Monday, May 12, 2014

The First Gluten Free Restaurant Experience: Dogfish Head Alehouse

There is a restaurant that has become synonymous with firsts in our family. First real date. First place we ate when we found out we were going to be parents. First place we took both of our kids after they were born. First place they both sat in a highchair. First place they ate something off the kids menu. It just made sense that this place would be the first restaurant we braved after our son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. It also happens that they have a well-defined Gluten-Free menu. We trust this place and we trust the people there. And we were not let down.

This place: Dogfish Head Ale House in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

First, let me state that we've been regulars at Dogfish for years. Even after moving from Gaithersburg to near Baltimore, we still make the trek a couple times a month; the drive is worth it. One waiter there, Rob, has befriended our family (and many others... he's a pretty awesome guy) and we knew that we had to sit in Rob's section for our first Gluten Free lunch. We're still getting used to this and knew that we wouldn't seem burdensome to him.

Dogfish was one of the first restaurants we frequent that developed (and publish on the back of their menus) a Gluten-Free menu section. They've been accommodating families like ours for a long time and know what they're doing. Udi's sandwich buns and Still Riding pizza crust adorn the menu (both very tasty, as we'd later learn). Dogfish is conscious enough about the Gluten-Free items on their menu to eliminate their chicken breast from the Gluten-Free section, as the usual marinade includes soy sauce (a frequently forgotten about Gluten source). The manager, Patrick, said he gets "over ten calls a week" about their Gluten-Free menu and preparation/cooking practices. He's knowledgeable and can talk about the kitchen practices and menu items in detail.

Dogfish Head Cheese Pizza with Still Riding Crust
We ordered two Gluten-Free items (one on menu, one off) for lunch: a standard Gluten-Free cheese pizza and a Gluten-Free grilled cheese sandwich. While there is no real 'Gluten-Free Kid's Menu', the kitchen is willing to go off-menu to accommodate when they can. We were told that if we knew we were coming in and wanted chicken, we should call ahead by a half hour and they would set a pre-marinated chicken breast aside for us. Seriously.

Now, we're not talking about separate kitchens for Gluten-Free prep and cooking, but the pizzas are cooked on separate pans and anything cooked is segregated on a separate pan or dedicated section of the cooktop for Gluten-Free items. Obviously, there is the risk for cross-contamination, but they have a defined process the the kitchen, which is a huge step beyond simply eliminating ingredients.

Dogfish Head Grilled Cheese with Udi's Bun
(bites removed for clarity)
The only real "issue", if you can can call it that is portion size. As the Still Riding pizza crust come pre-portioned as a 12" pizza, there is no smaller, kid-sized version at a kid's price (Patrick made sure to take the time to stop by and make sure we were OK with this... very cool). But if you share with your kids (or your kids share), or like leftover pizza (it reheats well), it's a good size. For picky (visual or texture) kids, ask that they flip the Udi's bun inside-out for grilled cheese sandwiches... it gives the appearance of a piece of bread and not just a grilled bun. Oh, and as with most places, the french fries, onion rings and assorted other battered items share the same fryer and are not Gluten-free.

For those of you in the Northern Virginia area, there are two other Dogfish Head Alehouse locations (Fairfax and Falls Church) with identical Gluten-Free menus. While Rob and Patrick obviously aren't at those locations, based on reputation alone you're sure to find helpful, accommodating staff to help you with any questions you may have.
Pizza Boxes make great canvases!
Thanks to Dogfish Head Ale House for making our first Gluten-Free outing a success. The bar has been set.

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