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  • Writer's pictureBeFreeGFree

Hits and Misses in Florida

On a recent trip to Florida for work and play, I learned a few lessons in gluten-free travel. I had some hits and misses and thought you might benefit from these experiences.

BBQ Woes

I had a great idea to host an informal reception for all of our out of town co-workers. A few of us had only met on Zoom calls (thank you, Covid!) and the hotel had a courtyard with a BBQ. The locals in Tampa were willing to pick up the groceries before we all arrived. Side note: the host is gluten free and dairy free, so I thought I’d be in good hands.

When I arrived and made my way to the courtyard I saw that I might not have been specific enough about my gluten-free intolerance. The shish kabobs were marinated, one in teriyaki and one in a lemon-poppy seed dressing. The host put them on aluminum foil, but they were using the same utensils to flip them. He had made a comment about not being a back-seat cook, so I asked him not to use the same utensils on both, but it got complicated. Needless to say, I ended up leaving the BBQ sooner than I would have liked and I quickly took an enzyme when I returned to my hotel room (stomach churning).

We always recommend bringing a few food items to a BBQ for yourself that you know are safe, and cooking them separately. I could have asked for some GF sausages, or something that I know is GF, and I should have explained that I wasn’t going to be a back-seat cook, but that I had to be safe.

Safe and Sound

The second experience was an amazing restaurant in Tampa’s Armiture works north side that is called Oak and Ola. IT IS FANTASTIC. They have an eclectic boho-style interior with giant windows that open up to the river walk. Additionally, many of their upscale dishes can be made gluten-free. They are very gluten aware and cautious if you tell them your level of sensitivity. I enjoyed the roasted artichoke hearts, beet salad with blue crab and a side of grilled octopus with white beans, chorizo and fire roasted kale. YUM!

The third experience was my go to Tampa restaurant Bamboozle. They have a few locations, but the downtown one is near my work and hotel. They have a Thai influenced menu where almost everything is GF. I have tried their fresh spring rolls (crispy duck is my favorite), Pho (pronounced Fa), and Red Curry (the rice is served inside a coconut shell)! They also have many other delicious items on their menu. I even finished this last dinner with a coconut cake desert! I have never had an issue or gotten sick after eating at Bamboozle. They are fantastic!

The key to finding great local cuisine is to 1) ask the locals 2) look on your GF apps and 3) ask lots of questions and don’t feel like you need to apologize. If they are rude to you, it probably means they don’t know or care enough to make you feel safe and enjoy the full experience.

Cracker Barrel

I also experienced logistics issues during my travel due to the high demand of rental cars during spring break and COVID. Who knew that they’d be >$900 for one day?! I ended up taking an Uber across the state to visit a family member. Luckily it was much less expensive than the rental and I had an overall pleasant experience. The only bad thing is that once I got to my hotel in Vero Beach we could not find another Uber, Lyft or taxi for the remainder of the night. We ended up walking to the closest restaurant, which was a Cracker Barrel. Don’t get me wrong, the general store attached is a gem. We ended up spending more money there than on our dinners, but the dinner was disappointing. The allergies menu is like an eye chart – you know the ones, are basically an excel spreadsheet printed out with 15 columns and you need to try and figure out which was gluten and which was dairy. Additionally, there were very few items that were GF, and to top it all off, the waitress did not really understand cross contamination. I asked her to specifically ask the cook to clean off the grill top. She confirmed later that they had.

This trip was one of those that just exhausts you mentally and physically. I was glutened, had to spend 2 hours in an Uber, and spent more money on chotchkies at Cracker Barrel than on dinner. Ultimately it was a lesson in planning. I need to be more vocal about my dietary needs. The restaurants that I enjoyed, I knew were GF friendly and knew that it was important to me. You are the only one that can advocate for your needs; when eating out on vacation, it is always good to plan ahead with feedback from friends, bring your own foods and take along an enzyme just in case.

Happy Travels and Eating, Friends!


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