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North valley offers gluten-free dining options

Elizabeth Medora~ 11/12/2014

NORTH VALLEY – Dietary restrictions limit options for picking up a quick meal or enjoying a night out. Eating gluten-free eliminates some frequent foods like bread and pasta, which can be difficult in itself.

But for those with celiac disease, eating gluten-free presents more than just the challenge of avoiding everyday foods with gluten in them. Cross-contamination can easily occur with gluten-free food that is handled and/or stored with food containing gluten. For instance, someone with celiac disease can’t just pick croutons off a salad to avoid the gluten in them – the other ingredients can become contaminated with gluten and cause a severe reaction in those with celiac disease. Someone who has severe celiac disease can get sick just from eating gluten-free food that was prepared by someone who handled gluten products, like bread, and didn’t wash their hands in between.

Dining out isn’t impossible, though – local restaurants are now offering gluten-free options.

Precaution: it may be better for people with severe reactions to gluten to lower the chance of accidental cross-contamination and avoid eating out. Many restaurants take precautions to avoid cross-contamination; ask each restaurant for more information.

Bruce Barro, one of the owners of Barro’s Pizza, got started in offering gluten-free pizza options because of family friends who have celiac disease.

“That made us aware of the challenges,” Barro said. “We all got tested.” Barro’s wife and daughter are both allergic to gluten and dairy.

For a family of pizza restaurateurs, pizza was a dinner staple. The Barros started looking at different dietary options.

“We started restructuring our health,” Barro explained. “We ventured out and started getting online, trying to learn as much as we could.”

From there, the Barros started searching for ways to make gluten-free pizza, sampling and taste-testing at different bakeries. Once they settled on using Udi’s pizza crusts, Barro’s Pizza began offering gluten-free options, including pizza, salad and salad dressings, wings, sauces, and beer. Other menu options can be made to order, too. Barro noted that customers can “get creative with what they can do” with menu options.

Gluten-free pizzas are made in the same ovens as regular; the staff uses different trays, parchment paper, and a separate freezer to minimize the risk of cross-contamination.  The wings are made in the same fryer that houses other products, so customers with severe gluten intolerance need to keep that in mind.

Barro’s also designates specific staff members to handle gluten-free orders, and all managers receive training on gluten-free preparation. Employees are trained to report what products are gluten-free and what aren’t, and they work to help accommodate customers’ needs. 

Barro, who owns Barro’s restaurants with his brothers, noted that they brought in consultants to judge how well the restaurants were keeping gluten-free. The restaurants were rated as “doing it better than 99 percent” of other eateries.

Marie Skorish, one of the owners of the Uncle Louie restaurant in Scottsdale, noted that her restaurant started serving gluten-free options because of customers’ requests.

“The daughter of one of my customers has celiac disease,” Skorish said. It took years for the child to be diagnosed with celiac, as it often the case with celiac patients.

“They almost lost their child because of gluten,” Skorish related. “That was enough to get me moving.”

Skorish and her husband Lou have owned Uncle Louie since 1997. Their son Michael is the restaurant’s chef.

“We’ve always tried to accommodate any dietary needs,” Skorish said. “We can do a lot of special requests.

Currently, Uncle Louie offers gluten-free pizza and pasta. Other menu items can be made to order.

“We do a lot of food items other than pizza,” Skorish said.

Skorish noted that Uncle Louie staff asks customers for their level of gluten tolerance. Certain precautions are always observed, including using separate pans and cleaning the pans separately from other dishes.

“You have to be very, very careful,” Skorish noted.

Another gluten-free option in the north valley is Anthem’s Café Provence.

Sarge Malki, who runs the family-owned restaurant, started offering gluten-free options after customers requested a gluten-free menu.

“It’s a need,” Malki said. “We need to keep up with health needs.”

Malki called Anthem a “family community,” saying that he since he operates a family restaurant, he wanted to be able to “offer family members whatever they need.”

“Everything is pretty much cooked to order here,” Malki said. Café Provence’s gluten-free menu includes steak, chicken, pasta, beer, and dessert.

“We can sauté calamari instead of breading it for gluten-free customers,” Malki said.

To avoid cross-contamination, Café Provence chefs use a specific grill area for gluten-free dishes and use separate pans to sauté.

“Everything is done completely separate,” Malki said. “We take it very seriously.”

Living gluten-free is a challenge. Having the option to grab takeout for an easy dinner or being able to enjoy a sit-down dinner makes living gluten-free easier.

See menus, locations, and more:

Barro’s Pizza: www.barrospizza.com
Uncle Louie: www.unclelouie.com
Café Provence: Facebook, Café Provence

For more information on celiac disease, visit the Celiac Disease Foundation’s site: www.celiac.org.