Before my husband’s diagnosis as a celiac, we enjoyed dining out on a regular basis. Every couple of months we’d have dinner at Outback Steakhouse – neither of us are big red meat eaters, but Vince loved their chicken and pasta dishes, and if I have a glass of Ecco Domani pinot grigio, their famous pumpernickel bread and their blue cheese chopped salad, I’m in heaven. The entrée was typically an afterthought, and usually brought home as leftovers for the next day (or, if I am to be completely honest, sometimes the puggle).
Well, after our gluten-free lifestyle change, we understandably started to stay in a lot more. There were two reasons for this – on a practical note, our monthly food budget used to include a lot of Kraft Mac and Cheese and the occasional Hamburger Helper. Switching to Tinkyada pasta and tapioca bread, well, let’s just say that our entertainment budget took a hit during our adjustment period. However, the second reason was the fact that we just didn’t have that many places to go in the beginning.
Now, keep in mind that since his diagnosis with celiac, we’ve found a lot of restaurants that accommodate our needs in the area. It seems that chain restaurants are adding (or at least publicizing) gluten free menus every week, which is really helpful. We’ve even ventured out to restaurants that don’t have dedicated gluten free menus, and have had – mostly – pleasant experiences with servers and cooks who are happy to answer any questions we might have and help us make informed choices about our meals.
Still, at the very beginning we only knew of three restaurants with gluten-free menus: PF Chang’s, Outback Steakhouse, and Carabba’s Italian Grill. Vince isn’t a huge fan of Chinese food, and when we ventured to Carabba’s it seemed more an exercise in cruelty than anything else – he had a very nice meal of chicken marsala when we went, but it was hard to look at all the plates full of pasta passing by that he could no longer have. Of the three options at the time, that left Outback Steakhouse (and the local sushi joint that serves – gasp – gluten free light soy sauce!).
Well, we’d gone to Outback once since going gluten free, and my husband had been satisfied with his meal overall. We hadn’t been back in a few months – busy with the wedding, etc. – and decided to go on a dinner-and-movie date. We asked the hostess for a gluten free menu, and a few minutes later our server came with bread.
Now, let me tell you, bread is a hotly contested subject between my spouse and I. Excluding a brief pre-wedding stint in Weight Watchers, the general rule of thumb pre-diagnosis was, we’d both do a lot of damage to the bread basket. Post-diagnosis, I usually prefer to request that the server not bring bread in the first place. Let’s face it, if I’m ordering a calorie-dense dinner out, I probably don’t need the extra calories from bread and butter anyway, and I really don’t like the idea of eating bread in front of my celiac hubby – I know if our roles are reversed it would torture me! He, of course, usually tells me I’m too silly and that I should just order the darn bread. I rarely succumb.
However, during this date night at Outback, we didn’t even have to start our usual bread debate. The server, bread in hand, exclaimed, “I didn’t see your gluten free menu! We have some freshly baked gluten free bread, would you like me to bring some out?” He got an emphatic “yes,” Vince and I both tucked into our individual loaves (what, don't look at me like that, the server had already left the non gluten free loaf on the table, and besides, rowing burns calories) like we hadn’t seen food in a year, and that server got a very generous tip! I tried a piece of Vince’s gluten free bread and I have to tell you – it was really, really good. It was super hot, you could tell that it was freshly baked, and it was very moist and fluffy.
The gluten free bread before our dinner really made our evening – and made such an impression on us that we went to Outback again two weeks later! (What, we’re newlyweds, that’s pretty excessive for us!). If you're from Outback and are reading this, thank you, thank you, thank you - and if you're from another chain restaurant, well, now you have something to live up to. ;-)