Tuesday, January 14, 2014

GF in Disney World: Columbia Harbor House at Magic Kingdom

After four days at Disney World, our stomaches began to revolt against the typical lunch of a burger and fries. So, when I heard of that the home of the most famous fried seafood in Disney - that offered gluten free options - existed in Magic Kingdom, I knew exactly where I wanted to eat.

The Columbia Harbor House!
We hit the Columbia Harbor house a few minutes after it opened at 10:30. I already read the gluten free options online, but after I told the cashier about our food allergies, she handed us an allergen menu. For a restaurant that specializes in fries food, Columbia offers tons of gluten free options, including salmon and steamed veggies, Mac and cheese, a bun-less lobster roll, a chicken salad and gluten free chicken tenders and fries in a dedicated fryer. Though I try to eat healthy and the salmon tempted me, the chicken tenders won Mom and I over in the end. It would be a crime to leave Disney World without tasting one of their famous gluten free chicken tenders

The special dietary menu
The cashier seemed less than thrilled at dealing with allergy customers right at the opening, but the manager appeared quickly and was very accommodating. When she heard about our desire for the chicken tenders, she even showed us the ingredient book. She warned us that the food would be delayed because the separate fryer needed to warm up, but the wait ended up only being around 20-30 minutes, probably because we arrived so early. 

Our bill - the two tender servings didn't charge for GF
I can't describe the absolute delicious perfection of these chicken tenders and fries! I read online that these are the best GF tenders in the park, and ours definitely fit their reputation. First of all, they were piping hot. The best part, though, was the contrast between the crunch of the crust and the juiciness of the chicken. I didn't believe it was possible to achieve such a uniform, crunchy texture with gluten free mix until I bit into these tenders! Even better, neither the fries nor the tenders tasted at all greasy. Instead, all my tongue detected was fresh, home-style good cooking. 

The amazing, mouth-watering chicken tenders and fries!
The portion size was also perfect, with mom and I receiving four decent sized fingers and enough fries on one plate for mom and I to happily split. My dad and sister also greatly enjoyed their fried fish, chicken, and shrimp platters and we loved the quiet, sea-inspired atmosphere provided by the second floor dining area. 

So if you're in search of a different kind of gluten free bite, the best GF chicken tenders in Disney World or just a quiet place to chow down, Columbia Harbor House is the perfect solution. I give it a solid 10/10! And there's nothing fishy about that!

Do you like gluten free chicken tenders? What's your favorite GF fried dish? Comment below!

Monday, January 13, 2014

GF in Disney World: Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom

I'd read raving reviews about Flame Tree BBQ, so when we headed into Animal Kingdom on Sunday, I knew exactly where I wanted us to lunch. After looking at their times online, I also knew I wanted us to swoop in right when they opened at 11. Less crowds means increased safety for the dining celiac. 

The crowd started forming as we left!
Once we lined up, I informed a worker of our allergies and they sent the manager right out. Because of our heavier meals yesterday, both my mom and I decided on the BBQ Chicken Salad, which, the manager assured us, could easily be made gluten free by removing the tortillas and giving us balsamic vinaigrette instead of the usual dressing. I've heard amazing things about another gluten free option, the pulled pork sandwich, as well. Surprisingly, we actually received our orders a few minutes before the rest of our group's, so to say the service was quick is an understatement. 

Compared to our salads at Captain Cook's, this one won hands down on appearance. Instead of just a lettuce bowl, it was peppered throughout with mixed greens, purple cabbage, corn, beans and BBQ chicken. It tasted extremely fresh and I loved the crunch of the corn and veggies in comparison to the softness of the baked beans.

My delicious salad!
 I also loved the flavor of the chicken, which was understated enough to not overwhelm the salad but still gave the greens a bit of BBQ kick. Also, the balsamic vinaigrette meshed well with the other components.  My mom's only complaint was that there wasn't as much chicken in her salad as she expected, but I didn't have a problem and actually finished off part of her salad and all of mine. 

The rest of my family ordered the gluten-filled pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and the baked chicken/ribs combo and gave Flame Tree two thumbs up. This gluten-free girl's review? A definite 9.5/10 and a great spot in Animal Kingdom to grab a quick, different and safe bite to eat! 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

GF in Disney World: Babycakes Bakery at Downtown Disney

I must admit it: I have been ranting about Babycakes for days. Since my diagnosis in May, I've only had one experience with a gluten free bakery on my high school graduation night, and I've been drooling for a repeat ever since. When I heard about the amazing allergen-focused bakery in Downtown Disney, then, you can probably imagine my excitement. Then multiply that image by 10

This box holds magic inside!
My sister saw the Babycakes sign first, which shares a building with Pollo Campero and Bodie's next to LegoWorld. When we first walked in, the choices overwhelmed us. Although not large in size, Babycakes packs a punch with two wide displays of gluten free goodies. And by goodies, I mean allergen-free donuts, cupcakes, seven-layer brownies, and breads. And if that isn't enough variety for you, many of the cupcakes have several frosting options (for my brownie cupcake, I chose chocolate frosting over vanilla, mint, and lemon). 

Just one of the two displays...
We ended up with six items after several minutes of serious deliberation: a slice of chocolate chip banana bread and chocolate chip pumpkin bread, a toastie (the bread version of a blondie), a lemon cupcake, a brownie cupcake with chocolate frosting, and a French toast cupcake. We promptly walked to a table and started feasting! I'll review each type below:

The breads: 

The toastie was our first taste of Babycakes and it couldn't have made a better first impression! I'm not usually a fan of sugar cookie-like treats, which a toastie definitely is, but after I tried a bite, I understood Mom's obsession! Like most gluten free desserts, the bread is dense, but the density is perfectly juxtaposed by the treat's moisture and fluffiness. If you want a goodie but don't feel like chocolate, this is a must-buy. Mom and I actually bought a second slice because we devoured the first before we left the store!

From the lefT: banana, pumpkin and toast
The chocolate chip banana bread and the chocolate chip pumpkin were equally delicious. Although I ate mine a day after our visit, it tasted extremely moist and fluffy, though my dad did say his pumpkin bread tasted a little dry. Both breads, though, perfectly balanced chocolate and fruit. Though the banana and pumpkin flavors were obvious, they tasted natural instead of overpowering and blended well with the chocolate. Our favorite part was the ratio of chocolate chips to bread. We tasted chocolate in every bite, but only enough to add to the fruity flavor instead of fighting with it. According to these taste buds, the banana chocolate chip is To. Die. For. 

The cupcakes:

The first cupcake to be devoured was the lemon by my sister. A proud gluten-lover, she said it tasted good for a gluten free cupcake - meaning it was denser than her wheat filled treats. From my bite, though, it was fruity heaven! The lemon was strong but not overpowering and tasted extremely fresh and natural. I also loved the cupcake's moist and spongy texture. If you want a dessert that is sweet but more refreshing than sugary, this lemon cupcake is a winner! 

Hannah approved!
The chocolate brownie cupcake and the French toast cupcake died at the same time the following night. The most disappointing part of both cupcakes was the texture. Unlike the breads, the cupcakes seem to dry up with time, so eat them quickly! In our case, though, we forced them down anyway! 

The French toast cupcake didn't taste as delicious as its name implied. While it did vaguely remind me of the breakfast delicacy, it reminded me more of brown sugar in a cup

The chocolate brownie cupcake made up for the letdown, though, and raced into my top three treatsThe base had a savory, understated chocolate flavor and the chocolate chips that bordered the frosting added a great crunch! If you are a chocoholic or even a choco-liker, you can't miss this cupcake! 

The remaining survivors...
Overall, Babycakes was an amazing treat (yet another pun) in terms of choices and taste that I can't give any lower than a 9.5/10. I can't wait for my next chance to visit and try even more of their numerous goodies! My top three recommended treats? The toastie, chocolate chip banana bread and chocolate brownie cupcake would be a crime to miss! 

Do you have a favorite GF bakery? What's your top GF treat? Comment below!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

GF in Disney World: Splitsville at Downtown Disney

Unlike some of our other eating experiences, I walked into Splitsville with a mission in mind: gluten free pizza. After we'd planned our day at Downtown Disney (passing time with Disney Quest and a Circ de Soleil show), I researched all of the numerous gluten free options the night before and decided on Splitsville, Disney's luxury bowling alley

The home of bowling and pizza!
My reasoning was simple. It was close to our other activities, had great ambiance (a classic bowling arena - raging radio included) and, most importantly, it offered the heaven that is gluten free pizza. Splitsville dominated gluten free news lately by adding sixteen new GF items to its menu, which were, to my mom's and my delight, marked "GF" on the regular menu. This may seem small, but even the allergy-friendly world of Disney rarely offers gluten free menus. 

All of the options sounded delicious and surprisingly various. From only a few glances, I saw salmon and veggies (always a fave), rice bowls, a BLT salad, buffalo wings and sushi. As I already mentioned, though, mom and I were dying for some gluten free pizza

Rice bowls, anyone?
We ordered the GF+3 pizza, which has house-made gluten free crust and a choice of three toppings (we picked pepperoni, red pepper and olives). We ate at an off-hour (around 2:45) and perhaps because of this our pizza hit the table in twenty five minutes along with the regular pepperoni pie for my dad and sister. They both looked delicious and were smoking hot

Splitville's gluten free pizza scores a strike in terms of size and toppings. Unlike most ordered pies, this  pizza was the same size as your Medium Pizza Hut buy.  Mom and I devoured all of our pizza that we could and still abandoned a few slices. The toppings also were applied rather liberally with a great ratio of red peppers, olives and pepperoni on every slice. 

Our pizza!
In terms of taste, there were definite highs and lows. The toppings made the pizza, giving the doughy texture a much-needed crunch. I also loved the sauce, even though I'm not usually a huge fan of tomatoes, because it tasted so fresh. The crust was the pizza's biggest challenge. It tasted great the first couple of slices, but once I started chewing my third piece, the doughiness and density of the crust started to weigh down my palate. Also, despite their best efforts with any seasoning, it tasted rather bland compared to the sharp freshness of the other ingredients. 

Overall, I would give Splitsville an 8/10 for its pizza, but a 9/10 for its total gluten free selection. As we waited for our pizza, we watched the food trays pass our table and everything looked absolutely delectable! So if you're in the mood for an energized, fun place to chow down on some gluten free grub, Splitsville may be the choice for you! 

Where is your favorite gluten free pizza? Comment below!

Friday, January 10, 2014

GF in Disney World: Plaza Ice Cream Parlor at Magic Kingdom

All this week at Disney World, I've been slowly tortured by the delicious collection of ice cream flavors offered by the cafe at our hotel. Double brownie, mint chip, Oreo, strawberry...every time my sister got a double scoop, my inner fat kid cried inside. 

All decked out for Christmas...
So, when I heard that Plaza Ice Cream Parlor offers both gluten free and dairy free options, I marked it as a "must" for our Magic Kingdom visit. Even though it was cold outside, I walked into the Plaza with a mission. 

Now, if you enter expecting 51 dairy free and gluten free flavors, you'll be disappointed. Considering I haven't had really good ice cream since May, though, my only standards required a post-meal happy tummy. In the Plaza, there are two GF and DF brands to choose from: vanilla Rice Dream or chocolate and vanilla soy-based Tofutti. To get the most variety, Mom and I chose to split a double scoop of chocolate and vanilla Tofutti. 

I scream for Ice Cream!
The employees here were some of the most informed and accommodating that I interacted with at Disney World. Even the greeter and cashier knew about the dairy and gluten options and showed me the ingredient book. They also explained how the manager would personally scoop my ice cream in the back to ensure no cross contamination

When the manager walked out with my order after about a ten to fifteen minute wait, my jaw nearly touched the floor. The servings were HUGE, especially for the relatively moderate price ($4.29 for a double scoop). Looking at my sister's tower of Cookies and Cream and Mint Chip, I was skeptical at the flavor that could exist in plain chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Boy, was I wrong! 

That's a lot of ice cream!
Compared to many of the other GF and DF ice creams I've tried, Tofutti's smooth texture amazed me. Rather than tasting sugary or processed, it won over my taste buds with its pure creaminess. Perhaps because of this, I actually preferred the vanilla over the chocolate, though I had no trouble finishing my half of the cup! 

Although my stomach did act out a little later (more because of the sugar and soy than any dairy/gluten contamination), I give Tofutti and Plaza Ice Cream Parlour a strong 9/10. The only room for improvement? More flavors for demanding clients like me! 

What's your favorite gluten free and/or dairy free treat? Do you still scream for ice cream? Comment below!

GF in Disney World: Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort

For our first sit-down meal, I suggested Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort near our hotel because of the great gluten free reviews I'd read online. After we rolled out of there, bellies stuffed, I can confidentially say that it definitely lived up to its reputation

First of all, the atmosphere is amazing. Compared to the chaos commonly found in Disney World restaurants, Kona Cafe feels relaxed and had minimal noise, despite the lunch hour rush. Despite its great reputation, we managed to book a reservation for 12:15 only a few hours ahead of time. 

Thanks to Sarah for this photo!
Mom and I didn't walk in with meals in mind, preferring to hear the options first. We noted a gluten allergy on our reservation and reminded the waiter, who brought over the chef after ten minutes at our table. John was extremely personable and helpful, listing the plethora of the alterations that could be made to the menu. Even gluten free sushi is available. He pushed hard on the gluten free pan Asian noodles, and Mom and I decided to split a chicken stir fry with rice noodles and the grilled ahi tuna sandwich with tomato, slaw and a side of sweet potato fries

In one word, the pan Asian chicken noodle bowl was lip-smacking. The rice noodles were cooked perfectly, soft without being soggy, and I absolutely loved the teriyaki sauce they coated the dish in. It was sweet and evenly distributed throughout the entire bowl. The chicken (which could be replaced by tofu or shrimp) also tasted great, juicy without being greasy. My favorite part, though, was the vegetables. Unlike the stir fry at Captain Cook's, veggies like snow peas, onions, broccoli,  bell peppers, asparagus and mushrooms were peppered (I adore puns, sorry!) through the dish. I ate until I couldn't eat any more, and only finished about half of the bowl

Delicious beyond belief!

Our second gluten free dish was the grilled ahi tuna, tomato and slaw sandwich with sweet potato fries. Because we aren't sushi people, we ordered the tuna cooked to a medium, and it was perfect! Lightly seasoned, it tasted fresh and non-fishy in the best kind of way. The slaw and tomato added a textural crunch that tied the sandwich together. The gluten free bun, however, fell flat. Like many of the Disney restaurants now, Kona uses GNI rolls and this one tasted dry and lacked real flavor. When we ate it with just the bottom bun, though, the huge slab of mouth-watering tuna disguised the bun. As for the fries, who can ever say no to sweet potato fries cooked in a separate fryer? Not us - they didn't last long at all. 

Finally, though, came the finale of our lunch: the Kilauea torte, a chocolate volcano with an "explosion of liquid chocolate" inside, that Mom and I split. It is one of the two gluten free desserts offered (the other being a banana-chocolate creme brûlée) and gluten free cake sounded like a dream. And it was! It looked delectable, a chocolate volcano accompanied by raspberries, whipped cream, and a sweet yellow sauce. They even signed "Kona" on the plate in chocolate sauce! It tasted even better than it looked! It boasted the perfect balance of chocolate (savory but not overly sweet) and the melted chocolate in the middle tasted heavenly with the sauce, raspberries and cream. Mom and I didn't lick the plate, but we did scrape it with our forks! Our one complaint was that the cake could have been heated up, blasting the melted chocolate flavor to true volcanic levels

Can you say, "YUM?"
Overall, I would give Kona Cafe a definite 10/10 (but even while gorging ourselves on these treats, we still talked about Sunshine Season's mouth-watering salmon). Mom and I liked the Pan Asian Noodles so much that we ordered it again to split for our last Disney dinner and Kona's was even accommodating enough to cook it to-go

Who knew to-go could taste so delicious?
So, if you want a relaxing atmosphere, caring chef and delicious gluten free options beyond the traditional salad, Kona's the place! 

Do you like stir fry's? What kind of gluten free bread do you prefer? Comment below!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

GF in Disney World: Sunshine Seasons at Epcot

Now, for the second addition to the Disney World series, we'll focus on my family's first excursion into the Disney World Parks. We started in Epcot

We actually stumbled upon this gem by accident. Now, I'd like to say that I planned all of our food out perfectly and that we never had a snag. On our first day, though, we wasted an hour running from one restaurant with possible gluten free options to another, abandoning them because of price, popularity or taste. Finally, we ended up at Sunshine Seasons

Our saving grace!
We didn't enter with high expectations. It was rush hour, we were tired and hungry and a quick service restaurant didn't sound promising. Boy were we wrong! Sunshine Seasons is set up cafeteria style, with different food in each section. Mom and I wandered over to an empty area and asked to speak to the chef. Surprisingly, he appeared right away and told us we were in the perfect place! The entire grilled section we were standing in front of was gluten free, prepared without a chance of contamination. 

A plethora of home cooked options greeted us. By the time I scanned the rows of pork chops, turkey, salmon, mashed potatoes, green beans, saffron rice and saffron potatoes, I was standing in a puddle of drool. Mom and I ended up with salmon, saffron rice and potatoes. Ironically, because this section appeared so tasty, my entire family ended up with gluten free plates. 

The grill section...
As soon as I bit into the salmon, my taste buds rocketed up in Disney-style fireworks. It fell apart inside my mouth, the perfect combination of tender and juicy, even as the skin crunched between my teeth. Even better, it avoided the typical GF meat misfire through the chef's liberal use of spices. While not requiring an oral fire extinguisher, the mix of herbs and spices created a savory heat. Without a doubt, this was the best salmon I've ever eaten. 

Our mouthwatering meal…(rice not pictured)
The saffron rice and potatoes followed the salmon's lead with their spicy, but not overwhelming flavor. Surprisingly, though, the green beans were my favorite side!  Rather than serving them plain, the chef cooked them with onions and seasoning, infusing some Disney World magic into the traditionally avoided veggie.

According to my sister, the gluten free pork chops tasted equally delicious. While cooked through, they were extremely tender. The mashed potatoes dominated the dish, though, with their smooth and fluffy texture. 

Gluten free treats!
As if Sunshine Seasons isn't awesome enough, they also offer a stack of allergen-free desserts next to the gluten free section. Pre-packaged brownies, cookies and chocolates tempted us, but mom and I decided on the caramel popcorn. Ever since I was glutened in the movie theatre, I haven't been a fan of popcorn, but this treat converted me. It tasted just like the gluten version that I remember - the perfect mix of sugary crunch and airy fluffiness

Perfect for a light, sweet snack!
As a whole, this was perhaps the best overall meal we had in Disney. My parents and I raved about fish and sides for days after that lunch, and the salmon hooked us so badly, went back two days later. Unbelievably, it was even better the second time! The best part, though? We scored a gourmet meal for the quick-service Disney World price

In my mind, Sunshine Seasons is the number one place to go for less expensive, quality gluten free food in all of Disney World. I give it a magical 15/10

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

GF in Disneyworld: Captain Cook's at the Polynesian Resort

As I've hinted in my previous posts, my family started out the new year in the most "magical place on Earth" - Disney World in Orlando, Florida. My family vacationed there about eight years ago, but that was before celiac disease jumped into the picture. Now, safely back in my CA home, I'm raring to share all of the gluten free finds that make Disney World truly magical for all celiacs! This is just the first of a eight-part series reviewing my Disney World gluten free discoveries, so be prepared for some mouth-watering Mickey Mouse meals!

I'll start with the first restaurant we ate at: Captain Cook's, located in the Polynesian Resort.

Our first stop...

I'd read that there were gluten free options at the Polynesian Resort (which is only a ten minute walk from the hotel where we stayed) and eating at a quick-service restaurant like Captain Cook's seemed like the best choice after a long day of travel. This was my family's first experience with eating gluten free at Disney World and butterflies fought against the grumbling of my stomach.

The employee we first talked to seemed clueless as to the existence of gluten, but another worker agreed to alert the manager. After waiting a few minutes, the manager appeared with a notepad, ready to personally take our order

Unsure as to our options, we started by asking what we could have. When she reached the fifth item, my jaw was on the floor. Gluten free chicken fingers and fries, chicken salads, chicken sandwiches and hamburgers were some of the many options. After we recovered, though, my mom and I both decided on the gluten free chicken stir fry. Instead of noodles, she would make it with rice, chicken and steamed veggies

The finished product!

When our order was ready, we were shocked at the size. It was HUGE and easily could have been shared. The sauce had a wonderfully sweet flavor without being overpowering and the chicken tasted juicy and fresh. My least favorite part was the rice to veggie ratio, as I received only a handful of veggies (including snow peas, carrots, celery and bell peppers). For a quick service, though, it wasn't a bad score. 

The next night, we returned to Captain Cook's for another quick - and safe - bite. Because we had a huge lunch at Sunshine Seasons, Mom and I opted for the altered chicken Caesar salad. This definitely wasn't my favorite meal. The chicken tasted fresh and juicy with great seasoning, but the salad mainly consisted of a bucket of lettuce, a few mixed greens, five cucumbers and a dusting of cheese. Great if you want a simple, healthy bite but don't go in with high expectations. 

Our salad (plus a side of fruit from our hotel)

Captain Cook's biggest strength is its amazing manager who is extremely knowledgeable about food allergies and competent. She prepared all of our food herself in a separate kitchen area and even gave us tips on eating safely at Disney when she picked up on our newness. The biggest tips? Always ask for the manager, and never accept food from anyone else. Because of the slightly lower food quality  in the context of DisneyWorld, however, I'd give Captain Cook's a solid 6.5-7/10.

Have you ever eaten gluten free at Disneyland or DisneyWorld? Any tips for eating safely at theme parks? Comment below!