First rule of gluten-free eating? DEFINITELY TALK ABOUT GLUTEN-FREE EATING. Staffers at the below venues will be happy to discuss their ingredients and kitchen practices with you before you order, which is precisely what you should do before taking a bite. And for those living with gluten allergies – or simply trying to eliminate offending grains from their culinary repertoire – Orlando’s list of options is growing exponentially. At venues such as Dandelion Communitea Café or Infusion Tea, GF diners will find myriad selections rife with fresh crisp, crunchy ingredients, creamy spreads and hearty soups, but let’s face it: not every gluten-free eater is all about organic, sustainably farmed, green foodstuffs. Those with a penchant for the fryer will find sinful solace at either Downtown Disney or Universal’s CityWalk. At Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, you can have your cheeseburger in paradise with a gluten-free bun (not to mention Volcano Nachos and a decadent Chocolate Hurricane dessert). Over at the Raglan Road Irish Pub, they keep a whole separate fryer on hand, which means usually-off-limits delights such as fried fish, calamari and onion rings are on tap – along with some excellent GF cider. For those on the go, check out the drive-through at the Green Day Café, where gluten-free quesadillas are an everyday occurrence.
Mythos is a wholly immersive dining experience, removing you at once from the fray of Universal with its beautiful, mystical cave-like aura. Not only has Mythos received all kinds of "best theme park restaurant" nods from foodies and expert Orlando bloggers of all stripes, this Islands of Adventure lunch venue has all kinds of options for gluten-free diners that fall well outside the realms of uninspired salad and grilled chicken. No less than 11 options – from appetizer to entrée – either are or can be prepared gluten-free, from pad thai to Asian salmon, blackened fish tacos to a daily risotto offering. ((407) 224-4534)
Hot Krust Panini Kitchen
Serving up tasty fast-casual eats from its comfortable Dr. Phillips digs, this cheery "paninery" does up a multitude of classic pressed sandwiches with fresh, locally made bread and house-roasted meats, which makes a big difference when it comes to taste. What's more is that those with a gluten-free diet can have their panini and eat it, too. The soups are GF, as well, and prepared in an outside gluten-free kitchen – and so unlike sandwiches, are certified (ie, celiac-safe). Fries are baked to order, so while you should avoid the spicy curlies, you can go for the sweet potato and regular waffle-cut varieties with abandon. ((407) 355-7768)
Jimmy Buffett's® Margaritaville® Orlando
Lime, tequila and salt are all – mercifully – gluten-free, but one wouldn't think the same about a cheeseburger in paradise. But Jimmy, bless his heart, made sure that GF customers at his Universal CityWalk establishment could enjoy just that. But it doesn't stop there. Volcano Nachos (gobbed down with chili, cheese, guacamole – all the good stuff – may fill you up before you make it to burgertown). Additional selections include an array chicken and seafood options and the Chocolate Hurricane, a dieter's disaster, for sure, which piles a gluten-free brownie sky-high with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and macadamia nuts. (407-224-2155)
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
The Nile ain't just a river in Egypt, as the saying goes (sort of). In Orlando, it's one of a handful of independent restaurants amid I-Drive's sea of chain offerings, one serving up authentic Ethiopian fare in traditional style. What does this mean? For starters, no utensils. Getting the food to your face requires the use of injera, a spongy, tasty, vaguely crepe-like bread. Tear a piece off and simply scoop up the lentils, stewed chicken, seasoned beef or whatever other selections intrigued you and enjoy. Bonus? Most Ethopian dishes are naturally gluten-free! Call ahead at least an hour (more to be on the safe side) and let them know you're coming. They'll bake up a load of gluten-free injera that uses only teff flour – actually more traditional than the wheat/teff hybrid Nile generally makes! The result, a thoroughly authentic Ethiopian experience that's enjoyable for everyone in your party. ((407) 354-0026)
Raglan Road Irish Pub
Cold pints and warm, convivial vibe are always on tap at Raglan Road, which isn't lying when it calls itself a genuine Irish pub. In fact, the whole place was built in Ireland and then shipped to Orlando where it was lovingly reassembled to the delight of locals and visitors alike. Think of it as Disney magic with a little help from the leprechauns. Granted, just about everyone loves the place, but gluten-free diners (especially locals) make many return visits. Why? How about onion rings just for starters? Like many Disney establishments, Raglan Road does its best to accommodate all special dietary needs – check with knowledgeable servers and managers for input and suggestions. They offer gluten-free scallops, fish and chips, calamari, pasta dishes and more. (4079380300)
Green Day Cafe
Super Veggie, Holy Guacamole and the Big Tahuna are just some of the fun salads (make it a wrap, regular or gluten-free, it's your choice!) available at the Green Day Café, a newish healthy fast-food franchise with an outpost in North Orlando. Vegans and carnivores and everyone in between will find selections to suit their idiosyncratic palates and gluten-free diners will delight in a menu stocked with loaded potatoes, rice bowls and even GF quesadillas. What's more – you don't even need to get out of your car. The Green Day Cafe boasts a drive-through window for health-conscious eaters on the go. ((407) 704-7877)
Infusion Tea: it's the happy hub of the College Park Sunday Brunch Market and a haven for both tea lovers – and healthy eaters. Infusion boasts a wonderful array of healthful eats and pays heed to vegans, gluten-forgoers and a host of other quirky foodies. Add eggs or tempeh crumbles to salads for a protein boost. Make just about any wrap gluten-free for $1 extra. Come for the lunch and stay long enough to steep some loose-leaf tea and get comfortable. And be sure to check out in-house chocolate and dessert purveyor, Chocolate Provocateur, whose wares include gluten-free offerings, as well! (407-999-5255, 866-346-5135)
Dandelion Communitea Café
The dandelion, an edible flower that we're quick to call a weed, is a mascot of sorts for this quirky organic teahouse. You'll first be reminded of the café's namesake when you view the exterior (bright green with yellow shutters) and then again when reading the menu: vegetarian, sustainable and healthful. Diners with gluten restrictions? Seriously? This is your place. So many tiny GFs next to the menu items, your head may well spin like a wheat-free Linda Blair (sans digestive issues). Every salad. Every side. Most appetizers. All gluten-free. And served in pleasantly crunchy confines that may have you inquiring about the next full moon drum circle. (407-362-1864)
Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant
Cooper's Hawk is a winery based in Chicago. How's that, you ask? Simple: they fly in high-quality grapes from west coast regions – California, Oregon and Washington – and craft the wines in Chi. Since 2005, its tasting room/bar/restaurant concept has expanded. Waterford Lakes is its first Orlando location and its tasting room (no reservations necessary) offers reasonably priced samplings. Gluten-free dining is oft challenging, but here it's actually a pleasure. An entire, separate gluten-free menu including apps, entrees, desserts, sandwiches – even an array of pastas! – gives those with special diets not just options, but utter dining-out normalcy! How cool is that?! (407.374.2464)
Wanna eat clean? Vitality Bistro is a great place to start. The proprietors at this raw, vegan, organic and entirely gluten-free operation believe that a plant-based diet is essential for optimum health – but oftentimes, even carnivorous patrons leave with a newfound appreciation for what's possible using only what Mother Nature grows us from the ground. From salads to smoothies, sandwiches to desserts, foodies will find surprisingly rich "creams" and delicious wheat-free breads, cakes, pies and more to eat in or take home. Bonus! Sunday brunches are of particular note and free Thursday-night classes give guests a more in-depth opportunity to learn about vegan and raw-food preparation. ((352) 735-8411)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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