Restaurant Review: Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

Verde, Kapa'a, Hawaii
Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii

 Restaurant: Verde, Kapa’a, Hawaii one in Hawaii was a big success.  I was originally coming to enjoy the challenge of the Kauai Marathon, but things change and so do circumstances.  With all that being said, the trip was, naturally, still on.  The marathon would just be running without me this year.  But, who says that has to stop the adventure, right?

Nothing really stops me.  Things just slow me down is all.

After the longest flight ever (in retrospect, I’ve been on longer flights, but this one seemed particularly long due to the very annoying family traveling behind us who DID NOT SHUT UP the entire time and who do not have indoor voices or control over their children either!), we found ourselves in the humid, sunny atmosphere of the island of Kauai!  HELLO GORGEOUS HAWAII!

After getting our rental car…returning our rental car…getting a different rental car…getting to the resort…not having a room…so going for coffee and a drive and some shopping…we got checked in…and settled and changed.  We went to the beach (major props to Jenn and Cathy for helping me get out to those waves!)…we came back to the resort…and we were ready for some real food.  Seriously, I had lived my day on 2 navel oranges, a Quest protein bar, and coffee…so real food was necessary…stat.

But Cathy was prepared with our dinner plans that evening.  And, we were going to be enjoying a little Mexican flavor here on the Island of Kauai.  I am a huge lover of Mexican food, and she found a great place located just up the street from our resort, located in the Kapa’a Shopping Center.  The restaurant of choice – Verde.  And it was hopping Friday night.

Never one to take a Celiac anywhere unknown, Cathy did some serious research before we headed to Hawaii…finding a lot of different and varied places to enjoy meals while we are visiting.  Verde came with great reviews and a menu that boasts gluten free and vegetarian options.  With the Friday night packing the little restaurant, we waited outside for about 10 minutes until a table opened up that could seat three of us comfortably inside.  During the wait, the staff brought us water and menus so we could have an idea of what we might want to eat when we get seated.

Of course, me being me, had already scoped out the menu and knew what I would be eating that night.  When one of the Verde staff took us inside to our table (and even carried my water for me!), they asked if we had any questions and when we didn’t, we just let them know that I was a vegetarian Celiac.  With that not even being a problem…we placed our orders.

Jenn and Cathy both got the Garlic Shrimp Tacos ($13.95) (really…I think that they are just going to eat the same stuff everywhere we go, LOL!), which was cornmeal-crusted shrimp, local greens, cabbage, guacamole, pico de gallo, flour tortillas, and a roasted garlic-chipotle aioli.  Jenn got hers with the guac and pico de gallo on the side (which…is totally Jenn), whereas Cathy kept her taco as a comprised dish.

I opted for the Vegan Tacos ($10.95).  These intrigued me from the start.  They are corn tortillas that are stuffed (and I mean stuffed) with green beans, spinach, broccoli sautéed in chipotle, and topped with pico de gallo.  I had never had green beans in a taco before.  Like I said…I was intrigued.

While we were waiting, a bowl of tortilla chips and fresh salsa were delivered to the table.  I didn’t partake at first, because I never trust tortilla chips.  Shared friers are very real and very scary to me.  But Cathy flagged down one of the staff and asked if they were safe for me.  He assured me they keep everything separate as his wife is Celiac and they make sure they take every precaution.  YAY!  It is so rare that I get to have a few of the chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant.  This sort of was an exciting moment for me.

The homemade corn chips were fried to perfection, completely crispy and not overly salty.  I loved the nice balance that each crispy bright brought.  And the red salsa that was served with it was mild and full of flavor.  A nice way to whet the appetite before the main event.

And the tacos were not a disappointment.

Verde's Garlic Shrimp Tacos
Verde’s Garlic Shrimp Tacos

Cathy and Jenn had these delicious looking bread shrimp tacos, greens, pico, guac and a heavenly aoili that topped it all off.  They both raved about it…especially the aioli.  I asked Cathy if they beat out my vegan shrimp tacos that I made (because I love to put her on the spot like that) and she stammered and stuttered and finally said they were two different things.  HAHA!  I told her it was okay if they were.  But, both of them devoured their tacos with gusto and raved about.  Cathy pretty much did that with every bite…so I say these definitely win out over my vegan version I sometimes do at home.  HA!

Cathy also got a glass of the Hapa Limonada Verde ($4.00), a signature drink that Verde prepares that is a blend of Agua Fresca 4 Citrus Green Tea, Pink Lemonade, Lime, and Agave Syrup.  Jenn and I each tried it…and wow…super delicious.  The agave syrup as the sweetener was a nice touch for sure.  Jenn and Cathy drank the rest of it up.  I was sticking to water…which I didn’t get enough of that day (evident in the leg cramps that hit me that night!).

Verde's Hapa Limonada Verde
Verde’s Hapa Limonada Verde

As for me…the vegan tacos were amazing.  With a lightly fried corn tortilla holding a mound of fresh vegetables, cooked to perfection, I was in love at first bite.  The green beans were the main base, and they had great texture and great flavor.  The broccoli, however, was the true star, cooked in chipotle spices.  The pico and the spinach were a nice addition, but the main veggies were definitely the main event.  I devoured…seriously…devoured my two tacos, with the packed veggies that fell out getting eaten with a fork.  No veggie left behind.  It was a great meal and just what this weary and sore traveler needed, for sure.

We polished off the remaining tortilla chips and paid for our meal.  We left content, full, and really pleased to have actual food in our bellies.  The servings weren’t ridiculous, they were perfect.  The food was cooked to order, safe for me to eat, and really, really delicious.  I was so happy when I left Verde that evening to return to the resort and shower off and relax for a bit before turning in.  My body is getting adjusted still to the time change.  I think I made it to 8 pm before turning in.

What a great way to kick off the food experience of Hawaii.  If any plans fall through while in Kauai…I’d go back there in a heartbeat.

Verde's Vegan Tacos
Verde’s Vegan Tacos

Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest – Indianapolis, Indiana – August 23, 2014

GF Jules and me at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana!
GF Jules and me at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana!

This past Saturday, I had the honor of being able to attend the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest up in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I love going to gluten-free expos and events and Indianapolis seems to always have one at some point during any calendar year.  This year was no exception, and I was thrilled to read about the new location for this year’s event – the Indian State Fairgrounds.  With all the vendors and exhibitors I saw listed, I knew this year’s event was going to be HUGE! I was not let down at all.One of the magazines I currently subscribe to, Gluten Free & More (formerly Living Without), was putting on the Living Without Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in various cities this year as a way to show those with food allergies and/or sensitivities that we can live life without deprivation and missing out on delicious food.  It was a coming together of the magazine, as well as over a hundred of their favorite exhibitors to celebrate living well.  And it was open to anyone who wanted to stop in.

Tickets went on sale and, as a subscriber, I received a free entry, and then received a discount code for another ticket…so I had Cathy taken care of as well.  So, on Saturday morning, we ate a light breakfast before climbing into the car and hauling up to Indianapolis.  We timed it perfectly because we burned through our breakfast just as we got up there, about 30 minutes after it officially opened.

And…there was already a line waiting to get in.

Oh…that made me happy, indeed.

It was a hot summer day already and standing outside in the blazing sun didn’t sound like too much fun…but it wasn’t going to be a long wait.  Just about 5 minutes, at the most.  And while standing in line, I got to listen to people who have done expos like this before (like me) describe the events and how things work to the first timers.  I even got to geek out over favorite products and the like for a few moments.  I love making gluten-free friends!

Before we knew it, we were inside the doors, in the air conditioning, and getting the tickets scanned.  We were given blue wristbands to wear (for re-entry purposes and to show we paid!).  Cathy and I put them on and headed into the expo proper.  We were greeted at the door by people passing out reusable shopping bags from Glutino (a personal favorite!).  Perfect for all the samples and products you are bound to pick up and buy.

Trust me, you don’t walk out of these events empty-handed.

Cathy and I decided that we were going to be systematic about our approach to each table/vendor/aisle.  We’d start on one side and then work our way up, then come back down the other side.  This was a good plan in theory, and we decided to start in the middle aisle to avoid the congestion of the end aisles.  We soon found out…no matter what…it was just hopping and congested.  People were surrounding tables, getting free samples, trying products, trying local baked goods, and the like.  So, we ditched our original systematic plan for the…let’s just see what there is and wriggle into open areas when we can.

We’re pros.  HA!

That being said, we began our Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest at the Glutino/Udi’s/Earth Balance booth, which was giving out samples of Udi’s Gluten-Free Salted Caramel Cashew Cookies as well as Glutino’s Gluten-Free Multigrain English Muffins, schmeared with Earth Balance Creamy Coconut and Peanut Spread.  It was all crazy, crazy delicious.  I actually have the Glutino English Muffins in my freezer, I just haven’t tried them yet. Now…I know buying them wasn’t a mistake at all.  They were delicious.  And that Earth Balance Creamy Coconut and Peanut Spread…out-of-this-world good!

And from there…it only got better.  We made a point to stop by each vendor’s table and talk to them about their products, if we had tried them.  If we hadn’t…we would ask all about them.  I made a point of raving to the Pamela’s Product people about the Figgies & Jammies.  Because they are awesome and worthy of praise.  I talked to the Hodgson Mills representative and when I mentioned being a food blogger he said to reach out to the Hodgson Mills team anytime.  I was told the same thing by various other vendors as well.  And one local vendor who was selling the most amazing bar-b-que sauce and seasoning (which we purchased) said to tag her on Facebook when I use their products so they can read my blog.  I was having a great time.

I think, though, the best moment had to come at the Freedom Foods table.  Because, as many of you are aware, Freedom Foods only makes my favorite gluten-free cereal, Tropic-O’s.  NOM NOM!  I can’t find this cereal here anymore, since my Whole Foods stopped carrying it, so my parents ship it to me from Birmingham, Alabama.  We have a system down.  But, recently, they put out a gluten-free, dairy-free, and not-free version of Nutella…which I fell in love with.  My local Kroger is the only place that had it…and I bought the last jar of it a few weeks ago.  It has never been restocked.  So…I stocked up on some Quinoa Pancake Mix, lots of “Smudge” (that’s the Nutella stuff!), and a few other products to try, all the time raving about how much I love their products and how they honestly care about what ingredients go into all of their stuff.  It didn’t hurt that the guy at the table had a New Zealand/Australian accent.  HELLO!  I actually ended up going back to the table before leaving that day and buying 4 more jars of Smudge.  I hadn’t opened the one I had at home for fear I would never find it again.  Now…it’s on!

I was able to sample some of the best gluten-free Snickerdoodles I have ever eaten.  And this pasta that was made from lentils that tasted exactly like regular pasta…but I couldn’t afford the hefty price tag on it.  Unfortunately.  It was nice to sample it, however.  At the very back of the building, for those over 21, was the gluten-free cider/beer tasting area.  There was so much food and samples…so I was glad we ate light.  And Cathy and I have a system down…where we split a sample so we aren’t filling up on our own.  It always works at these events.

However, I have to say the greatest moment ever was when I finally got to meet GF Jules in person. GF Jules (formerly Jules Gluten Free) was one of the first Celiac/Gluten-Free bloggers/recipe makers/amazing people I started to follow on social media after my diagnosis.  While I have been to events where she has been present, I have never been able to actually meet her.  That changed.  We discovered that we were food allergy soul sisters, both of us being vegetarian Celiacs who also can’t handle dairy.  Go figure.  She was so nice and just so easy to talk with.  I picked up one of her cookbooks, which she signed, and she was kind enough to take a picture with me.  I might have geeked out a little bit.  Or a lot.  You know how it goes…

And soon, after a couple hours of tasting, testing, buying, talking, and exploring, our time at the expo drew to a close.  We were going to meet our friend, Greg, for lunch that day, so we bid adieu to the fantastic event and made our way out to the car.

This event was probably the best one I have attended so far.  Great people, great vendors, great information all around.  And I came home with samples and products to try in the very near future.  Can’t argue with that, right?  Right!

I hope they return next year.  I’m already making plans to attend.  If one of these events happens near you…I definitely encourage you to go!

Product Review: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches
Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches

Product: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches – $2.69

For those of you, who, like me, were diagnosed with Celiac later than life…raise your hand if you remember the simplicity, the ease, and the not-really-so-tasty-but-you-thought-it-was days of yore when you could pull something called a Hot Pocket out of the freezer, slide it into a little heat envelope thingy, and nuke the hell out of it…the filling oozing out of the edges and baking to that microwave safe, dish.


Yeah…those were the days.

There was, honestly, a time when those were my lunch.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Sometimes dinner.

Those were the days I lived out of my freezer.

Like…I sort of am now because I hit a low point in my life and went on a buying spree of things I didn’t really need…but at the time, apparently had to have…in my freezer…which I had emptied out of processed foods and is now packed full of them once again.  This is what happens when a runner sprains her ankle.  She falls off that wagon.

That being said…simplicity and ease shouldn’t be eliminated completely.  And while I don’t like dining on processed foods, they do play their part.

As I mentioned, Aldi put out a test line of gluten-free products, branded as liveGfree, and spanning everything from cookies to crackers to snack bars to frozen meals to ready-made frozen pancakes (2 flavors even!) to…things like baking mixes.  Yes…Aldi has jumped on the bandwagon and has offered those of us who must eat gluten-free a more affordable option than what we get at all the grocery stores and natural food stores where we have to shop.

I won’t lie…I pretty much snagged one of everything when I went into Aldi.  Thankfully, I took a stroll around the store and found more items in the freezer section.  YAY!!  Jackpot.  Because in among them were the liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches.  Yeah…happiness can be achieved with stuffed sandwiches…because they really don’t exist in the gluten-free world.  Well, Glutenfreeda makes a version of them, but none of theirs are also vegetarian.  BOOO!  So the fact that Aldi’s liveGfree brand has a vegetarian option…hell yeah…that was coming home with me.  This was meeting my freezer.

And, as I was going running with my friend Natalie yesterday…I needed a simple dinner to heat up so I could change, slather on some sunscreen, and head through the mess of Louisville traffic to her apartment.  We wanted to do something out-of-the-box instead of our normal Monday run.  And it meant some ice cream at the end of it (I had Fudgesicle sorbet!).  So, I really had nothing already prepared…so I opened up my freezer and spotted the liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwiches.


I got out some plates, pulled the stuffed sandwiches out of the box, slid them into the sleeve, put them in the microwave for just over 2 minutes…and gave them their quick nuking.

Dinner was served…conveniently speedily.

But was it any good?  Well, I served up Cathy first and she was delicately nipping at the sandwich while mine was heating.  I asked her how it was.  She did the high-pitched, “It’s…okeedokey.”  That means…eh….not so good.  So, I asked her to elaborate.  She found the crust to be dry and the filling to be spicy.  She’s a spice wimp.  I can’t remember (because it has literally been ages) if Hot Pocket’s crusts were dry to the taste…so I can’t really compare as far as that is concerned.  When mine finished up it’s cookery in the microwave, I dumped it onto my plate, cut it in half, took a picture, and then took a bite.

Yes…the crust was definitely dry.  In fact…it was distractingly dry.  I felt that the stuffing was lacking.  I loved the spice and I loved the brown rice and black bean combination, but it was seriously lacking.  I felt it wasn’t truly “stuffed,” if you know what I mean.  And while rice and beans are great fillers…and filling…these are Soutwest Veggie sandwiches.  And I found the veggies to be really lacking on the inside.  It was mostly rice and beans.   Bummer.  Actually, so far…of all the items I’ve tried from the liveGfree brand, this is the one I am least likely to purchase again.

So, let’s talk ingredients.  The crust and filling of the liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwich is made from gluten-free millet flour, water, gluten substitute (rice flour, corn starch, maltodextrin, pea fiber, guar gum), brown rice, salsa (diced tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, diced jalapeno peppers, diced Anaheim peppers, dehydrated onions, spices, dehydrated garlic and citric acid), water, black beans, roasted corn, green chilies, pepper jack cheese with jalapeno peppers, sugar, honey, soybean oil, xanthan gum, dry yeast, deli seasoning, baking powder, baking soda, salt pasteurized dried egg yolks, low moistere part skim mozzarella cheese, southwest style seasonings (spices, red chili pepper, paprika, salt, garlic powder, citric acid, modified food starch (NOOOO!), and cornmeal.  As for the topical ingredients, these include BBQ seasoning, fructose, paprika and paprika extract, tomato powder, natural smoke flavor, and spice.  These are gluten-free, nut-free, and wheat-free.

Nutritionally speaking, a serving size is one of the two included stuffed sandwiches.  This stuffed sandwich will provide you with 270 calories and 6 grams of fat. You will also be taking in 2 grams of saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 440 mg sodium, and 8 grams of sugar.  Not impressed.  And, you will also be taking in 5 grams of filling fiber and 7 grams of protein.  These, surprisingly, were filling…but they just weren’t all that good.  LOVED the spice…but it just lacked…flavor.

While I know some of my gluten-free friends have raved about these, I wasn’t as high on them, nor as impressed.  I don’t think I’ll spend my money on these again in the near future.  I was underwhlemed and a bit disappointed, since these had really gotten me pretty excited when I saw them in the freezer at my local Aldi.  A bit of a letdown…but…I am glad I at least tried it.

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwich (not so you can see)
Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Southwest Veggie Stuffed Sandwich (not so stuffed…as you can see)

Restaurant Review: Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia

Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia
Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia

Restaurant: Alma Cocina, Atlanta, Georgia

So, here I was in Atlanta, Georgia…having completed a marathon earlier that morning.  I spent the afternoon doing the tourist thing…scoping out the CNN Studios and just walking around and enjoying the city.  Trust me…after a marathon, it’s best to keep moving.  That being said…another important thing to do after running is to begin proper recovery.  And part of that is nutrition.

A big part of that is nutrition, actually.

Prior to the race, my roomie and I had thought that we’d simply return to Max’s Coal Oven Pizzeria for dinner.  Then we ate there…and were not impressed.  At all.  So, this meant new plans had to be made.  And, after watching some Food Network and seeing guacamole…I was craving.  Mexican.  Mmmm…guacamole.  Yum yum!  So, I got onto my Find Me Gluten Free app and discovered that not far from the hotel was a nice Mexican joint called Alma Cocina.  I pulled up the Web site, glanced at the gluten-free menu and thought…this might be a great place to try.  I passed the laptop to my roommate so she could take a gander, and she agreed that Mexican sounded good.  So, we made 6 p.m. reservations…and called it a night.

I marathoned.  I did the tourist thing.  I walked…a lot.  I discovered that I was hungry…and still had an hour to go before dinner reservations.  Cathy decided that we should start ambling that way because she wouldn’t feel bad walking in at 5:30 p.m.  I liked her logic, so that’s what we did…killing off a bit of spare time by wandering around the block and checking out the Dragon*Con hotels.  Because…why not?  Around 5:30 p.m., we strolled into Alma Cocina for dinner.

We were greeted immediately upon entering.  I told them that we had reservations at 6, but we were here early.  They said it wasn’t a problem, and took us right to the table.  We were seated and they went to check off our reservation, returning a moment later with some menus, including the gluten-free menu for me.  AH!  They read the reservation.  YAY!  I was feeling good about this already.

Alma Cocina's Gluten-Free Menu
Alma Cocina’s Gluten-Free Menu

As we looked over the menu, our server came over to get our drink orders.  I was recovering…so water for me.  Cathy did the same…because she’s a copy-cat.  Just kidding.  But…she did also get water.  When he returned, I inquired as to how big the sides were.  He said they were relatively big…so I pondered for a moment, but we went ahead and ordered the Gluten-Free Guacamole ($6.00) as a starter.

After leaving to put in the order, our server returned and asked me if the gluten-free was a food allergy or just a dietary choice.  I told him I was a Celiac and he nodded and said, “Okay…so cross-contamination is not okay.”  He hurried off.  I might have arched an eyebrow at Cathy.  They really do pay attention.

Alma Cocina's Gluten-Free Guacamole (served with chayote...not chips)
Alma Cocina’s Gluten-Free Guacamole (served with chayote…not chips)

Our appetizer of gluten-free guacamole came out a few minutes later.  It was this little bowl of gorgeous, creamy…yet chunky, mashed avocado with all the right seasonings and additions.  But…no chips.  The server said that to prevent cross-contamination, the tortilla chips were replaced with chayote.  I was intrigued!  He then asked if we were ready to order…and at this point we were.

Cathy went ahead and ordered the Fried Avocado Tacos ($14.00), which consisted of crispy queso cotija, poblano pesto (which she says I need to make!), roasted tomato…and yes…fried avocado.

I went for the sides…because the only other option on the gluten-free menu for me would have been the Vegetarian Platter and that just sounded like too much.  So, I opted for ordering the Mexican Chopped Salad ($4.00), which was a mix of jicama, chayote, red onion, ancho chile powder, and cilantro.  I also ordered the Black Beans and Poblano Chili Rice ($4.00) which came with pico de gallo.  Orders in…we were left to our appetizer.

The guacamole was amazing!!  Seriously.  It had red onion, serrano pepper, red onion, lime, cilantro…everything that I make mine with at home.  And it tasted fantastic.  Cathy told the waiter when he came back to see how it was that was amazing…almost as good as mine.  Hee!  But…what really made this a standout, believe it or not, was the chayote.  No lie!  The sweetness of the chayote (which, in case you haven’t googled it yet…is an edible plant that is pear shaped with a thin, green, wrinkly skin and white flesh.  It is sort of like a squash…but sweet.  And it can be eaten raw, cooked, mashed, baked, boiled, fried, etc.) was just what the guacamole was needing.  Now, at home I eat my guacamole with tortilla chips.  If I can find chayote in one of the numerous stores I shop in…that won’t happen ever again.  This is above and beyond tortilla chips.  This plant was made for guacamole!  Between the two of us, Cathy and I made short work of the guacamole.  In fact, we were just polishing it off when our entrees arrived.

Now, the chef got a little creative with my Mexican Chopped Salad.  Seemed they were out of it, so he went ahead and pretty much sliced up all the components and made a version of the salad for me.  It looked delicious and fresh as it was settled down in front of me.  And I was beyond intrigued by my green rice and super-delicious looking black beans.  Oh yeah…I was one happy marathoner.

We were left to enjoy our dinner and Cathy dove into her tacos…declaring them one of the best things she has ever eaten.  And praised that poblano pesto to the roof.

I started with the Mexican Chopped Salad.  It was an amazing array of textures and flavors.  I loved the jicama and how it tasted when mixed with the chayote.  The red onion brought a bit of bite to what, otherwise, would have been way too sweet.  As it was…I got about 3/4 of the way through before calling it quits.  It was delicious…but with the chayote with the guacamole…I needed some spice and some heat.

I turned my attention to the Black Beans and Pobalno Chili Rice.  Oh my gluten-free gods…this was delicious.  It is so simple.  So basic.  And yet…the flavors were awesome.  I loved to scoop up some of the beans and rice together.  I loved the little bit of heat that the beans had with them.  I loved the sweet, with a hint of heat, rice…and how it was green.  Pablano chili rice…for the total win.  I was enamored with this side.  I sort of wished I had ordered two of them.  But, I was getting full fast.  Rice and beans will definitely get that tummy full.  Carbs, fiber, and protein, baby!  But it was what I needed.  And I polished that plate clean.

And I was full.  The waiter came to take away the dishes and asked if we were interested in dessert.  We passed because both of us were now quite full.

Wow…what an amazing restaurant.  The atmosphere.  The service.  The overall experience…I would go back in a heartbeat to Alma Cocina.  I felt like they were very mindful of my food allergies and took great care when it came to preparing and serving my food.  LOVED every moment of our time there.

Alma Cocina's Side Orders of Mexican Chopped Salad (left) and Black Beans and Poblano Chili Rice (right)
Alma Cocina’s Side Orders of Mexican Chopped Salad (left) and Black Beans and Poblano Chili Rice (right)

What I Ate in California – Part 2

I dedicate this entry to, honestly, the best meal I have ever consumed in my life.  No joke.  Sorry mom…but it’s true.  Never before have I been treated to such an exciting and taste-defying tasting menu, all of it done by the chef’s whim.  And yes…all of it done to suit any food allergies at the table.  For me…being a gluten-free vegetarian.  For my friend Tawn…no shrimp.

What am I talking about?


Napa Rose.

Chef’s Table.


Okay…now that I got that out of my system…kind of…let me explain…

You see, Disneyland has a lot of nice treasures inside its gates.  And, after running the Disneyland Half Marathon, Indy wanted to treat all of us, plus her hubby and her dad, to a nice meal out…which would be our Christmas and Birthday gifts.  She chose Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa as the scene of this adventure.  After a long day, the four ladies got all dressed up and met up with Evan (Indy’s hubby) for a ride over to the restaurant.  Her dad was staying there so he’d meet us there.

A few drinks in the lounge and two Joey Fatone (from *NSYNC) sightings later, we were making our way to the Dessert Counter and being seated, napkins placed on our laps, and about to be treated to one of the finest, most epic, amazing meals of our lives…complete with wine tasting.  All of this…completely at the whim of the chef.

So…let’s get started:

Amuse-Bouche: Plum with Grape Relish and Gluten-Free Flatbread

Amuse-Bouche: Plum with Grape Relish and Vegan & Gluten-Free Flatbread
Amuse-Bouche: Plum with Grape Relish and Vegan & Gluten-Free Flatbread

The rest of the counter was treated to a Panna Cotta with Great Relish…but not this girl.  The chef kept is simple, elegant, and instead of the panna cotta, served me up an amazing warm Plum with Grape Relish on top.  The plum was sweet, pairing beautifully with the slightly sour tones of the chopped grapes.  It was the perfect way to wake up the palate and prepare it for the rest of what was to come that night.

In addition, while the rest of the counter got to share this large basket of various breads, a basket of vegan and gluten-free flatbread was delivered to me.  This bread had a fresh herbiness to it.  It was crispy, yet still soft.  And when it was fresh and warm…there was nothing like it in the world.  It was a nice change from the gluten-free rolls I am so used to getting.  It’s not everyday this girl gets to indulge in flatbread.  And indulge I did.  Because I just couldn’t stop eating it!!

First Course: Cauliflower Tower

Cauliflower Tower
Cauliflower Tower

What…you may ask…is a Cauliflower Tower.  Simply what it sounds like.  Cauliflower…in a tower.  But…it is really so much more than that.  In fact, while the base of this dish was, in fact, a cauliflower mash, it was blended with couscous, raisins, pistachios, and was drizzled with a blood orange sauce.  I love cauliflower, so using it as a base for this meal was sheer brilliance.  The couscous gave it a bit more body.  Toss in the sweet raisins with the salty nature and crunch of the pistachios and you have a meal made in heaven.  Seriously.  Angels eat this when they picnic on the clouds.  I swear.  The blood orange sauce just sealed the deal.  It gave this savory dish a little zing.  It was fantastic.  Down to the very last bite.  If this was any indication of what was left to come, I was all in.  I didn’t record the type of wine any of my meals were paired with…but I loved them.  All of them.

Second Course: Grilled Peach Salad with Green Beans and a Peach Yogurt Sauce

Grilled Peach Salad with Green Beans and a Peach Yogurt Sauce
Grilled Peach Salad with Green Beans and a Peach Yogurt Sauce

 The usual version of this dish is served with roasted duck.  But, being that I was the sole vegetarian at the table, the chef made one with duck, which Indy received, and made mine without it.  But this made me want to grill peaches ALL the time.  ALL the peaches.  And then consume ALL the peaches with ALL the food that I could think would pair well with them.  I will say this…I never would have paired peaches with green beans.  But…this worked.  This worked remarkably well.  The peaches had this rich sweetness to them, the green beans were cooked perfectly, so they had that crispiness to them.  And that yogurt sauce just tied everything together.  This was fantastic.  I could have eaten plate after plate of this and been one happy girl.  But more goodness was still ahead.

Third Course: Heirloom Tomatoes with Golden Tomato Essence with Fava Beans and Parmesan

Heirloom Tomatoes with Golden Tomato Essence with Fava Beans and Parmesan
Heirloom Tomatoes with Golden Tomato Essence with Fava Beans and Parmesan

 I do believe either Tawn or Cathy made the Silence of the Lambs reference when I was served this beautiful, rainbow dish.  I mean, the colors on this dish just popped.  The sweet tomato essence was what really made this dish so savory.  The beautiful heirloom tomatoes were ripe, gorgeous, juicy and the flavors danced across my taste buds with the first bite.  The fava beans added a little body…and some texture.  And to top it all off…shaved Parmesan cheese, which gave the dish that big of salty seasoning that just brought it all together in the end.  Rich, succulent…and fantastic.  Each dish was topping the last…

Fourth Course: Chef’s Creation – Vegetarian Mushroom and Tomato Plate

Chef's Creation - Vegetarian Mushroom and Tomato Plate
Chef’s Creation – Vegetarian Mushroom and Tomato Plate

 Be jealous.  Because the chef made this one specifically for me.  His gluten-free, vegetarian diner.  What exactly was it?  Savory goodness, that’s what it was.  Honestly…this was fantastic.  From the first bite he reigned me in with perfectly cooked mushrooms, beautifully seasoned and topped with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and greens.  I wanted to hoover this dish so much, but I sat there like the lady I am and ate it like the sophisticated foodie I see on television and dream about becoming.  No…really.  I savored this dish.  Every bite of it.  And I never wanted it to end.  But…my fork fell onto the last slice and soon it too was gone.

Dessert: Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint

Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint
Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint

 Without even knowing anything about me save for my food allergies and preferences, the chef sent out the most perfect dessert for me.  It involved lemon and blueberries…and that pairing is, by far, one of my absolute favorites.  So, without even knowing it…the chef capped off the perfect evening with the perfect dessert.  His Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée with Blueberries and Mint was a stunning plate to start with.  The crust on the crème brûlée was brilliant.  And that lemon flavor was just enough without overpowering the entire dessert.  Toss in the blueberries (one of my favorite berries) and the hint of mint and I was in a delicious, tasty food coma.  Seriously.  I dug right into this dessert and savored it as long as I could.  I even ate the drizzle of chocolate letters around the plate wishing me an early happy birthday.  Yes…I enjoyed it…for real…down to the very last bit.  But, I’m a dessert girl…and this was one hell of a dessert.

My hat is off to Indy, for this fantastic food experience.  If I were to choose my last meal on Earth…it would be this.  I would want to be at Napa Rose…at the Chef’s Counter…once again receiving the dishes of his choosing for me.  I loved being surprised and not knowing what to expect when my plate was carried out and placed in front of me.  The company was the best I could ever be with at this venue.  The food was outstanding.  I’ve been spoiled.  No other meal has come close to equaling this one…and I am starting to wonder if one ever will.

My food hat is off to the chef of Napa Rose…the food that is served there…the wine it is paired with (SO GOOD!)…and the good friends I shared the experience with.  If any of you find yourself at Disneyland…do try to experience this for yourself.  It isn’t cheap…I can tell you that…but the food and the experience is worth every dollar you put towards this meal.  I promise.

Recipe: Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream

So, last night I set out to work some culinary magic with some items in my refrigerator and my freezer.  What came out of the plethora of ingredients I had on hand was one of the most amazing taco dinners I have ever created.  I made mine gluten-free and vegan to fit my dietary needs, but if you happen to like real shrimp…use it.  If you can eat regular sour cream…use it.  The great thing about recipes is…they are made to be modified.

By popular demand, here is the recipe for my Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with a Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream.

Recipe: Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa and Vegan Sriracha Sour Cream


Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with a Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream
Gluten-Free and Vegan Shrimp Tacos with a Mango Salsa and Sriracha Sour Cream

Servings: 2 (2 tacos each)


Ingredients for Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa:

Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa
Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa
  • 1 mango – peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 avocado – peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil


In a medium bowl, combine the mango, avocado, tomatoes, serrano, cilantro, and garlic.

Stir in the salt, lime juice, red onion, and olive oil.

To blend the flavors, refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.

Note: You will have left-overs…so enjoy with some gluten-free corn tortilla chips or save for the next day.

While the salsa is chilling in the fridge…prepare the rest of the tacos…


4 Rudi’s Gluten-Free Fiesta Tortillas
1 box of Sophie’s Kitchen Gluten-Free Breaded Vegan Shrimp (or you can use real shrimp if not a vegetarian/vegan, just make/use a gluten-free breading)
2 leaves of Romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 cup vegan sour cream (I used Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream – or use real sour cream)
1 tablespoon Sriracha


Preheat the oven and cook the shrimp according to the instructions on the box.  If using Sophie’s Kitchen Gluten-Free Breaded Vegan Shrimp, it takes about 10-15 minutes.

Mix together the vegan sour cream (or real sour cream, if using) with the Sriracha to make the Sriracha sour cream.

Warm the Rudi’s Gluten-Free Fiesta Tortillas in the microwave for about 20 seconds.

Remove and place on plates.

Placed chopped lettuce on each of the tortillas.

Scoop about 1/4 cup of the Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa over the lettuce.

Top the salsa with the cooked shrimp.

Top each taco with the Sriracha Sour Cream.

Fold tortillas around filling and ENJOY!


I’m already considering making this again tonight, because I still have a good chunk of the salsa remaining and…it was really, really, REALLY good.  The combination of the sweet salsa with the savory vegan shrimp (don’t mock…they are awesome) and the hint of heat from the vegan Sriracha sour cream all just worked together.  My roommate (who doesn’t have to do gluten-free or vegan…in fact…loves real shrimp) fell in love with this dinner and said it was one of the best dinners I ever made.

I encourage you to give it a try!

Recipe: Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

By now, it’s no secret that one of the few fruits that I do not like (trust me…there aren’t many) are mangoes.  Yep.  Mangoes.  I have never been a fan of that particular fruit.  Give me papaya any day of the week…or any other fruit for that matter.  But mangoes…there is just something about them that I just don’t like…flavor-wise.

So…while I was away in Minnesota visiting my grandpa and running a half marathon, my CSA bin order automatically went through.  In this particular order that I was not around to modify (come on, I was visiting family, not sitting on my computer!), I soon realized that I would now be the proud (I guess?) owner of two fresh mangoes when my bin arrived on Friday.

Just…great!  (Yes…that is sarcasm).  So…what does someone who doesn’t like mangoes do with mangoes now that she has them and refuses to let anything go to waste?

Who knows?  But I get on Pinterest and do some hunting for ideas.  And one that I found, and that looked and sounded delicious…was a recipe for a mango salsa that also included other vegetables such as avocado and tomato.  It could work.  Maybe.  So…I picked up the rest of the ingredients that I needed on the way home tonight and made this salsa to accompany the vegan and gluten-free shrimp tacos I was making for dinner.

I was really, really, really surprised by how much I liked this!  Sweet, slightly spicy, and refreshing.  The recipe, taken from, is as follows:

Recipe: Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa
Avocado, Tomato and Mango Salsa

Servings: 6
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Chill 30 minutes


  • 1 mango – peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 avocado – peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil


In a medium bowl, combine the mango, avocado, tomatoes, serrano, cilantro, and garlic.

Stir in the salt, lime juice, red onion, and olive oil.

To blend the flavors, refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.


Yes…it really is that easy to make.  The prep work is what takes up all the time.  And it’s just a bunch of dicing and chipping to be honest.  What emerges from the fridge is this amazing salsa that is refreshing and layered with flavors.  Sweet from the tomatoes and mango, a bit of spice from the cilantro, onion, and serrano chili, all just mixed together and creating this deliciously balanced condiment.

I put mine on my gluten-free and vegan shrimp (yes, vegan shrimp) tacos…and that worked out beautifully.  It was one of my favorite dinners I have ever put together.  But, go ahead and pair this with tortilla chips or anything in need of a delicious salsa.

Trust me…you’ll love this.

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.


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.


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.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Hearty Rice and Bean Vegan Nachos

Twas the day of the Super Bowl and I made my roomie one simple promise.


No…really.  She had been craving nachos and I decided, despite us not watching the big game (instead we watched cooking shows…for real!), I told her Super Bowl Sunday would be the perfect day to break out some nachos for dinner.  Of course, the one catch to me being the chef of the apartment is…I make them my way.

Thankfully…she’s quite okay with that…and words like gluten-free and vegan don’t phase her one bit.

I know…awesome!

So…after a major cleaning spree that day, I started to piece together our not-too-bad for you version of Super Bowl Snack Awesomeness.  And we dug in while watching an Emeril Lagasse show on Vegetarian Main Dishes.  I can’t make this up, friends!!  This is a true story.  But the best part of this story is…how awesome and filling these nachos turned out to be!

Recipe: Gluten-Free Hearty Rice and Bean Vegan Nachos

Gluten-Free Hearty Rice and Bean Vegan Nachos
Gluten-Free Hearty Rice and Bean Vegan Nachos

Servings: 2
Time: Prep 60 minutes; Cook 10 minutes


  • 1 cup brown rice (I used Lundberg Family Farms)
  • 5 ounces (about 6 1/2 cups) Tortilla Chips (I used Garden of Eatin’ Blue Corn Chips)
  • 3/4 cup cooked no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained if canned
  • 4 ounces Teese Nacho Vegan Cheese Sauce
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 fresh Serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional) (I roasted mine with my red pepper)
  • 1 red pepper, roasted and chopped
  • 1/2 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup prepared salsa
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 lime


Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Cook the brown rice according to package directions.  While rice cooks, saute the onion in a small skillet and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, add Teese Nacho Vegan Cheese Sauce and 1/4 cup milk.  Stir together until creamy and sauce thickens.  Add half of the roasted peppers.

Spread chips in a 9×13-inch baking dish and spoon rice over top.  Sprinkle with black beans beans, onions, and the rest of the roasted peppers (red and Serrano).  Bake until the nachos are very hot, 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and add the avocado slices.  Spoon the vegan nacho cheese over the nachos, add salsa, sprinkle with cilantro.  Squeeze lime over the top.



These were so amazing and delicious.  I was so happy with the way this turned out.  It was definitely the perfect food for Super Bowl Sunday.  Nothing better than some junk food on a big game night, even if you are not watching the game.  And as far as recipes go…this isn’t too bad for you.  Packed with protein (thanks to the beans…and quinoa could be substituted for the rice), vegetables, and vegan cheese…it was guilt-free snack food for dinner.

And my roommate has already requested I make them again sometime.

I only take that as a good thing.