Wednesday, March 5

Utah Restaurants Find it Pays to Go Against the Grain

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
rye.

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

7 comments:

gurmehak said...

I went to Pie Wei(Sandy, UT) today for the First time.I spoke to the Manager before I ordered my food about the gluten free menu and about cross contamination.The Manager sounded very helpful and assured me that he will personally make sure that the food doesn't get cross contaminated.That kind of made me feel confident about their gf menu.But towards the end of the meal I found a regular noodle in my food.On making a reference about it to the manager he said that "I hope you don't fall sick and if you do just let me know I will arrange for your doctor fees."I personally feel that this diner should not advertise a gluten free menu at all because looking at their kitchen it does not look like making gluten free food is possible and the staff does not seem to be aware of the health consequences in such a case.I would not recommend this place for Gf people.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your info!
Yikes! I went to PeiWei here in Tulsa Thursday and wondered the same thing! I've no doubt that most restaurant kitchens look as frantic as that one does, this one is just out front so we can see.
Are we stuck with restaurants that only offer strictly GF food? Terina

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't go to Pei Wei again. I told them that I was gluten intolerant. The cashier was very helpful, as she was celiac also. I felt very confident in what she helped me order. I ordered the edamame and she said she would have them cook it in new water. A waitress brought the edamame to our table and I began eating it. About 10 min later a waiter brought another plate of edamame to our table. I questioned him about which one was gluten free. He said he would check. He came back and assured me that the one I had already eaten was gluten free. Within 20 more minutes I was sick! I wish they had just been honest and told me they had messed up.

Anonymous said...

I've eaten at Pei Wei dozens of times (and I am a confirmed diagnosed Celiac) and never had problems before. The food was cooked separately and I never became ill. I was diagnosed LONG before Celiac became vogue. Back then, people didn't complain about being sick from sniffing a grain of flour. All of a sudden, mild suspicion of possibly contaminated food, makes them sick within a nano-second. Have we become a nation of attention seeking hypochondriacs? I feel bad for you, I really do. Celiac is a tortuous disease/lifestyle. I have found that the true Celiacs, are well informed and modest about their disease. Perhaps, you should think about this. This is the REST of your life. Stop whining and deal with it. If it means making your meals at home, then do so.

Terina Dee said...

I'm glad Anon, that you voiced a positive note on Pei Wei. I still eat there, finding them one of the safest places available. It's my first choice, in a fast pinch, for food conferences.

And you do make an excellent point. I love the quote by Suzanne Collins in her book, "Get real, you have Celiac disease. Learn to cook!"

Anonymous said...

We eat at Pei Wei all the time here in SLC, UT and their food is amazing (and GF for my husband!). P.F. Chang's is hyper vigilant about keeping their GF food GF, going as far as to put it in separate bags if you're taking it home and putting it on separate plates if you're eating in.

Carrabba's in SLC has made my husband sick both times we went, though not as violently ill as he was before he went GF. Old Spaghetti Factory is a God-send and the first restaurant we ate at GF. They're amazing, the food is good, and so yumy!

Adding a Middle Eastern, Star of India at 55 East 400 South will make anything GF for you, including some pita bread. It was so delicious: my husband got the chicken curry.

Pier 49 pizza was yummy, but expensive. And you have to call about 45 minutes ahead of time so they can start the process. Litza's Pizzas also does GF crust, but they've not tasted the best. I've gotten mouthfuls of corn starch a few times.

We have not eaten at Z'Tejas since I'm allergic to peppers.

We're eating at Maddox tonight GF for the first time, and Outback has been great the four times we've eaten there.

We have not eaten vegetarian since we're not vegetarian.

There are a lot more restaurants than are on this list, which we got from "Against The Grain".

Terina Dee said...

Thanks so much for further info on the Utah restaurants. How was Maddox, I love that place from my childhood!