We thought we were celebrating my friend Katie Monson’s tremendous luck last fall: She’d been having health issues, and had been tested for celiac disease. But her doctor had told her that probably wasn’t the problem. So we tackled the menu at the newly opened Suffolk Punch in splurge mode: Bread, beer, dessert. All of her favorite things. All filled with gluten.
The next morning, Katie got the diagnosis. It had been her last hurrah. She definitely had celiac disease.
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Katie is a food lover. She loves bread, beer and dessert. She’s also a busy mother with three kids who can’t just retreat into a flour-free cocoon. She has to get takeout, go out for pizza, take road trips and have birthday parties.
When her father, Mel Hutson, was told he had celiac disease 15 years ago, she says, a celiac diagnosis came with a prescription for antidepressants: “It killed your social life.
“I don’t want to be annoying,” she says. “Celiac is annoying. My friends don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it. But I’ve learned the hard way – you can’t trust every gluten-free menu out there.” She has ordered gluten-free items and gotten sick. People can vary in their sensitivity, so products that work for one person may not work for another.
Still, while lot of gluten-free products aren’t all that great, it has gotten easier. Here’s Katie’s list of 10 discoveries she’s made in Charlotte.
Crab cakes at Burtons Grill & Bar
“Crab cakes are one of those things you mark off the list, like fried chicken and IKEA meatballs,” she says. But Burtons, at Park Road Shopping Center, takes food allergies seriously. The staff changes gloves when they handle the food and they ask about food sensitivities at every table. “I can go there and get the gluten-free menu and not have to worry that something’s going to go wrong. And I can get things I usually can’t get, like crab cakes and fries.” French fries are often a problem because many places fry them in the same oil they use for things that are breaded or floured.
Several pizza places have gluten-free crusts, including Fuel and Mellow Mushroom. She likes Maddio’s for the visibility: You watch them make it, “so there’s actual security.” They announce it at the start of the assembly line, and they have a separate container of sauce for the gluten-free pizzas, reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
Available at Fresh Markets, including Strawberry Hill, this bread’s first ingredient is egg whites, so it has the fluffiness of regular white bread. White and whole grain are $5.99, and there are cupcakes and cookies as well.
Cupcakes from Gigi’s Cupcakes
Gigi’s (4732 Sharon Road) “takes it to a whole other level.” For a party in December, she brought in boxes of Gigi’s gluten-free mini cupcakes in a variety of flavors. The gluten-eating guests had no idea, including me.
Rice noodles at Nothing But Noodles
“Are their noodles amazing? No. But it’s about the sauce. You just need a pasta that doesn’t overwhelm it.” And Nothing But Noodles cooks the rice noodles in a separate pot.
Cinnamon raisin toast at Famous Toastery
She mostly skips gluten-free bread – “it doesn’t taste very good and it has more calories” – but this one is made with a good version, which gives her a place to go out for breakfast.
2 fast food spots
Grilled chicken nuggets and fries at Chick-Fil-A or a baked potato and chili at Wendy’s. “Chains are my friend – I don’t have time to interview the manager everywhere I go.” Chick-Fil-A is the only place she can order fries, because other places use the same oil for French fries and breaded chicken nuggets. “I can’t get anything at McDonald’s except the fountain drinks. Subway is completely out of the picture. Besides the bread, celiacs stay away from the sliced meats, because of the preservatives.”
Gluten-free granola from Rico’s Acai
There are five of these food trucks circulating around town. “It’s a full, filling meal.”
Cider as a sub for beer
Think cidery instead of brewery. Even craft beers that may be listed as gluten-reduced can cause a reaction for celiacs, and mainstream GF versions, like Budweiser’s Red Bridge, just don’t taste enough like real beer. To get the craft brewery experience, she’s discovered cideries like Good Road Ciderworks and Red Clay Ciderworks. Some have beers on tap, but the cider is brewed without wheat, so a celiac person can hang out with friends and everyone can get something they can drink.
‘Restaurants with a chef’
Most chefs are well-acquainted with gluten allergies, and very helpful, she says. “They know what’s going on,” she says. At a birthday dinner at The Fig Tree four weeks after her diagnosis, she didn’t yet know that soy sauce was off the list, until the waiter told her. “He was probably told by the chef.”