Friday, August 19, 2011

Company Cafe in Dallas

Exciting new!  There is a new restaurant in Dallas with an extensive gluten free menu and ALL of their desserts are gluten free!

I was so excited to hear about Company Cafe, which is located on Lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas.  According to D Magazine, the restaurant came about after the Kozy Kitchen chef and other staff members walked out.  Now, I liked the Kozy, but it was located right next door to Chuy's on McKinney Street at the Knox Henderson exit off 75.  There just was no way I was going to drive all the way down there and NOT eat at Chuy's.  Chuy's pulls me in with the gravity of a black hole.  The event horizon is somewhere around Plano, and only because there is another Chuy's there.  

So I only ate at the Kozy once.  It was good, but not great.  (Though now that I know they have a new chef, I guess I'll have to go give them a second try and see what changes they have made.)

Company Cafe, on the other hand, is a total winner.  Unlike the Kozy, the seating area is very open with a lot of light, and there are tables outside as well, which will be great if the temperature in Dallas ever drops below 104.  (40 days over a hundred degrees -- it's got to stop sometime, right?)

The minute I read about this place, I dropped all my plans for the afternoon and called my friend (and partner-in-crime) Debi.  She's got a kid who is a vegetarian, and this seemed like a vegetarian friendly place.  They also seem inordinately fond of jalapenos, which her son is addicted to, so I thought it would be a good fit.  (Plus, I hate to drive, so I needed a chauffeur.)  After convincing Debi that she also needed to drop all her afternoon plans and drive me all the way into Dallas, we headed out.  (I love you, Debi!)

We were there at lunchtime, but they continue to offer their breakfast menu items until 3 pm, so two of the kids got GF chocolate chip waffles.  It came with whipped cream and real maple syrup.  I am a maple syrup snob and will not under any circumstances eat that fake maple-flavored corn syrup masquerading as syrup.   (Yeah, Mrs. Butterworth, I'm talking to you!)  The waffles were good, but a little tough.  The kids ate them up though, so perhaps they are a little less picky than I am.

My son ordered a buffalo burger, which comes with a choice or regular or gluten free bun.  I made him get the GF bun so that I could have some of it.  It came with a large choice of cheeses, and Colin chose raw cheddar.  They committed the sin (in Colin's eyes) of putting vegetables on his burger, so I took off the spinach and beautiful slice of yellow heirloom tomato, and ate those myself.  The bun was thin, which is a good thing in a GF bun, as thick slices of bread really show the dryness that is inevitable with gluten free bread.  The burger itself was delicious and, because it is buffalo, very lean.  I hate greasy burgers.  The burger came with sweet potato fries, and these were the best thing we ate that day.  Absolutely perfect!  They were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and perfectly seasoned.  Also, they fry them in olive oil, which at least gives me a partial pass on the sin of eating fried food.  They had ketchup on the side, but these were so good that the ketchup was merely a distraction.  These were best eaten plain.

My own entree was less successful.  I ordered the Deep Bowl, which is ground beef and sweet potato hash topped with avocado slices and two eggs any style. (I got mine over-easy.)  It was bland before I added the salsa that comes with it, but the salsa really brought out the flavors.  Also, the diced sweet potato were not soft enough for me.  They still had a little crunch.  

Debi's meal was both beautiful and delicious.  She had the Tomato Burrata Salad.  Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream.  Debi is not a huge fan of fresh mozzarella, but she liked this cheese.  The salad had a mix of field greens and basil, with yellow grape tomatoes and a vinaigrette dressing.  I had a bite and liked it a lot.  

For reasons I'm not sure of, I completely forgot to try Debi's son's lunch, which was East Side Tacos.  These were corn tortillas with ground beef, spinach, tomatoes, raw cheddar, and salsa.  I asked Alex about them later, and he said they were good, but that the beef was too heavily spiced for him.  Let's be clear here: it's not that they were too spicy (hot).  Nothing is too hot for Alex.  He just felt they had too much spice and not enough beef flavor.  Unfortunately, I didn't taste them, so I can't give a grown-up's opinion, but for a ten year old, Alex has a pretty refined pallet.  He loves sushi, jalapenos, crab legs, and Chuy's Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom sauce above all things, so he's not a Chicken McNugget kind of kid.  

Next, I told the kids they were going to have to make a huge sacrifice for me and order dessert.  (grin)  More specifically, they all had to order different things, so that I could taste them all.  They gladly agreed to the plan.  Here is a run-down of the desserts we tried:
Tres Leches cake -- NOT gluten free.  It contains Bailey's Irish Cream.  Caroline didn't like it, so Debi took a bite and said that the Bailey's taste was overwhelming.
Cookies and Cream Cake -- Garnished with GF chocolate cookies with tons of whipped cream.  Really special.
Italian Wedding Cake -- I liked this one, but my son thought it was a bit too "healthy tasting" for a dessert.  He described it as "more like an oatmeal spice cake."  He did like the frosting.
German Chocolate Cake -- I had been craving German Chocolate Cake for days, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this on the menu.  The cake was a tiny bit dry, but as long as you got a good balance of cake and frosting on your fork, it worked.  I'm pretty sure that my mother's German Chocolate cake was a lot more caramel-y though, so I'm still going to have to dig out that recipe and try to replicate it.  I may just make the frosting and put it on a GF Betty Crocker chocolate cake.  
Cookie Cake -- different from the Cookies and Cream cake, this one had layers of cake alternating with layers of different types of cookies.  Again, dry, but tasty and a lot of fun.
Oatmeal Cookie -- they buy their oatmeal cookies from Wholesome Foods Bakery (not to be confused with Whole Foods, the grocery store).  It had an excellent flavor and it's texture was like a sugar cookie, as they use ground oatmeal flour, instead of flaked oatmeal.  

I enjoyed the experience so much that I drug my hubby out there the following night for Date Night.  We go out every Thursday, and we try to do something different each time (otherwise we'd just eat at Chuy's every week).  So he's used to me dragging him all over creation to check out unique places and funky restaurants, especially if they have a gluten free menu. (I love you, Mark!)

Their dinner menu has a number of items that aren't on the lunch menu, so I wanted to give those a try.  Mark had Chicken Pesto Risotto and I ordered Chef Fred's Gluten Free Chicken and Waffles.  

I thought that the Risotto was fantastic.  Mark thought it was good, but not great.  On the hand, he also ordered a side of cauliflower puree, which he gobbled up with gusto, and I thought was bland.  So, clearly it's a matter of taste preferences.  

My chicken dinner was a winner.  This was Southern style chicken and waffles.  Our parents (my parents and Mark's are all from Pennsylvania) sometimes served chicken and waffles, which was a chicken and gravy served over waffles.  This was fried chicken, served with a side of waffles.  The waffles were the same as breakfast, only instead of chocolate chips baked into the batter, they had jalapenos and bacon.  Excellent flavor, but again, the waffles were a bit tough.  The chicken itself was divine.  It's been so long since I had fried chicken, and I've never had one like this.  It was boneless and skinless, but perfectly fried (in olive oil!).  So crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.  Man, oh man.  That was sooooo good.

We both ordered dessert, in my continuing quest to try them all.  Mark had Mystery Cake, which was described as tasting "sort of like a hot fudge sundae.)  It had good flavor, but I didn't think the icing was anything to write home about.  My own dessert was the Peanut Butter Lover's, which they told me was one of their top two sellers.  (Carrot cake was the other).  I really liked this one.  It reminded me of a peanut butter pie I once ate and occasionally lament that I'll never eat again.  I still say the Cookies and Cream is the best, but this one was a close second.

Mark is harder to impress than I am, so despite my own good feelings about the Company Cafe, I was still waiting with baited breath for his verdict.  Fortunately, he pronounced it a great place and worth a return trip. Yea!  There is more of that fried chicken in my future.  Yum yum.


Edited to add: I went there again for lunch on 8/29/11 and had the chicken fried steak with green beans and mashed sweet potatoes.  Delicious.  Also had the carrot cake.  Again, the cake itself isn't all that special, but man oh man, was that cream cheese icing ever good.  Decadent!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Hotel Edison

My husband has a long standing love affair with the Hotel Edison in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.  Again and again, we keep coming back here, though the rooms are shabby and the restaurant shows it's considerable age, because he loves the Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and the history of this tiny little hotel.

Sunbury, PA was the headquarters for Thomas Edison's Electric Illumination Company in 1883 and, as a result, Sunbury was one of the first towns in the country to have electric lights.  He installed the first successful three-wire electric lighting system in the City Hotel, which was renamed the Hotel Edison in his honor.

The meal was served family style, with big bowls of meats and side dishes.  The first course is waffles and gravy -- about the most celiac unfriendly thing you could possibly imagine.  My traitorous little children gobbled them up while I looked on wistfully.

There were several meats served, but only two were safe for me -- the turkey and the ham.  Their pot roast is cooked in onion soup gravy and the chicken is tossed in flour before it is cooked.  I ate the turkey and ham, as well as mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and cranberry jello salad.  The turkey was a bit dry (no gravy - duh), but everything was tasty.

The staff is very kind and the service was excellent.


Gluten Free Shamokin Dam, PA

On our last night in PA, we landed at Tedd's Landing at the intersection of 11 &15 in Shamokin Dam.  We chose this place, despite mixed online reviews, because my in-laws had their rehearsal dinner here.  In the intervening 45 years, some changes have been made to the place, but for the most part, it was as they remembered it.

After I did my usual song and dance with the waitress, they had the chef come out and talk about the menu with me.  Although they don't use a marinade on their meats, they do baste them with butter and soy sauce, so I had to have my meal prepared specially.  I chose pork tenderloin and they cooked it plain.  It was fine, but not exciting.  The baked potato was a little under-done as well, but the applesauce was good, and I ended up dumping it over my pork to counteract the dryness of the meat.  

All in all, not a place I would rush out to try, but if you are stuck on 11 & 15 and looking for a place to eat dinner, this isn't a bad choice.  


Gluten Free Selinsgrove

It wasn't an easy thing to do... find a restaurant in Selinsgrove, PA (aka "middle of nowhere") that could seat 11 people with no reservations, and have something everyone would like, from small children to little old ladies, and have gluten free food as well.  Amazingly enough, we found a place!  The Longhorn Steakhouse is a chain restaurant with an official gluten free menu.

I had a steak (Flo's Fillet) with a baked sweet potato and asparagus.  They veggies were very nicely done.  Asparagus is not always prepared well --- too often it ends up limp and stringy, but this was excellent, as was the sweet potato.  The steak... well, I always order my steak rare, as overcooking ruins a good cut of meat.  This was the first time EVER that I wished I had ordered it medium.  I was forgetting that you have to have a good cut of meat in the first place, in order to ruin it.  I think this mediocre steak probably would have benefited from a little more time on the grill.

Nevertheless, I applaud them for having a GF menu and I think it was still an excellent choice for our dinner that night, since it met so many of our needs.


Gluten Free at Knoebles Amusement Park

It was my intention to eat dinner at Knoebles, but an intense rainstorm did away with that plan.  Instead we retreated back to Selinsgrove for dinner, but I do want to give Knoebles kudos for having gluten free information on their website.

We had planned to eat at the Alamo Restaurant.  According to the website, the following are safe for gluten-intolerant diners:
Salad (no croutons)
Broiled Sirloin
Ham Steak
Roast Turkey
Roast Beef
Strip Steak
White Fish

They also have hard shell tacos at the food court that are GF.

Gluten Free in King of Prussia, PA

We were driving from Philadelphia up to Selinsgrove, to see Mark's grandmother, and we stopped for dinner in King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania, which is near Valley Forge.  One of these days, we should actually stop and see Valley Forge, but it wasn't going to be this day.  Instead, we ate dinner at Maggiano's, an Italian chain-restaurant that offers gluten free pasta.  They don't have a printed GF menu, but they have a corn-based pasta that can be substituted and used with any of their sauces.  Also, they have a "scratch" kitchen, meaning that they make everything there at the restaurant, so they can always make up a batch of something with different ingredients.  They made a fresh Alfredo sauce for me (it's gluten free, but I was worried about cross-contamination) and added chicken.  It was delicious!  They have a neat deal, where for $12.95 you can get any one of the "classic pasta dishes" and get an extra one to take home for tomorrow's dinner.  That is a great deal, but we were traveling without fridges and microwave, so I couldn't take advantage of it.

I should also mention the frozen peach bellini I had -- it was divine!


Sweet Freedom

We flew into Philly on our way to visit family, and had just a few hours to see the sights before we had to drive up to Selinsgrove.  We drove downtown and took the kids in to see the liberty bell, then walked to Franklin Square where we played mini-golf on a Philly-themed course (with miniature versions of the Love sign, the "Rocky" steps, Freedom Hall, etc.).  Then we swung by Sweet Freedom, a gluten free bakery in downtown Philadelphia.  

We were very tight on time, so I pretty much ran in and ordered one of everything they had and took it to go. This gave us some fun munchies for the very long car ride ahead.  The kids particularly enjoyed ranking the goodies -- they may have seen too many episodes of Chopped.   Here's a breakdown of the winners and losers.

I got three cupcakes -- Hostess-style cream filled, chocolate, and mocha.
The Hostess Cupcake was awesome.  I am plotting my next trip to Philly to get one I don't have to share.
I didn't get a bite of the chocolate cupcake; but my nephew declared the frosting to be delicious.  He wasn't so wild about the cake part, but he ate it, so it can't have been too bad.
The Mocha Cupcake, however, was a disaster.  The filling was thin and watery and oozed all over the place. The frosting tasted like they creamed butter and flour together instead of butter and sugar.  (A look at the ingredients proves me correct -- except they use no butter, so they creamed together rice flour and coconut milk.)  I didn't actually taste any mocha.  

I tasted samples of their chocolate chip cookies at the store... yummy.  I only bought one type of cookie -- the double chocolate chip -- which was a big hit with all the kids.  I actually bought three of those, and they were disappointed I hadn't bought more.

The cinnamon doughnuts were VERY good, but more like a doughnut shaped coffee cake than an actual doughnut.  They were also better the day I bought them.  I bought several, thinking that they kids would like these a lot (they didn't) and the next day the cinnamon topping was melted to goo.  Still edible, but not as good as they were when they were fresh.  

There was also some sort of vanilla treacle bar (I can't remember what they called it, but it was a bit like a shoo-fly pie) that was interesting, and a blueberry crisp with oatmeal that was pretty good too.  The brownies, however, were declared inedible by everyone in the car.

I saved the piece of zucchini loaf for my breakfast the following morning, and that was a nice way to start the day.  I don't think the kids would have liked it, but I did.  

I am so happy we took the time to stop here and that we tried so many different things.  It was a really fun adventure.  


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rainforest Cafe

We ate at the Rainforest Cafe in Grapevine, because my nephew is visiting and the Rainforest Cafe is near the Great Wolf Lodge, where we were staying the night.

I have not had a lot of luck with the Rainforest Cafes (in various locations) in the past, but they did a decent job this time.  The manager came out with a big Book O' Allergens.  A downside was that he did not have a list of items that ARE gluten free, but rather a list of all the things the restaurant serves and what allergens that item contains.  So I had to say things like "what about the mashed potatoes" and then he would hunt through the book looking for the entry on mashed potatoes in order to answer the question.  I had a satisfying meal -- rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, and grilled veggies.  I still wouldn't venture here if I wasn't desperate to please a young child, but they do have food available that is safe for someone on a GF diet.


Summer Fruit Dessert

Using Pamela's extemely versatile baking and pancake mix, I altered a recipe from my pre-gluten free days and made a really tasty dessert that I would challenge anyone to know was gluten free if not told. It is a Blue Berry Peach Cobbler for two and is perfect warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and in a pan that is about half the size of a lasagne pan, melt three tablesppons of butter. In a mixing bowl blend ½ cup of Pamela's mix with ¼ cup of water and 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour it into the pan on top of the butter and do not mix it! Pour over the batter a mixture of 1 cup of blueberries, 1 cup of peaches, diced small, and 1/4 cup of sugar. Bake until browned and bubbling – about 40 minutes or so.