The following information about Eating Gluten Free in Kentucky and Restaurants that fall under “good, bad, or ugly” is constantly being edited and updated. Always look for the “EDIT” for more information.
I’m sure I don’t have to give you a big run down about health issues that lead to someone having to eat “gluten free.” If you’re reading an article about where to find gluten free meals in Kentucky, odds are you (or someone you know) has to eat gluten free!
As someone who now has to eat a strict gluten free diet (gluten decided, somewhere along the way, that it hates me), I suddenly realize that it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. When I cook meals, I know everything is completely safe and can pretty much rest assured that I won’t soon find myself both sick and in pain (not a lot of fun). However, trying to enjoy a meal out with your family can be a nightmare.
I’ve actually begun to erase restaurants off of my radar if they do not have a gluten free menu – preferably online and in person. My reasoning is this, if they don’t care enough to look out for their guests, I don’t care enough to be a guest.
Simple as that.
I’m normally a very positive person, but I have to say that sadly most restaurants are dropping the ball.
Fortunately several have not only kept from dropping the ball, they’re taking the ball and running with it! I’d like to kind of shine the spotlight on these particular restaurants.
In an effort to try to convince others to try to step up their games, I’ll also point out a few that aren’t exactly earning a good name in the gluten free community.
Wendy’s: Very Gluten Free Friendly
Wendy’s is the bomb. Their food’s fantastic and, quite honestly, it’s one of the only fast food restaurants someone who has to eat gluten free can do so and actually feel kind of normal. Heck, we can even go through the drive thru and get our goodies like the rest of you!
When you suddenly have to eat completely gluten free, you find yourself missing the little things in life and getting food in a drive thru may seem silly, but it’s one of the things you think nostalgically about. Thanks to Wendy’s, though, it isn’t completely a thing of the past.
Wendy’s has chili, baked potatoes, frosty’s, and salads. The GF crowd has to always avoid the croutons on salads, of course and (oddly enough), “roasted pecans” are not wheat (and thereby gluten) free.
Wendy’s has a special section on their website all about eating gluten free. It’s just COOL to know that a major restaurant chain cares about you and your needs. Frankly, Wendy’s is ahead of the rest of the major fast food chains in this area.
While Wendy’s is better than a lot of similarly-priced fast food restaurants, they certainly do have room for improvement:
- Wendy’s fries aren’ t gluten free, which is a complete bummer. I was always a huge fan of dipping fries in chili and, while I love their baked potatoes, they aren’t very “dunk friendly.”
- I’d love for Wendy’s to come up with gluten free buns (TGI Friday’s has them, why not Wendy’s?) or – at the very least – make the burgers and grilled chicken available wrapped in Romaine Lettuce.
TGI Friday’s: Gluten Free Friendly
TGI Friday’s is another restaurant that’s doing right by the Gluten Free crowd. They have a separate “gluten free” menu in their restaurants that plainly lists what’s safe and what isn’t. It’s totally ridiculous that all restaurants don’t have such a menu available.
Friday’s is also one of the only major chains to offer gluten sensitive buns. I have eaten hamburgers on these special buns and didn’t have a single problem. NOTE: I’m not 100 percent certain that the GF buns are available in each restaurant, so be VERY clear with your server and make sure before taking a bite. You don’t want to ingest a ticking “gluten bomb.” As you can see in the picture above, the GF buns are a little darker than the regular buns, so make sure it’s a GF but that you see on your plate. The texture and taste are fantastic and it’s just kind of cool to get to eat a burger like everyone else at the table.
Having said that, Friday’s burgers (and grilled chicken) are SO DELICIOUS that you may as well just eat them like I do most of the time – simply on the plate with the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions!
Like Wendy’s, however, TGI Friday’s fries aren’t “gluten free,” which is (again) a total bummer. They do have available sides, though, that are gluten free.
Personally, I don’t understand why it’s seemingly impossible for restaurants to give us gluten free fries. They are potatoes, after all. Simply designate a fryer as “gluten free…” use only gluten free foods in said fryer and BOOM! Happy days are here again!
TGI Friday’s is also one of the rare restaurants with gluten free appetizers and desserts (great sundaes) on the menu. Click HERE for their nutritional information.
Bob Evans: Gluten Free Friendly
Another favorite chain restaurant to dine in is Bob Evans. From salads (be sure to say, “Without croutons, please” because their salads come with croutons all over the place if you don’t ask) to sundaes for dessert, there are plenty of options at Bob Evans. Unlike some breakfast menus, Bob Evans has “safe” omelets and hash browns – A LOT of restaurant’s hash browns are, oddly enough, not gluten free. Burger King and iHops, for example, have hash browns that are most definitely not gluten free. iHops’ omelets aren’t gluten free either. How unexpected is that? For some reason they put pancake batter in the egg mixture.
Bob Evans is actually a wonderful place to get a gluten free meal any time of day – breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I’ve never had a single issue.
Their website includes a great PDF that lists their many menu options that are gluten free.
Something I REALLY appreciate about Bob Evans is their willingness to allow you to substitute sides. If a meal has a side that someone cannot safely eat – why shouldn’t they be able to substitute it with something they can eat? Bob Evans “gets” that their guests are the ones that really matter and it keeps me going back for more.
See: Bob Evans’ Gluten Free Menu
Applebee’s: Room for Improvement in the Gluten Free Approach
It’s Applebee’s refusal to substitute sides that really irks me the most. If you have to eat gluten free, you can find a couple of good options on Applebee’s Gluten Free menu, but Heaven help you if you try to substitute a “set” side on one of their meal deals. Whereas servers at Bob Evans look at you like, “Of course you can” and tell you that you can choose whichever side you’d like – Applebee’s servers give you a “Are you out of your mind?” expression and tell you they can’t possibly do that.
I do want to give a shout out to the manager at the Owensboro Applebee’s, however. On a recent trip, I ordered one of the meal deals – and after being told (by our server) that I couldn’t substitute the side that came with my meal, I decided to just order the meal anyway. I knew the offending part of this side was the roasted pecans, so I decided I’d take my chances and just swipe them off of the top. The manager came by and asked how we were doing and I told him why I was tossing pecans to the side.
He was SO friendly and helpful. He said, “Oh, here! Don’t take any unnecessary chances, I’ll have them make you a fresh one without the pecans on top.” And he did just that.
If the chain, as a whole, was as accommodating and eager to help as this manager was, they’d be setting the bar for everyone else.
I will say this, Applebee’s at least has fries that are gluten free – so if you CAN’T eat gluten but get a mad craving for fries, you have a place to consider anyway.
Not allowing guests to substitute items that are unsafe for them for items that are safe is like someone coming to my house and me telling them they have to eat what I put on their plate. I’d, of course, never treat a guest that way, and Applebee’s shouldn’t either. It makes you appreciate restaurants that realize that their guests are more important than their policies are.
Great food. Great service. Beautiful restaurants. Rude policy.
Subway: Room for Improvement on the Gluten Free Menu
From what I read, Subway has been “working” on a gluten free bread for years. YEARS. That’s kind of mind-boggling when you consider that there are lots of gluten free breads on the market. There’s also gluten free all purpose flour that works just like regular flour – easy peasy. Subway is a smart chain and I have faith that they’ll get it all sorted out soon and we’ll see Gluten Free buns or bread in all of their restaurants.
In the meantime, their chopped salads make an excellent meal. Have them add the meat of your choice for a little extra protein and you’re good to go. Subway’s salads are actually so big that it’s more like two meals in one – especially when you order the “chopped” salad.
When I was able to eat at Subway (pre GF), my favorite sandwich topping was the “Sweet Onion” sauce. So when I get a salad, I have them add some of this deliciousness to it – I get basically the same taste I was always obsessed with – and when you consider that bread is just an extra-calorie vehicle for the veggies and meat to ride in on, it’s obvious that this is the healthier way to eat anyway.
Subway also has uncommonly great iced tea. I’m not sure what they do to it, but their sweet tea is some of the best you can find anywhere!
Arby’s: A LOT of Room for Improvement in the Gluten Free Zone.. A LOT
Arby’s used to be one of my favorite fast food restaurants. I would practically dream about their roast beef sandwiches, jalapeno poppers, fries (SUCH GOOD FRIES!), and other sandwiches.
As it is, I can’t remember the last time I went to an Arby’s.
They have absolutely next to nothing for gluten free diners. The only reason I wanted to mention them here at all is this: Like a lot of people who – for health reasons – have to eat gluten free, I contacted Arby’s, along with a lot of other restaurants. Each time, I’m always VERY courteous – with all of my Southern charm on full display. After all, none of this is their fault – it’s my body that decided to freak out over something it’d been okay with for years!
I heard back from Arby’s the next day. The. Very. Next. Day. My uncommonly friendly and understanding correspondent was actually an Arby’s nutritionist. He said that they were dropping the ball when it came to a gluten free menu and that they were actually actively working on improving. I had mentioned the possibility of serving their meat on Romaine Lettuce or, at the very least, in small bowls and he said he’d take my suggestions into consideration.
His lengthy, thoughtful reply meant the world to me, especially since most of the time you never hear back from anyone. THEN, if you do… it’s a trite little message that’s mass-produced.
Arby’s approach shows a lot of class and as soon as they add more to their menu, I’ll be a frequent guest once again.
Even if they brought back their baked potatoes it’d be great.
It simply meant a lot to me that they took the time to respond. Most simply don’t. In fact, I recently (on Twitter) asked a local restaurant what kind of yummy gluten free things were on their menu… no reply.
I guess that either means “None” or “I have no idea and cannot be bothered to try to find out for you.”
Sadly, it’s a pretty common response. It sucks, but it’s commonplace.
EDIT 4/6/2015: When it comes to Subway and Arby’s, I’m afraid that you have to sum it all up like this: Their concern for those of us who have to eat gluten/wheat free isn’t very strong. IF it were, they’d have made great strides instead of no strides. You can say something is important to you, but if your actions don’t match your words, the words aren’t worth much.
I could, unfortunately, fill a book with crazy experiences I’ve had in restaurants since having to eat gluten free. If I added my daughter’s experiences, it’d be two books.
THICK books, at that.
Most restaurants are simply dropping the ball when it comes to educating their servers about gluten intolerance. It’s not that tough to tell your servers what gluten is and to keep them educated about the foods on the menu that either are or are not gluten free. Restaurants aren’t doing this… or, if they are, most of them are doing a pretty rotten job.
I recently had an experience online with a local restaurant here in Owensboro. I’ve written some great things about them on Genuine Kentucky and was always a very loyal guest. However, since having to eat this way, I haven’t been able to go back.
There’s nothing on their website AT ALL about gluten or gluten sensitivity – what products contain gluten, what ones do not, so a short while back, when this restaurant sent out a tweet (asking which lunch menu item was everyone’s favorite), I answered and then asked them what sort of delicious gluten free choices they had on their menu.
Since I never got a reply to the tweet, I’m guessing the answer is either “None” or “What’s gluten free?”
Either way, it looks like I won’t be going back there anytime soon.
I can’t say this often enough, if you have to eat gluten free for health reasons, always do your homework. Check a restaurant’s website before going and check their menu when you get there. Hopefully they’ll have a special gluten free menu like Friday’s. If you’re ever uncertain about something, err on the side of caution.
A few other thoughts….
- Cracker Barrel. along with Wendy’s, TGIFriday’s, and Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel is one of my favorites. So many choices! Like Bob Evans, you can get a great gluten free meal at Cracker Barrel any time of the day.
- Chick-fil-A – Excellent! Their fries are both Heavenly AND gluten free and they’ve added grilled chicken strips to the menu, so eating gluten free at Chick-fil-A is as easy as it is delicious.
- Olive Garden – the gluten free pasta is delicious! When you order your salad, be sure to say “no croutons” and simply ask them not to bring bread to the table. Who wants that kind of temptation?!
- Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King – Sigh…. Just consider them along the lines of ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. I’m not sure they’ll ever win your heart again if you have to eat gluten free. Same can be said for Arby’s, I’m afraid.
TGI Friday’s Burger “off the bun” – Amazing!
TGI Friday’s: One of the few restaurants where you can enjoy a gluten free dessert – a delicious sundae!
You forgot Chili’s, Outback, Red Robin, PF Chang, Mellow Mushroom, Hometown Pizza, Q-Doba – all have gluten free menus and all are great.
For sweets in the Louisville area, try Annie May’s Sweet Cafe. Oh my goodness. Best cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, donuts, ever.
Joi Sigers says
I’ve never eaten at Red Robin, PF Chang, or Hometown Pizza – I’ll have to check them out asap! I did, indeed, neglect to mention Outback, Mellow Mushroom (we finally have one here in Owensboro!), and Q Doba. I’ve, since writing this post, been to Q Doba a lot (as well as a few other restaurants I now love). I need to go back and edit this post desperately! Thanks for telling me about Annie May’s and the others – I look forward to doing my homework!!! – Joi (“Joy”)