By Kathy Stephenson The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 03/04/2008 06:29:02 PM MST
Don Herrera got into the restaurant business several years ago hoping to please customers with great-tasting pizza. But it wasn't until the owner of Pier 49 Pizza started offering a special wheat-free crust for people with gluten intolerance that he experienced truly appreciative diners. Families from as far away as Spanish Fork and Brigham City regularly make the hour-plus drive to the restaurant at 238 S. Main St., in Salt Lake City, just to enjoy a pie that others can get delivered in 30 minutes or less. "On several different occasions people have started crying," said Herrera, who decided to offer the wheat-free crust nine months ago after a family member was diagnosed with celiac disease, the most severe form of intolerance. "One woman gave me a big hug and said, 'I haven't had pizza for 20 years,' " said Herrera. "She was thrilled to be able to enjoy pizza again."
Herrera's gluten-free offering is part of a growing dining trend, both in Utah and nationwide. "Five years ago, restaurants didn't really have gluten-free menus," explained Tim Coda, manager of the Salt Lake City branch of the Gluten Intolerance Group of Utah . "Today, there are more and more coming on every day." That's good news for the thousands of people unable to consume anything containing gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and
Good business Providing a special gluten-free menu is not only a nice gesture but also makes good business sense. Potentially, one in every 133 people in the United States has a form of gluten-intolerance, according the National Institutes for Health. However, for many people the problem goes undiagnosed. "Restaurants don't understand how much business they might be losing," said Salt Lake City resident John Dawson, who was diagnosed with celiac disease about five years ago. "If one person in a family can't eat at a restaurant, then the whole family doesn't eat there." Dawson said living with gluten-intolerance requires diligence, and it is more work than just avoiding obvious foods such as bread, cereal, pancakes and cookies.
Food manufacturers add gluten as a thickener and binding agent to all sorts of products, from canned soups and bottled salad dressings to sausage and ice cream. Even most soy sauce is made from fermented wheat, not soy. To survive, those with the disease learn to read food labels and research food company information over the Internet.
Eating at a restaurant, where foods are often prepared off-site, creates added anxiety as many people fear eating something unintentionally that will make them sick. "Most places pre-prepare foods, so trying to get just a plain piece of fish or steak, that isn't already sauced or seasoned, is tough," said Dawson .
There also is the problem of cross contamination, explains Diane Bell , whose 10-year-old daughter, Jenni, was diagnosed with celiac disease three years ago. Not long after, Bell learned she also had the disease. A steak cooked on a grill after a breaded fish fillet will cause a reaction. So will potatoes deep-fried in the same oil as the chicken nuggets. "It's not just having a gluten-free menu, it's educating the staff to change their gloves and prepare things in a separate part of the kitchen," said Bell , who has helped her daughter and others deal with disease by opening a gluten-free grocery store, Against the Grain, in Taylorsville . Restaurant offerings
Gluten-free menus are most prevalent among chain restaurants. Many, such as Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill and Z'Tejas have worked with The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America to ensure their menus are safe. At Against the Grain, 2292 W. 5400 South, Bell carries the Triumph Dining Restaurant Guide, a city-by-city listing of restaurants that either have gluten-free menus or are willing to adapt entrees already on the menu. It costs $21.95 and is a good resource when traveling. Several locally owned restaurants in Utah have shown a willingness to provide gluten-free options. Often, these restaurants, which make their food mostly from scratch, find it easier to make adjustments on a case-by-case basis.
For example, gluten-free diners praise Mazza, which has two locations in Salt Lake City . Most of the meat and vegetarian entrees at the Mediterranean restaurant can easily be made gluten-free by leaving off the bread or substituting rice. At the Mandarin in Bountiful, guests can substitute a wheat-free special sauce on several main courses including its beef in a black bean sauce and cashew chicken, while Salt Lake City's Vertical Dinner has gluten-free pancakes and biscuits and gravy.
And at Pier 49 Pizza, Don Herrera offers the 10-inch gluten-free pizza crust as well as sauces and toppings that are safe to eat. The crust is made from a rice-based flour and purchased pre-made from a company in Idaho to prevent cross-contamination. "I probably sell 25 gluten-free pizzas a week," said Herrera. "Families who never get to go out for pizza will come in to enjoy one and then buy a few to take home and put in the freezer for later." ---
Gluten-free dining options Here are a few Utah restaurants that offer a gluten-free menu.
AMERICAN: * 350 Main Brasserie, 350 Main St., Park City; 435-649-3140
ASIAN: *China Lily, 133 S. State St., Lindon; 801-796-9666 * Mandarin, 348 E. 900 North, Bountiful; 801-298-2406 * Pei Wei Asian Diner, locations in West Bountiful, Midvale, Sandy and Salt Lake City * P.F. Chang's China Bistro, locations in Salt Lake City and Orem * Thaifoon Taste of Asia, 7 N. 400 West (at The Gateway), Salt Lake City; 801-456-8424
ITALIAN: * Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano, 194 S. 400 West (at The Gateway), Salt Lake City; 801-596-7222 * Carrabba's Italian Grill, 683 E. University Parkway, Orem; 801-755-1222 * Spaghetti Mama's, 75 E. 9400 South, Sandy; 801-676-0662 * The Old Spaghetti Factory, locations in Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Orem
MIDDLE EASTERN: * Mazza, 912 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City; 801-521-4572 * Mazza, 1515 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City; 801-484-9259
PIZZA: * Pier 49 Pizza, 238 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; 801-364-2974
SOUTHWESTERN: * Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill, 191 S. Rio Grande St. (at The Gateway) Salt Lake City; 801-456-0450
STEAKHOUSES: * Maddox Ranch House, 1900 S. Highway 89, Perry; 800-544-5474 * Outback Steakhouse, locations in Orem, Sandy, Layton and St. George
VEGETARIAN: * Sage's Café, 473 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-322-3790 * Vertical Diner, 2280 S. West Temple, South Salt Lake; 801-484-8378