Wellaby’s gluten-free Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips a bland, unsweet, tasteless snack

Wellaby's Gluten-Free Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips
Wellaby’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips

Product: Wellaby’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips – $2.29+

My local grocery store was having a closeout on a lot…a lot of items in their gluten-free section not too long ago.  This, of course, sparked a huge panic by me, thinking they were getting rid of a lot of these products and, perhaps, even shrinking the section down.  Thankfully, I was not right on either account, but what this sparked was a splurge purchase of everything I had been meaning to try and was now worried I would never find again.

It’s amazing what I tossed into my cart.

Gluten-free pita chips?  You better believe those went into my cart!  I mean, I hadn’t had pita chips in two years…and I used to eat the hell out of pita chips.  So, I grabbed the only variety they had on the shelf…Wellaby’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips.

And then…they sat in my pantry for a month because I was working through the myriad of other snacks I purchased that expired before these.  But today…today that was changing.  Because I used up the last of the older stuff…so now…now as the moment I had been waiting for.

PITA CHIP DAY!!

I was so thrilled and excited about it…and I eagerly opened up the little pouch that held these little crisps and doled out a serving into a glass container.  I, as always, took one over to my roomie to sample.  She didn’t look too impressed when she bit into it.  I asked her what she thought.  And, after considerable thought she finally said that she felt they were bland.  I asked if she thought I would like them…but she never actually got back to me on that.  So, I decided I would find out at the office.

Snack time hits at 3 p.m. and I was ready to enjoy my Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips.  Really, really ready!  I opened up my container and grabbed a crisp off the top.  I loved the thickness of the chips themselves.  Just like real pita chips.  Honestly.  The feel of them was spot on.  This felt like it would bode well.  So, I took a bite…

And Cathy was completely right in her assessment of these chips.  They were totally bland.  Every now and again, a hint of sugar of cinnamon will touch the tongue and you get…a little bit of flavor, but it’s really underwhelming and not at all what I expected.  I feel these had the right texture for a pita chip.  They were crunchy and thick.  But the flavor…ugh…the flavor was lacking.  I expected a little sweetness and I just got…pita chip flavor.  And not every very good pita chip flavor.

While I love that these snack chips are baked and not fried, giving them a little bit more of a health factor, they just didn’t work for me.  Without bold flavor, the sweet and savory flavors of cinnamon and sugar were not working.  I actually missed the seasoning…it just fell flat in the end.  Great on texture and crunch…but a very poor showing when it came to how it tasted.  I was completely bummed.  But, I finished them off.  They were, after all, my snack.

So, should you still feel the need to try the Wellaby’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips yourself…let me give you the nutrition and ingredient run-down.  These chips are made from a mixture of different gluten-free flours and starches.  In addition to that…some items I really can’t pronounce, which means, these wouldn’t be making it back into my pantry regardless.  As far as nutrition facts go, however, as serving of 28 grams will provide you with 100 calories and 3 grams of fat.  Not too bad for a chip, right?  Exactly.  These are low in sodium (200 mg) and cholesterol free.  In addition, these pita chips provide only 1 gram of fiber and 5 grams of protein.  And, for being a cinnamon sugar flavored chip, these only have 2 grams of sugar.  I’m okay with that part.  But…give it some good flavor.  Something bold.  Something that makes me want to eat more.

Needless to say, I was highly disappointed with Wellaby’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips.  I had been so high on trying them and, in the end, they only served to let me down.  The hard crash of a snack that you really expected to blow you away…but then it didn’t.  Yeah…that’s happened to me countless times.  But it feels even worse when it is something you’ve been dying to have back in your life…like pita chips.  Maybe I’ll find a different brand that understands that gluten-free doesn’t have to be bland.  It can taste good, be healthy, and all that.  Until then…I might just have to attempt to make my own.

Not recommended.  I wish I could say differently…but these just didn’t sing or excite the taste buds.  They were just a bland crispy snack that fell flat on flavor in the end.

Disappointment…once again.

Going Beyond Meat for vegan and gluten-free not-chicken options with Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips

Beyond Meat Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips
Beyond Meat Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips

Product: Beyond Meat Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips – $4.99+

Something happy happened to me the other day when I was in Whole Foods.  Something that I had been hoping for for a very long time.

I discovered…gluten-free vegan “chicken.”  Normally…any vegan/vegetarian protein has some sort of ingredient that contains gluten, normally used for texture purposes.  Sure, it can be left out, however, that is what the leading brands will tell you…it is for texture.  So, for these past two years, save for the Health Is Wealth Gluten-Free Vegan Not Chicken Nuggets, my not chicken food habits have been non-existent.  And…to top it off, my grocery store no longer carries the Health Is Wealth Gluten-Free Vegan Not Chicken Nuggets because they were told they were discontinued.  I think I cried…no…I did cry when I was told that.

But then Whole Foods saved the day.

The brand…Beyond Meat.  Their objective is simple – to become the market leader in the development and introduction of new plant protein products, specifically focusing on perfectly replacing animal protein with plant protein.  And to be able to pull this off cost effectively…not just for the company, but the consumer.

Beyond Meat was founded by Ethan Brown, who learned all about animal-based agriculture at his father’s dairy operation in Western Maryland.  As he grew up, he developed a career in the clean energy sector and contemplated whether the world would continue to raise and eat animals in such staggering numbers if a plant-based replication of the meat existed.  So, he began searching for a way to do just that.  Along the way he met Fu-hung Hsieh and Harold Huff at the University of Missouri, and after several years of collaboration, Beyond Meat was born with the sole purpose of driving innovation and progress on meat-free plates around the world.

Enter my little happy dance of joy…because not only is Beyond Meat’s products vegan…but they are also gluten-free.  And they come in three varieties: Lightly Seasoned, Grilled, and Southwest Style.

I grabbed the two kinds they had.  And I already had a dish in mind.  I was going to make my mom’s famous Mexican Chicken Casserole…but do it with the vegan chicken product and vegan cheese.  These strips were actually perfect.  And with the fact that it was a Mexican sort of dish, the Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips would be ideal.  The Grilled was the other version…and those got tucked into the freezer for the time being.

So…how does this stack up?

Beyond Meat Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips
Beyond Meat Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips

For a gluten-free and vegan meat alternative…this is actually quite palatable.  The texture reminded me of the Quorn variety I ate before having to go gluten-free.  And the flavor was just as good…maybe more on the Morningstar level for taste…but that’s not bad.  In fact, I could actually, despite it being in a casserole, taste the not-chicken strips.  And what I loved about the Southwest Style variety was that little kiss of lime flavor you got with each bite.  It was a really nice surprise and a great addition of flavor to the entire dish.  These chicken strips didn’t turn to mush when they were cooked in the casserole.  In fact, they remained in full strips as real chicken would.  I was very impressed.  Both with the taste and the texture.  This is definitely a substitute I would do again.

Nutritionally speaking, the Beyond Meat Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips have 4 servings per container.  Each serving dishes up only 130 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.  That is awesome!!  A serving also contains only 370 mg of sodium and no sugar.  That’s always nice to see.  And, you will also receive 2 grams of fiber and a whopping 20 grams of protein.  Yes…20 grams of protein in each serving.  How amazing is that?!

So…what are these not-chicken strips made out of?  Well…the basics are water, soy protein isolate, pea protein isolate, amaranth, vegan chicken flavor, expeller-pressed canola oil, soy fiber, carrot fiber, and they contain 0.5% or less of: white vinegar, salt, lime juice concentrate, garlic, black pepper, chili powder, onion, sugar, cumin, coriander seed, sodium alginate, dipotassium phosphate, titanium dioxide (color), calcium sulfate, oregano, paprika, red and green pepper powder, cayenne pepper.  If anything looks confusing to you, the website for Beyond Meat lays out what each unfamiliar ingredient may be.  It takes any guess work out of it.  And you’ll be happy to know…those couple of chemical sounding ingredients aren’t chemicals but things that appear naturally in nature.  Yep.  I learned something too.

If you are looking to cut back on meat, or perhaps are vegetarian or vegan, Beyond Meat is a fantastic choice.  While there is a literal sea of vegan/vegetarian meat alternatives out there, very few of them on the market are gluten-free.  Beyond Meat finally brings the protein back to the gluten-free vegan/vegetarian plate.  And for that, I am forever grateful.

With how much I enjoyed the Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips, I am totally anticipating giving the Grilled ones a try too.  These were just what I needed!

Mexican
Mexican “Chicken” Casserole using Beyond Meat Southwest Style Chicken-Free Strips

Glutino brings the best bar-b-que flavor to their gluten-free Baked BBQ Potato Crisps

Glutino Gluten-Free BBQ Flavored Baked Potato Crisps
Glutino Gluten-Free BBQ Flavored Baked Potato Crisps

Product: Glutino Gluten-Free BBQ Flavored Baked Potato Crisps – $3.99+

I don’t eat a lot of chips.  Honestly…I don’t.  I much prefer gluten-free pretzels or chocolate covered gluten-free pretzels at that.  Chips…they kind of fell off my radar awhile back.  A lot of that has to do with so many chips aren’t labeled gluten-free.  And even if they are…well…I much prefer sweeter treats like Greek yogurt or fruit if given the option.

But, every now and again, I do have chips.  Mostly because I have them in my extensive gluten-free pantry.  And while I didn’t have any chips in my pantry, that all changed a couple of weeks back when I was in my local natural food store and Glutino products were on sale.

Glutino.  Was.  On.  Sale.

Do you get what I’m saying here?  I mean…something actually was fitting into my budget.  So, I splurged a little and picked up three items.

One of these items…was Glutino’s BBQ Potato Crisps.

Not chips.  Crisps.

What’s the difference?  Well, upon first glimpse, they remind me a lot of Baked Lays.  The shape, the thin texture, the lightness to them.  They aren’t greasy, which I love.  Nothing worse than chips that leave behind a film of grease on your fingers while you’re eating them.  Not these.  They are very clean.  And very, very delicious.  Each chip has a great, soft crunch to them.  They are seasoned to perfection.  The BBQ Potato Crisps have this fantastic smokey flavor to them.  In fact, they are the best BBQ flavored chips I have ever eaten.  And growing up, BBQ chips were some of my favorites.  I even let my co-worker at work with the picky palate try one and she had to write down the brand name and where to find them because she said they were the best flavored chips she had ever had.  And she is very particular…especially if I tell her it’s gluten-free.  So, this was a huge victory and speaks volumes about how good these BBQ Potato Crisps from Glutino really are.

Let me repeat this.

BEST.  BBQ.  CHIPS.  EVER.

ANYWHERE.

FOR REAL!

Okay…so now that I have established that, let me give you the rundown on the nutritional value of these…chips.  I know…they’re chips.  Nutrition isn’t going to be on the high side.  But honestly…these aren’t bad.

These potato crisps are made from dehydrated potatoes, corn starch, seasoned with a wide variety of flavors and natural spices and flavors, as well as salt…these crisps are cooked up in corn oil.  One serving, 28 grams (or about 12 chips), will set you back 110 calories and 3 grams of fat.  That’s surprisingly not bad for a chips.  These contain no trans-fat, no cholesterol, and only 220 mg of sodium (in CHIPS!).  You will also be provided with 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein.

It’s pretty impressive for a snack chip, to be honest.  Just remember to stick to the serving size.  I’m so impressed with these chips.  I might have to indulge every now and again…a little more often.

Another impressive and delicious product from Glutino.  They keep on hitting it out of the ballpark.  And I continue to turn to them because I trust them to put forth a quality product.  Much love, Glutino.  Much love.

Popchips puts the lime in the corn tortilla to create wildly good Chili Limòn Tortilla Chips

Popchips Chili Limòon Tortilla Chips
Popchips Chili Limòon Tortilla Chips

Product: Popchips Chili Limòn Tortilla Chips – $2.99+

Popchips really, really, really had to win me back after the bad taste (literally) they left in my mouth with their Sweet Potato Popchips a little while back.  I disliked it so much that even at the store I was a bit hesitant to even pick up the flavors I actually do like.  Yeah…that’s pretty bad.

However, my gluten-free pantry has quite a few snacks left in its overstock and the next one up, according to expiration date…was the Popchips Chili Limòn Tortilla Chips.  I was almost hesitant to retrieve them from the pantry…but I don’t let products go to waste…so I put on a brave face and opened up the bag.

One serving is 28 grams of these chips.  You actually get quite a lot for that weight because these are corn masa that has been popped into this light, airy, barely-there feeling tortilla chip.  Like…a less-dense version of a Dorito.  They looked innocent enough at first glance…so I packed away the serving in a dish to take to work with me and dig out for my late afternoon snack.

Well, the moment of truth came just now.  Yes.  RIGHT now.  I’m at my desk with the lid off my Pyrex container and I’m happily munching away on these Popchips.  Smile on my face and everything.  The disgusting memory of the Sweet Potato Popchips a thing of the past.  Redemption…thy name is Popchips Chili Limòn Tortilla Chips.

I am in love with these.  They are light, airy, and totally dusted with amazing flecks of flavor.  Sort of…like Cool Ranch Doritos.  I know that most of the Doritos out on the market are free of gluten ingredients (not officially gluten-free)…but I hate not seeing that label on the packaging.  If it’s not labeled, I normally don’t buy it.  So it has literally been two years since I’ve eaten Doritos (also…not all Doritos are vegetarian…so…).  But…from what I remember, these Popchips Chili Limòn Tortilla Chips taste like…COOL RANCH DORITOS!  Those were always my favorite.  These just have a little more of a spice to them.  Other than that…I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.  It makes me smile…even more than I already am from snack happiness.

Seriously…if like me you gave up simple pleasures like Doritos…welcome something even better back into your life.

Popchips Chili Limòn Tortilla Chips are the perfect blend of spices to give it a kick, but then add that twist of lime that sort of tames it down.  It’s awesome.  The flavor is just exciting on the taste buds.  And yes…you will keep reaching for more.  I can’t stop myself…which is why I weigh out my portions instead of carrying the entire bag with me to the office.  Seriously…spiced to perfection and made light as air.  These chips are made from all-natural ingredients and contain no preservatives.  They are non-GMO (a really, really big deal!) and are labeled gluten-free, kosher, and vegan.  NICE!

A serving of these amazing tortilla chips is 28 grams (or about 16 chips).  This amazingly filling serving will only cost you 120 calories and 4 grams of fat.  Not bad for a chip, right?  These are very low in sodium (only 135 mg), contain no cholesterol, and serves up 2 grams of protein.  As for ingredients…you’ll recognize them.  And there are so few of them.  Love that.  These include stone ground corn masa, oil, chili pepper, salt, sugar, citric acid, dextrose, rice flour, onion powder, yeast extract, garlic powder, paprika, turmeric, paprika extract, toasted corn germ, and a twist of lime.  Easy as that.

And they all just mix together to make the perfect bite.  Every…single…time!

Popchips…I am so glad I had these after the disaster that was the Sweet Potato Popchips.  Because these have won you back my favor.  And I intend to keep the Popchips Chili Limòn Tortilla Chips in stock in my pantry whenever possible.  Beyond delicious.  These are downright addicting.

And simply amazing.

Popchips Sweet Potato Chips fizzle in flavor and fail to impress

Popchips Sweet Potato Chips
Popchips Sweet Potato Chips

Product: Popchips Sweet Potato Chips – $2.99+

Sweet potato chips have always been my absolute favorite thing.  Why?  Well, I absolutely love sweet potatoes.  Sweet potato fries.  Baked sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes have been my favorite type of potato for a long, long, long time.  So, when I spotted a bag of Popchips in a sweet potato flavor…I lunged for the shelf to snatch them off and drop them into my shopping basket.  After all…a nice, crunchy afternoon snack never goes amiss, right?  Right.

Well, today was the day I carried a serving to the office with me for my usual 3 p.m. snack.  All day I was anticipating that sweet potato flavor…sort of like what I’d get in Food Should Taste Good’s Sweet Potato chips, I assumed.  Because those chips are amazing.

And…these were Popchips.  And I love Popchips.  I have since they were first introduced to the market and I found them in the store.  I tried them, loving their non-greasy nature, their crunchy texture, and how light and guiltless they are.  I mean, they are never fried and never baked.  They are…popped.  Seriously.  Popped.  Popchips use the finest ingredients, add some heat and pressure, and make it go POP!…creating a light chip that doesn’t get soaked in oil or have the flavor baked out of it.  The first time I tried them, I was impressed.  They have a different texture from regular chips, but as a popcorn fan…that was fine with me.

Nutritionally speaking, Popchips are a great choice.  As stated before, they aren’t fried or baked.  They are light and airy.  This means you get more chips per serving than you would regular chips.  The serving size is still 28 grams, but that gets you around 23 chips.  Nice.  There are only 4 grams of fat per serving in the sweet potato chips.  They are free from trans-fat and saturated fat.  They are cholesterol free.  They are gluten-free.  They are low in sodium (115 mg).  And one serving is only 120 calories.  So…they do have their good side.

HOWEVER..for the first time since falling in love with Popchips, I fell out of love with one of the flavors.  And, oddly enough, it was the flavor that I thought I would rave about the most.  Yep.  Sweet Potato.

The Sweet Potato Popchips are rather…vile…to be honest.  I popped one of the chips into my mouth and immediately didn’t get that sweet/smokey/salty flavor I associate with sweet potato.  In fact, nothing about this chip reminded me of sweet potatoes.  What I did get was…marshmallow flavor.  I don’t want my chips to taste like marshmallow.  If I wanted to eat something that tasted like marshmallow, I’d get out the jar of Fluff in my pantry.  My chips should not taste like a Rice Krispie Treat gone wrong.  EVER!  And that’s all I got here.  Nothing sweet potato even reminiscent in here.  Unless they were going for sweet potato casserole flavor…but that’s one sweet potato dish I have never liked.  I don’t like or care for marshmallows on my starch and I certainly don’t want my chips to taste like marshmallow.  If I wanted salted Rice Krispie treats, I’d make them.  I don’t want that.  I want a healthy chip that gives me amazing sweet potato flavor.  Not sweet potato casserole.  Not Rice Krispies.  SWEET POTATO!

Nothing was right with these chips at all.  And, I am breaking a cardinal rule when it comes to food items that are purchased for the sake of trying them out.  I found these so unappetizing that I am tossing the rest of the bag away and moving onto whatever snack might be next in my gluten-free pantry.  I never trash food because of my tight budget, but the very thought of eating any more of these (I choked down today’s serving so I wouldn’t starve between now and dinner time) makes my stomach churn.  There is nothing redeeming about these chips.

At all.

So, take my advice, fellow Popchip and snack lovers…avoid these at all costs.  Your wallet, your stomach, and your taste buds will thank you.  These definitely have to rank as some of the worst chips I have ever eaten.

A healthy, light snack from Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins

Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins
Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins

Product: Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins – $3.29+

I admit it…I am an oddball.  I actually like rice cakes.  I always have.  I grew up eating them.  My mom kept them in the pantry, and I would eat them plain, or sometimes give the top a light schmear of peanut butter.  Rice cakes were one of my favorite snacks.  Still are.  As long as they don’t taste like cardboard.

My roommate and I have this bad habit.  It is a very, very bad habit.  We see a product labeled gluten-free that we haven’t seen before at any of our stores and we immediately pile it into our shopping basket and take it home…just adding to the stash.  That was what happened when we brought home Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins.

We weren’t actually seeking to buy more snack foods while out at Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton, Ohio.  We just ducked inside to see what the grocery store had to offer, as there were a few of them scattered throughout Dayton and we were killing some time.  Lo and behold, they have one of the most amazing gluten-free sections I have seen at a local grocery store.  I was blown away.  Local baked goods.  Products of which I have never seen before.  Awesome.

One of the products we grabbed, for reasons I still don’t know, were the Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins from Real Foods.  I actually forgot about them.  Whoops.  But I was checking the pantry list and noticed them under crackers…and that was why I overlooked them.  Wrong category.  Definitely not crackers.  But since the expiration date was approaching, it was time to use them as my afternoon snack.

Corn Thins are amazingly good for you.  Yes, even the Tasty Cheese Flavored ones.  These little rice-cake like thins (they are about 1/3 the thickness of a rice cake), made from corn and rice that are popped under high pressure, are honestly a guilt-free snack.  I was shocked that I liked these, despite being such a fan of rice cakes.  I don’t know why I was so worried.

Anyway…these little cakes have a rice cake texture, but are sweeter thanks to the addition of the popped corn.  The cheese flavored topping is lightly dusted on top, not overpowering the corn cake itself.  I loved how thin these are cut, because it makes them easy to handle and very light.  They have this gentle crunch when you break into them or bite into them.  I was very impressed with these.

And yes…guilt-free my friends.  Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins are 28 calories per cake.  For my snack, I took 3 of them, racking up a total of 84 calories for my snack.  Not bad.  And only 1 gram of fat in that serving.  NICE!  These are very low in sodium, have no preservatives, no artificial or nature identical flavors, made with all natural ingredients, are gluten-free and non-GMO.  My three corn thins gave me 3 grams of protein and 1.5 grams of fiber.

But the true surprise was just how much I enjoyed these.  Texture-wise, they are awesome.  Just the right amount of crunch.  And taste-wise…they are quite tasty.  After all, with a name like Tasty Cheese…you better live up to your name.

I hope I can find more flavors that are offered in stores around here.  I’ll be searching high and low.  And if not…next time I’m in Dayton…you better believe that I’ll be stopping into Dorothy Lane Market.

Real Foods does healthy snacks right with their Corn Thins.  Flavor them like cheese…and you have a winning combination!

Three of Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins
Three of Real Foods Tasty Cheese Flavored Corn Thins

Making a snack out of Trader Joe’s Queso Cheese Dip and Organic Corn Chip Dippers

Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Queso Cheese Dip with Trader Joe's Organic Corn Chip Dippers
Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Queso Cheese Dip with Trader Joe’s Organic Corn Chip Dippers

Products: Trader Joe’s Organic Corn Chip Dippers – $1.99+; Trader Joe’s Queso Cheese Dip – $2.49+

I wish I could write a love letter to Trader Joe’s.  Quite honestly.

So often, the snack foods or vegan/vegetarian foods that most people can eat…I can’t.  Because I can’t have gluten.  And so often, some sort of gluten containing ingredient works its way into said snack foods or food items.

But…Trader Joe’s seems to hold the market…and that’s what keeps me coming back time and time again.  While normally I don’t do queso dip…my roommate spotted this awhile back at Trader Joe’s…and as it was clearly marked gluten-free…she asked if we could go ahead and get it.  For blog purposes, of course.  Which is easy for her to say…because she’s not the one who has to type it.  But…she rarely asks for a product while we are out grocery shopping, so I agreed and promised I would come up with something to use it with.

And then it sat in the pantry.  And sat.  And sat.  And every time I contemplated using it in something, I would find something else to use.  And so…it continued to sit on the pantry shelf.

A couple weeks ago, my roommate spotted yet another item while we ducked into Trader Joe’s.  This time, the Organic Corn Chip Dippers.  Basically, organic Fritos.  They were even labeled gluten-free, so once again, who was I to say no.  I was certain I could find a dish to pair them with.

And then…I didn’t.

Until tonight.

My roommate is now obsessed with sliders.  Why?  Because I made these little mini meatball sub sliders and now…everything she wants this week is in slider form.  It’s a fun way to use some produce and get a bit creative in the kitchen.  Tonight, I was making a gluten-free black bean and soy chorizo (using Trader Joe’s vegan and gluten-free chorizo) sliders, which I placed on toasted Udi’s Seeded Whole Grain Dinner Rolls with some fresh vegetables from my CSA bin.  But, two little sliders, while still a decent dinner…needed something to go with it.

And after some quick thinking and a peek into the pantry…Trader Joe’s took over my dinner plates.

I’ll start with the Organic Corn Chip Dippers.  As I stated before, these are basically a healthier and more natural Frito corn chip.  The difference between these and Fritos is that Trader Joe’s version of these corn chips have no preservatives, no trans fats,  and no chemicals baked into them.  They aren’t greasy like Fritos are, leaving no oily residue behind on my fingers.  And the ingredients list is super short: corn, sunflower oil, salt.  Three ingredients.  That’s all.  So right there, they won me over.  These chips are perfect for dipping, sturdy enough to hold a goopy scoop of queso cheese dip without busting apart or crumbling under the weight.  And they aren’t overly salty either.  Which, I do appreciate, because it lets the crisp, earthy flavor of the corn in these chips really shine.  Perfectly flavored and great tasting.

As for nutritional information on the Trader Joe’s Organic Corn Chip Dippers, a serving is 28 grams (or about 10 chips).  This serving will set you back only 160 calories.  You will be taking in 10 grams of fat in this serving, which is a bit high, but these are chips…so keep that in mind.  And much of that fat is a result of the sunflower oil, so at least it is a healthy fat.  These chips also have only 160 mg of sodium.  Not bad for a chip, right?

So, just because they are organic doesn’t mean they are healthy.  Stick to a serving, and you’ll be enjoying a better-for-you corn chip dipper.  Way better and way more flavorful than Fritos.

And, naturally, I decided to pair these chips with the Trader Joe’s Queso Cheese Dip that had just been begging for me to open it up since I bought it.  And now I wonder why I had waited so long to do so.

Trader Joe’s Queso Cheese Dip is the perfect dip for nachos.  It’s super cheesy flavored with a nice spicy kick that isn’t too much.  Even my roommate, who is a spice wimp, raved about the queso.  I think she liked it better than my black bean and soy chorizo burgers, to be honest.  Bold flavors and a hint of spice make any queso amazing.  But what really makes Trader Joe’s queso stand out is that a serving of 2 tablespoons has…are you ready for this?…only 15 calories.  This is NOT a joke, my friends.  Only 15 calories.  For cheesy queso dip.  I swear to the food gods!  Don’t believe me?  Go to your local Trader Joe’s and find this cheese dip and see for yourself.  You realize, then, that the entire jar only would set you back 165 calories…which is what usually 2 tablespoons of regular queso would set you back.  Um…AWESOME!  That being said, a 2 tablespoon serving will only contains 0.5 grans of fat and 130 mg of sodium.  This is beyond amazing.  If you are tired of salsa and guacomole isn’t what you’re craving, then do pick up a jar of Trader Joe’s Queso Cheese Dip because with these nutritional facts, paired with the amazing flavor…you can’t go wrong.

Addictive.  And a perfect snack or side dish to a meal.  That’s what Trader Joe’s provides with Organic Corn Chip Dippers and Queso Cheese Dip.  I was blown away.  So, if I were to pen a love letter to Trader Joe’s…it would simply say:

I love the food you are able to provide for me when other stores fail to do so.

It’s the truth.  And when the food is beyond my expectations and tastes amazing…even better.

Thank you, Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe's Organic Corn Chip Dippers with a serving of Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Queso Cheese Dip
Trader Joe’s Organic Corn Chip Dippers with a serving of Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Queso Cheese Dip

No passport needed to have a safe and delicious meal at Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant - New Albany, Indiana
Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant – New Albany, Indiana

Restaurant: Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant – New Albany, Indiana

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant is definitely one of the little gems tucked away here in New Albany, Indiana.  I can say that for sure now that I have spent some time there and had one of the most amazing dining experiences to date.  And this all happened…by dumb luck and pure chance.

Allow me to explain…

You see, March 13th is my roommate’s birthday.  As part of her birthday gift, I told her to pick a restaurant she always wanted to try out…not to worry about if I could eat anything there or not…because I could bring a protein bar and then eat something at home.  So many times we don’t get to restaurants where she wants to eat because of my dietary restrictions.  I’m done with that.  I will forever have a back-up plan.  It’s not fair…but apparently, it doesn’t really bother her because even with those set rules laid out…she contacted a few places to find out if there were items on the menu that I could eat as well.  Part of me thinks she doesn’t want to be seen with someone munching on a protein bar while she eats dinner.  No need for embarrassment…that’s just how it works at times.  If anything, I would be the one making the “scene” if you will, and I’m not ashamed.  No one else should be either.

Her original choice was a gastropub here in New Albany called The New Albany Exchange.  She had looked at the menu online and spotted a couple of salads that might work for me.  She was eying their fish and chips, of course.  I got on their Facebook page and sent a message to them about what a gluten-free vegetarian might eat.  This was two days before I was actually set to dine there.  And not a word was ever heard back.  The day before we were to dine there, my roommate sent an e-mail inquiring about food options for me…and never heard back.  Then, just before we left the office for the day on Friday, the dinner day, she called and no one answered.  Needless to say…she was the one who nixed eating there.  I told her we could still go…as part of the roommate birthday agreement she was to choose somewhere she wanted to eat.  She simply shrugged and said she would look at other options.

Her next choice was the Bank Street Brewhouse.  But upon browsing the menu, she said nothing really excited her.

And then, after a quick Trip Adviser search…she came across Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant.  It was getting amazing ratings on trip adviser and after a glance at the menu, she figured there would be options for me.  Plus, she took it as a good sign that the restaurant has a nicely laid out and beautiful Web site, as well as a menu that, upon first glance, had her mouth watering.

Decision made.  Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant for dinner it was…

After I went for my training run that day, I changed back into proper dining attire, jeans and my concert t-shirt from the Bon Jovi show the night before (LOL!), and we took a short stroll from the gym to Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant, located on the corner of Market Street and Bank Street in New Albany.  When I first moved here, this was Jimmy’s Music Store…which has moved to a different location up the way.  A few restaurants have been in and out…but when Habana Blues opened in 2010…it had some staying power.

And yes…this restaurant has been here since 2010 and I didn’t visit there to eat until now.  I am so ashamed.

Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant is a New Albany’s only restaurant to offer Cuban food.  Yes…Cuban food.  I love seeing something different on these streets in this area.  This upscale Cuban cuisine is authentically prepared and presented in tapas style, that is small plates, or a variety of appetizer dishes.  You can either get for yourself or share among the table.  Tapas can be prepared warm or cold, and the menu at Habana Blues offers both types.  The entire point of tapas is to encourage more talk and socializing at the table so that the diner isn’t as focused on the food…but more the company.  What a great concept.

We entered the brightly colored restaurant and were seated immediately by the hostess.  She placed menus and a drink menu down for each of us to peruse while we waited on our server.  I was expecting a dark-haired, olive complexioned waitress…but we got the blond-haired, blue-eyed Wes…who was simply AMAZING!  He had this cute little country twang in his voice and his eyes lit up when he spoke about the food and options.  We went ahead and told him that I was a gluten-free vegetarian.  He pointed out some vegetarian courses that are highly regarded there and said he would go ahead and check on the gluten-free part of each one.

He was gone for a good while, and I could hear him consulting with others over the entire menu.  And when he returned, he had options for me written down and began to present them…along with any changes that could be made to the dish to make it safe for me to eat.  Fantastic.  He left for a few more minutes to give me some time to think about it…and after a little bit of discussion, my roommate and I came to a decision on the food we wanted to eat that night.

Habana Blues' Guacamole con Chicharritas
Habana Blues’ Guacamole con Chicharritas

First up…we had heard such fantastic things about their Guacamole con Chicharritas ($8.25), that we decided we would split that.  Yes…it is exactly what it sounds like.  Guacamole.  But instead of the Mexican version where you eat the blend of avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeños, lime juice and red onion with tortilla chips, Habana Blues serves their guacamole with house prepared plaintain chips.  And yes…they are gluten-free.

There is just something so amazing about a fresh guacamole.  When the avocado is ripe and sweet and blends so well with the mild tomatoes, the bite of onion, the spice of the peppers and cilantro…and the acidity from the lime juice…when executed just right…magic happens.  This was a happy plate for me.  The plantain chips were vibrant and crunchy and looked amazing standing out next to the bright, fresh, green color of the guacamole.  It reminded me a lot of the guacamole that I make at home.  In fact, all the ingredients are the same, save I use serrano peppers in mine, as a preference of my roommate.  But this…this was lively and fresh and not too spicy.  Perfect for a started.  The plantain chips added a nice hint of sweetness to each bite.  They were sliced thin and fried to perfection.  I love a good crunch with my chip and this definitely provided it.  Honestly…this selection didn’t last long at all.

Cathy had her two plates she wanted to try ready to order.  Her final decision was that this time while we dined here, she would try the Chimichurri Steak ($8.50), which is a grilled skirt steak that is served with a chimichurri sauce (she has been intrigued by what chimichurri was since we started watching a lot of cooking shows and a lot of chefs make it) and a side of sweet potato fries, which come with a smoked honey butter to dip them into.  She ordered her steak medium, and it came out perfectly cooked.  She enjoyed every bite of it, raving about the spiciness of the chimichurri and the delicious flavor of the smoked honey butter for the sweet potato fries.

Her other plate choice was the Queso Fundido ($5.75), which is a bowl of melted Spanish Tetilla cheese, topped off with crispy chorizo and served with bread.  She loves cheese.  She loves bread.  It was no surprise when she loved this.  The nature of the cheese made it one that paired well with the bread.  By the end of the meal, it was no longer stretchy and gooey, but she could cut it up and place it over the grilled slices of bread and still enjoy every bite.  Which she did.

The birthday girl was pleased.

Habana Blues' Champinoes al Ajillo (no bread)
Habana Blues’ Champinoes al Ajillo (no bread)

But enough about the carnivore in the group…what about my options?

My first plate of choice was the highly recommended Champinoes al Ajillo ($6.50).  Normally this dish would be served with bread, but they said they would just leave that off.  No big deal.  Awesome.  The Championoes al Ajillo are cremini mushrooms that are sauteed in olive oil with garlic, red pepper flakes, and some lemon juice.  This came out in a little bowl for me…and it looked awesome.  I can see how this would be a great topper for bread…but in my mind I was already creating a pasta dish around it (using gluten-free pasta of course).  The mushrooms were sauteed to perfection.  The olive oil bath they were sitting in had just the right amount of heat from the red pepper.  And the garlic…wow…the garlic was awesome.  I gave a squirt of the provided lemon to the top of the dish and…bam.  It was delicious.  I didn’t even miss the bread.  On its own, this dish was a definite stand out!

The other vegetarian and gluten-free dish that I opted for was the first one Wes recommended, the Pincho de Vegetales ($7.50), also known as vegetable skewers.  No adjustments had to be made to this dish.  I got what any other patron of the restaurant would have received had they ordered this.  It’s a simple skewer that is packed full of grilled yellow squash, bell peppers, red onions, zucchini, and cremini mushrooms that have all been basted with mojo sauce.  On the side, these are served with this super, fantastic chili mayonnaise.  OH. MY. GOD.  This was amazing.  Each bite was a different burst of flavor.  The vegetables were done to perfection.  They were grilled just perfectly.  And that chili mayonnaise was killer.  I mean…it just livened up each bite of those vegetables.  I told my roommate not to judge me as I scooped out the last of the mayo onto my fork and ate it without any vegetables, as I had clearly already devoured those.

Habana Blues' Pincho de Vegetales
Habana Blues’ Pincho de Vegetales

We were full.  Oh…small plates for sure…but we were full.  However, we both felt that as we were out for a special occasion, that being Cathy’s birthday, we should have dessert.  We took a peek at the menu and her eyes immediately fixed on the Churros con Chocolate ($4.75), or Spanish donuts served with a chocolate ganache.  Come on.  It involved the words donuts and chocolate.  Of course she was going to be there.

In most cases, the flan is a safe choice for me, but I inquired with Wes regarding the status of gluten-free options.  He said he believed that the flan would be safe for me, however, he was going to double check with the chef.  He came back a few moments later and said that the chef indeed indicated the flan was gluten-free.  Had it not been, they offer some ice creams I would have been more than happy trying.

But with the chef’s assurance, I waffled between the two varieties of flan offered, vanilla and coconut, finally choosing to order the Flan de Vanilla ($4.99), which is a traditional Cuban vanilla custard.  I had the flan at a Mexican restaurant in Indianapolis after I ran a half marathon…and it was okay.  Not heavenly.  But okay.  So, I was a bit nervous about this one.  And when it came out, sadly, it was adorned with a cookie, which should have been left out.  I pointed that out to Wes, and he quickly removed the plate from in front of me, apologizing and saying he had told them to leave the cookie off…and took it away.  After a small wait, a new plate arrived in front of me with a fresh flan, no whipped cream (thank goodness!), no cookie, only a tiny drizzle of strawberry syrup, and adorned with a blue (yes, a blue!) cherry.  Soon after, Cathy’s churros arrived and we were diving into dessert deliciousness.

The first thing I did was eat that blue cherry.  It intrigued me.  And it…tasted blue.  It didn’t taste like a normal cherry would.  It just tasted…blue.  There is no better description for it.  Trust me.  As for the flan itself…rich, creamy, and melt-in-your-mouth good.  Oh. My. God.  I should have taken a lactase before diving into a custard…something that I noted after I was well through most of it.  But…this…was so amazing and good I didn’t even stop then to take one.  I mean…it just slid down my throat.  The vanilla flavor was amazing and perfect.  Not overkill.  It didn’t take away from the creamy texture or the richness of the dessert.  I felt every spoonful was pure heaven.  This…was the perfect way to wrap up the meal.

As for Cathy’s churros…she enjoyed them to the fullest.  And, shocked me by having chocolate ganache left over.  I would have devoured that in a heartbeat.  Silly, roomie.  Wasting chocolate.

We were both so impressed with not just the service and attention to my dietary restrictions that Habana Blues gave us…but the food was out-of-this-world.  I can’t stop raving about it.  I’m already making plans to go back and eat again.  Maybe try a few other suggestions that were recommended for a gluten-free vegetarian.  Maybe get the same meal again, sans the dessert.  Or…keep the dessert.  Or…try one of the ice creams.  Order a take-out of their Paella de Vegetales to take home and split with the roommate on a busy night when cooking just doesn’t seem feasible.  Oh…I have plans alright.  I have plans to return.  And it will be in the very near future.  Maybe next week.

If you are in the New Albany, Indiana region…or even in Louisville, Kentucky, as they have a branch open on Hurstbourne Lane, give some Cuban tapas a try.  Stop in at Habana Blues.  Feel welcome.  Talk.  Enjoy.  Dine.  Feast.  Make your palate happy.  And…don’t spend a fortune doing it.  At this restaurant, the food is spectacular and the prices are affordable.  And that…is a winning combination!

Habana Blues' Flan de Vanilla
Habana Blues’ Flan de Vanilla

Quality, standards and care at Taco Punk are key, but the food just seems average

Taco Punk, Louisville, Kentucky
Taco Punk, Louisville, Kentucky

Restaurant: Taco Punk, Louisville, Kentucky

There is something that is so awesome about your locally owned businesses.  I love going to the local restaurants whenever possible and trying them out.  Especially when they have something that a gluten-free vegetarian can eat.  And, let me tell you, not everywhere is equipped to handle that kind of patron.

I, however, am that patron.  And that is my life…from restaurant to restaurant.

I actually got quite upset with Taco Punk the day I was to go and eat there.  My roomie decided that Taco Punk would be the place to eat before hitting up the Pink concert at the KFC Yum! Center that night.  I mean…Taco…PUNK.  Pink.  Yeah…it just seemed to work.  She had read in our local independent paper, LEO, about how Taco Punk had vegetarian/vegan options, as well as some gluten-free options as well.  Knowing that I wouldn’t have to depend on a protein bar stashed in my purse was a nice plus.

HOWEVER…

This is where Taco Punk fell short.  I pulled up the menu the morning of the show and browsed it, trying to get a feel for my options and what I might be able to try.  Not sure what ingredients went into what, I went ahead and shot them an e-mail via the “CONTACT” button on their Web site.  I explained my dietary needs and the reason I was contacting them…because with a concert to get to, I didn’t want to have to question everything and anyone at the counter prior to the show.  Going in prepared puts me at ease and helps make everything run a bit more smoothly in the end.

But…no response ever came.  No e-mail.  Nothing.  My inquiry was either ignored…or just not important enough to get back to me.  Which, honestly, put a sour taste in my mouth when it came to dining there the night of the show.  Especially since I was running in a road race the following morning and have to be more cautious than normal prior to races about what I eat.  One smidgen of gluten and I could be down for the count, out of the race, and out the money I poured into the race, not to mention the time and energy I put into training for each one.  So, yeah, I bitched rather loudly at my office about not hearing back.  My roommate offered to go somewhere else to eat, but I told her I would just go ahead and now call Taco Punk and see if they could spare a moment to talk to me about my dietary needs.

So, I called.  And a woman answered the phone and very gratiously explained that while the house-made tortillas are not gluten-free, they keep corn tortillas that are on hand.  So any taco could be made with those.  As for vegetarian, they offer a Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco and that the Black Beans they have are vegan.  So…there were some options.  With that taken care of, I hung up and prepared to head out of the office to get some dinner pre-concert.

Taco Punk is a local restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, that offers quick service gourmet tacos.  Yep.  They pride themselves on using only the freshest, highest quality ingredients in their food, to make the dining experience that much more enjoyable and offering only the best flavors.  The tortillas, fillings, salsas and toppings are all made by hand, every day, in their kitchen.  They believe in using locally raised, all natural meats, sustainably caught seafood, and local produce while it is in season.  They also biomass and recycle everything they possibly can.  Which, I find to be exceptionally awesome when all is said and done.  And who doesn’t like a gourmet taco, right?

Upon entering Taco Punk, the first thing I noticed was the set-up.  You are guided toward the back of the shop where a counter is set up, sort of like at Q’doba or Moe’s.  It’s like…Subway done by way of tacos.  I let Cathy order first since I was the oddball gluten-free vegetarian.  Cathy placed her order…deciding to try out one of their Grilled Adobo Chicken Taco ($3.95) as well as Chorizo and Potato Taco ($3.25) with a side of chips and salsa.  The woman at the counter shouted back to the kitchen for the chicken to be cooked up and she went to starting the rest of the order for Cathy, grabbing two of the housemade tortillas and prepping them for the fillings.  Then she took my order.

I decided to go with the two suggestions that are available to me…Gluten-Free Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco ($3.95) and the Gluten-Free Black Beans and Cheese Taco ($3.25).  I just got that with the chips and salsa as well.  The woman called back for the veggie order and then asked another employee to change his gloves and start working on my order.  She explained that they always did a glove change to cut down on cross-contamination, which I totally appreciated and told her so.  He pulled out four of the corn tortillas and put them on the grill behind the counter to warm.  It looked like a separate grill used only for the corn tortillas.  That also put my mind at ease.

Cathy’s order was filled and she got us fountain drinks and went to find somewhere to sit.  There were plenty of places to choose from as the restaurant wasn’t that busy.  My order was filled next, and I had both tacos filled with their main ingredients, then topped off with cabbage, jalapenos, and pickled onions.  It just sounded yummy.  As I was using corn tortillas, they doubled them up so they would hold up to the fillings and proteins.  My chips were added and I was directed over to the salsa bar to choose between their house made salsas.  I’m a spicy salsa girl, but I decided to do a little of their Hot Salsa Roja, which is a hotter version of their tomato salsa; the Pineapple Habenero Salsa, a sweet and spicy combination, and of course, the Salsa Verde, a mix of tomatillos and green chilies.

I tried the salsas first, just in case I wanted to add them to my tacos.  The first one I tried was the Salsa Verde.  And I loved it.  It was definitely mild, but I love the sweetness of salsa verdes anyway, and this one hit the mark.  The next one I tried was the Pineapple Habenero…which I detested.  It was far too sweet for my liking.  So this one just got pushed off to the side.  The Hot Salsa Roja was next.  Very tomato-y in flavor, with an undertone of heat.  It was good.  It was.  I just expected a little more heat with it.  Needless to say, I used them only for tortilla chip dipping and nothing more.

As for the tacos…they were…pretty good.

The first one I decided to eat was the Black Beans and Cheese Taco.  I picked it up, and the weight of the filling was already tearing through both of the corn tortillas that it was wrapped up in.  And, this one wasn’t even that full.  Ah well, that’s why we have forks.  I took a bite…and loved the flavor of the black beans.  The sofrito black beans that they use are flavored really well.  This could be a really bland taco…but it wasn’t.  The cheese was sort of a non-entity.  I couldn’t even tell it was on there.  And I was glad I went with the cabbage for some crunch and the pickled onions for some acidity…and the jalapenos for a little heat.  I think this taco would have suffered without those additions.  While the beans were cooked perfectly and seasoned well, nothing really was a flavor punch to the taste buds.  And, I definitely have made versions of this in my home…and it tasted just as good as what I got here.

The Seasonal Veggie Mole taco, however, I was very excited about.  Mostly because I have made veggie tacos at home, but never in a mole.  And this mole was a pumpkin seed mole.  So, it was even something a little offbeat and different.  Loved that.  This taco was packed full of sauteed seasonal veggies that were swimming in a pumpkin seed mole.  It looked almost like a curry thrown into the corn tortillas.  Smelled like that too.  I was intrigued.  It was definitely different…and in a good way.  I loved how the vegetables were seasoned and how the mole tasted.  But…it wasn’t as enticing as it sounded on the menu board.  I appreciate the effort and the inventiveness of this taco…but it just wasn’t as amazing, to me, as it looked and sounded.

As for what Cathy thought of her tacos…she said they were…okey-dokey.  Which, when I asked her to elaborate, she said that they were good…but nothing that just knocked her over and really made her want to go back in the near future for more.

And, unfortunately, I couldn’t agree more.  I hate to say something like that about a local business.  Espeically one that is having a bit of trouble lately and might be on the verge of closing.  I love my local businesses, I do.  But they have to impress me.  They have to draw me back time and time again.  Most of them succeed.  Sometimes my roommate and I have to decide where to eat on Saturday and/or Sunday because there are so many local places that we enjoy going to and frequenting.  This time, we decided to try somewhere new.  And while I am happy for the experience and appreciate their high standards and food safety…I regret not being as amazed by their food as I was the care they put into making everything.

Would I go back to Taco Punk?  Probably.  But it wouldn’t be at the top of my list, nor would it be somewhere I actively sought out to return to when there are other places I know I enjoy more.

The food wasn’t bad, though.  Don’t get me wrong.  It just wasn’t something that stood up against other local restaurants and their flavors and food and impressed me.  I was okay with what I was eating…but I felt, for the most part, I could just have easily made all of this in the comfort of my own kitchen and had it turn out the same…if not even better.  It was a let down.  And it’s too bad because I’ve been eagerly looking forward to dining at Taco Punk since I first learned of it.  It took me awhile to get there.  And now…it might take awhile to get me back.

If you love tacos and varieties of tacos that you normally can’t get anywhere…I encourage you to at least go in and try some of the offerings from Taco Punk.  They are at least worth a stop and a sample.  And, perhaps I was just there on an off day.

But, if it is any consolation…I still haven’t received a response to my e-mail…and it is two days past the day I sent it now.  And it bothers me, more than a little, that an inquiry about ingredients and their food, went unanswered.

Taco Punk's Black Beans & Cheese Taco and Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco with a side of chips and three house made salsas
Taco Punk’s Black Beans & Cheese Taco and Seasonal Veggie Mole Taco with a side of chips and three house made salsas

Gluten-Free in Disney World a walk in the park

Gluten-Free Dining at Disney World
Gluten-Free Dining at Disney World

For the first time in my life…I was excited to be heading to Disney.  Yes…I’m in my thirties.  No…I’ve never been to a Disney park.  No Disneyland.  No Disney World.  My family could never afford to go when I was growing up…so that was one thing many of my friends had done that I hadn’t yet achieved.  It was certainly on my bucket list, and from what I had been told…I’d enjoy it more now that I was older anyway.

That being the case…the perfect opportunity to go there arose with the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  Originally, I was going to run this one in 2012, but I didn’t have the money for it.  So, the moment registration opened for the 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon, you better believe I was registered and ready to run.  The way I figured it…if I went ahead and registered, I couldn’t talk myself out of it due to financial reasons.  No looking back.  I signed up the minute registration was opened…and I was locked in.

Disney World.

Trust me…I do not travel without doing some research as to what I might be able to eat.  Thankfully, Disney World is pretty much the #1 go-to vacation spot if you have food allergies…especially Celiac or gluten intolerance.  Trust me.  I was expecting to have to eat many a Go Picnic meal while on vacation, but I only had to break into one of the little packs I brought…and that was at the Atlanta airport on the way home.  That definitely speaks very highly of the park and of Disney.

So…here I go with yet another combination blog about my amazing dining experiences while at Disney World.  I wanted to be particularly safe in my food choices being that I was there to run a half marathon and being glutenized while on vacation sucks enough…but being glutenized before running 13.1 miles sucks even more.

Safety was key…and I never felt as if I were in any danger of becoming sick at any dining establishment where my roommate and I chose to dine.

I suppose the best place to start…is at the beginning of the trip…

Sanaa - Animal Kingdom Lodge
Sanaa – Animal Kingdom Lodge

Restaurant: Sanaa – The Animal Kingdom Lodge

What better way to experience Animal Kingdom, our first park of choice, than by eating at the Animal Kingdom Lodge that night for dinner.  What really added to the ambiance of this particular dining attraction was that you could literally gaze out of the window and see exotic animals roaming around the Sunset Savanna as you eat.  The cuisine is African-inspired with Indian flavored.  Mmmm…I totally dig Indian food.

My roommate and I arrived about 15 minutes ahead of our reservation.  As we checked in, the hostess said that she saw that there was one person in the party with a gluten allergy.  I nodded and said that it was me.  She handed us our little pager thingy and we took a seat to wait for our table.  Despite arriving early, we were taken back as soon as something opened up…which was just before our reservation time anyway.

I loved the dimly lit quarters in which diners were seated.  All around were decorations from Africa, really adding to the

Hazelnut Rooibos Tea
Hazelnut Rooibos Tea

amazing feel of the restaurant itself.  And, once seated, our waiter came over to the table to get our drink order and talk about some specials.  I went ahead and ordered a hot tea to go with my dinner, settling on the Hazelnut Rooibos tea ($6.29) with some water.

As he was going over some of the favorites on the menu, he noted that I had the gluten-free menu in front of me and said that a chef would be out to talk to me specifically about the menu, but that if anything on the regular menu looked like it had gluten in it…it was not on mine.  Just as he was starting to go over the gluten-free bread option should I want to do the Indian-style bread service, which means I get poppadoms instead of the traditional bread, the chef, Jake, came out to speak to me about the menu.

Chef Jake really did a lot to put my mind to ease.  Not only did he promise to watch my ticket carefully as it was prepared, he also went over the poppadoms that I could use for the Indian-style bread service, should I choose to do that.  He went over which sauces/chutneys would be okay with that (they were listed on the menu) and said that I could put my mind to ease…as they would take good care of me.  I thanked him for his time and he returned to the kitchen, leaving us once again in the capable hands of our server, Chris.

With a little bit of time to decide on what we wanted, my roommate and I placed our orders.  Cathy decided on the Chicken Tandoori Pilaf ($17.99).  As for me…the Sanaa Vegetarian Sampler ($14.99) sounded awesome.  I was able to choose two of the five vegetarian dishes and have them served with basmati rice.  I was able to choose between Paneer Tikka; Stewed Lentils; Spicy Peas, Chickpeas, and Potatoes; Mixed Seasonal Greens and Tomatoes; Vindaloo-style Vegetables.  I knew for certain I wanted the Vindaloo-style Vegetables, so the difficult part was deciding what the other choice would be.  After a little back and forth, I chose the Stewed Lentils as my second option.

Chris went to put in the order and I left my fate in the hands of Chef Jake and his knowledgeable kitchen staff.

Sanaa's Vegetarian Sampler - Stewed Lentils, Basmati Rice, Vindaloo-style Vegetables
Sanaa’s Vegetarian Sampler – Stewed Lentils, Basmati Rice, Vindaloo-style Vegetables

Food arrived at our table and I couldn’t wait to try it out.  It looked fantastic.  Three bowls were placed before me.  The middle one held the basmati rice, the one on the left had my tewed lentils, and the one on the right had the vindaloo-style vegetables.  It smelled fantastic and I couldn’t wait to dig in.

The basmati rice was perfect with each of these dishes…for one thing.  And the rice was cooked to perfection and lightly flavored, so as not to take away from the dishes that accompanied it.  I started with the Vindaloo-style Vegetables.  This dish included a blend of okra, tomatoes, green beans, cauliflower and onion.  It wasn’t packed with flavor…as I was expecting a bit of a spice to accompany it.  But, that being said, it wasn’t lacking either.  I thought this was going to be the highlight of my sampler…but it was slightly too mild for me and definitely not as full of flavor as I anticipated.  That being said, it did taste good.  I just was familiar with my last vegetarian vindaloo experience where I had a lot of heat in each bite.  This wasn’t at all bad…it just wasn’t as fantastic as I had built it up in my mind.

The stewed lentils, however, are another story.  These golden lentils were not only packed with protein (me and my protein!), but also seasoned to perfection.  They were creamy and had a hint of spice to them that I enjoyed.  I dished some rice into them and it was a perfect combination when mixed together.  I loved the texture and taste of these lentils.  Nothing grainy…nothing too bland.  Perfection.  These thrilled me.

Despite being full, Chris talked my roommate and I into dessert.  As we were both rather full, we decided to split something.  And the dessert menu at Sanaa was not lacking as far as gluten-free options went.  As we were splitting, Cathy and I chose to try our waiter’s suggestion, the Banana Kulfi Sundae ($5.49), which he described as a banana split without the banana.  Well, I was totally sold!

Sanaa's Banana Kulfi Sundae
Sanaa’s Banana Kulfi Sundae

The dessert was brilliant.  A cube of banana flavored kulfi (which is sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk that is flavored) is served with a wedge of dried pineapple, warm chocolate sauce, strawberries, a dollop of whipped cream, and spiced cashews.  Kulfi is a bit denser than ice cream and actually takes longer to melt.  Pretty awesome.  And the dessert…was fantastic.  Amazingly tasty.  I especially loved the strawberries that came on the side.  I tried to mix as many of the components together for a bite and it was magical.  I suggest to anyone dining at Sanaa they save room for dessert and give the Banana Kulfi Sundae a try.  Trust me…it was worth the extra money and indulgence.

Sanaa was certainly a good way to kick off my week at Disney World.  I was put to total ease from the moment I checked in and never felt like I needed to second guess any of the food placed in front of me.  Total win.

Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant - Downtown Disney
Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant – Downtown Disney

Restaurant: Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant – Downtown Disney

Well, by now, you know how it is when a pub is in the vicinity with my roommate and I.  We definitely love our pub grub.  She definitely always has more of a selection because being gluten-free at a pub is definitely not easy and being a vegetarian on top of it…even more difficult.  But, I still love the atmosphere of Irish pubs and we chose this one specifically because of how it was rated with gluten-free fare.  Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant is located in the bustling, busy, crowded Downtown Disney.

Let me preface this by saying that of all the places I ate at Disney World…this one was my least favorite.  There were options on the menu for me…many dishes being labeled as having a gluten-free version of it (and yes…this included the fish and chips).  So, that was very calming for me as far as menu choices went.  The thing was…beyond a salad, there wasn’t too much for a vegetarian to have…aside from the Raglan Risotto…which I almost settled on.  The server said I could also enjoy the Portobello Beauty Sandwich without the bread.  But…with all that being said…I decided to stick with something I could pretty much guarantee wouldn’t make me sick.

Let it be known, Cathy cannot enter a pub without getting the Fish and Chips ($19.00) which she always gets with a drink, and since they had Magners ($7.00 – and it’s gluten-free) on tap…she was definitely one happy girl.

I decided to stick with water for my beverage and finally settled on one of the salads on the menu that was vegetarian and gluten-free.  My choice…the Vroom Salad ($12.00) with a helping of some gluten-free carbs…a side of their fries (or chips as they say in Ireland) ($5.00), which would be prepared gluten-free for me.

Dinner arrived at our table.  My roommate loved how her fish and chips were served traditionally…wrapped in paper and poured out onto her plate.  She loved the tartar sauce that came with it.  She did enjoy the fish, but the chips lacked.

As for me…the Vroom Salad intrigued me right away.  The Vroom Salad is made up of gluten-free quinoa grains with cider vinegar marinated

Raglan Road's Vroom Salad with a side of Chips
Raglan Road’s Vroom Salad with a side of Chips

beans, sweet and sour carrots, watercress, and served with a honey mustard dressing.  It was presented in the center of a plate in a pile, which I totally destroyed with my fork to scatter things about the plate and mix with the dressing.

As far as a salad goes…this one was actually one of the better offerings I have had at a pub.  The addition of the quinoa was a fantastic protein-packed addition to the usual greens and vegetables that I get stuck with at such establishments.  The flavors from the beans and carrots only heightened the flavor of the salad.  I felt they were a little heavy-handed with the watercress, but it added a nice green throughout the salad, once I mixed it up.  The watercress was the most unwieldy part of this salad.  It was the best part of this meal.

That being said…my roommate and I were more than disappointed with the chips.  These fries were mostly soggy and lacking that firm crunch I love on the outside of fries.  I don’t get to eat fries out much, so I was looking forward to these.  And they were a huge disappointment in the end.  I ate more of them than I intended, but as I was paying for them…it seemed like I had to put some effort into it.

Would I go back to Raglan Road on a follow-up visit?  Not likely.  Which is too bad…because I do love pubs.

No dessert…instead my roommate and I hit up Downtown Disney Babycakes NYC bakery for a gluten-free cookie sandwich.  My favorite thing I ate all night.  But I’ll get to Downtown Disney’s brach of Babcakes NYC soon enough…

Sunshine Seasons - Epcot
Sunshine Seasons – Epcot

Restaurant: Sunset Seasons – Epcot

With all the food options available at Epcot…there was very little around the park that I could actually eat.  Today was the day before the race and I needed to be very sure about the food I consumed.  One bit of cross contamination could be disastrous for me and my race that I paid so much to run and trained hard for in the cold weather of Indiana.

My roommate already knew what she was going to consume at the park – Lamb Schwarma Platter ($12.99) from Tangierine Cafe in Morocco.  That plate of food came complete with her protein of choice (lamb) as well as a side of hummus, tabouleh and a Tangierine couscous salad with fresh Moroccan bread.  We had met up with our friend Indy, who was also running in the race, and she ventured over to Japan for some sushi.  This only left me to find food.  And while I hoped for some gluten-free vegetarian sushi, I was informed that only the Tariyaki Salmon was gluten-free in Japan.  No good.  I left feeling down.  Looked like it was back to the original plan for me that day…grabbing something at Sunshine Seasons in the food court at Epcot.

I was told they were famous for their soups…but it was hot outside and I wasn’t feeling soup.  I checked out some of the grab-and-go options…including the sushi…but not gluten-free.  Of course.  *sigh*  With no other options, it looked like I was having yet another salad.  We spoke to the person at the salad bar to find out if the Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad ($7.89) was gluten-free.  She wasn’t certain, so she went to check with the chef.  He said that as long as there was no cracker served with it…it would be okay for me.

I wasn’t feeling it…but I was hungry.  So…that’s what I ordered.

Sunshine Season's Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad
Sunshine Season’s Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Salad

The salad was rather small, comparatively speaking.  It was basically roasted red and yellow beets, served over lightly dressed spring greens.  Generous heaps of goat cheese were served with it.  And, on top, cinnamon-roasted pecans to add a bit of texture and flavor.  The entire salad was dressed with a mild honey-sherry dressing.

It was…okay.  I liked the nuts and goat cheese the best.  The beets were, actually, a good choice for the day before the race.  But there was nothing really great about this meal.  Grab-and-go is not my favorite thing as it is…and food courts are…not always the best option as a go-to for me.  But…I had to eat.  While all the flavors worked together…this just wasn’t what I really wanted that day, so it paled in comparison to anything else I could have sought out.  The problem was…this was all there was.  So, while the salad was good…it wasn’t amazing.  And I probably wouldn’t order it again even if it were the only option once again.

Meh.

Damn you Epcot and your lack of gluten-free, vegetarian ethnic food throughout your showcases.

Riverside Mill Food Court
Riverside Mill Food Court

Restaurant: Riverside Mill Food Court – Port Orleans Riverside

This…was not a planned food stop on this trip.  Not at all.  But…here’s the thing.  I am an athlete through and through and I have my traditions and my superstitious.  And here is the thing…before every big or long race I run…I love to have gluten-free pizza.  And if pizza is not available, gluten-free pasta will do in a pinch.  But it’s that gluten-free pizza that seems to power me through the following morning.  And after spending the day at Epcot and only consuming a small salad…I needed something that would give me some energy for the early morning race (the race kicks off at 5:30 a.m.).

Panic mode.  None of the restaurants that have gluten-free pizza were in range of the resort.  My roomie and I were staying at Port Orleans Riverside.  And we had made it back over that way when I said I needed to have my gluten-free pizza/pasta tradition.  Honestly…this isn’t something I take lightly.  But with nothing close…I wasn’t sure how to accomplish this.

My roommate went to speak to the concierge on duty.  His name was Will and he was fantastic.  He said he knew how difficult it was to be a Celiac and said he would see what he could do to help.  He picked up the phone and called down to the food court in the resort to see if there was something they could help me with.  He was told to send us down and have us ask to see as chef.  We thanked him for his help and meandered that way.

Chef Will (from Columbus, Ohio) came out to see us and we explained that I was running in the half marathon the next morning and have a tradition of either gluten-free pizza or pasta prior to the race.  He said he could prepare either one of them for me.  So, my roommate and I each decided to get one of the gluten-free pizzas.  She could have actually gotten anything from the food court, but I think she was just trying to keep it simple.  Chef Will went to go prepare two gluten-free cheese pizzas for us (individual size) and I was forever grateful and already feeling better about the run in the morning.  He went over to the kitchen at Boatwright’s Dining Hall to actually cook the pizzas.  Then, after they were ready, he walked them out himself.

Riverside Mills Food Court Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza
Riverside Mills Food Court Gluten-Free Cheese Pizza

Pre-race, individual size, gluten-free cheese pizza ($8.99) made specifically because I had a dietary need…from the Riverside Mill Food Court.  I was impressed.

The pizza was…not one of the better ones I’ve had.  The usual rice cracker crust with pasta sauce and some cheese…warmed through and put onto plates.  Nothing special.  Nothing fantastic.  Nothing that made it stand out from some of the other places I have dined on gluten-free pizza.  But at the moment…nothing could have tasted better.  I appreciate the effort that Port Orleans Riverside put forth for me, specifically the help that both Will and Chef Wes gave to me to help me get the food I needed the night before my reason for being in town.

Huge sigh of relief.  Mediocre pizza…but man…that night…it tasted oh, so good!

Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano - Hollywood Studios
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano – Hollywood Studios

Restaurant: Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano – Hollywood Studios

Of all the places I ate at Disney World…this one, ironically, was my favorite.  Really.  I say ironically because it is, after all, an Italian restaurant and for the most part…Italian food is a no-go for the gluten-free diet.

Unless places can accommodate patrons.

And this place was rated high on how they can deal with food allergies…specifically gluten-free dining.

We arrived a little early for our reservation, but they didn’t mind.  A short wait and we were still seated ahead of our reservation time.  Loved that.  Our server, Elizabeth S., came to the table and noted the tag marked “ALLERGY.”  She inquired as to what the allergy was and I told her gluten.  She said the chef would be out to speak to me about my options.

A few moments later, Chef Michael was coming to the table to talk about the menu.  He said that the pastas could be made gluten-free…and he

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Dinner Rolls

also had gluten-free flatbreads and dinner rolls.  And, should there be room for dessert…a gluten-free flourless cake.  He asked if I knew what I wanted and I explained that since I was a vegetarian as well, I was really looking at the Spaghetti Marinara ($14.99).  He said that he could even throw in some vegetables for me if I would like.  I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like…so I told him I was totally game for that and he could have some fun with it.  He asked if I was interested in the gluten-free dinner rolls, and I had run 13.1 miles that day…so of course I was.

That being decided he returned to the kitchen and Elizabeth returned to the table.  Cathy opted for the Spaghetti with Meatballs and a Four Cheese Sauce ($18.99), which came with complimentary bread.

This would also be a great time to mention that my gluten-free dinner rolls…were also complimentary.  No charge.  Not at all.  And I was given 3 in my basket when they came out to the table…warm and ready to eat.  I broke one open and took a bite.  Delicious.  It tasted like what I remember a honey wheat bread to taste like.  But…it was completely gluten-free…warm…amazing…soft…and just plain YUMMY!

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Spaghetti Marinara with Chef Michael's Vegetable Selection
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Spaghetti Marinara with Chef Michael’s Vegetable Selection

Entrees arrived at the table and I was taken aback by just how much food was in that bowl.  Lots of pasta.  Lots and lots of pasta.  And my favorite part was the plethora of vegetables that Chef Michael added to my dish.  I found carrots, broccoli, peppers, spinach, and mushrooms.  It was so much fun seeking out those little morsels and mixing them with the rice noodles and the delicious marinara.  I fell in love with this meal.  So much.  And, sadly, there was a lot of it.  I couldn’t finish it.  But I at least did the chef justice by eating every last vegetable I could find in that bowl.  It was a treasure hunt and I enjoyed every single bite of it.

As I had two dinner rolls remaining, I chose to take those with me to have as lunch while out and about in the parks the following day.  We were heading back to Epcot and I knew there was little for me to eat there…so now I had something that could quell any hunger pains before dinner that night.

Now…if you will recall…I mentioned that this was my favorite place I dined while in Disney World.  And, for me, that meant…I wanted more.  I was so intrigued by this gluten-free flatbread that I asked if, perhaps, on our last day there…if we could go back for dinner.  We had a big breakfast planned that morning but nothing else, and I figured we’d want something to eat before heading back to the resort to finish packing and turn in for the night.

The problem was…there was no reservations available for us.  We checked with the concierge at Port Orleans Riverside the night before…but nothing.  We checked again the following morning…still nothing.  So, it seemed we were out of luck.  On a whim, however, we decided to at least hop down to Hollywood Studios that evening to see if they might be taking walk ins.  That…was a negative.  However, the hostess did tell us to check back around 6:30 p.m. if we wanted to wait that long (it was just over an hour wait), because some people never turn up for their reservation, opting to go to the Fantasmic! show instead.

I was starving by this point, mind you, and the thought of waiting that long was daunting.  However, hopping the bus back to Port Orleans Riverside to dine on Go Picnic meals on our last night in Disney World was less than exciting.  Our other option was Sanaa, but online reservations would have us at 6:50.  Might as well wait until 6:30 here at Mama Melrose’s and see if something opened up.  If not…we’d figure something out…

Luck was with us that night.  We turned back up at 6:30 p.m. as instructed.  The hostess radioed back to see if they could take a party of two…and they could.  It meant a 20 minute wait, but I had already come this far to eat here again, I wasn’t going to stop now.  I think our wait was actually less than 20 minutes…but well worth it.  We were seated, and the allergy tag was stuck on the table once again.  Our waitress tonight was Rose.  She said that we might have to wait a little on the chef tonight, as a party of 14 was seated near us and they had kids with multiple food allergies.

The wait was well worth it.  Chef Michael came to our table and welcomed us back, already setting a basket of gluten-free dinner rolls down.  He remembered us!!  Two nights ago he made me a fantastic Spaghetti Marinara.  And we told him that we had returned tonight, since he intrigued us by gluten-free flatbread and flourless chocolate cake.

Cathy and I chose to split the Wild Mushroom Flatbread ($12.99).  He said he would get right to work on that and would keep in mind the

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Wild Mushroom Flatbread
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Wild Mushroom Flatbread

flourless chocolate cake.  YAY!  Rose came over to record the order to put it into the system and let us sit and enjoy our hot dinner rolls.  Chef Michael returned with some olive oil and spices to dip our rolls in, as well as some fresh butter to spread over it should we choose.  We did both.  And both were delicious choices.  We actually devoured all of the rolls before the flatbread came to the table.

The Wild Mushroom Flatbread is sort of like a pizza.  This one is a gluten-free flatbread crust that is topped with roasted cremini and button mushrooms, a garlic-shallot spread, and then finished off with the most amazing balsamic reduction.  This was complete love at first bite.  The balsamic reduction was the best touch for this, but all of the components worked together.  And the gluten-free flatbread was beyond fantastic.  Finally…a “pizza” I could really enjoy on this trip.  Amazing.  We had no trouble splitting this and polishing it off.

Mama Melrose's Gluten-Free Brownie à la Mode
Mama Melrose’s Gluten-Free Brownie à la Mode

As for that flourless chocolate cake though…the chef searched high and low…and couldn’t find one.  But here is where the magic of Disney happens.  Because he had promised it…he instead sent out a gluten-free brownie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce…free of charge.  The brownie was crisp on the outside, soft and warm on the inside.  And the cold ice cream sitting on top of it only enhanced the already amazing chocolate flavor of the brownie.  Right here is proof enough that gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless or hard or dense.  This brownie was hot, rich, and packed with fudgy chocolate flavor.  It was a truly decadent and sinful treat.  But it was our last night there…and I was ready to indulge.

A very nice tip was left for our waitress and lots of praise and thanks were shared with the hostess to pass on to Chef Michael.

And I would dine here over and over again…and next time I’m at Disney…I will do just that.

La Hacienda de San Angel - Epcot
La Hacienda de San Angel – Epcot

Restaurant: La Hacienda de San Angel – Epcot

Epcot…oh, Epcot.  Returning to the land of very little food for me.  But this was different.  This was dinner.  And the one place that my roomie researched when it came to gluten-free options was this beautiful Mexican restaurant in the World Showcase of Epcot.  The restaurant – La Hacienda de San Angel.

Now…I love authentic Mexican food.  I don’t eat much of it anymore because there are just too many factors that go into the food that could lead to cross contamination.  But the reviews about this place were a huge help and brought a sense of comfort with the service and the food that would be served.

In fact, it was stated online that La Hacienda de San Angel makes their own gluten-free corn tortillas in house!  This was exciting news.  My roommate took the time to print off the vegetarian menu from the Internet prior to leaving, so I had an idea of what I was going to get from that.  The Enchaladas de Vegetales actually sounded very appetizing to me as that day I was suffering a little from the banana split I had for dessert the night before (too much dairy!).  So, with an off stomach…Mexican food was sounding very daunting…but I wanted to give this a go.

We showed up early to the restaurant.  Actually, we thought we were right on time, given that there was a huge line that we went to stand in just to reach the hostess outside of the restaurant.  But, after a few minutes of standing there, the entire line cleared up.  So we were now a good 40 minutes early for our reservation.  The hostess looked up our reservation and sent us through the doors to the restaurant to have a seat and wait.  I actually anticipated waiting the entire time, but we were actually shown to our seats soon after that.

Our waiter let us slide into our booth and then he settled a napkin on each of our laps.  Ooooh….fancy.  I suddenly felt under-dressed now.  This happens every time I get a napkin placed on my lap.  But, you know…they didn’t seem to care about my jeans and t-shirt at all.  So, that fleeting moment of fashionista critic passed in a blink.  We were handed menus and asked what we would like to drink.  I once again stuck to water.

And here…was where a wave of panic settled in.  I started to peruse the menu…and save for the Ensalada de la Hacienda…there wasn’t much for me to eat.  Upon the return of our server, we were asked if we knew what we wanted to eat.  I explained that I was a gluten-free vegetarian and he said that they could easily whip up their Tacos de Vegetales (Vegetable Tacos) for me on corn tortillas.  I decided that would be much preferable to yet another salad and gave a nod of approval and said that sounded fantastic.

While we waited on our food, our server brought out the house made (and gluten-free) corn tortilla chips with two different types of salsa.  One red.  One green.  The red one was robust in tomato flavor and had a nice kick to it.  But, surprisingly, it was the salsa verde that I fell in love with.  I normally go for that heat kick, but the sweet salsa verde blended so well with the corn tortilla chips.  I couldn’t stop dipping into it.  But I knew I had tacos on the way, so I kept my pre-meal chip snack to a bare minimum.

Cathy ordered the Tacos de Camarones ($23.95).  These were basically flour tortilla tacos that were filled with fried shrimp, cabbage, lime, salsa verde, and a chipotle-lime aioli.  It was the chipotle-lime aioli that caught her eye.  In fact…she said that the description reminded her a lot of the shrimp tempura tacos that she gets at our local eatery, Dragon King’s Daughter (locations in New Albany, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky).  And when they arrived, they actually sort of resembled that too, save for the addition of the cabbage.

My Tacos de Vegetales ($19.95) were a similar story.  I was so impressed with these…and that was at first glance when they set them down in

La Hacienda de San Angel's Tacos de Vegetales on corn tortillas (gluten-free)
La Hacienda de San Angel’s Tacos de Vegetales on corn tortillas (gluten-free)

front of me.  These corn tortillas were stuffed full of grilled vegetables, cabbage, roasted corn, black beans, and topped with a little queso fresco.  My tacos were also topped off with a bit of the chipotle-lime aioli as well and…yeah…it was magic.  A Mexican fiesta in my mouth for sure.  The depth of flavor in these simple tacos was astounding.  The black beans were awesome and added a nice protein aspect as well as a richness that the tacos really needed.  The cabbage gave it some crunch.  And the roasted corn and grilled veggies were delicious.  The corn was the star of the tacos though.  Roasted to perfection and full of flavor.  I devoured all three of the tacos on my plate.

La Hacienda de San Angel's sides of Mexican Rice and Refried Black Beans
La Hacienda de San Angel’s sides of Mexican Rice and Refried Black Beans

Our meals were served with sides of refried black beans and Mexican rice.  The rice was fantastically seasoned and spiced.  It had a bit of a kick to it, which I enjoyed and appreciated.  But the star of the sides that came with our food was definitely the refried black beans.  They were rich and full of this depth of flavor that was astounding.  I wanted to eat the entire bowl, but the tacos were very filling, so I had a couple of spoonfuls of both the rice and beans and left it at that.

Dessert was offered, but we chose not to indulge tonight as our meal was quite filling on its own.  We left completely full and quite happy with the value of the meal and the quality of the food we experienced.  I loved how the staff didn’t even bat an eyelash when I said I was a gluten-free vegetarian, immediately having a dish that they could offer me.  I enjoyed how they assured me everything was gluten-free and safe for me to eat.  And I enjoyed every…filling…bite.

I would have gone back to this restaurant in a heartbeat as well…but they were booked solid the night we were there and not accepting walk-ins at all…so I bid it adios and was thankful for the dining experience.

1900 Park Fare - Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Restaurant: 1900 Park Fare – Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Let it be said that you should never travel to Disney World and not attend one of the character breakfasts.  For real.  My roommate did all the planning on this one, deciding on a breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, located inside the Grand Floridian Resort.  Now, this resort is rather grand on its own…outside and inside.

But the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast was our character breakfast of choice.  This is basically a festive, all-you-care-to-eat breakfast buffet, with Disney character guests that make appearances while you eat.  We actually arrived earlier than anticipated because our Disney bus driver dropped us off at the resort instead of having us get off at one of the parks to catch a bus to the resort.  Awesome.  We appreciated that, but it left us with a bunch of extra time.

So, after wandering around the lobby we noticed a line forming at 1900 Park Fare and decided that we could at least check in with the hostess and maybe get seated earlier instead of with the 8:30 a.m. wave.  They were happy to accommodate and noticed that there was a food allergy listed on the reservation.  They handed me two tickets for the breakfast, both marked “ALLERGY.”  When they opened the doors to seat us, we handed over these tickets and were shown to our table.  I was informed by the woman who seated us that a chef would come over to talk to me.  While Cathy could have gone and loaded up her plate with breakfast goodies, she opted to wait for me to see the chef.

The chef did arrive a little bit later and asked me to walk with him.  What he did was take me through the buffet line, pointing out what foods I could safely eat.  They were good about keeping things were there would be no cross-contamination.  The fruit was okay, the scrambled eggs were safe, the potatoes were safe…etc.  And then he said the words that made me the happiest gluten-free girl in Disney that morning.  That he could make me gluten-free waffles.  Gluten-free Mickey Mouse waffles.  Just.  For.  Me.

THRILLED!  I said that waffles sounded amazing and he said he would get to work on them and bring them to my table…but to go ahead and get anything else from the buffet that he pointed out to me.  So, with that said, I joined Cathy at the table and said he was making me some waffles, but we could hit up the buffet now.

From 1900 Park Fare's Supercalifragilistic Character Breakfast Buffet (Fresh fruit, hash browns, eggs, and strawberry soup)
From 1900 Park Fare’s Supercalifragilistic Character Breakfast Buffet (Fresh fruit, hash browns, eggs, and strawberry soup)

In the line of the buffet, I went ahead and got a bunch of different fruits…honeydew melon, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, grapes…yummy.  In addition, I ladled a little of the strawberry soup into a bowl to try.  I decided to give the hash brown potatoes and some of the scrambled eggs a try as they were deemed safe for my consumption.  And I was hungry.

As I settled back into my seat and started eating some of the sweet fruit, the chef appeared at my side with a plate of four gluten-free Mickey Mouse waffles.  I thanked him and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I moved one over to my plate, sliced off an ear, and gave it a dip in the real maple syrup he brought out with it.

1900 Park Fare's Gluten-Free Mickey Mouse Waffles
1900 Park Fare’s Gluten-Free Mickey Mouse Waffles

Waffles never tasted so good.  They were sweet and light and fluffy and SHAPED LIKE MICKEY MOUSE!  I mean…come on!!  It doesn’t get much better than that.  And honestly, I’ve eaten quite a few gluten-free waffles at places, as well as made my own, and had the frozen kinds…and none come close to equaling these.  Perfection.  The fact that they weren’t heavy made it a synch to eat all four of them.  And I still went back for more fruit, more eggs, and a few more hash browns.  WORTH IT.

And, to top it off…our Disney character guests arrived and made their way around the dining room to greet the guests.  At the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast, we had the honor of meeting Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and The Mad Hatter.  And all of them were so much fun to talk to, get pictures with, and interact with.  I don’t care if I’m in my thirties…I loved every moment of this breakfast and meeting the characters.  You’re never too old for Disney characters.  Mary Poppins sure was charming and I had been wanting to meet her all weekend.  So this was AWESOME!

The Supercalifragilistic Breakfast is $21.95 per person and includes the buffet and a non-alcoholic beverage.  The food was really delicious.  The company was awesome.  And the care was above and beyond expectations.  I am already wanting to go back and do another character breakfast!

Babycakes NYC - Downtown Disney
Babycakes NYC – Downtown Disney

Restaurant: Babycakes NYC – Downtown Disney

The one place that I was anticipating indulging in as often as possible was Babycakes NYC in Downtown Disney.  The most difficult part, at least the first night we were there seeking it out…was locating the place.  For the record, it is located in the same building as Pollo Campero and Bodie’s…right next to LEGO Land.  So…now you won’t have to log onto the Web site and look it up.  You’re welcome.

Cathy and I were seeking this out at night to have breakfast ready in the room, that way we could get an early start and not have to wait for 9 a.m. to roll around to get breakfast…and then eat…and then head out for the day.  This way…we were set and could head out after a quick bite in our room.  This was a fantastic arrangement, by the way.  And the baked goods were just as good the following morning.

I own a Babycakes NYC cookbook and the vegan & gluten-free foods sounded fantastic.  I haven’t made it up to New York City yet…but the fact that they have a branch at Disney World was enough for me to tell Cathy that we were eating there every single morning that it was feasible.  And, with the exception of two days…we did exactly that.

Being that we were seeking out breakfast…we stuck to the case with the doughnuts and loaves.  We each would pick a doughnut and a loaf to enjoy the following morning.  And there was quite a selection to choose from too.  All of these were both vegan and gluten-free…meaning I had nothing to worry about when it came to my breakfasts.  The most difficult part was choosing what I wanted to eat.

So…it went like this:

Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Doughnuts and Loaves (Top Right: Day 1; Top Left: Day 2; Bottom Right: Day 3; Bottom Left: Day 4)
Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Doughnuts and Loaves (Top Right: Day 1; Top Left: Day 2; Bottom Right: Day 3; Bottom Left: Day 4)

Trip #1: Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut ($3.49) and a Blueberry Toastie (Loaf) ($3.49)
Trip #2: Vanilla Glazed Doughnut ($3.49) and a Pumpkin Chip Loaf ($3.49)
Trip #3: Chocolate Dipped Doughnut ($3.49) and a Pumpkin Loaf ($3.49)
Trip #4: Jam Twist Doughnut ($3.49) and Banana Loaf ($3.49)

And that was just breakfast.  In addition…Cathy had a few other options as well that I didn’t get for me, but we sampled each other’s choices.  Cathy fell in love with the Lemon Poppyseed Loaf ($3.49), the Chocolate Cookie Crunch Doughnut ($3.49), and her favorite…the Cornbread Loaf ($3.49).

Okay…my most favorite of the doughnuts was the Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut…but cinnamon sugar has always been one of my favorite doughnuts to eat (blueberry being my favorite!).  But here was the thing…they were so moist, so light and so very delicious.  No one would be able to tell that these were vegan and gluten-free just by eating them.  I was in sugar-rush heaven.  I’m not big on glazed or dipped doughnuts, but these weren’t too bad.  I find glazes and dips to be heavy…and these were…but the doughnuts were light and fluffy and flavorful…and when all is said and done…they worked well together.  Everything just worked.

And the loafs…OH. MY. GOD.  My favorite had to be the Pumpkin Chip Loaf…but they were all very good.  They were sweet enough to satisfy that food craving and filling without being too much…even with the doughnuts.  I found each one full of flavor.  And my roommate will forever rave about that corn bread loaf.  It was her favorite thing…and she only was able to get it one night…so thankfully she took a chance on that when she did.  I also really liked the Blueberry Toastie…which had tons of fruity flavor and sweetness with the glaze and all.  And of course, pumpkin and banana bread…you can’t go wrong with either of them.  So moist.  Bite-for-bite…even after sitting overnight in a box on the table in the hotel room…these were still moist and tasted like they were fresh from the bakery.  Yeah…beyond impressed.

But we also sampled some other choices from Babycakes NYC as well.  For dessert one night, we split one of their Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches ($3.49), which was fantastic.  The chocolate chip cookies are thin, and crunchy, and sweet.  Honestly…gluten-free cookie perfection.  Normally I’m a chewy cookie kind of girl…but these were wafer-thin and had that perfect crumbly, sweet texture that works with chocolate chip cookies.  And the frosting was vegan and made with cane sugar.  It was moist and very sweet…so I was glad Cathy and I were splitting the cookie sandwich.  I actually forgot to take a picture of that…but it was delicious.

Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie
Babycakes NYC Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie

So, on our last night there…we picked up our breakfast doughnuts and loaves…and they had a special on their gluten-free chocolate chip cookies ($1.00).  So, we got two of them…one for each of us…because they were each discounted by $0.50…and when you’re on vacation and stocking up on sweets…that’s a good deal.  We saved these for our last walk around our resort, and happily chewed away at the crunchy, buttery-flavored, amazing cookies.  Yeah…heaven in cookie form.  It was the right amount of sweetness and really hit the spot.  It was the best way to wrap up our stay at Disney World…enjoying a vegan and gluten-free treat from the place we visited the most – Babycakes NYC.

~*~*~

And there it is…my dining experiences at Disney World.  Nothing catastrophic happened.  I had my favorite food moments and my favorite food places…and I had meals that amazed me…meals that made me want to go back…meals that made me happy…and only a couple of disappointments.  Not bad for this gluten-free vegetarian traveler.  I am so thankful that Disney World is trained, prepared, and helpful to people with dietary restrictions.  It took a load off my mind…and helped me focus on enjoying myself…and of course…preparing for the half marathon I was there to run.

Which…went so well, despite being high humidity (yes…at 5:30 a.m.)…leading to me shaving 2 minutes off my personal record and setting a new record for myself.  I enjoyed the race…I enjoyed Disney World…and I enjoyed eating there and feeling confident in the fact that they truly were looking out for me in those kitchens.

Talk about taking a load off.