Gluten Free Confusion at restaurant in McHenry, Maryland,
February 26, 2011
I'm not sure how to rate this restaurant because, on the one hand, they offer a gluten-free menu, but on the other hand, they don't seem to understand the gluten-free diet. For that reason, I feel the need to give them an even lower rating than I'd give a similar restaurant that had no gluten-free menu.
What follows is an email message I sent to both managers of the Santa Fe Grille shortly after dining there. Neither manager replied, despite the fact that I sent this message to each one twice in two weeks:
My wife and I dined at the Santa Fe Grille on Saturday, Feb. 12 and were thrilled to discover that you had a gluten-free menu to offer us. Throughout the evening, however, we saw several signs that the Grille is not really ready to safely serve people on a strict gluten-free diet. The Grille was far too busy that night for me to share my concerns with you at the time, but I'd like to share them with you now -- and solicit your response -- before I write a review for the Gluten-Free Travel Site.
My first concern is that bleu cheese and bleu cheese dressing appeared on your gluten-free menu as safe choices. While it's true that there are a few sources of bleu cheese that are safe for gluten-free diners, most bleu cheeses are started from bread mold and are therefore toxic to people with celiac disease.
My second concern is that although my wife and I ordered directly from your gluten-free menu, our meal arrived with a chunk of cornbread on the plate. I asked the waitress if the cornbread was gluten-free, and she was confused by the question. I had to inform her that most cornbread is made from corn AND wheat flour, not just from corn. When she grasped my point, she said, "Well, then I guess your wife can eat it but you can't," at which point I had to explain that I couldn't eat anything on the plate once the cornbread had been placed on it.
We were then brought an entirely new meal (I think) and were very happy with the quality of the food. However, I do not feel that I had a safe dining experience at the Santa Fe Grille, and I usually don't feel that way at establishments that offer gluten-free menus. When I write my review of your restaurant, I'd like to be able to say that the Santa Fe Grille is making an effort to be gluten-free friendly and only needs to go another step or two to get there. In order to do that, I'll need answers to three questions:
1. Is your bleu cheese (and dressing) from a source that guarantees it as gluten-free, or were you just unaware of the dangers posed by bleu cheese to celiacs?
2. Does your kitchen and wait staff undergo any formal instruction on serving clients with specialty diets, especially medically-necessary diets such as mine?
3. How did you create your Gluten Free menu? Was it done, for instance, under the supervision of a dietitian or gastroenterologist?
I look forward to your response.