Going Gluten-Free in a Fredericksburg Strip Mall
This weekend, I was back up in Virginia, for the wedding of my friends, Nancy and Lee. More specifically, we were in Fredericksburg, a small town between Washington, D.C. and Richmond. I’ve been so spoiled by my time in Virginia this month. I’m convinced that October is the best time to be a Virginian. (Don’t worry, Georgia: You, too, have a special place in my heart.)
What a gorgeous fall weekend for an outdoor reception! The wedding was in a quaint historic church in Loretto, Virginia and the reception was in Nancy’s family’s backyard. It was a beautiful event.
At the rehearsal dinner on Friday night, the caterers wonderfully made me a gluten-free dinner, for which I’m always so appreciative. (I enter into wedding weekends with the expectation that I won’t have any food options aside from what I bring for myself so I’m always grateful when I can enjoy something beyond peanuts and Lara Bars.) So I enjoyed the filets and mashed potatoes with everyone else. (Of course I still snacked on my peanuts too.)
On Saturday, I planned ahead, to enjoy a large lunch, to hold me over during the reception, so I wouldn’t be tempted by gluten foods at the reception. (It’s hard to resist crab cakes and a pad thai station, but it’s worth it to stay healthy, right?) The question then became, “Where to go for lunch?” Normally, I am eager to try a local spot when I travel, and our hotel was in the middle of Fredericksburg’s downtown area which has many awesome shops and cool food spots. We enjoyed coffee in the morning at a Hyperion Espresso but after walking around downtown, it was clear that there wouldn’t be too many gluten-free friendly options for me. Lots of bakeries and sandwich places that looked delicious, but not gluten-free.
So, I saw this need for a guaranteed GF meal, as an opportunity to please David as well. He’s always begging me to go to Outback Steakhouse. He can’t resist the bloomin’ onion and they do have a great gluten-free menu. (As I’ve mentioned before, the Outback in Roswell, GA goes above and beyond the national menu.) I totally applaud any restaurant that’s willing to create a GF menu and accommodate their diners with dietary restrictions, but I’m not always dying for chain food. (Sure, you can call me a food snob, if you want.) But, since my options were limited, I was relieved to type Outback into my iPhone and find a location in Fredericksburg, just off I-95, of course. And, Outback was the perfect location since the bride and groom are heading to Australia for their honeymoon!
Perfect. “No Rules. Just Right.” A happy husband, college football, and a full belly, all before any vows were exchanged. Well, we headed to a strip mall off the highway, in pursuit of the Outback. As we drove up, the parking lot looked unusually empty. Much to David’s dismay, Outback doesn’t open until 2:00 on Saturdays (4:00 on weekdays). Who knew? Note to self: Outback Steakhouse, not a good lunch option. After this heartbreaking discovery, and with my stomach beginning to growl, we broke out the iPhone again and I began to search for other chains that I know to be gluten-free.
We learned a Bonefish Grill was located in the near vicinity. Bonefish also boasts a gluten-free menu at all of their locations. Ok, I thought. This situation can be redeemed. Thank goodness for strip malls, and Fredericksburg had plenty. It took us ten minutes to find Bonefish. (I kid you not: there were about ten strip malls in a 1-mile radius.) We passed a Noodles & Co. on the way so we knew there would be a back up plan. (They have GF rice noodles and a variety of GF sauces.)
As we pulled up to the Bonefish Grill, I began to feel like I was having a serious case of déjà vu and saw that they too, don’t open until 4:00.
Shoot. Time was running short. But the chain restaurant Gods were smiling on me yesterday because there was a Cheeseburger in Paradise located right next to the Bonefish. I had never been to a Cheeseburger in Paradise before but I knew from my gluten-free research that they have a GF menu. Great. Table for two, please. We sat at the bar and the manager proceeded to bring me a gluten-free menu with many options. While they do not offer GF buns, most of their burgers (sans-bun) are gluten-free AND their French fries are gluten-free, made in a separate fryer from all of their other items. Hurray! Ravenous at this point, I ordered a side of fries and the citrus chicken salad (substitute grilled chicken for the roast chicken). I was very pleased with my choice and everyone who served us was super careful about my order, and very pleasant.
What a relief to have food options this weekend, and when Outback didn’t work out, there were other options for me. While I sometimes turn my nose up at a chain restaurant, I’ve got to eat my words on this one. I’m very thankful that there are restaurants throughout the country where I can walk in, and know that I will have options. And yummy options too.
National chains are great for this exact reason: You’re in an unfamiliar place and unsure of the food options, so you know you can look up one of the following restaurants to find safe food. Make sure you still remind your server and talk to the manager about your needs. (Some of the locations might educate their employees more than others, so you just want to double check.)
National Restaurant Chains with Gluten-Free Menus:
- Outback Steakhouse
- Cheeseburger in Paradise
- Bonefish Grill
- P.F. Chang’s
- Ted’s Montana Grill
- Wendy’s (Who doesn’t love a Frosty?)
What have I missed? What’s your go-to gluten-free dining option when in a bind?
Also, I’m obsessed with my new iPhone for many reasons (I definitely drank the Apple kool-aid), and this weekend was a perfect example of why the iPhone can come in handy for those of us that have to put a lot of thought and research into where we eat. Thank you, iPhone. I’m so glad to have you on the journey.