REVIEW: Baja Fish Co, Loveland Co

A friend of mine on Facebook posts about the Baja Fish Company very often. He’s a big fan. So, when i found out that they offer gluten-free options, I was excited to give them a try.

“Gluten-Free options” are always interesting. Some restaurants have an entire menu for gluten-free, others have just barely any options. Most the time, I end up with a list of ingredients, some sort of chart, or other lists. When I mentioned to my waitress last night that I needed a “gluten-free menu,” she told me that most the menu can be made gluten-free. The exceptions on the menu are the fried items because of other battered and breaded items, and things with cream sauces. Those are made with roux, as I kind of figured anyway.

For once, ordering was completely uncomplicated. I ordered their special, the fish taco plate, two fish tacos, rice and beans for $6.00. She remembered I needed gluten-free and asked if I wanted blackened or grilled. She didn’t even offer the battered which was a relief because I know I’d been heard.

That was it. It didn’t take me 20 minutes and looking over 3 different sheets of paper (like some restaurants where I have to look at grids, ingredients, etc). Dinner was ordered and we could just chat.

Dinner arrived and I admit it looked so wonderful I forgot to take a picture before diving in! The corn tortillas were soft and moist, no crumbling. The fish was cooked and seasoned well. (I got one grilled and one blackened. I liked the blackened slightly better because they contained more flavor.) The tacos were attractive, stuffed full, and lightly drizzled with a lovely light dressing, and the addition of their fresh salsa made them excellent. Rice with roasted corn and whole beans with a bit of shredded cheese were delicious sides. The portion size was perfect.

One of the most important things to me, besides finding great gluten-free food without hassle, is knowing I’m safe. Whenever I plan on recommending a restaurant to other GF/Celiac friends and plan on writing a review, I always ask about kitchen practices. At some point, I had the opportunity to talk with the owner, Mike, about how they handle the gluten-free preparation.

Mike informed me they have a lot of customers with allergy and gluten free needs, so he tries to educate the staff as best as he can. When it is asked a meal be prepared gluten-free, they prepare it in a separate skillet and not on the grill to avoid cross-contamination. He realizes that everyone’s sensitivity level varies and wants to make sure the most sensitive are safe. He also makes sure they buy corn tortillas that are strictly corn with no flour added or used.

He reiterated which sauces that cannot be ordered, especially the (divine sounding) cream sauces and said they are happy to make substitutions for people when needed. They have a Baja Seafood boil, which I asked if that’s safe and he said, “yes.” Can’t wait to try that one sometime!

Baja Fish Co. is a great place to take friends who might be on a gluten-free diet. It’s often difficult to find a restaurant to enjoy together. If you’re in the Northern Co area, it’s worth the drive for good, safe food for celiac; and just darn great seafood tacos for anyone.

I know I’d love the chance to try the cream sauces, (a poblano cream sauce and a chipoltle cream sauce) perhaps if enough people mention they’d love to try them, they can find a different medium for their roux. I’m tempted to take a cup or two of my Jules GlutenFree Flour down to see if they’d be willing to try to adapt the recipe.

Overall, fantastic meal, great price for the special, and the piece of mind knowing I’m safe to eat there and they are taking precautions to keep their customers safe. It was a bit slow last night, so if you are looking for a great place to eat out and you live in Loveland, Ft. Collins, Windsor, Greeley, Longmont, etc., check it out. If you are traveling to the area this season, it’s a great place to tell your hosts you’d like to try.

They are located in Downtown Loveland, right off 4th street.
Baja Fish Company
119 E. 4th Street
Loveland, Co 80537

Happy Eating!

Review: Jason’s Deli, Fort Collins

Back in March, one of the best blogs and Facebook pages I follow, Gluten Freeville posted a link to Jason’s Deli site which had a survey asking if people would like them to have Gluten-free sandwich options. The “yes” response was overwhelming, and in a followup post in June, Gluten Freeville wrote a followup article that Jason’s Deli planned to carry Gluten Free Bread starting in July.

Although thrilled, I don’t live close to Jason’s Deli and I haven’t had the chance to try their GF options. This past Tuesday, hubby and I were trying to figure out where to go for a gluten-free supper that wouldn’t break the bank. Sometimes I can’t remember my list of Gluten Free options. We were both wanting something light, but still filling, and just different. Suddenly, I remembered Jason’s Deli. Because of the lag time between their announcement and when we finally got to go (July 3 to Nov 2), I called to make sure they hadn’t ditched the effort. They responded, “yes, we do still carry the gluten-free bread!”

Ecstatic, we headed over to Jason’s. Upon getting in line, I grabbed a menu because it has been 2 years since I’ve had to opportunity to eat there. The menu was definitely unfamiliar, and when I opened it, there were no GF options. Instead, it stated, “ask for our gluten-free menu.” That was disappointment number one. No one was available until we got to our turn to order and upon asking for it, they had to go find a xerox copy which basically listed only the meats and cheeses for a build your own sandwich.

So, the first question I had to ask, “well can I get a sandwich from your regular menu?” The answer was basically “sort of.” They recommended against anything with the roast beef because they “didn’t know” if the au jus had gluten in it. They couldn’t make a Panini because they don’t have a dedicated Panini press for the gluten-free options, and they don’t carry any hoagies that are gluten-free for some of their really amazing sandwiches like “Sgt. Peppers.” Once they explained that, I then had to go back to their regular menu to find a sandwich that fit within those criteria.

The overall ordering experience seemed like I was more trouble and an irritation.

Once I got the sandwich, I was extremely disappointed that my sandwich plate had no marking assuring me it was gluten-free. Sometimes places stick some sort of flag in, gluten-free label, or a different wrapper. In fact, the bread looked like cracked wheat bread; I got very nervous and ended up double checking. I asked a very sweet guy who was cleaning the tables and he took me up to the front to help me. The guys who made the sandwich confirmed that it was Gluten Free. I do wish they would have shown me the bread bag or something. In fact, I asked what they use, and they said they didn’t know. What I wanted to do when I ordered was watch them make my sandwich. However, when I tried to do that, they seemed a bit agitated I wanted to wait. I should have spoken up, but was already uncomfortable regarding how it went at the register.

According to the original announcement, the bread is from Udi’s Gluten Free Foods and I’d just never seen that particular bread in the stores. (However, when I looked up the site to add to this blog, I did see that exact bread!) Still a bit leery, (I would have felt better if they would have offered to show me the package and where they keep it so I know it’s not sitting open with the other Gluten-full breads), I went ahead and ate.

Dinner was delicious! I had an Amy’s Turkey-O with the gluten-free bread and:
oven roasted turkey
breast, sliced avocado, jalapeño pepper jack,
purple onion rings, roma tomatoes, lettuce,
organic stone ground mustard.

After gobbling my sandwich, I inquired about the Ice Cream they offer free, and she told me as long as I don’t grab a cone (duh) it would be fine. I was.

Overall, the sandwich was delicious and I ended up with a product that was gluten-free. I probably would go back, especially if I was on that side of town. However, with the trouble of finding a menu, the lack of the actual menu of what people can and can’t have, and the concerns I had with my food that weren’t addressed as fully as I would have liked to feel confident I was getting a GF product, it would probably not be my first choice. For now, it’s on the bottom of my list of Gluten Free restaurant options because I’m only about 80% confident I can eat there without cross contamination.

The positives: food was good, it didn’t end up cross contaminated, no extra charge for the GF bread.
What they need to work on: communication about the GF options, clear distinction of GF foods, availability of menu, menu that denotes GF option, including whether the condiments are ok, better informing their own employees about GF products and which products must be avoided, encourage a more GF welcoming atmosphere.

Jason’s would do very well to provide literature on their Gluten Free options. Most of us are starved for sandwiches, especially fantastic sandwiches at a place like Jason’s Deli which has great recipes, healthier options, and quality ingredients. Jason’s Deli has already made huge efforts to inform their customers with their fliers and statements about their efforts to be green, serve healthy foods, keep away from HFCS, that simply printing information about their SOPs (standard operating procedures) for a gluten-free order to ensure food doesn’t get contaminated, mentioning the source of their gluten-free bread, adding the GF symbol to their normal menu on items that can be made gluten-free, and inviting the customer to watch them make the sandwich and so they are at ease and know immediately that it’s Gluten Free would create 100% confidence and they would open a whole new customer base of GF customers who miss sandwiches. Finally, adding a good gluten-free roll for the hoagie type sandwiches and a dedicated Panini Press so that customers can order Jason’s fantastic Panini’s would put them at the top of places to eat Gluten Free.

Hopefully I’ll get to do another review sometime soon that will put Jason’s Deli at the top of my Gluten Free list when I eat out. For now, they still have some work to do, but I think if you ask to watch make your sandwich, you’ll feel more confident and be able to enjoy a long-lost favorite.

Thank you for reading.

Review: Larkburger, Fort Collins

Christmas came early today. Wrapped inside a package of brown paper was a Cheeseburger – all the fixin’s and in between a bun! That’s the gift of course, a cheeseburger wrapped in a bun and a side of fries in a cute box. I haven’t eaten a burger with a bun in over two years. It’s been messy overdone patties with a knife, fork and as much sauce as possible to help it go down. It’s just not the same experience.

It’s difficult to find fast food that is safe. Our usual fallback are naked burritos at Qdoba. One of biggest fears with fast food restaurants besides cross contamination of course are fries because places don’t usually dedicate fryers to their fries (except Chick-Fil-A).

This afternoon, I remembered recently receiving an email from Sweet Escape Pastries a Gluten Free Bakery that provides delicious buns, english muffins, cookies and a host of other gluten free yummies to restaurants, that Larkburger would be using their buns.

Today was a perfect day for kids that needed an outing. We headed over to Larkburger, and I didn’t know what to expect, but was excited.

The menu is fairly simple, but perfect. They offer several hamburger choices, two fry choices, alternative meat choices like chicken, tuna, or vegetarian, as well as Breyers Milkshakes and fresh lemonades. (I love Breyers ice cream because they don’t use artificial dyes or High Fructose Corn Syrup.)

Walking in, the restaurant itself was immaculate. The decor is simple and clean, which is fantastic. When I asked about the Gluten Free options, it’s very simple. They only have to switch out the buns. The cashier also mentioned that they are still in a facility that has regular buns. Although they are upfront about that, I wasn’t concerned and when I asked, the cashier explained their policy to try to keep cross contamination to a minimum. There is nothing on the menu to contaminate the fries.

My children and I had a fantastic lunch. The burger was thick, tender, tasty, and cooked perfectly. The bun surrounding it was buttery, moist (rare for Gluten free breads!), and simply delicious. My kids had delicious grilled cheese sandwich with a sharp cheddar cheese that I ended up eating because they were having way too much fun with the boxes of fries.

We had a fantastic lunch and can’t wait to go back!