Restaurant Review: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Restaurant: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Normally, whenever I venture up to Indianapolis for an event, race, or whatnot, my one requirement is a stop at Cheeseburger in Paradise…because I can get a gluten-free veggie burger with gluten-free fries (or sweet potato fries)…and the burger custom made (no cheese; no sour cream) to fit my dietary needs.  This is awesome, as any frozen burger patty, or even homemade burger, tend to be a bit mushy and end up slipping out of any sort of gluten-free bread used as a bun (be it an actual gluten-free bun or just some gluten-free bread).  Cheeseburger in Paradise doesn’t have that problem…and it’s nice to be able to safely eat a veggie burger (so many use breadcrumbs as binder) out at a restaurant AND not have to eat it with a fork and knife (meaning…they have a gluten-free bun and I can pick it up).

Needless to say, I ran two half marathons, two weeks apart up in Indianapolis.  After the first one (OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon), I did hit up Cheeseburger in Paradise.  But two weeks later, I wasn’t ready to revisit Paradise.  I just had it.  My craving had been satisfied.

That being said, when I returned to the Indianapolis to run the Geist Half Marathon, I wanted to try something different.  Step out of the comfort zone…try something new.

I had been hearing some buzz around a place located in Greenwood, Indiana, by a bunch of my friends up in that area.  It was a craft beer tap house called Hops & Fire.  And what was pointed out more than once was that when you step inside to be seated, the hostess will ask if you require any special menus.  In addition to their regular menu, they have extensive vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menus.  I told her I was a gluten-free vegetarian and she grabbed both of those menus and a regular one for Cathy and told me that the menus don’t often cross over each other, but anything on either menu can be made gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian.  She took us to our table and we were seated.

Our waiter was totally adorable and came over to introduce himself.  His name was Kyle and he asked how we were doing.  Cathy pointed at me and said, “Well, she just ran a half marathon…”  He raised his eyebrows and said, “So I’m guessing you want water.”  HA!  He was so right.  Cathy had thought about trying one of their craft selections, but in the end started with the water.

Two menus and having so many options was a bit overwhelming to me.  The only thing I knew I wanted to try was Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread.  I bought Lactaid specifically for this meal.  No joke.  We went ahead and mentioned that we wanted that as an appetizer and Kyle said he’d put that in while we finished making our decisions on what to eat, as it was the appetizer that took the longest to prepare.  While he was gone, I started to narrow down my choices, getting it down to three options.  After a little back and forth and pros and cons, I went for the one that didn’t contain cheese…as I was certain I was about to consume more cheese than my body was going to like momentarily.

Kyle returned to take our order, and as usual, as I’m the complicated one, I ordered first.  I went with the Gluten Free California Wrap…keeping the House Chips as a side.  Cathy went with the Stout Pork Belly BLT, which was served with a side of their Parmesan House Chips.  Orders were in…after Kyle had to go and figure out how to combine two menus to make a dish.  Poor guy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Only a few moments late, a large plate was being carried to our table and put in front of us.  Clearly, when I saw the fact that I could get Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread…I didn’t read the description.  This plate and appetizer was HUGE.  Definitely enough for 4-8 people.  Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread ($9.00), is a full gluten-free baguette, which is drenched in roasted garlic and salted butter, served with a gooey, melted blanket of shallots and chives, which are smothered in Provolone, Mozzarella, and Romano cheeses.  This is then baked so that the top of the cheese gets golden and everything is melty and ooey-gooey.  It comes with a side of marinara.  I took my Lactaid and hoped for the best (sometimes it helps; other times, it doesn’t).  I grabbed the slice on the end and pulled it away, the cheese stretching and making me…so happy.  I cut it up, dipped a piece into the marinara…and immediately lost my mind.  If you go to Hops & Fire, this is their signature appetizer and it is not to be missed.  The gluten-free baguette was crispy on the outside and that perfect toasty, but still soft on the inside.  The cheese was melted to perfection.  The garlic was superb.  Yeah…this made me SO happy.  And, for the record, the Lactaid worked…this time.  Thank goodness!  This was A LOT of food, so Cathy and I said we’d eat half of it and get a box and take the rest of it home.  That’s what we did as our food arrived.  We boxed it up…and it was lunch the next day.

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

So, let’s start with Cathy’s lunch, shall we?  My om-nom-nomnivore (haha) friend loves to eat pig in any form she can.  This is no joke.  She loves her pork products.  So it was no surprise to me that she chose the Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT ($12.00) off of their Brewed Baskets selections on the regular menu.  It came with a decent serving of their Parmesan House Chips on the side.  This sandwich is not your typical BLT.  Hops & Fire serves up a stout beer and kosher salt-brined local pork belly, which is seared, roasted, sliced thin, and pan fried, then topped with baby bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and homemade apricot onion jam…served on their grilled garlic shallot bread.  Here’s the thing…they do NOT skimp on the pork belly bacon in this BLT.  Not one bit.  You’ll see by the photo I’m putting up here for those of you who are not a gluten-free vegetarian like me.  I mean…it was BACON. FOR. DAYS.  She had more bacon than Parmesan House Chips.  And that’s not a bad thing, as the protein is, honestly, what you are shelling out money for.  She said the garlic shallot bread was amazing (we Celiacs will never know…).  She said it could have used a slight bit more mayo…but it was awesome.  And yes…she devoured it all and the chips.  Carnivores.  Oy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a mountain of House Chips

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a side of House Chips

As for me…I went ahead and combined an offering on the Vegetarian Menu and asked that it be made gluten-free.  I opted for the Gluten Free California Wrap ($12.00)…mostly because it didn’t have cheese and avocado always wins.  The California Wrap is a gluten-free tortilla that is stuffed and rolled up around fresh sliced avocado, beefsteak tomato, bibb lettuce, pickled onions, and a roasted garlic aioli. OH MY GLUTEN FREE GODS!!  This was a simple, basic, wrap, but it tasted amazing to me.  Maybe it was because I had just pounded out 13.1 miles and was living off of watermelon and water at that point, but this wrap was great.  Gluten-free tortillas are nothing to write home about, and I’m pretty certain this was the standard gluten-free teff tortilla.  But it just serves as a way for me to pick up and devour the veggie-licious produce that was stuffed and rolled up inside.  The aioli, by the way, was delicious.  The avocado was ripe and sweet.  The tomatoes…so good.  I loved every bite of this wrap.  It came with a mountain…no…a landslide of their House Chips, which I couldn’t even finish.  Where Cathy had a decent side of hers, the chips serving was bigger than my wrap…so…I ate what I wanted and left the rest.

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

We were full, but we couldn’t end our experience there.  Kyle tempted us with a dessert menu, pointing out that those marked with a gf were gluten free and also the codes for vegan and vegetarian as well.  We were very tempted to get one of the Desserts For Two (yeah…we so wanted the Gluten Free and Vegan S’mores Cast Iron Cake), but in the end, decided we were too full for that and went with splitting a single serving of the Vegan Ice Cream Sundae ($5.00).  This was a small bowl (thank goodness) that had a scoop of vegan ice cream, drizzled lightly with hot fudge.  It was perfect and a great way to end the meal.  It was amazing.  The ice cream was not as creamy as regular ice cream, but it was cold and melty and amazing.  And the hot fudge…that’s always a welcome addition to anything ice cream-ish.

Kyle brought us our check once we had polished it off and we paid in cash and got our things together to go.  We talked about the food for a bit of the drive home…and how amazing and good it was.  I was beyond happy with the service and the attention paid to each dish that was ordered, making sure that it fit my dietary needs…nothing that made me take pause and question whether it was safe for me to eat or not.

I’m already planning my return to Hops & Fire.  So, if you happen to be in the Indianapolis area, or traveling through, do make the trip to Greenwood and check out this amazing and delicious place.  You have a specialty diet…they have you covered.  And I love it.

Next time…gluten-free onion rings.  It’s happening!

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OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (May 7, 2016)

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Me heading into the finish line of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

Race: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: May 7, 2016

Time: 1:39:28

Four years ago…four years ago I ran the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon as my second half marathon EVER!  I was fortunate enough to have a friend in my corral, a local runner I met with the (now gone) Blue Mile Monday running group.  It was a fantastic race that day.  Hot.  Steamy.  Sweaty.  But fantastic.  It was such a spirited, fun, and well-run race and expo…that I vowed to go back.

And then…it didn’t happen.

Until, I decided to run it again.  It was a really random, really quick decision to run it.  And I didn’t really shout about it because, as I’ve said before, every day is different for me.  I never know when there is a good day ahead or a bad day…so, I haven’t really been talking about races I’m doing just in case it’s not a good day and I don’t actually run it.  It’s hard coming back from injury, but I’m being cautious and smart about it and I’m not pushing it.  So…I left work early on Friday and trekked up to Indianapolis, Indiana to get checked into the hotel.  I always stay at the JW Marriott when in Indy for a run, when it’s convenient.  It was for this race.  The start line was right out the door!  HA!  Besides, I’m a princess…I like to stay in nice places.  (Joking…sort of…).  After checking in and dropping off bags in the room, Cathy and I headed down to the race expo to pick up my race bib.  This was a little bit of a hike through the convention center, but it’s a hell of an expo and worth the hike.

We noted the Starbucks in the hotel and said we’d stop and get a banana for me for in the morning on our way back.  Once we got into the expo, we were handed drawstring backpacks and we immediately headed to the Packet Pickup area.  Since I registered later, my number was pretty high up there, which meant hiking further back in the line of windows with bib numbers.  I found my spot and went up to the window.  They said to have your photo ID ready, but the guy didn’t even ask for it.  He did find my bib and got my shirt…tucked it into a Blue Mile bag and handed it over to me.  YAY!  Officially ready to run.  But first…shopping…

…and the official merchandise store always has some goodies to offer.  Cathy went and bought an official Finisher shirt for me (I can’t buy that…bad mojo).  And I ogled a few other things, but opted to leave it with just the shirt.  So…we began a quick weave through the expo.  This is where I fell in love with the Ocean Spray PACt Cranberry Extract Water.  I am forever having this stuff in my fridge.  HOLY COW!!  SO GOOD!!  We scooted past the Clif Bar place, which had a line due to all the samples they were handing out.  And then…

…I signed up for another race.  It was one I was considering anyway…and with the expo discount and the promise of a free hat…I ended up going ahead and signing up.  Somebody stop me!!  LOL!!  This one isn’t too far away, so I  feel confident I’ll be in good form to run it.

We then found the BondiBand booth…and…oh yeah…there were purchases made.  I ended up getting 3 more…because…I can’t have too many of these.  I wear them on runs, at the gym, and in spin classes…so, yeah…they get used.  I still own the very first BondiBand I ever had…my 13.1 one that my friend, Heather Dillon, purchased for me at my first half marathon in Chicago back in 2011.  You might say that I am a fan…but I’m also a brand ambassador for them now too.  More on that once it’s officially official.  Anyway…more money spent and it was time to leave the expo to get to our dinner reservation.  We stopped for a moment to sign the banner wall at the exit.  Then, food.

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My Gluten Free Penne with Tomato Marinara and Vegetables from Osteria Pronto at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis, IN

Now, my pre-race eats is always…ALWAYS…a gluten free pizza.  BUT…we couldn’t find a close spot that offered that near where we were in Indianapolis.  And we really didn’t want to leave the area…so Cathy found out that the hotel restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offered gluten-free pasta on their menu.  I normally don’t do pasta as I am a pasta freak and will EAT ALL THE PASTA…and sometimes it’s too much and I still have it with me in the morning.  But, you gotta do what you gotta do.  Turns out, this place had their act together. The chef and servers were very knowledgeable about gluten-free dining and when they brought out Cathy’s bread…they brought me out some toasted Udi’s Gluten Free Sandwich Bread to have with either butter (no dairy for me) or olive oil.  It was a nice gesture.  The chef threw together a pasta dish for me using the Gluten Free Penne and their amazing red marinara and some fresh vegetables (onion, red pepper, broccolini).  Cathy got their signature pasta dish – Straw & Hay (chive noodle & egg noodle, lardo, English peas, garlic cream, pine nuts, and topped with a soft boiled egg).  I didn’t think I was that hungry…but as I said, I love pasta…and I devoured mine.  LOL!!

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Just hanging out with my NUUN guys!  I loved them.  I really loved them.

After dinner, we returned to the expo to finish up.  Starbucks was closed…so Cathy said she’d get a banana in the morning for me. We revisited the entire expo, walking through the slightly less chaotic area this time.  Cathy bought another BondiBand for spin class, and the lady working there gave us the discount so she only paid $5 for it, since we previously bought some that day.  YAY!!  I found the NUUN table and got to talking with the cute guys behind there.  I told them I was a #nuunambassador and we got a picture together.  LOVE!!  It was fun.  My new favorite flavor…the Mango Orange.  WOW!  And…then I signed up for ANOTHER race.  Seriously…stop me.  This one is in the fall…and they gave me a free wine glass and an expo discount for signing up.  Cathy was given a race shirt because they were so impressed with what a great running fan she is and everything she does for not just me…but other runners.  SUPER awesome.  We wrapped up the expo and hiked outside to Circle Center to hit up Rocket Fizz.  We ended up purchasing a Diet Root Beer for Cathy and a Nut Goodie Bar to split for dessert.  I am a firm believer in dessert.  And then…it was back to the hotel.  I talked to my sister on the phone on the way back…and I even stood at the window in my room and watched an ongoing baseball game…which was totally awesome.  Cathy went to go shower and I needed to do my nightly foam rolling.

I had made a promise to my good friend, Deana, after the Derby Mini, that I would dedicate the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon to her.  I kept my word, and in Sharpie, on my race bib, I wrote: FOR DEANA!  I texted her a picture and we chatted for a little while…as I watched some Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives (seriously…this is a tradition!) and did more foam rolling and used THE STICK on my hip and hip adductor.  After that…it was time to set the alarms for the morning and get some sleep.

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The final race day outfit…I was told to NOT wear the tank…I am glad I didn’t.

My first alarm went off and I got up, turned it off, took my medicine, used the bathroom, and then…went back to sleep.  My second alarm got me up at 5:30 am.  I grabbed my pile of race gear and headed into the bathroom to change and put on ALL THE SUNSCREEN.  Hey, I’m a pale, blonde, Irish girl…I burn easily.  And I had to slather it ALL OVER myself.  I wasn’t sure at this point if I was running in just a sports bra or if I was throwing on a tank, but I acted as though I’d do the bra only.  Once I had my Injinji socks on and my Newtons laced up, I put my hair up in my signature pigtails, dressing them up with red and black hair extensions.  And the BondiBand was a pink and black checkered one I found at the expo.  It was the closest thing to a checkered flag I could find.  I went back into the hotel room and made sure Cathy got up out of her bed.  Her mission was to go get me a banana from Starbucks.  They were giving them away for free, but it was a madhouse, and she was gone long enough that I managed to eat my cereal, do all my PT stretches and turn on the news/weather.  When she got back, she changed, ate a protein bar, and drank her Starbucks Cool Lime Refresher.  At about 6:45 a.m., I had my fuel belt on and was heading out the door.  Cathy realized she forgot the sign, so back to the hotel room to snag it.  And then, we were on our way, heading down the elevator and out the door.

My friend, Julia, was running in the 5K, which was going off at 7 a.m.  I was hoping to find her, but, there were SO many people that I never did see her.  I looked and waited.  And never saw her go by.  DANG IT!  Cathy thought she heard the announcer say something about corrals closing and said that it involved mine, so now we were walking the line down to the split in the corrals.  She found an information guy and asked and he aid that my corral was going to open as soon as the 5K runners were though…since I was in C.  So…Cathy made me panic for no reason.  She does this a lot at races.  Seriously.  *deep breath*  We walked back up and I downed my banana and I went to get into Corral C.  I had a moment to do my dynamic warmup moves before Cathy said she needed to stake out her spot at the other side of the start…so she made me take off my NYC Marathon zip I had put on to keep warm.  I parted with it, and was surprised that it wasn’t too chilly at the start.  A little, but not enough that I was shivering.  The National Anthem was sung BEAUTIFULLY and the wheelchair racers were sent off by Meb.  Meb was there running from the back of the mini to the front…I never got to see him.  Dang it.  In fact, I finished the race before he even started.  I did beat his time though, LOL!

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Meb waiving the green flag up in the bucket. I didn’t even see him. I suck.

The corrals moved up and the first wave was prepared to be sent off…by Meb…at 7:33 am.  The horn sounded, Meb waived the green flag, and we were off.  I crossed the start line, started my Garmin, and just went with the crowd.  I saw Cathy and gave a wave and headed toward the Indianapolis Zoo.  I didn’t see any animals out this year…but it is a nice way to start the race regardless.  That zoo is gorgeous!  This was a quick pace for me, though it didn’t feel it at the time.  My first mile was 6:57, apparently, but I dropped back after that.  Let me say, I am very glad that Cathy told me to go with the bra top only and not the tank.  The humidity was very real at Mile 2…and it was still early.  So, yeah…that worked out wonderfully.  I would have died with fabric on me.  As it was, my legs felt heavy and I was wondering how well this race was actually going to play out for me.  But, I pressed on, hoping I’d find my stride and fall into a comfortable pace and hold it.  Mile 2 and 3 are run on W. Michigan Street.  In fact, much of the first 5 miles of the race is through residential and such areas…but always with spectators and people there to cheer, some more populated than others.  Mile 5 is Main Street…and a banner is spread over the top welcoming runners to Main Street.  There are restaurants and the like out here and the crowd was loud and proud.  It was a nice way to make the turn toward the Speedway itself.  You enter the speedway via a steep downhill slope, and then back up.  Inside, you hit Mile 6 and the run around the actual Indianapolis Motor Speedway is on.  This is the part I always look forward to.  This was also the slowest miles of the race for me.  I think it’s because the sun had come out, the humidity was high, and there was no shade out on that track.  But I was running ON THE TRACK of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  How cool is that.  They have 2 pit stops (water stations) inside the track, but I carry my own water and fuel with me, so I never make use of these.  I thought about it though, with the humid air.  I was sweating!  The best part…the highlight, is hitting that brickyard.  I flashed devil horns to the photographers and carried on.  You exit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just before Mile 9.  From here…it’s 4 miles to the finish.

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Me leaving the start gate of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

4 miles is a morning run for me.  So, despite feeling like I was really slowing down, I was super happy with how I was plugging along.  I kept saying, “This is for Deana…and Deana doesn’t quit!”  Or “Be relentless…like Deana.”  Mantras really help.  LOL!  I wasn’t about to quit…when it’s humid and hot, you just slow it down and run comfortable.  Miles 9-11 wind you back toward downtown, and when you get to Mile 12, you see the checkered flags, and hear the crowds, and you just run.  You just run because you’re almost done.  You just run because you are heading to that finish line. You just…do what you’ve been doing all along, but with feeling and spirit and maybe jazz hands.  Or maybe not.  Jazz hands might be a little much…

I love this part of the race.  The energy is amazing.  I could hear the finish line announcer and I knew I was getting close.  My watch beeped long before the 13 mile marker (I was about .20 miles ahead of the mile markers), and I picked it up some more.  I gritted my teeth, dug deep, and pushed it.  I saw Cathy to my right with my sign and just screaming at me.  And I noticed, as I neared the finish, that the clock time said 1:39:45…I crossed.  I just turned out another half marathon (13.29 miles on my Garmin)…and was only 1:07 minutes off of breaking my PR set at the Geist Half Marathon in 2014.  I felt amazing.  And accomplished.  And…yeah!!  I was ushered toward the medals and was handed one, which I eased over my head, somehow not spilling any water in the open water bottle I was holding.  I’m just that talented, folks.

I was given a plastic bag to put water, banana, fruits, energy bars, and whatever else into as I walked through the runner recovery area.  As I got a Dole cup, one of the Dole employees said he loved my outfit and smile and asked if he could get my picture with the Dole cup.  So, I agreed.  If I turn up on any Dole advertisements, let me know.  I am almost famous, LOL!  Afterwards, I headed into the After Party area where I was to find Cathy in the family reunion zone around the end of the alphabet.  I spotted her and rushed over…and she gave me my official time!!  I was SO happy with it.  Impressed because I felt like I was running through tar at some points…no joke.  But this was 2 minutes better than Derby…which was 2 minutes better than NYC.  Nice pattern there, yes?  LOL!

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Getting my post-race massage.  I obviously approve, LOL!!

I changed out of my shoes and put on some recovery shoes.  I snagged some chocolate milk for Cathy and then headed into the massage tent.  I NEVER miss a post-race massage whenever possible.  Seriously, this just helps me with my recovery.  The lines weren’t long yet either.  The nice lady who gave me my massage was awesome.  It was, seriously, one of the best post-race massages I have ever had.  She asked me a lot about running and how I got into it…and she really stretched me out and worked my muscles.  She told me she loves working on people where she can feel their muscles and see how they move when she works on them.  GO ME!  Afterwards, I was ready to head back to the hotel to shower, so Cathy and I headed that way.

The hotel was handing out cold towels to runners so we could wipe our faces and get refreshed, which was SO awesome.  Once we got up to the room, I went to go shower and Cathy packed up everything.  Once I was clean and dressed, she called down to have the car brought out by valet and I downed some water and played on my phone for a moment.  We finally went down just as our car came around.  Packed up…we hit the road to go to Target and then meet up with our friend, Greg, at Cheeseburger in Paradise.  A celebrator Gluten Free Veggie Baja Burger (no cheese or sour cream) was in order.  I got mine with the gluten free sweet potato fries.  I devoured it.  No joke.  We did a bit of shopping after lunch, hitting up Half Price Books…Strange Brew for coffee…and the outlets in Edinburgh, before heading home.

Half Marathon #18…done.  And it’s my third fastest one to date!!

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Half Marathon #3 this year…done…Half Marathon #18 in my running career…done…3rd fastest half marathon time…achieved. Call it a comeback!

So, the official results of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon is that I finished in 1:39:28.  I was 889/24,768 finishers overall.  I was 123/13,487 female finishers.  And I was 21/1,939 finishers in my division!  I am so happy with this result and I texted Deana and she was so honored and happy.  It was a wonderful race, and now I remember why I loved it so much.  I hope not to wait another 4 years to return to this one.  That being said, I’m already in talks with Deana about some upcoming stuff for next year, which I’m super excited about.  I’m sure I’ll discuss that when it all falls into place.  I am certain my endurance will continue to get better.  Half marathon distances used to feel so easy for me, but I’ve been struggling in the last few miles as of late.  But this one surprised me, because I thought I had really slowed down, but I never once hit a sub 7:45 minute pace.  At all.  WOW!!  And to think I slowed down to a pace that felt “easy.”  At least my fitness has been kept up over the span of time I was out with injury last year.  I credit that to my spin classes, regular gym visits, and sheer determination on my part.

Deana…I ran hard and strong for you…I’m glad this race turned out the way it did.  Thank you for being an inspiration, a badass, and truly, an amazing friend.

Restaurant Review: Toasted, Orlando, Florida

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Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Sometimes I find food places to try in the most peculiar and unexpected places.  As I was prepping to head out to Orlando, I was sitting on my couch at home, scrolling through my Instagram feed…when I spotted an amazing looking photo on #NationalGrilledCheeseDay from someone that I follow on there.

And it just happened to be in Orlando.

And it also just happened to feature grilled cheese and…FRIES.

Fries.  I rarely get to eat fries when I go out to eat.  And it’s potato.  And potato is one of my favorite things in life.  So, naturally, I had to check them out.

The place was called Toasted.  And I suddenly needed to know more…like…was there more than just gluten free fries that I could eat there?  Like…did they have…vegan cheese??!!  Was it possible??!!

I went to Toasted’s Web site..and lo and behold…they had a regular menu, a vegan menu, and a gluten free menu…and they were all interchangeable.  They even have a gluten-free vegan burger if I wanted to do burger rather than sandwich.  And as tempting as a burger was…GRILLED CHEESE!  Hello!!

I was handed the gluten free menu first and was looking it over…and when I asked about vegan options, I was handed that menu as well.  And the first thing that caught my eye was a sandwich that involved all the spicy goodness that I love.  Sriracha, jalapeno, and then…random tomatoes.  Mmmm.  That was easy.

So, my traveling brigade and I decided to get our orders in because we had been on the go pretty much all day (since downing bagels from Erin McKenna’s at Disney Springs around 10 am.

Jenn ordered the Truffle Melt ($6.25), which is a sammie made from Havarti, truffle oil, arugula, and fresh ground pepper.  Mmmm…cheese-y goodness.  She got the Truffle Fries ($2.50) as her side.

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The As Gouda As It Gets with Rosemary Truffle Fries from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Cathy ordered the As Gouda As It Gets ($6.75), which is a sammie made with Smoked Gouda, pulled chicken, roasted red peppers, and garlic spinach.  She also got the Truffle Fries ($2.50) as her side.

As for me…as I said…I saw some spicy goodness listed on the vegan menu.  So, I ordered the Vegan Fireball ($5.75) done Gluten Free (+1.25).  This was gluten free bread with Housemade Vegan Cheese with jalapeno, sriracha, and tomato.  And I went for broke and ordered the Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries ($3.50)…which was a happy accident, as I really just wanted the Truffle Fries.  Oh well.

We were given one of the signs, which contained a code from their Periodic Table of Cheese.  We had Gr (Gruyere).  It was a short weight…long enough to listen to a woman having a loud conversation on her cell phone and discuss how excited we were about dinner.  Maybe about 10 minutes later, our food arrived.  This was when I realized I had somehow got the Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries.  Like I said…happy accident.  I was ready to dive in.  I needed to slice my sandwich in half and it made for a gooey (yes…GOOEY VEGAN CHEESE!) sandwich mess.  And I loved it.  Usually vegan cheese doesn’t melt to the point of epic gooeyness.  This one…this one did!  God bless amazing housemade vegan cheese.

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The Gluten Free Vegan Fireball Sandwich with Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

One bite…and I no longer want Tom + Chee or….well…that’s really the only place I’ve been able to have a gluten free and vegan grilled cheese.  And they don’t get gooey runny vegan cheese in theirs.  THIS WAS LIFE CHANGING!!  I loved that it was spicy, without being too spicy.  It had a nice balance with the warm, melty, messy cheese (YAY!), the jalapeno slices, the cooling tomato, and just the right hit of sriracha.  SO good.  I was seriously dredging the crusts of the bread through the cheese puddle on my plate.  And the fries…oh…those were good.  I was sort of disappointed at first because I’m such a huge fan of ketchup, but the vegan cheese was delicious with the truffle and rosemary flavors.  The only downside…was when the cheese got a bit cool.  Nevertheless, despite saying I wouldn’t be able to eat them all…I did.  Happily.

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Look at the GOOEY vegan cheese in the Gluten Free Vegan Fireball from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Cathy loved the fries…and thought they were amazing.  She liked her sandwich, but despite being a fan of Gouda, she felt the sandwich needed a stronger cheese to pair with the boldness of the garlic spinach.  But she LOVED it. She also stole some of my Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries and thought the vegan cheese was awesome.  Nice smokey flavor.

Jenn gives two thumbs up to her sandwich and fries.  Wouldn’t change a thing.  We all just hoovered and loved every moment of our culinary sandwich and fries.

Yeah…Toasted is just that good.  It’s simple, easy, but crafted and amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.  If you aren’t into sandwiches (and if not…what is wrong with you) they have burger options (also available gluten-free and vegan), salads, amazing side dishes, and even a kids menu.

If you are going through Orlando, Florida…not doing the whole Disney thing where you pretty much just stay on Disney property and don’t leave until you are forced to go to the airport…check out Toasted!  They have two locations in Orlando – Winter Park and Lake Nona.

Seriously, I’d go back to eat here in a heartbeat.  When you give me one of my favorite comfort foods and do it up beyond my expectations…you have my full and undivided attention.  Toasted…thank you!  I am one happy gluten-free, dairy-free girl!

Product Review: Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Product: Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns – $6.69+

Two ladies in my running group have mentioned Better Way Gluten Free Bread to me on various occasions.  They said they could find it at their Kroger in the regular bread aisle.  I admit, I haven’t visited the regular bread aisle…in five (5) years.  My roommate doesn’t eat regular bread these days unless we’re out or visiting someone…because we keep cross-contamination out of the kitchen.

Needless to say, after putting in miles with these ladies, I ultimately forgot, time-and-again, about the bread discussion.  Despite usually going grocery shopping directly after running and breakfast.  Go figure.  That being said, they both posted friendly reminders and rave reviews on my Facebook page that, ultimately, I remembered while at a Kroger in Louisville.  The one on my side of the river, near my home…does not carry too much in the line of gluten-free bread, save for the standards in the frozen natural food area (Udi’s and Rudi’s).

The brand I was seeking…Better Way.

I was so happy to find a loaf of their white bread (although I have heard I need to definitely seek out and devour the 7 Grains), which I have already used up an entire package.  I haven’t blogged, because I forgot…so with the new one sitting in my pantry…I’ll be sure to do that.

That being said, I had a meal (or 2) on the menu this week that would require hamburger buns.  Because when you’re making Pizza Joe’s (plantbased…made with lentils and lots of delicious stuff to make it taste like pizza)…the bread is highly important.  Normally, I would pick up sandwich buns from my local allergen-free bakery (Annie May’s Sweet Café), but I forgot.  Whoops!  So, while I was out running, my roommate took it upon herself to surprise me…by going to a different Kroger than we normally hit up while in Louisville and returning with…Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns!!

They were a part of lunch today!

This morning, I opened up the orange bag and sliced through the freshness seal that the four (4) hamburger buns were placed in.  I pulled out two of the buns, noting how soft and squishy they were.  That was exciting.  Needless to say, I chose my bun for this afternoon and ripped off a small bit to try right then and there.

That was all it took for me to fall absolutely in love with Better Way’s Gluten Free Hamburger Buns.  If you have ever been able to eat those hamburger buns you had at picnics and at home as a kid (and perhaps an adult)…this is exactly what this bread tastes like.  It is very, very reminiscent of those classic white hamburger buns, which is definitely to be applauded when talking about gluten free bread.  Happiness with just one bite.  The test would be to see how it held up with the Pizza Joe’s filling heaped all over it.

Pizza Joes topping off the Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Pizza Joes topping off the Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

The great thing about these buns is while they taste and feel like those classic hamburger buns of my pre-Celiac diagnosis state…they have a somewhat stiffer crumb to them.  But this is a good thing.  This meant that the buns themselves did not fall apart nor become mush under whatever (in this case saucy lentils that taste like pizza) you top it off with or sandwich between.  That’s a rare thing with gluten-free buns.  Most often I have to toast them and they still fall apart.  Not these.  Nope.  These held up without toasting or warming…it was pure perfection.  And I became smitten.  Enough that I have already picked up another package of the Better Way Bread and Hamburger Buns when I made my Star Wars run.  HA!

Let’s talk about what goes into Better Way’s Gluten Free Hamburger Buns, shall we?  These buns are made from water, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, tapioca syrup, corn starch, xanthan gum, potato starch, cultured rice flour, and contains 2% or less of each of the following: whole eggs, extra virgin olive oil, salt, yeast, and enzymes.  These amazing gluten-free hamburger buns are made in a gluten-free facility, are dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, contain no high fructose corn syrup (YAY!), and use non-GMO ingredients.

As far as nutritional information goes, these really look good, especially when compared to other gluten-free store-bought brands on the market.  A serving size of the Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns is 1 roll (85 grams), and there are 4 servings per package.  One roll will deliver you 180 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 36 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 4 grams sugars, and 2 grams protein.  That’s relatively close to the same nutrition data on regular white hamburger buns.  Totally winning.

I am so glad that I was told (numerous times) and reminded (numerous times) to pick up and try Better Way Gluten Free Bread.  I’m addicted.  It’s the closest thing I have had to regular bread outside of a gluten free bakery.  Having this bread and these hamburger buns on hand is a definite must these days.  Totally surprised…totally wowed.  Totally in love.  If you’ve been searching for the best gluten-free bread in grocery stores…seek out and find Better Way.  Check with your grocery stores and see if they can order it if you can’t seem to find it.

Veggie burgers are a must in the very near future…now that I have a bun that will hold up to all the fillings!!

Product Review: Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers

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Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burger

Product: Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burger – $6.99+

There is just something so amazing and comforting about a good veggie burger.  The problem that I find, thank you Celiac Disease, is that most veggie burgers on the market use some sort of vital wheat gluten or gluten-containing binder to give them their “meaty” texture.  It sort of takes all the veggie burger eating fun out of it for the gluten-free.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many gluten-free veggie burger options in the freezer sections these days.  I’ve pretty much tried them all.  And they’re a wide range of amazing perfection to…eh…it’s alright.

And just when I think I have pretty much sampled them all, my roommate finds a new one to try.  The Brand…Luna Burger.

Not familiar with Luna Burger?  Neither was I at the time.  But there it was (only one gluten-free variety among the various Luna Burger line), in the freezer section of Columbus, Ohio’s very own natural food store, Raisin Rack.  I. LOVE. RAISIN. RACK.  It’s required shopping whenever I go to Columbus.  No joke.  It really is.  Grocery budgets are planned around the Raisin Rack visit.

Anyway, I digress.  So, here was this small, unassuming box containing two (2) veggie burger patties…by Luna Burger.  Luna Burger is actually based out of Columbus, Ohio.  This company makes artisan veggie burgers with Ohio-grown ingredients.  How amazing is that?  The only gluten-free option they have is the BBQ Burger, but their vegan line-up includes Classic, Garden Thyme, Farmhouse Chili, Peanut-Cilantro, and Kickstart Sausage Patties.  I wish I could try all of them, but, alas…the BBQ Luna Burger is it for me.  Luna Burgers are available at many of Central Ohio farmers’ markets, as well as stores and restaurants throughout Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.  They can also be ordered for delivery through Green B.E.A.N. Delivery (which I have and use) in certain markets.  And, yes…these can also be ordered online.

This past week, since returning from New York City, it’s been a live out of the pantry/fridge/freezer week.  Use up some things and not spend money on more groceries.  HA!  I am on a very tight budget these days thanks to a raise in rent..and those constant medical bills.  BLARF!  So, yesterday, I was digging around for something to have for dinner and I remembered that I had a box of the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers in my freezer.  I had just picked up some Allergen Free Sandwich Buns from my local allergen-free bakery (Annie May’s Sweet Cafe), and had some greens, tomatoes and onions that needed some using up.  I also had some Alexia Fries in my freezer too…so it turned into a burger and fries night.

I love burger and fries night.  Not going to lie.  The problem is finding a decent gluten-free veggie burger that doesn’t squish out of the bun or crumble with the first bite.  It is nearly impossible.  Not only that, I don’t want something that is flavorless or tastes like cardboard…or worse.   Been there, experienced that.  I want something that makes me feel like I’m eating a real burger.  I was hoping that the Luna Burgers would live up to my own high gluten-free veggie burger expectations!

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My amazing veggie burger & fries night made possible by Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers

So, I popped the fries into the oven for the 16 minutes it would take to cook them.  Then, I got out my skillet and turned on medium heat.  Opening up the box, I found two thick (yes…THICK) four ounce (4 oz) patties ready to hit the heat.  I placed each one on the skillet and began to slowly cook it per the instructions on the box.  When I flipped the fries and set the sandwich buns on the baking sheet to toast lightly, I flipped the burgers too.  A few pieces flaked off, but for the most part, the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers held their own in the cooking process.  I was actually impressed.  No trying to piece burgers back together.  That was a nice change of pace for sure.  When the fries were done, I began to layer up the sandwich buns to build a huge…hefty…but amazing veggie burger.  Bun…mustard…greens…Luna Burger patty…tomato, onion, avocado…more mustard…and the other half of the sandwich bun.  Oh…I was already trying to figure out how I was going to get my mouth around the entire thing.  It was a beautiful thing for sure.

But the big test always comes with that first bite.  And this burger delivered.  I was really impressed with how the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers cooked.  But I was even more impressed with how they held up when being handled and eaten.  Honestly, most gluten-free veggie burgers crumble and fall apart with each bite.  They squish out of the bun and lack that “meaty” texture that you want…even with a veggie burger.  The opposite was the case with the Luna Burger BBQ Veggie Burger.  I loved the texture.  It was soft, but got that nice crust on each side, giving it this great burger texture.  It didn’t fall out of my bun or crumble when I picked it up and took large bites.  I was beyond impressed with the myriad of flavors that came in this burger as well.  I don’t know if I got that smokey BBQ flavor that, but I did get a little bit of heat and sweetness.  And it definitely made for an amazing and interesting (in a good way) flavor profile.  Totally hoping somewhere around here carries these, because I would LOVE to have them in my freezer again.  Delicious!!

Let’s discuss the ingredients that go into the Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers.  These burgers are made from brown rice, black beans, onion, brown rice flour, carrots, tomatoes, peaches, sunflower seeds, kale, molasses, garlic, jalapeno peppers, apple cider vinegar, salt, ground mustard, and black pepper.  This burger is gluten-free, wheat-free, corn-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soy-free, and contains no extra oils.

As far as nutrition goes, Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers live up to their healthy packaging.  A serving size is 1 burger (114 grams) and there are two (2) burgers per box.  A serving will provide you with 170 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 31 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 3 grams sugars, and 7 grams of protein.  This is a filling, healthy, completely vegan product that makes you feel good about eating it.  I mean, Luna Burger uses locally sourced fruits, grains, vegetables, and herbs.  LOVE it.

The Luna Burger BBQ Pure Plant Veggie Burgers definitely rank up there in gluten-free veggie burger options.  Not my #1 choice, but definitely close.  Perfect texture, flavor, and so satisfying.  You can’t go wrong.   Need to treat yourself to some comfort food…turn to Luna Burger for your veggie burger needs.

But remember…only the BBQ variety is gluten-free and vegan!

Product Review: Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Product: Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger – $5.99+

Veggie burgers are one of my current favorite treats.  I just find something so amazingly comforting and…yes…crave-worthy…about burgers.  Since I gave up meat and then had to give up gluten…really good and different veggie burgers have been hard to come by.

Thankfully, there seems to have been a lot of growth in the market.  Some have been outstanding; others have been truly outshined by their competitors.

With growth comes flavor variations, and one of the first to really move beyond the classic or black bean varieties has been Qrunch.

Qrunch Foods was created by Jim Adams (a former restaurant marketing executive) and Brad Holley (a classically trained chef).  Adams’ wife and Holley’s daughter were both gluten intolerant, and both knew from experience that finding delicious, but also convenient gluten-free products could be hard.  That and the “good for you” products on the market were tasteless or…just disgusting.  Gluten free had become associated with “anything free of good flavors” and vegan was simply thought of as “yuck.”

Knowing there were better things out there in the vegan and gluten-free world, Adams and Holley began tasting and experimenting with organic grains, produce, spices and other ingredients, having a goal to incorporate them into something that they would want to eat themselves – but more importantly, be able to offer to their loved ones.  They didn’t want to use soy, so they looked into some lesser-used, unique ingredients that could meet the requirements of their gluten-free family members.  It was from this idea and these trials that the Qrunch Burger was born.  One of the main ingredients and flavors in all of their products is quinoa, hence the “Q” in Qrunch.  With health in mind, millet and organic vegetables were added to each burger base…and they nailed it.  With a goal to create great-tasting, gluten free foods…they have certainly exceeded all expectations.

I have eaten quite a few of Qrunch’s products…the Original Qrunch Burger and the Spicy Italian Burger for starters…and also their Cinnamon-Vanilla Toastables.  So, when I spotted one of their Qrunch Burger varieties with the word Curry in it…the Indian food lover in me jumped at the chance to stuff my face with it.  I purchased the box and rushed it home to my freezer.  Then started on a meal plan where most processed and packaged foods aren’t used…and they were forgotten.

Except with the passing of the holidays…I’m on a tight budget so now is the “survive off your pantry/freezer/fridge” days.  And thank goodness I stocked up on some things…like veggie burgers…because I’ve been coming up with new and fun ways to eat these foods that I have hunted and gathered at various grocery stores…and incorporated them into my meals.

This weekend, instead of taking the easy (and more expensive route) for lunch on Sunday, I decided to get a little creative.  I knew I had the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burgers in my freezer…and I had some salad fixings from the previous night’s dinner (I made homemade dolmades with a Greek side salad)…so I thought…a salad would be good, but I wanted it to be more substantial. The answer…Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger.  No bun needed…just flavor.

I simply got out my skillet and toasted these up on each side, about five minutes per side, and while they were browning, I got out the greens, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and the tzatziki. When the burgers were done, I chipped them up, scattered them over the salad and topped it off with the cucumber and dill dip.  One amazing salad…ready to devour.

Using the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Burger as the main protein source in the salad was genius.  First of all, as the base of this burger is quinoa, it is a bit softer in texture and a little more…crumbly.  So, not trying to stuff it between a gluten-free bun and not have it spill anywhere was PERFECTION!  This is Qrunch’s newest flavor, and was created to sort of recreate the flavor of samosas, which are available at fine Indian restaurants.  The lentils were added to give it a mild, earthy flavor, and the curry seasoning was a blend of both sweet and spicy.  That is the perfect blend to create the perfect flavor in what might be the perfect burger.  And serving it up with the raw veggies and topped with tzatziki was ideal.  Seriously…it was a blend made in heaven.  The burger had this nice crisp outside, but was flaky and soft on the inside.  It was packed…packed…with fine flavors and just…really impressed me.  I am already going to prepare the other two burgers the same way this coming Wednesday, per the request of my (carnivore) roommate…who absolutely fell head-over-heels for this combination.  We were both very impressed.

So, let’s take a gander at the ingredients that go into the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Burgers, shall we?  These burgers are made from organic millet, organic quinoa, organic lentils, organic coconut oil, organic onion, organic carrots, organic broccoli, organic spinach, organic arrowroot starch, organic apple cider vinegar, organic psyllium seed powder, sea salt, organic garlic, organic non-GMO canola oil, and organic spices.  This is how you can still eat clean and do it out of your grocer’s freezer section.  I know what all of those ingredients are and love that most of them are organic.  Yep…happiness can be achieved through an amazing, healthy veggie burger.  The Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger is gluten-free, wheat-free, corn-free, soy-free, animal-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free, MSG-free, non-GMO, and low in sodium.

The nutritional information reflects a product that is made from wholesome grains and real food.  A serving size of the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger is 1 burger (91 grams).  There are 4 burgers in each box.  A serving will provide you with 200 calories, 10 grams fat (health fat), 2.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 0 grams sugars, and 4 grams of protein.  It is a nutritional powerhouse to be certain.  And filling.  The lack of sugars and the higher fiber and protein ratio helps satiate any appetite.

I fell in love with the taste, texture and popping flavor of the Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burgers.  I am so excited that I am having them again so soon.  Because…total yum.  They were so good and amazing in this salad.  I’m not sure how they would have been sandwiched between a bun, and I’m in no hurry to find out.  I think I found my one true pairing with this salad.  I’ve got a busy day planned on Wednesday, so this will be the ideal dinner to come home to.  I can’t wait.

A delicious salad topped off with Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

A delicious salad topped off with Qrunch Classic Curry with Lentils Quinoa Burger

Restaurant Review: Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

Restaurant: Deschutes Brewery, Portland, Oregon

What do you think of when you think of Portland, Oregon?  Food trucks…yes…but a lot of people would also point to the amazing array of brew pubs that the city has to offer.  Oregon is very much a foodie haven, and there is plenty of places to whet your appetite.

Research began on Find Me Gluten Free…which pulled up hundreds and hundreds of restaurants that cater to people with gluten intolerance and Celiac.  I knew that my traveling partners, Cathy and Jenn, were being very good about where we ate on Hawaii (often out of Jenn’s comfort zone) due to my dietary restrictions…so…going to a brew pub in Portland wasn’t just a necessity, it was a way of thanking them for being so flexible with the food choices while island hopping in Hawaii.

That being said, we narrowed it down to two choices…and Cathy and I made Jenn pick the place.  This was no biggie for me…there were options I was interested in at each place…but it was a matter of whether Cathy got Chicken and Waffles or Roasted Lamb.

Jenn didn’t really care where we went, but in the end, she chose Deschutes Brewery…and that was our Friday night dinner.

After lunch at the food pods, we continued our exploration of Portland, meaning bookstores, record stores, chocolate shops, coffee shops, and all that good stuff.  But all that shopping does work up an appetite.  So, after spending a long time exploring Powell’s Books, we were ready to get some dinner.  And it was just a short hike to Deschutes Brewery…and I loved it from the moment we stepped inside.

Deschutes Brewery is a brew pub located in the heart of Portland and is described as a popular destination for great beer, delicious food, and a relaxed urban atmosphere.  It features 26 taps that include Deschutes mainstays plus a selection of seasonal and experimental beers developed and brewed on site exclusively for the Portland pub.

In addition, no pub is worth its salt without pub grub.  Executive Chef Jill Ramseier leads a talented culinary team that has put forth classic pub food, but elevated it.  In fact, each item on the menu is created, from scratch, with the best possible local ingredients.  SO Portland.  Love it!

We arrived shortly after 5 p.m. and it was already hopping.  We were seated immediately and given menus to peruse.  Water was brought to our table and our waiter, Zach, came over to pour some water and ask if we wanted anything else to drink.  Jenn and I were sticking with water, but Cathy had it on her to-do list to sample a local brew.  She went with the Deschutes River Ale ($3.25).  He went to grab her drink while we finished up decisions for dinner.

With beer delivered, it was time to place an order.  Jenn went with the Dungeness Crab Roll ($17.75), which is pacific crab tossed with onion, celery, lemon and mayonnaise in a seared East coast-style bun.  It came with a serving of fries on the side.

Cathy opted for the Spicy Fried Chicken and Waffle ($16.50).  This dish is a Nashville-style basted chicken breast and thick sliced smoked provolone over a housemade sourdough waffle with maple dressed kale, fenel and pecan salad, served with a maple honey sauce.  For an additional $2…you can add bacon.  Cathy left the bacon off.

As for me…I was given a gluten-free menu.  And on that menu was plenty of items to choose from.  Had I not had a great sandwich for lunch from Juniper at the food pods, I would have opted for the Quinoa Burger ($13.25), which is described as a crispy quinoa cashew patty with chipotle aioli, Rock Face Creamery aged white cheddar (which I would have left off), lettuce, tomato, onion and served, I am assuming, on a gluten free bun.  BUT…I DIDN’T get that.  I could have…and, as I said, had I not had a sammie for lunch, this would have been my dinner.

My dinner, instead, was the half portion of their Spinach and Quinoa Salad ($7.00) with a plate of their Garlic Rosemary Fries ($6.75), which I got minus the manchego cheese that comes served with it.  YES…the fries are gluten-free!!!  *HAPPY DANCE!*  Hey…I eat healthy most of the time, dessert and an occasional plate of fries are treats to me and ones I never turn down when they are available.  A healthy life doesn’t mean there aren’t treats every now and again!

Orders in.

And in true brew pub (and pub) fashion, the food didn’t take too long to come out.  Just long enough to know that everything was prepared fresh and made to order.  Our plates came out…and they were heaped with food.  Even without the plate of fries (which I did share!), my salad would have been plenty filling at the half portion on its own.  So, that was actually a good call on my part.

Deschutes Brewery's Spicy Fried Chicken & Waffle

Deschutes Brewery’s Spicy Fried Chicken & Waffle

Jenn and Cathy both loved their meals.  Cathy said that while the chicken was spicy, it wasn’t overpowering.  The provolone cheese helped to cool things down and the waffle was a nice hit of sweetness to mesh with the savory heat of the chicken.  When paired with the maple and honey, it was a perfect bite.  In fact, after years of wondering why chicken and waffles were such a thing in the south…it took a trip to Portland, Oregon for her to “get it.”  Yes…she gets it now.  And I think she has a new craving in life.  She ate until she was full…and then had to surrender to the dish.  But she made a healthy dent in it, loving and raving about every bite.  So there is that.

Let’s start with the salad.  The Spinach and Quinoa Salad comes with Briar Rose Creamery feta cheese (which I left on…because feta and I get along for the most part), blueberries, pickled beets, fresh spinach, and perfectly cooked quinoa.  It is topped with a delicious vinaigrette, which does come on the side so it isn’t swimming in dressing.  That’s something I totally appreciated.  This salad was filling and provided a myriad of different flavors and textures.  It was inviting with each bite.  Tangy, tart, smooth and creamy.  The quinoa and spinach are both nutritional powerhouses…and I devoured every last bit of this salad.  Besides, you put roasted beets on anything and you have my full attention.  Seriously!  OH…and it came with a gluten-free breadstick laid across it.  I questioned it when it arrived at the table…”This is gluten-free, right?”  “OH yes,” I was reassured.  Happiness comes in breadstick form sometimes.  It’s the little things that aren’t so little for other people but are for people like me.

But the star…as much as I want to point to the salad…was the gluten-free Garlic Rosemary Fries.  These fries are made from hand cut Kennebec potatoes and seasoned with fresh garlic (LOTS of it) and rosemary and served with a rosemary aioli.  These were to DIE for.  Seriously.  I took one bite and I was hooked.  I didn’t want to stop eating them.  Even with some self-control (HA!) and a little help from my friends, this plate wasn’t emptied.  It probably could have been, but we all have our limits.  These were some of the best gluten-free fries I have ever been served in a restaurant.  And fries are hard for me to get in a restaurant.  Everything shares a fryer…so this is always a nice treat.  And this is one splurge I was glad I made.  Holy cow.  I want to recreate these.  I’m going to do the best I can.  WOW!

Save for fries (from both Jenn & I) and a bit of chicken and waffle on Cathy’s plate…we ate the hell out of our meals.  And for good reason…they were amazing.  I was beyond impressed with the caliber of food that came to our table.  Everything looked beautiful and tasted amazing.  Nothing was soggy or overdressed.  Nothing was burnt.  It was pure dinner perfection in true brew pub form.  I am a huge fan…and I wish I lived in Portland so I could continue to go back and try other options from their extensive gluten-free menu.  Just…WOW!!

I have Jenn to thank for actually sending us to Deschutes Brewery in the end…and to me, it was the perfect way to round out an amazing and unforgettable trip.  No better way to end a vacation then with good friends, good food, and good times.  Deschutes…made that all possible…right in the heart of Portland.

Deschutes Brewery's Spinach & Quinoa Salad with the Garlic Rosemary Fries

Deschutes Brewery’s Gluten Free Spinach & Quinoa Salad with the Garlic Rosemary Fries (also gluten free)