Restaurant Review: Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria – Epcot – Disney World

Via Napoli - Italy Pavilion - Epcot

Via Napoli – Epcot – Disney World

Restaurant: Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria – Epcot – Disney World

It was Epcot Day!  YAY!  I love Epcot Day.  I don’t know why…because so much of it features the World Showcase…which during the Food & Wine Festival…features foods from all over the world.  Even the regular pavilions that are standard in the showcase don’t offer much for a gluten-free vegetarian.  But I still love Epcot Day.

Since we were in Epcot, on our final night, we wanted to go somewhere in the park for dinner.  It took a little bit of back and forth, but we finally decided on Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria.  It had gluten-free pasta on the menu, so we were good.  Something I could eat.  Which, definitely was important on Epcot Day…as our morning actually started at the Magic Kingdom…where we at Dole Whip for breakfast.  Pictures were taken for proof.  I am not ashamed.

But…let’s fast forward.

The entire day was spent doing a few rides and exploring the World Showcase.  My friend, Jenn, was having a difficult time on the last day.  Her feet…her poor feet…had blisters in places I didn’t know one could get blisters.  It was a slower moving day, but I was fine with that.  Take in the showcase.  Stop and watch the new Lumberjack Show.  I miss Off Kilter though…I’m not going to lie.  Cathy snagged a lunch in Morocco (she had to have her lamb shawarma!), while Jenn and I toddled over to Brazil for the (naturally gluten-free) Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread).  I later had one of my protein bars and half of a clementine (Jenn had the other half) because dinner reservations weren’t until 7:45 p.m.  Late.

But, we made use of our time…checking out different things along the way, resting when Jenn needed to get off her feet, exploring the different countries, and shopping.  Of course.  We got in line for the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros at the Mexican Pavilion…and that sort of ate up (see what I did there?) the rest of the evening down time before food.  It was a bit of a stroll back to Italy in Epcot…but Jenn was a trooper…and she got there.

I went up to the hostess desk in the very crowded lobby and let her know we were there for our reservation.  She asked me some questions, it was hard to hear her over the din of the lobby.  But we got it worked out.  And, of course, my food allergy thing.  So, there was a short wait…but after about 5 or so minutes, the lobby was emptying and we were up next.  The really nice hostess took us all the way to the back for a table with a bench and two chairs.  Cathy and I sidled up on the bench.  Jenn took the chair this time.

We. Were. Starving.

I perused the menu and noted that, yes, gluten-free pasta was the only option for me.  The downside…none of the listed pasta dishes on the menu were vegetarian.  Yikes.  As I was just starting to look at the menu, the customer liaison came over to speak to me about my food allergy.  He noted the gluten-free and pointed out that they do not have gluten-free pizza but any of the pasta can be done gluten-free.  And then he was off.

Which left our poor waiter to be the one who would have to seriously help me out.  Not that he minded.  And as I am the tricky one…I ordered first.  And my first statement was…

“Well, I am a gluten-free vegetarian…so…”

He came over to my side of the table to look at the pasta dishes.  “Gluten-free…it’s easy,” he said.  “The vegetarian…”  He looked at all the pasta options again and finally said, “I tell you what…we will have the chef prepare some mushrooms and vegetables with our marinara sauce.”

Works for me.  Order in.

Jenn opted for the Lasagne Verde, which is a white lasagna that is stuffed with spinach, parmesan, ricotta, and a besciamella sauce ($22.00).  Cathy went for her go-to when we first go to an Italian restaurant…the Spaghetti e Polpettine, which contained hand-crafted veal meatballs in a tomato sauce ($21.00).  I have to say, I usually giggle a little when Jenn orders something with cooked spinach or vegetables in it…because most of those veggies get tossed to the side of the plate.  But…she is Italian…and she knows her Italian food.

We waited for a bit…no gluten-free rolls or any bread at all at the table.  We watched a woman at the table next to us devour an entire pizza on her own, while her dining companions watched her.  And as she was taking her last few bites, their food arrived.  It was weird.  We couldn’t figure out if they were just there to watch her eat (like some crazy Disney World food challenge or something)…but…who knows.  She then got to watch all of them eat so…turn around is fair play…or something?

But, soon our attention turned to our own food as our dishes arrived and were delivered before us.

Pasta with Veggies and Marinara

Pasta with Veggies in Red Sauce

I have to say, my bowl of pasta was beautiful.  A good helping of marinara sauce (which would have been awesome with a gluten-free bread product of some type!) with a variety of vegetables cooked in.  I spotted zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms immediately.  And the gluten-free pasta was fusilli…so twisty and perfect for capturing delicious sauce.  I will call this dish…”Pasta for the strange gluten-free vegetarian at the table in the back.”  Or…more simply…Pasta and Veggies in Red Sauce ($22.00).

Now, this is the second Italian restaurant I have visited at Disney World.  Normally we just head over to Hollywood Studios and enjoy our food (complete with gluten-free dinner rolls and gluten-free dessert!) at Mama Melrose’s.  But since were were in Epcot…we figured it would be easier to eat there than park hop.

I sort of wish we park hopped…

It’s not that Via Napoli was bad.  It wasn’t.  The food was actually quite good.  It was just…average though.  The pasta in my dish was actually cooked to perfection.  A lot of gluten-free pastas, especially when crafted from rice flours, tend to get gummy and fall apart.  These were a perfect al dente and held up to the marinara and the vegetables.  But…there was a lot of pasta in that dish and I ended up picking out the veggies at the end and leaving the noodles alone.  I ate about 3/4 of the dish…and that was it.  I was done.  The marinara had a lot of flavor to it.  And the vegetables were a nice touch and I appreciate the chef at Via Napoli for doing that to accommodate my dietary needs.  I just…had better.  Elsewhere.

Jenn enjoyed her lasagna…after she picked out most of the spinach.  And Cathy made sure to eat all of her meatballs.  They were much smaller than what she normally gets in a spaghetti and meatball dish, so she appreciated that too.  But she too had to soldier on and leave some of her pasta noodles behind.

No dessert here for us…we had plans.  Cathy wanted her chocolate cannoli from one of the gelato carts in the World Showcase, and I headed to France to get some Salted Caramel Gelato from an ice cream shop there.  Yummy!

So, as it stands, Via Napoli put out good food.  I can’t think of anywhere at Disney where I have had bad food.  It’s just…Mama Melrose’s had more options for me…and a bit more to offer.  So next time…I think I’ll return to Mama Melrose’s.  But, thank you, Via Napoli, for the fine cuisine.  A little taste of Italy never goes wrong with me.

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Restaurant Review: Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

Restaurant: Moerlein Lager House, Cincinnati, Ohio

It had been a long day for me.  No…really.  And, while a part of me was super stoked that I was leaving right from work to drive up to Cincinnati, Ohio, with my roommate, for a concert, another part of me just wanted to curl up under a blanket on the sofa at home.  But…there was music to be enjoyed.  And she had purchased a set of tickets to see Bastille in Cincinnati awhile back to help cheer me up.

This foot injury has had me pretty down since July…and she thought a surprise and a band I love might just help lift my spirits.  It did.  but this was a crazy, intense week at work, and my brain was ready to shut down.

Thankfully, that mindset changes when you actually get on the road to an event that you are really looking forward to.

So, at 4 p.m., we departed the office and hit the road up to Cincinnati, Ohio.  A couple of days prior, Cathy had made reservations with a place not to far from US Bank Arena (the venue for the show) due to some gluten-free options available on their menu.  I love trying out new food places so…WOOHOO!  Even better…it had fish and chips readily available for her.  YAY!  She made the reservations for 6:30 p.m., which would give us some time to hit traffic and get into the city, park, and get to the venue.  The last-ditch food option would be Chipotle, if the traffic gods were not with us.

But they were…and we arrived in Cincinnati just before 6 p.m., having only hit some traffic in Covington, Kentucky, just before crossing into Ohio and hitting Cincinnati.  We readily found parking and got out, making the short stroll from the parking garage (with it’s $20 event parking!) to the restaurant, which was literally one block up and then over…down toward the river walk.  Beautiful night too.  Perfect weather.

We walked up the stairs to Moerlein Lager House and stepped inside.  There were a few people ahead of us, but most went right to the bar.  We stepped up and Cathy mentioned that we were early, because traffic wasn’t as bad as we anticipated…and they were more than happy to sit us down early.  Nice.  We were shown to a very nice table, somewhere between the rowdy bar and the floor to ceiling windows, which offered a spectacular view of the riverfront.  We were given our menus and a menu that had the specials on it, where if any item were ordered off that menu, a donation would go towards a charity.  Tempting, but there really wasn’t anything on there for me…and Cathy had her heart set on fish and chips.  Our waitress, Kelly, came over to see if we wanted something to drink.  We started with water.  And when she returned, she asked if we wanted any appetizers or had any questions on the menu.  Cathy mentioned that I was a gluten-free vegetarian…and she came over.  I think she missed the “vegetarian” part following gluten-free…because she highly recommended the crab cakes.  But…hey…she tried.  And…working in it’s favor – the restaurant labeled everything V for vegetarian and GF for gluten-free.  And wouldn’t you know it…they had a dish that fit both requirements.

Cathy ordered her Fish and Chips ($18.00), which was cod that was battered with their house beer, Hudelphol, and served with a jalapeno tartar sauce, coleslaw, and fries…and decided she’d live dangerously with a non-alcoholic beer (I agree with some friends of mine on this…what’s the point??!), Einbecker ($7.00) to have with her entree.

As for me…I happily placed an order for the Crispy Balsamic Tofu ($17.00).  YES!  You read that right.  This entree was served with a spinach basil risotto and roasted tomatoes, cipoline onions, and wild mushrooms, topped with shaved asparagus and preserved lemon salad.  It had actually been a toss-up between that entree, or ordering a few sides and dining on that.  Cathy pointed out I could get those sides offered virtually anywhere…but the tofu dish was an original.  I agreed…and that’s what I ordered.

Moerlein Lager House's Crispy Balsamic Tofu

Moerlein Lager House’s Crispy Balsamic Tofu

While we waited for food, we discussed the concert…the music…my upcoming marathon…my foot (which to this day still bothers me!)…and the restaurant itself. And, when our food arrived, we were both certainly ready to dive in and devour.

My dish looked beautiful.  It was a true culinary work of art.  The tofu was sliced on the diagonal, making perfect triangles that had this great crispy coating on the outside.  It was all set over this mound of perfectly creamy risotto with the vegetables framing the outside of the dish.  Shaves asparagus topped it all off and there was this gorgeous balsamic reduction that was drizzled over the plate.  I felt bad slicing into it…but I was hungry, so that moment only lasted briefly.

One bite was all I needed to realize how much I loved this meal.  The tofu had this great crispy outside, but inside it was still rich and soft.  It was glazed perfectly with the balsamic reduction and the hit of lemon just made it shine.  The shaved asparagus was cooked to a perfect al dente and used as not only a garnish, but as a great addition to the roasted vegetables on the plate.  The onions were spectacular and the tomatoes were soft and juicy.  But the star…the absolute star of this entree was the spinach basil risotto.  It was phenomenal.  Creamy and rich and packed with great earthy and herby flavors.  I was already telling Cathy after one bite that I wanted to recreate this dish at home.  She sampled the risotto and understood why.  I also had her try the tofu…and she really liked that as well.  This dish hit on everything I liked.  It had a nice tang to it, but the flavors were simple and real.  And I ate the entire thing…possibly in record time.

A dessert menu was brought to our table and after a bit of discussion…and the mention of a Chocolate Creme Brulee ($7.00), Cathy and I decided that we could treat ourselves and split the dessert.  Cathy checked with Kelly to make sure the Creme Brulee was gluten-free.  She said she thought it was, but would check.  It was…and after a small wait, the delicious looking dessert was arriving at our table with two spoons.  Holy Moses!  This was one spectacular and rich dessert.  The burnt sugar on top was fun to crack through, but what it gave way to was this rich and decadent chocolate cream.  Cathy described it as high-class pudding.  HA!  And that’s what it tasted like.  It was amazing.  And I think once we set the spoons down, Cathy might have licked the bowl a little bit.

Honestly, the service was amazing and I didn’t feel nervous about eating here.  The clearly labeled items on the menu helped make it very easy to navigate and to make sure I got what I needed and wanted.  And what would be safe for me.  Cathy loved her meal, and even enjoyed the jalapeno tartar sauce.  She said it was her second favorite tartar sauce she’s had yet.  That’s something.  The food was outstanding.  I mean…it’s not every day I can get a vegetarian dish that is also gluten-free at a restaurant without it being…a salad.  So, this was a nice treat, indeed.  And one day, when I run the Flying Pig Marathon…you better believe this is the place I’ll be hitting up for dinner.

Thank you, Moerlein Lager House…you exceeded my expectations!

Moerlein Lager House's Chocolate Creme Brulee

Moerlein Lager House’s Chocolate Creme Brulee

 

Restaurant Review: Pizza Lucé, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pizza Lucé, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pizza Lucé, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Restaurant: Pizza Lucé, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This past week I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  I was there for a few reasons.  To visit with family.  To see some friends.  And to run/walk the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.  Yes.  Run/Walk.  Am I ashamed of this?  Not at all.  This race was a warm-up.  A warm up to the race I am running in 3 weeks exactly.

New York City Marathon.

And, as my training schedule was completely killed with my foot injury and then…orthodic problems…I went to Minneapolis not quite certain I’d be able to even run/walk the course.  I figured, I could at least spend time with family.  On Saturday morning, I was pretty certain the race was off.  I went to the expo and hobbled through, getting my race number, buying new shoes, shopping, checking out the vendors and other races that were there…and the more time I was there, the more I wanted to do it.  It also helped that my friend Heather was telling me I could do it.  Walk the hills.  Just walk the hills.  And to help, she took me on the tour of the entire race course…and…yeah…I figured I could at least give it a go.

While touring the course, my aunt, Jan, and my cousin, Molly, texted me to find out dinner plans.  They know that the night before the race is gluten-free pizza night.  And to avoid that horrible mistake that was Pizza Ranch last time I raced in Minneapolis, Cathy did some research before we left.  I heard only good things about Pizza Lucé, both on Find Me Gluten Free and in regular reviews.  In fact, they are touted as “The Best Pizza In Minneapolis.”  So…that had to be good right.  We hadn’t thought of reservations, but as there was going to be at least 11 of us there…Molly went ahead and got that arranged.

That evening, at 5 p.m., we showed up at Pizza Lucé on West 66th Street in Richfield, Minnesota.  My cousins, their significant others, and the children were all there.  My aunt was the last to arrive.  But there we were…me, my roomie, my bestie, my family…ready to give this place a try.  I don’t think the Pizza Ranch experience will ever be forgotten.  We joke about it even now.  All of us who endured it.

But, as this place had not only gluten-free, but also vegan options…I was already feeling good about it.  We were seated and our drink orders were taken while we looked over the menu.  Heather was onboard with splittling with Cathy and I up until I said I needed the vegan cheese.  Then, Cathy left it to me to choose what pizza to do (or build our own, which is an option).  I was actually torn between a seasonal special or one of the signature pizzas on the menu.  I was going back and forth and when I mentioned the Curried Coconut Butternut Squash Pizza (roasted butternut squash whipped with curry and coconut milk and finished with fresh red bell pepper, feta cheese, red onion, pineapple and fresh cilantro) to Cathy, she seemed very unenthusiastic about it.  So, I decided to go with my other choice…the Wild Mushroom and Arugula Pizza ($18.89).

While the various orders for each of us (some of us got pizzas, some got pastas)…we all sat around and talked about tons of things.  My cousin Molly had a new baby girl that I hadn’t met yet…her two boys were entertaining on the other end of the table.  My cousin, Andy, just got married and he and his wife were there…so we talked wedding.  We talked running.  We talked family. We talked about everything.  Literally.

And then…tasty food began arriving.

The Gluten Free Wild Mushroom and Arugula Pizza was set down next to me – a fantastic 10 inch gluten-free crust that was topped off with olive oil, fresh basil, arugula, caramelized onion, garlic, a wild mushroom blend (cirimini, oyster, portabella, and shiitake) and Daiya cheese (vegan!).  It looked AMAZING!  I mean, my mouth immediately began to water.  And it was then that we realized that Heather, Cathy and I totally forgot to grab lunch today.  So, yeah…we were ready to dig in.

I served 3 slices, half of the pizza, to Cathy and saved the other half for me.

OH. MY. PIZZA. GOODNESS.  This was creamy, crunchy and good!  Beyond good.  This pizza was so delicious.  I love a good white pizza and this went above and beyond what I am used to.  It was so creamy because they actually got the Daiya cheese to melt down to a perfect gooey texture.  The blend of flavors was classic, with the arugula adding a hit of peppery flavor to the sweetness of the caramelized onion and the earthiness of the mushrooms.  I might have devoured every single bit of it.  Seriously.  Like hoovered it all down.  I was so happy with the food here I really considered going back.  They, after all, also have a gluten-free stuffed shells on the menu.  Pardon me while I drool!

In a heartbeat…I would definitely return to Pizza Lucé in the future.  This place beyond impressed me.  And I think all of us who survived the disgusting nastiness of Pizza Ranch the year before were grateful to have delicious food and the variety of options that Pizza Lucé offered.  If I had been there longer, I would have returned during the rest of my stay in Minneapolis.  Seriously…so happy and can’t wait to go back next time I make it to Minneapolis!

Pizza Lucé's Gluten-Free and Vegan Wild Mushroom and Arugula Pizza

Pizza Lucé’s Gluten-Free and Vegan Wild Mushroom and Arugula Pizza

Recipe: Irish Stew

Twas the day before I left for vacation and I still had a lot…and I mean a lot of fresh produce left from my bin.  Sometimes I think I should cancel it the week I go out of town, but never really want to.  After all, I love my local and organic fresh produce being delivered to me and I hate these weeks I get back from a trip and have nothing in my fridge resembling a fresh fruit or vegetable.  I had to do something with the plethora of produce that remained…and I wasn’t exactly sure what I could manage.

All hail the Happy Herbivore.  In the cookbook, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean, which, for those of you keeping track, is the same book I got the Garden Vegetable Chili recipe from, I found an amazing recipe for Irish Stew.  Yes…vegetarian Irish Stew.  Her recipe was not gluten-free…but I made a couple of adjustments…and added a more nontraditional ingredient (to use it from my crisper drawer before leaving, naturally) to make the recipe work for me.  Honestly…it is delicious.  And so easy to prepare.  Like any stew, chili, or soup…just let it simmer and let all those flavors soak in.  That’s what it’s all about.

Recipe: Irish Stew

Irish Stew

Irish Stew

Servings: 3-4 (but I managed 6)
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Cook 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 portobello mushrooms (I used 16 ounces of crimini mushrooms)
  • 2 cups No-Beef Broth (I used 2 cups organic vegetable broth)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 thyme twigs, fresh, de-stemmed, or 1-2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalk, sliced
  • 2 medium white potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup Guinness stout (I used Redbridge Gluten Free Bear)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons Vegan Worcestershire Sauce (I used gluten free low sodium tamari)
  • **(In addition, I added 2 leeks to this stew…as I had them in my crisper…and why the hell not?)**


Directions:

Remove stems from portobello mushrooms and discard.  Cut the mushroom caps into strips and set aside.

Line a large pot with 1 cup of no-beef broth.  Saute onion and garlic over high heat until onions are translucent, about a minute or two.

Add thyme, carrots, celery, potatoes, stout, and tomato paste, and stir.

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and continue to cook for about 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms on top, along with Dijon, bay leaves, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and remaining broth.  Bring to a boil again, cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring every so often.

Continue to cook until mushrooms and potatoes are very soft – past fork-tender.

Taste, adding more Worcestershire sauce if desired.

Add a generous amount of black pepper and salt if desired.

Remove bay leaves and serve.

~*~*~

This is definitely a healthy and hearty stew.  It has that great ‘stick-to-your-ribs’ feel to it, yet is completely plant based.  Gotta love that.  And I thought my addition of the leeks actually worked quite well.  As I had to use a beer instead of a stout, the flavor is a bit more mild, but this has Ireland written all over it.  A little nontraditional…but very good.

I froze a few servings of it and this thaws out and reheats beautifully.  Trust me.  You’ll love this!  Especially as we enter the perfect time for soups!!  And with just over 115 calories per 1-3/4 cup serving…you won’t feel guilting indulging in this stew either.  I can’t wait to try out more of the Happy Herbivore dishes!

Recipe: Garden Chili

I have a lot of vegetables in my crisper drawer.  Like…a lot.  A whole lot.  Because…I get a CSA bin loaded up each Friday and sometimes I get through them, and other times…I don’t.  Well, last week with all the birthday insanity…I barely got through them.  It wasn’t without trying.  I just…had so much going on and a few dinners had to be really quick and simple and…not cooked from my fresh and delicious vegetables.  Hey…I did make an amazing salad though with a whole lot of them.

But, I digress.

With a trip coming up next week, I am determined to use up much of what is now in my crisper drawer.  I also had a new gluten-free and dairy-free recipe for cornbread that I really, really, really wanted to get working on…so…I thought…

CHILI!!

Now, I have a TON of recipes for vegetarian chili…but I wanted one that I could use simply what I had in my kitchen.  And, it just so happened to exist in my Happy Herbivore Light & Lean cookbook.  Only thing I needed was…beans!  Simple enough, I was grocery shopping today anyway.  So…clocking in at 153 calories and 1 gram of fat, I give you…

Recipe: The Happy Herbivore’s Garden Chili

The Happy Herbivore's Garden Chili

The Happy Herbivore’s Garden Chili

Servings: 2-3 (but I made 6 servings out of it)
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Cook 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes (undrained) (I used fire-roasted low sodium diced tomatoes)
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoon Vegan Worcestershire Sauce (I used gluten-free liquid smoke instead!)
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pinto or kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I used organic chili beans)

Directions:

Line a large pot with a thin layer of broth, and sauté onion and garlic over high heat until onion is translucent, about a minute.

Add the bell pepper, tomatoes with juice, mushrooms, celery, carrots, tomato paste, remaining broth, spices, and condiments.  Stir, cover, and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce to low and simmer until the vegetables are fork-tender, about 10 minutes.  Add water or tomato sauce to make it more chili-like if necessary.  Add beans and serve.

~*~*~

Okay…confession…I totally missed the part where it said to cover the pot.  HAHA!  No wonder it took a little bit of time to get those vegetables fork-tender.  My total bad!  But, it still worked.  And what emerged was a fantastic spicy (but not too spicy…because the roomie didn’t even comment that her sinuses were running!) chili that celebrates vegetables.  Most vegetarian chilies seem to put so much emphasis on beans that this was, indeed, a nice change.  And serving this up with a couple slices of gluten-free and dairy-free cornbread made for one great, perfect fall meal.

It’s soup/chili season, folks!  Let’s get cooking!

Product Review: Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning

Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning Mix

Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning Mix

Product: Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning – $3.95+

Maybe it’s the “end of summer” last call in this month’s Cuisine Cube, but I was hit up with a product I couldn’t eat (Field Trip Cracked Pepper Turkey Jerky) as a vegetarian, and then, as I was eagerly pulling products out of the box…noted the burger sauce and the burger seasoning.

You’d think I would do as I did with the turkey jerky and put it in the break room as fair game for any hungry or burger-loving co-workers.  But not me.  You see, one thing I love doing is creating products in my kitchen.  And never have burgers been completely limited to meat.  Especially where I am concerned.  What I did was started to ponder what a vegetarian could create using these products meant for burgers and lo and behold…it came to me.

I decided I would create a veggie burger (using green lentils for the main source of protein) and figured I could use the Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning Mix as I would if I had been cooking with meat.  It was brilliant.  It was…a good reason to dig out those lentils.

Last night, I donned my skull and crossbones apron and set myself to work, creating my veggie burger.  Lentils, mushrooms, and more all got cooked up, and after giving it a little mash, in went the seasoning.  I immediately loved how light and citrus-y it smelled.  It had this very bright aroma to it and I knew it was really going to elevate my veggie burger.  Happiness.  I chilled the base and after about 30 minutes, pounded out about 10 actual patties, freezing 8 of them and using two for dinner (one for me and one for the roomie!).  Some olive oil on my skillet and down went the patties.  No cheese necessary…I was topping these with Russian red kale and green tomato.

Within a couple of minutes, the burgers had a beautiful sear on them and I lifted them off the skillet and put them in the gluten-free buns (which I purchased from my local gluten-free bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Café).  Dinner was served (with a side of smashed purple potatoes!).  I topped these off with the Charleston Gourmet Burger Co. Burger Sauce (see next review!) and then…settled in to see how my own play on a veggie burger came out.

I can honestly say, thanks to the Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning, I didn’t need to add anything more to these burgers as I formed the base.  No extra salt.  No other spices or herbs.  This was just what these lentils, mushrooms, and other veggies needed.  The seasoning itself wasn’t too strong, but you could definitely taste the variety of flavors that made up this mix.  The veggie burgers that I made with the Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning were pure perfection…especially when it came to balancing flavors.  Brilliant.

The Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning Mix is made from garlic, thyme, black pepper, salt, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, onion, parsley, natural lemon juice powder, sugar, and citric acid.  This mix is all natural, cholesterol free, and gluten-free.  And…it’s perfect for carnivores and herbivores alike.  Trust me.

A serving of the Dinner Tonight Burger Seasoning Mix is 1 teaspoon.  This one serving will provide you with 5 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.  You will be taking in 135 mg sodium.  Finally, this serving gives you 0 grams of protein and fiber.

Once again, Cuisine Cube provided me with a product I never would have known about or tried…but thanks to it being in my cube, I found a purpose for it.  I’m not going to let a vegetarian keep me from trying whatever I can in these boxes of happiness each month.  The jerky was one thing…but burger seasoning…hell, I can figure out a use for that!  One delicious veggie burger later, not using it with a meat base made no difference, this seasoning mix should be raved about.  Absolutely loved it.  And now, I have my first official recipe for my own cookbook.

Thank you Dinner Tonight and Cuisine Cube!

Restaurant Review: Blaze Pizza, Louisville, Kentucky

Blaze Pizza, Louisville, Kentucky

Blaze Pizza, Louisville, Kentucky

Restaurant: Blaze Pizza, Louisville, Kentucky

What’s the deal with restaurants and that tasteless, pre-made, pre-packaged gluten-free pizza crust?  It’s so rare to actually receive a freshly made pizza crust…unless you happen to have a specialty bakery in your area…like I do.  But, not everyone is that lucky, and those who aren’t are usually left to those cracker crust gluten-free pizza shells that it seems every place serving a gluten-free pizza uses.

That was what I was prepared for when my roommate and I decided to try out the newest (small) franchised chain and place to offer a gluten-free pizza option in Louisville.

Blaze Pizza.

I had heard things about Blaze Pizza.  Good things.  My good friend, Harry, raved about the place, telling me all about how it’s like a Subway or Qdoba for pizza.  And that they offered a gluten-free crust.  I had heard that they offered a gluten-free option and had definite interest in checking it out.  Instead of my normal Saturday breakfast, my roomie and I skipped the gluten-free bakery and made plans to meet Harry for lunch at Blaze Pizza.

Unfortunately, Harry’s appointment he had prior to the lunch meeting was running over and he had to cancel.  So, it was just Cathy and I on Saturday.  And our first experience with Blaze Pizza.

Blaze Pizza prides itself on exceptional quality pizzas that are fast-fired (3 minutes!) and cooked to perfection.  It starts with made-from-scratch dough and then topped with either some of their classic toppings…or you can build your own.  Whatever you like from there healthful, artisinal ingredients.  It’s up to you.  And then, they are placed in a hot oven…3 minutes later, you receive your pizza, crust thin and perfectly crisped…and you’re ready to dig in.  That’s Blaze Pizza.

So, when Cathy and I stepped inside, I was expecting the usual song and dance.  Order a gluten-free pizza and watch that pre-made crust get unwrapped and settled onto a tray to help keep cross-contamination to a minimum.  But…that’s not what happened.  We ordered the gluten-free pizza (extra $2.00 for gluten-free crust) and immediately the cashier asked if it was a preference or an allergy.  I told them it was an allergy, that I was a Celiac, and even though I was about to ask for a glove change, he instantly said, “Would you like us to do a glove change?”  I blinked.  I might have stared surprised for a long second.  “Um…yes, please.  I was just about to ask!”

So, as he called back to the girl for the gluten-free crust he said…”GLOVE CHANGE!”  The person who was working these amazing pizza crust presses (I so want one…it takes a heap of dough and presses it into a perfect 11 inch thin crust) changed her gloves and reached for the gluten-free dough.  YES…DOUGH!  It went onto a special tray and then into the other (and I’m assuming dedicated) pizza press.  In a quick second, fresh pizza crust was settled onto a wooden plank in a special tray and set for saucing.  The cashier reminded the people on the line (who were busy with a large party ahead of us) that they needed a glove change.  But, instead, to make sure it happened, the girl running the pizza press, who had just changed her gloves, went ahead and asked me what sauce I wanted.

Here was where I thought I was going to have a problem.  I was watching as the saucing station would ladle one of their six sauce options onto the dough and then use the ladle to move the sauce around the dough.  As a Celiac, I was beyond curious as to how this was going to work and was going to ask the sauce people as my tray moved.  But instead, my pizza went to the end of the line with a separate sauce station.  I wanted the red sauce.  So, the untouched sauce went onto my gluten-free crust.  I was asked what cheese, and I ordered the vegan cheese (extra $1.00 charge) and the pizza press girl with the clean gloves loaded up the pizza with the vegan cheese.  Then I added the toppings i wanted…which were red onions, roasted red peppers and mushrooms.  We got a sprinkle of dried oregano over the top and it was set to go into the oven.

All together, the build-your-own pizza was $7.00 even for unlimited toppings.  With the added cost of getting the gluten-free crust and the vegan cheese, the pizza ended up running $10.00.  Cathy got a fountain drink and I got a bottle of water and we went to take our seat.  Cathy had me save a table while she went to watch the pizza get fired.

The glove change was written on the paper that the pizza dough is placed on.  Cathy watched as they paced the pizza into the oven on one side of the oven away from the other pizzas.  They were constantly moving the pizzas around, but they kept mine segregated from the rest.  As the pizza was about to come out, the oven person noted the glove change on my paper, so before he touched the paper or anything else, he took off his gloves, washed his hands, and put on fresh gloves.  Then he moved the pizza off the silicone tray onto the paper and reached over to the far end of his station to grab a fresh set of tools (cutter, tongs) all with bright red handles, which I am assuming was for gluten-free orders because they were on the opposite end of his station.  He sliced up the pizza to order, not touching any other order, pizza, or tools until he was done with my order.

I was impressed.

So…now came the moment of truth.  How would this pizza (of my own creation) taste?  For the record, Cathy and I decided to call our pizza creation the “Comrade Pizza” because (with the exception of the mushrooms) every ingredient was red.  HA!  Get it?

I wanted to dig right in, so I took a hot slice of pizza, immediately noting the beautiful, crisp, and charred crust.  My mouth was watering.  And with one bite…I knew…I was now in love.  My God…what a difference a crust made from fresh dough makes.  This was phenomenal.  I loved hearing that crisp crust crunch with each bite, without it tasting manufactured.  Those cracker crusts often just taste…bland.  This had flavor.  This was crusted to perfection.  This was…pizza magic.  Seriously good pizza.  This was also the best I had ever seen the Daiya vegan cheese melt into an ooey-gooey mass of cheese goodness on a pizza.  Seriously.  It looked like real cheese.

Not only was I impressed with the pizza at Blaze Pizza, I was more than impressed with the care that the employees and the owners put into keeping those who have a gluten allergy as safe as they can.  Honestly, I went in there a bit nervous about my meal…but my fears were immediately put to rest.  I would, with confidence, return to Blaze Pizza again and enjoy another fantastic pizza.  And I intend to do that.  Because I still have to get some pizza with my friend Harry.

Maybe this week.  I might be craving…already.

Thank you, Blaze Pizza…for the fantastic experience.  I swear…I will be back!

The

The “Comrade Pizza” from Blaze Pizza in Louisville (gluten-free crust, red sauce, vegan cheese, roasted red peppers, red onions, mushrooms)