September 6, 2019

Gluten Free: A Trip to Seattle

My family took a short trip up to Seattle at the beginning of last week. This was the first time we have traveled, outside of camping or day trips since my partner was diagnosed with celiac disease earlier this year. This post is a brief rundown of our experience as a couple tourists attempting to eat gluten-free in Seattle.

I'll start by stating something that is probably blatantly obvious to anyone who has been living with special dietary needs - eating away from home takes much more coordination. This isn't necessarily a problem, but if you do not enjoy a scheduled vacation, which neither my partner nor I do, you may eperience moments of genuine frustration, flashes of anger and the occassional cursing of various gods and deities when it comes to meal time. Some words were said...

We also learned the importance of location. Seattle has a wealth of gluten-free, celiac-friendly establishments, but not many were walkable (editor's note: with two children) from our base camp across the street from the Seattle Center. We did bring a vehicle, but didn't fully appreciate the logistical challenge of it being parked at the hotel while we were miles away and hungry. This became glaringly apparent when we tried to eat our first meal, lunch at Pike Place.

We attempted to eat at one of market bakeries that Google had identified as gluten-free. The bakery did have several gluten-free and vegan offerings, but they weren't kept separate and with how the food was being handled, we didn't have high hopes of avoiding cross-contamination. But the kids were hungry and we'd already invested 30 minutes walking in circles so the kids and I ate there while my partner grabbed a pint of strawberries from one of the farm stall. Lunch then segued into our next unforeseen challenge - cleaning up after a meal with gluten.

Pike Place restrooms are the perfect storm of urine covered floors, sinks to high for children and blisteringly hot water. I entered the restroom with two gluten-covered children and left with two upset, soaking wet, probably still gluten-covered children. Not a great start.

We spent the rest of the afternoon around the waterfront, so when it came time for dinner, our options were either:
  1. Find something around the market.
  2. Walk back to the monorail station, then ride to Seattle center, then walk to the hotel, then get the car, then drive somewhere, then park, then...logistics.
We chose option 1 and ended up at Pike Brewing Company's Pike Pub for dinner our first night. Mind you this was after another heated round of debate, frantic Googling, weighing the above options, more Googling, all the while our kids agonizing over the starvation we were inflicting upon them.

Peach IPA at Pike Pub
Though not advertised on their website, The Pike Pub was very accommodating to my partners needs. They have an entirely separate gluten-free menu and confirmed for us that they maintain dedicated fryers and a separate prep area in the kitchen. My partner was able to order a Wild Salmon BLT that met her gluten-free, dairy-free, pescatarian needs. I had a Ruben, a Peach IPA and the bacon from her sandwich, none of which was gluten-free, save for the bacon.

After the headache of day one, we spent a good deal of time in the hotel room that evening, strategizing places to eat the rest of our trip. One of those places was I Love My GFF, which operates a group of gluten-free carts serving quinoa bowls. For lunch our second day, we ate at their cart across the street from Westlake Center, in front of the Old Navy. Their bowls were great and my partner was able to order hers sans cheese and protein, meeting her needs.

For dinner our second evening, we had come to terms with the fact we were going to have to drive. We ended up choosing Capitol Cider since it was only a 10 minute drive and there appeared to be ample (editor's note: but expensive) parking options. Capitol Cider is a completely gluten-free, scratch kitchen and their menu is clearly marked with extensive allergen information. For example, the fish and chips my partner ordered was noted as also dairy-free by omitting the tartar sauce.

Snowdrift Forefathers at Capitol Cider
They also have cider. Lots of cider. They maintain 22 rotating cider taps and over 200 different bottles. I tried the Snowdrift Forefathers and my partner had the Anthem Watermelon Gose (editor's note: Gose-style cider, no wheat). A quick note, Capitol Cider does have 8 rotating draft beers that are not gluten-free, but they are served from dedicated taps and lines that are not shared with their ciders.

For the final day of our trip, we stopped back at Pike Place to to try Cinnamon Works before we hit the road (editor's note: and to let the kids ride the monorail again). Cinnamon Works in not a gluten-free bakery, but they do have several gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options. The employee we spoke with was knowledgeable about celiac disease and explained that while their items are prepared in the same kitchen space and share baking pans, gluten-free and non gluten-free foods are not prepared simulaneously and everything is thoroughly cleaned between batches to minimize cross contamination.

So what did we learn? In short, plan better and be prepared to drive (editor's note: or ride share if you don't kids restricting your transportation options). Dining at an unfamiliar restaurant is stressful enough when you have special dietary needs. There is no reason to pile on the additional stress of attempting to choose said unfamiliar restaurant if it can be avoided. Ideally, if you can come up with a short list of restaurants ahead of your trip, you can call them to confirm they are capable of accommodating your needs and verify their hours before you travel. We probably spent a good 3-4 hours of our three day trip arguing, stressing and plotting each others untimely demises while attempting to plan meals.

There were several other highly reviewed, celiac-friendly restaurants like Niche, HeartBeet and Ghostfish Brewing that we didn't get to try because they were either closed or we were too far away to get there before they closed (editor's note: or before the kids completely melted down).

A thanks to Pike Pub, I Love my GFF, Capitol Cider and Cinnamon Works and their knowledgeable staff who helped accommodate a couple cranky, tired, out-of-towners. Cheers!

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