten-Free Selections

  • Galaxy Café — Various locations — A local chain run by an owner sensitive to gluten intolerance. You can get breakfast wraps in gluten-free rice tortillas and a wide variety of menu options. They can’t utterly promise to avoid cross-contamination, so they don’t claim their flourless chocolate cake is gluten-free. But if you can risk a few grains in your food it is to die for.
  • Kerby Lane Café — Various locations — One of the more extensive GF menus in town. Open 24 hours. They are sort of like a Denny’s that offers enchiladas and local produce selections. Salads are incredible, as are their enchiladas.
  • 24 Diner — 6th and Lamar — A new ‘locavore’ restaurant. They don’t have a GF menu, but can tell you what is safe. They make their own sausage in house and can tell you which farm the produce came from.
  • Counter Café — 626 N. Lamar Blvd — “Counter culture” reigns here. A small diner that serves local produce while you sit at the counter. Their eggs are absolutely to die for – as is their quail salad on the lunch menu. The hipster staff is completely aware of food intolerance issues and will very carefully cook your food separately to take care of you.

Mexican

  • Maudie’s — Various locations — Ask for the gluten-free corn chips and they will help you out. A wide variety of gluten-free options and utterly conscientious.
  • Torchy’s Tacos — Various locations — This place will make you rethink your definition of taco. They raise tacos to a gourmet form of art. And they have a list at the register of which items are and are not GF. You might have to skip the fried avocado taco, but the grilled fish, barbacoa, or green chile pork are all safe when you eat them on one of the best corn tortillas you will find.
  • Zocolo — 1110 West Lynn Ave, 78703 — Fresh Mexican? Really? This place offers goodies like vegetable stew, jicama salad and an amazing black bean soup in addition to fresh tacos and amazing enchiladas. As long as your corn tortillas stay out of their deep fryer, you have a lot of great GF options — and they are aware of cross contamination issues.

Burgers, Pizza and More

  • Terra Burger — 10611 Research Blvd. — Organic burgers. Gluten-free buns. Organic shakes made from real gluten-free ice cream. Unbreaded fries made from real potatoes. And a playscape. And a water park. Need I say more?
  • Austin’s Pizza — Various locations — Gluten-free pizza delivered. And the toppings are amazing.
  • Brick Oven on 35th — 1608 W. 35th St — This Italian restaurant advertises and offers a wide variety of gluten-free pastas and pizzas. If you want to go out, sit down and eat — this is a great option!

Four- to Five-Star Dining

  • La Condesa — 2nd and Guadalupe — If the menu is not gluten-free, they will make it so. This is one of the best restaurants in Austin and a huge part of the local food movement. They do a Mexico-City inspired Mexican Fusion cuisine that is not to be missed. And their pastry chef can put together gluten-free treats if you are interested.
  • Olivia — 2043 S. Lamar — Rated one of the best new restaurants of 2009 by Bon Appetit, this place is worth a splurge. Home-made ice cream, home-made charcuterie and just good food. They will prepare something special if you challenge them with GF.

Grocery Shopping

  • Whole Foods Corporate Headquarters — Lamar between 5th and 6th — If Whole Foods married Costco, you might get the impression of the sheer floor space of this place. With an entire grocery store aisle and an entire frozen food aisle dedicated to GF products, you can find most of what you want from cookies, to breads to beers. If a flour isn’t in the GF aisle, it might be in the standard cooking aisle. And you can find pure buckwheat soba, and GF cooking sauces in the Asian aisle. If it can be done GF, you can probably find it here.
  • Central Market — 35th and Lamar — The major competition for Whole Foods and possibly the inspiration for their floorspace. There is a full aisle and frozen section with GF goodies. They frequently host GF cooking classes for the uninitiated.
  • Fresh Plus — 12th and West Lynn — If you don’t have time for a big store, and just want to pick up some staples, this neighborhood market is very impressive. With high end cheeses, goats milk ice cream, kambucha tea and a gluten-free aisle — you will be pleasantly surprised. It looks from the front like a convenience store, but the selection is incredible. And you can get in and out in five minutes!
  • Sprouts — 2 locations — New to Austin, Sprouts Natural Foods is giving the big guys a run for their money. They recently ran a 25% off all gluten-free products special, and most of the store had GF signs all over it. Several bargains to be had from this natural foods competitor.
  • Wheatsville Co-op — In Austin for more than 30 years, this small co-op ‘gets it’ about GF. In addition to the standard products, they do ‘Wheat-free Wednesday’  where their bakery goes GF and they sell home-made goodies.