Saturday, July 16, 2016

Thirsty Owl Revisited

One of our favorite places to visit in the summer is Thirsty Owl Winery on Cayuga Lake in Ovid, NY.  In addition to their excellent wines (and owl-themed souvenirs) they also have a lovely bistro open for lunch (and dinner on the weekends).
Marisa displays some owl-themed merchandise
Cathy says:
The Bistro at Thirsty Owl Winery in the Finger Lakes Region of NY has a new chef.  His name is Sean Agate and he is a wonderful addition to the area if you are eating gluten free -- or if you are not.  In the past six weeks I have eaten at The Bistro five times and have had a spectacular meal every time.  My personal favorite is the scallops.  There are three very large scallops topped with a tiny bit of caviar.  The vegetable garnishes and the sauce are works of art, tasty and fun to look at. There is also salmon on the menu as red snapper. There is a sirloin serving too, if you are looking for beef.  I admit that I would have liked one of the pulled pork sandwiches and the salted caramel ice cream, neither gluten free, but I cannot complain that I did not eat well at every meal. The Bistro is only open 11:00 to 5:00 Sunday through Thursday, and open till 7:00 on Friday and Saturday.

Scallops at Thirsty Owl Bistro
Sandy says:
I love sitting on the deck at the Thirsty Owl Bistro.  They had some interesting drinks that I considered trying, but in the end I stuck with my favorite wine: Diamond.  This is not a wine for those who like dry, fancy wines.  This is more of a "welch's grape juice with a kick" kind of wine.  Very sweet and fruity, perfect for sipping on a porch on a warm summer's day.
Sandy on the deck at Thirsty's
I wasn't very hungry the day were were there, so I opted for a light lunch of Creamy Roasted Potato Soup.  It was delicious -- perfect to just get a little something in your belly before moving on the wine tasting.  
Soup at Thirsty Owl Bistro

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gluten Free in Times Square

There is a lot to love about Times Square and the surrounding theater district.  The plays are fantastic, the lights and colors are energizing, there are sights and sounds everywhere.

On the other hand, it is a tourist trap, complete with aggressive hawkers shoving flyers in your face or trying to sell you fake tickets.  

In general, it seems like New Yorkers do not think much of the food in the theater district, and even less of the food at Times Square.  However, we had little ones with us, who can't walk very far, are hard to take on the subway, and there were too many of us to fit in a cab.  We needed food near our hotel, which was the Hilton Times Square, (not to be confused with the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square -- that is a different hotel).  The Hilton Times Square is directly next door to Madame Tussauds wax museum.

A few yards from the hotel (40th and 8th) was Schnippers, a burger joint/ quick service restaurant that has a gluten free menu.  You need to ask for it, it is not posted, but it is extensive.  All the burgers and sandwiches can be made with a gluten free bun.  You can add chicken, fish or grilled turkey to a salad (make sure you specify no croutons).  The fish & chips, chicken tenders, and fries are made with a gluten free batter and can be fried in non-glutinated oil (you must ask them to do this, otherwise it will be made in the cross contaminated fryer).  All the shakes and ice cream (except cookies & cream, obviously) are gluten free.  Wow.

I took the advice of several online bloggers who recommended the Schnipper's Chicken Filet, a crunchy fried chicken sandwich that comes with pickles and Schnipper's Sauce.  I was leery of the special sauce, not for gluten reasons, just because I am picky with my sauces, so I skipped it, but that left me with a sandwich that was kind of dry.  

The next day we came back and I had a burger with cheese and tomatoes, and that was a much better choice for me.  Still, while this was pretty decent gluten free burger, I wouldn't have gone back for more.

So why did we come back the next day?  Because the children demanded it.  Little David, who is 4 years old and gluten intolerant was so happy with his chicken fingers that he cried when it was time to leave, sobbing for more chicken!  He and his mother ate there three times over the course of our 4 day trip.  Definitely the perfect choice for a gluten free toddler.

GF Chicken Tenders at Schnippers

Waiting for our meal at Schnippers
We ate at another burger place, The Counter, not far away at 41st and Broadway.  Their website says that the fries are gluten free; however, our server advised us that is not always true.  On this particular occassion, they had been frying something else in the oil, so it was cross contaminated.  Bonus points to the server for knowing that and telling me!

I had a 1/3 pound beef burger on a gluten free bun with garlic aioli, tomatoes, avacado, and cheddar cheese, medium rare.  It was awesome.  One of the best burgers I ever ate.  So yummy.  I also had a milk shake with chocolate and marshmallow fluff, which was good, but probably not worth the calories.
GF at Counter Burger in Times Square

One night we were too tired to go out and brave the crowds, so we ordered pizza from Don Antonio's and had it delivered to the hotel.  It was, as my sister-in-law says, "snooty pizza."  In other words, it was fancy gourmet Neopolitan-style pizza, not your standard Domino's type pizza.  That is perfect for me, but not so much for little David.  In the interest of trying something new and different, I ordered a Montanara Starita -- fried pizza dough topped with tomato sauce, smoked buffalo mozzerella, and basil.  The crust was very rich, due to the saturation of oil, but delicious.  I actually liked it even better the next morning when I ate it cold, with my Starbucks latte.

GF pizza from Don Antonio's

David did better at John's Pizzeria, which offered a thin crust, wood fired, gluten free pizza.  It was also right next door to the theater where Something Rotten is playing, so if you are heading to that theater (St. James), this would be the perfect spot to grab a pre- or post dinner pizza.

While David was eating at John's, I was spending the evening in a more upscale environment.  I took the two older children (13 and 14) to Etcetera, Etcetera, a cute little Italian bistro near 44th and 8th.  We were heading to the theater with a 7 pm curtain time, and arrived at 5:30.  They asked us what time our show was and presented us with the bill at precisely 6:45, so as to give us time to get to the theater.  Perfect!

I had an excellent risotto, with asparagus, peas, and pecorino cheese.  It was supposed to have mushrooms as well, but when I mentioned that I didn't care for mushrooms, the waiter told me he could have them on the side, but insisted that I try one, as these are particularly good mushrooms. I ate the risotto without mushrooms, but I did pass them to my son, who appreciated them.

We had dessert, at the instance of the teenagers, and I was glad we did, because my chocolate pudding with hazelnuts was one of the most insanely delicious things I have ever had.  Wow.

GF Risotto at Etc Etc in NYC
The bottom line is, with some research and a willingness to spend NYC prices, there is delicious GF food to be found in Times Square, without resorting to TGI Friday's or one of the other chain restaurants you can find in any town in the USA.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Gluten Free Under the Lemon Tree

On the island of Capri, we dined at one of the most unique restaurants we've ever had the pleasure of experiencing -- Da Paolino.

Wow!  This stunning restaurant is in the middle of a lemon grove, with huge lemons hanging off the trees all above and around you.  There were so many lemons that I was slightly worried that one would fall down and hit one of us, but no incidents occurred.  Don't worry about rain either -- the restaurant has a retractable roof to switch from dining indoors to al fresco as needed!

Caroline and Brandon at Da Paolino, dining under the lemon trees.
Da Paolino koi pond

Lemon Trees at Da Paolino

I started with an excellent mojito, and they brought me some GF bread and crackers.

GF crackers at Da Paolino
The waiter was very helpful in going over the menu with me.  They had both GF spaghetti and penne pastas available, and I chose to go with the penne in a lemon cream sauce.  It seemed appropriate to go with something lemon flavored, after all.  I worred that the lemon would be overpowering, but instead it was very subtle and delicate.  Lovely.

Penne in Lemon Cream Sauce

I thought that there would be nothing on the dessert buffet for me, but amazingly there were a surprising number of things I could eat.  I was incredulous as the waiter took me through and showed me a creme caramel, panna cotta, chocolate pudding, coconut cookies, and two types Torte Caprese (gluten free almond cake) -- lemon and chocolate.  There were also large bowls of beautiful berries and mounds of whipped cream.  

Dessert Buffet at Da Paolino

The Torte was a little dry, but was improved by adding the whipped cream.  The creme caramel was just ok, and the chocolate pudding was a little too rich for my tastes, but the panna cotta with raspberry sauce was a real winner.  Eating the torte was probably a bit risky from a cross-contamination standpoint, but the pudding/caramel/panna cotta were in individual dishes, which is really nice.

I left in physical pain from eating so much, and I only regretted that I couldn't go back for more!  If you are in Capri, this is an experience not to be missed.

Colin and Caroline at Da Paolino


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gluten Free Capri

The next stop on our tour of Italy was the fabulous island of Capri.  Our tour book snarkily said that tourists flock to Capri looking for the rich and famous, finding only their prices.  There's probably some truth to that, but the other side of the island -- Anacapri -- is surprisingly affordable by comparison, and far more down-to-earth.

Our hotel, in Anacapri, was the Hotel Girisole.  They did not have a restaurant but they did have a free breakfast buffet.  It was your typical European breakfast with pastries, coffee, lunch meats and cheese.  I had yogurt.

Just down the street was the Pizzeria Aumm Aumm where the staff could not have been more friendly.  They were open to eat in the middle of the afternoon (3 pm), which is pretty much unheard of in Italy.  We were famished and enormously grateful that they would feed us.

They had both gluten free pizza and pasta available, and I chose pizza.  The crust was... gluten free.  Not great, but I've had worse.  The cheese and sauce were delicious.  My non-GF hubby loved his meal here and we all loved that it was close to the hotel and not terribly expensive.

The next day, we took a boat ride around Capri.  Most of the tours leave from the larger Marina Grande, but this one left from Marina Piccola on the other side of the island.
Caroline and Brandon boating around Capri

The kids all loved the boat ride.  After it was over, we ate at a restaurant in Marina Piccola called Lo Scoglio delle Sirene.    Stunningly beautiful, it sits on an outcropping of rock with the water on three sides of it.  It is, without a doubt, the prettiest place I have eaten in.  The food gets mixed reviews.  They did have gf pasta available, but I chose to go with a Caprese Salad, a safe but forgettable choice.  The non-seafood eaters were less than impressed with their meals, but those who ordered seafood were in heaven.

Caprese in Capri

Mark and Colin at Le Sirene

Outside the restaurant was a little gelato stand.  In addition to gelato, they sold  ice cream pops (like the kind you get from an ice-cream truck) and the strawberries and cream pop was clearly labeled "senza glutina" on the sign.  Yum!

We also had a meal in the main piazza of Capri at a place called La Palma, which was part of a hotel. We ate outside on the patio and watched the well-heeled tourists go by.  This is the expensive part of the island, and boy did we pay for our location.  Nevertheless, I was happy with my food (a steak with marinara sauce) and they brought me gluten free rolls too!  I foolishly ordered a Torte Caprese, a traditional almond cake native to Capri, even though I was really too full to eat it.  It was delicious, but I pretty much had to be rolled home afterwards.

La Palma Restaurant in Capri

GF Pizza in Naples

Ah, Napoli!  The birthplace of pizza.  I had feared that I wouldn't get to enjoy a slice of pizza in Naples, but a change of plans brought us into Naples at dinner time.  On the advice of our wonderful concierge at Villa Signorini, we headed to Pizzeria Ciro a Santa Brigada.

Neapolitan Style pizza must, according to the True Neapolitan Pizza Association, have a hand kneaded crust (no rolling pins allowed), be baked in a wood fired oven, and must not exceed 35 cm in diameter.  The crust is soft and pliable.

My gluten free pizza at Pizzeria Ciro a Santa Brigada was nothing short of amazing.  Seriously, it was the best gluten free pizza I have ever had.  The crust was soft and chewy, nothing like the crisp cardboard that usually gets passed off as gluten free pizza.  It was perfect -- wood fired and topped with a flavorful sauce, tomatoes grown on Mt Vesuvius, and plenty of mozzarella cheese.

Pizza in Naples

I would strongly recommend that you call ahead to make a reservation and tell them that you want a gluten free pizza.  The hotel called for us, and they had the pizza ready to go into the oven when I arrived.  Perfect!

A couple of notes -- we passed another restaurant called Ciro in the harbor.  That is not the right restaurant.  You want Ciro a Santa Brigada.

Also, while you are there, stop into the Galleria Umberto I, just around the corner.  This shopping center seems to have fallen on hard times, but the architecture is amazing.
Galleria Umberto I in Naples

Tile mosaic on the floor of Galleria Umberto I


GF at the Villa Signorini Hotel in Ercolano

It should be said that we were not staying at "budget" hotels on this trip to Italy.  We chose the Villa Signorini Hotel in Ercolano because it was interesting and conveniently located to Herculaneum.  The Signorini is a 18th century villa which has been converted to a hotel.

While most of the rooms here are "ordinary" (and extremely affordable!), there are a few (significantly more expensive) suites on the upper floor that are truly astounding.  We occupied two suites (with 6 people).  One had a large room with a queen and a sofa bed, and the other had two bedrooms, each with a queen sized bed.

What made it so astounding was the frescos painted on the walls and ceilings.  Just imagine -- when you wake, the first things your eyes see are this ceiling.
Ceiling fresco at Villa Signorini
The other reason we chose this hotel was that their restaurant is certified by the Italian Celiac Association!!  The restaurant (Le Nuvole) is open to the public for lunch and dinner, and provides a breakfast buffet for hotel guests.

We ate dinner in the restaurant the night we arrived.  I had a pasta dish (substitute GF pasta) that was kind of like a lasagna without the layer-- the ricotta and tomato sauce were mixed together with the pasta.  I cannot remember what they called the dish, but the menu said it was classic Roman cuisine.  I enjoyed it, and it was the only pasta I was served in Rome that wasn't WAY too al dente for my tastes.  (I don't want mushy pasta, but I don't want it to chip my tooth either!)  We asked the server to recommend a wine, and his choice was excellent.  There was also some gluten free bread.
GF Pasta at Villa Signorini

Breakfast at the hotel was a more casual affair.  The buffet was very heavy on the sweets, including a GF chocolate torte, which was phenomenal.  The other cakes and sweets on the buffet were glutinous, so they brought me a selection of pre-packaged GF snacks including cookies, rice cakes, and plum cakes.  There was bacon and eggs available, as well as some deli meat and cheese.

We were back again the next day for lunch and I had a delicious bean soup served with a gluten free roll (much better than the bread they served the night before).  All in all, I felt the restaurant was above average and very convenient if you are staying at the hotel anyway.  Other dining options in Ercolano are pretty limited.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

GF in Rome at Taverna Barbarino

We chose the Taverna Barbarino for two reasons.
1) It had an extensive GF menu and
2) It was on the same square as the Convento dei Cappuccini, a crypt decorated with the bones of more than 4000 Cappuccini monks.

While the Convento dei Cappuccini is a "must do" for anyone traveling with teenagers who enjoy the macabre, the Taverno Barbarino is a "must do" for Celiacs.

They brought me GF bread, individually wrapped, so I knew it was safe from cross contamination, and told me that nearly everything on the menu could be made gluten free.  It was a very tough choice, but I decided to go with Pasta e Fagoli soup, as I used to really love that soup at the Olive Garden in my pre-GF days.  

This soup was not like the Olive Garden version, which is tomato-y, but was delicious nonetheless.  It was a hearty bean soup, served in a glass jar.  (I assume they have them pre-made in the jars and heat them up as needed.)

Pasta e Fagoli soup

The soup went well with the GF bread and with the Chianti we ordered.  This restaurant is where my son discovered that he is fond of Chianti.  Let's hope that doesn't become a problem.  :)

Colin's First Chianti 
I deliberately ordered a light lunch in order to save room for dessert.  Unfortunately, the GF tiramisu was forgettable and had a sort of sour flavor, but at least I got to try it.  If I ever make it back there, I will stick with the entrees.  


Dinner in a Castle

Castello della Castelluccia

The lure of staying in a castle prompted us to choose this hotel over ones that were actually in Rome, and I think we made the right decision.  Compared to the luxury hotels in Rome, Castello della Castelluccia was quite affordable.  If you are looking to save money, of course, you are better off at budget hotels, but if you want luxury at a lower price tag, this is the place for you.
Castle Hotel and Restaurant outside Rome

The first night, dinner was served on the grounds of the hotel, in a tented facility that was very lovely, but not part of the actual castle.  That was because the castle was hosting a wedding that night, so the dining room was being used by them.  The ambiance was still very festive and elegant.  

As with most places we went in Italy, they understood what gluten was and knew what items were and weren't gluten free.  Their menu was heavy on seafood, which I don't care for, but that is a personal pickiness issue, not a dietary issue.  The first night I had a steak and potato dish, which was delicious. .
Steak and potatoes at Castello della Castellucia

The second night, we ate in the actual castle dining room.   I was starting to feel irritable because I still had not had any pasta, so I asked my server, and lo and behold -- they could make any of the pasta dishes with GF pasta.  I asked them for spaghetti with a plain marinara sauce, which was not on the menu, but they did it for me anyway.

Spaghetti at Castello della Castellucia

We also ate breakfast at the castle one morning, which the children greatly enjoyed as it seemed to comprise mostly of different kinds of cakes and fruit tarts.  Not particularly GF friendly, but I ate yogurt and poached pears.  


GF at Ostia Antica

Our first stop on our fabulous Rome vacation, was the ancient port city of Ostia, a large archaeological site near the Fiumicino airport. It was a perfect destination after a long flight, as it gave us a chance to walk around and really stretch our legs.  One could easily spend all day there, but tired as we were, we lasted about two hours.

Ruins of Ostia Antica

Just outside of the ruins is a tourist trap restaurant called Allo Sbarco di Enea.  It is a cute place filled with statues and other replicas from Roman antiquity, making it a great place to have lunch after a tour through Ostia Antica.  

Colin at Allo Sbarco di Enea

However, they were not very GF friendly.  There was no gluten free pizza or pasta options, so I had a Caprese salad.  Fortunately, it's very difficult to screw up a Caprese salad.  I was told that steak was also an option for me, but I chose to stick with salad.  My fellow diners did not particularly enjoy their meals either, but it was at least a fun place to hang out and cool off.


Delta Airlines Gluten Free Meal

We took an International flight from Atlanta to Rome in June 2016 and I requested a gluten free meal from the Delta website.  We were flying Delta Comfort Plus, which is their term for their extra-leg room seats, but it also includes free booze.  Score!

I did receive my gluten free dinner, a gluten free breakfast, and even a gluten free snack!

First of all, it's airline food, so my expectations are low; however, they did a pretty decent job of keeping me fed.

Dinner was a tasty (and hot) chicken dish with veggies, salad, fruit, and a rice cake.  My son is a fan of rice cakes (yuck), so I passed that to him.  There was olive oil for the salad, but not salad dressing.

At snack time, the Normal People got ice cream and pretzels.  I got an apple.  Still, points for thinking of me at all.

Breakfast was a gluten free version of the frittata that the Normals received.  I am not eating eggs right now, so I skipped it, but it would have been a good offering for someone who can eat eggs.  I was not given a yogurt (probably their gf meal is the same as the dairy free meal), so I stole my husband's yogurt.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Lunches with EF Tours in Europe

This is my second post in my series about my experiences as a Celiac with EF Tours, a travel company specializing in student tours.  For information about the meals provided by EF Tours, click here to read Part 1.

EF Tours provides breakfast and dinner each day, but you buy your own lunch.  That allows you freedom to either choose things that are more familiar to you, or to branch out and try something new.  Sadly, there were many kids who chose to head to McDonalds, Starbucks, or other familiar fast food joints.  (I even heard a teen whine that there was no Wendy's.  Seriously!)  With adult tastes, special needs, and a larger checkbook than the students, I opted for nicer restaurants when I could.  

Let me start by saying that I pre-ordered a GF meal from Delta on the flight there and back.  Three years ago, I got a GF meal on an international flight to Spain (United Airlines) and it was absolutely awful.  I was pleasantly supervised, therefore, that the GF meal on Delta was really good.  

GF Delta
Gluten Free Meal on International Delta Flight
Now, on to Europe!  There were a few occasions when we stopped at rest stops along the highway.  This is unavoidable on a tour like this, as there are days when we spent up to 5 hours on the bus.  I was always able to find something to eat, even if it wasn't always something exciting.  My favorite of these places was Autogrill, which was something like a German version of Buc-ee's.  (For non-Texans, Buc-ee's is the king of all convenience stores along the highway, with clean bathrooms and a huge selection of food and souvenirs.  It's basically a Stuckey's on steroids.)  Autogrill had everything I could ever want, including a small selection of individual Schar snacks.  Yay!

Most of our meals, however, were in the larger towns and we had many restaurants to chose from.

Rothenburg -- I took several of the teens with me into Ratsstube, a restaurant directly across from the Rathaus (town hall).  All of us ordered soup (it was a cold day) and I enjoyed my tomato soup.
GF Ratsstube
Tomato Soup at Ratsstube in Rothenburg

Dachau --  Seriously.  We ate lunch at the cafeteria at the Dachau concentration camp.  Yeesh.  It was hard to have an appetite in such morbid surroundings, but I had a surprisingly good Goulash Soup.  They had pamphlets listing allergens (in German) and the cafeteria lady happened to be gluten free, so she was able to steer me toward the soup.
GF Dachau
Goulash Soup

Innsbruck, Austira --  I was running low on GF snacks by this time, especially breakfast cereal, so I was delighted to find TWO health food stores in the middle of the tourist district in Innsbruck.  (They dropped us off at the Swarovski store.  I assume they get kick backs.  I found the first health food store about a block away.)  I loaded up on snacks and bought some cheese and fruit for my lunch.
GF Innsbruck
Picnic Lunch from a Health Food Store in Austria
Venice --  It was raining and freezing cold the day we were in Venice.  I didn't care where we ate or what we ate as long as it was indoors and warm.  As luck would have it, my random choices were good ones.  The first place was a two-story restaurant named Al Teatro Goldoni, down the street from the Disney store.  I stuck my head in and said "pasta senza glutine?" and the waitress said "si!" so in we went.  We ate upstairs, which was very nice.  It was crowded, but cozy.  Amazingly, they did indeed have GF pasta, and it wasn't terribly expensive at 10 euros, in a city known for price gouging the tourists.  

GF Venice
GF Pasta in Venice

A quick note about restaurants in Italy: they charge a service fee (coperto) per person fee of 1 or 2 Euros that's basically a charge for the privilege of using their chair, tablecloth, forks, etc.  There is no way around it, and that is in addition to the fact that the prices are probably higher if you sit and eat, rather than take your food "to-go."    So the total bill was somewhat more, and I was paying for the three teens with me, but I would happily have paid twice as much for a warm place to wait while the storms died down.
Later we went into a (random) coffee shop to warm up again, and I was delighted to see individually-wrapped gluten free cookies for sale.  My drink was delicious.  The Italians do know their coffee.

Coffee in Venice

Sirmione -- By this point, the teens were no longer willing to eat with me, preferring to wander off on their own (which their actual teachers didn't have a problem with, so I felt I couldn't object) and I was eating by myself in Sirmione, a pretty little seaside town in Italy.  Again, I stuck my head in the door of the most promising looking restaurant, and said "senza glutine?" and they said "Si!"  So I got another gluten free pasta meal in Italy.  Yum!  This time, I did get the name of the place.  It was called Ristorante Pizzeria Modi.
GF Modi
Gluten Free Pasta at Modi in Sirmione

Example of a Coperto in Italy

There was also a gelato place in Sirmione that had a sign saying gluten free, but when I asked the server about it, she warned me that there was cross-contamination issues due to the scoops touching the ice cream cones over and over again.   I appreciated her honesty.

Lucerne -- In Lucerne I was eating by myself again, and took the opportunity to finally have some wine with my meal. Molte grazie! I had gone to the Stadtkeller Brauerei, on the advice of my Find Me Gluten Free app, but was disappointed when the server didn't think there was much on the menu I could eat. I wandered directly across the street to the beautiful Restaurant Fritschi where an English and French speaking server was very helpful. I got cheese fondue in Switzerland! Often in Switzerland, you have the choice of bread or boiled potatoes to go with your fondue, and I love the boiled potatoes. Not only are they gluten free, but they don't fall apart in your cheese the way bread does. I was under the impression that "raclette" meant boiled potato, but Wikipedia tells me it is melted cheese, so I am not sure how to make sure you get those yummy potatoes in German.
Restaurant Fritschi in Lucerne
GF Fondue
Cheese Fondue and Boiled Potatoes

GF Fondue
Cheese-y Goodness in Lucerne

I was feeling pretty guilty about my expensive lunch (40 Swiss Francs) until I met back up with the kids.  One of the ravenous teenage boys went to McDonald's and spent 40 Francs for his three Big Macs, large fries, and Coke.  At least I got a gourmet meal for my $40.  

All in all, it was very easy to find tasty and gluten-free food in all the locations EF Tours dropped us at.  They tended to be very pricey meals, as we were usually in the middle of the tourist district, but that is to be expected for those areas.  I am very happy with my experiences and glad that I went along.


GF with EF Tours


We just returned from a 10 day student trip to Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland with EF Tours.

My high school daughter signed up to take this trip with students from her school. There are few things in the world I wanted to do less than travel on a cheap-o student tour with smelly teens, but because of some health problems my daughter has been experiencing, I did not feel comfortable sending her alone.  So, voila, I became a chaperon.  My expectations were not high, especially when it came to food.  I anticipated living on Laurabars for a week.

Fortunately, I was wrong.  First of all, EF Tours provides fantastic value for the price.  Europe is expensive.  Really really expensive.  So I assumed that for the price we were paying, we would be staying in rat-traps and eating at truck stops.  Not true!

The hotels we stayed at were clean and quaint.  Not luxury hotels by any stretch, but very comfortable.  Hotels in Europe aren't up to American standards anyway, so things like small rooms and spotty Wi-Fi are to be expected, even if you were paying top dollar.

On to the food!  I had the good fortune to have a tour director who was also gluten intolerant. That was helpful, in that she was already thinking about what food was gluten free, so I was never forgotten; however, she had little to do with arranging the food, so sometimes we were both left with less than stellar options.

Breakfast and dinner were included with the package.  I will talk about those meals first.  Lunch we chose and paid for on our own, and I will cover that in a separate post.

Breakfast was always at the hotel.  Some days there was eggs and bacon, some days just cold cuts, but there was always some type of protein being offered.  Breakfast was obviously the hardest thing for me, especially since I don't tolerate eggs well on an empty stomach.  So I brought some packets of cereal with me from home.  Yay, gluten free Cheerios!  Between that and the fruit and yogurt available at most of the hotels, I was in pretty good shape for breakfast.

Dinners were hit or miss, but mostly hits.  Some days we ate in restaurants, some days we ate at the hotel.  Our first night (outside Rothenberg) we ate at the hotel, Gut Wildbad.  The buffet offered mostly pasta, but also salads (green salads and more traditional German salads with tons of vinegar) and soup.  The broccoli cheese soup was gluten free and delicious.  I also enjoyed the German potato salad.

The next night we ate in a "brewery house" in Munich called Franziskaner in der Au.  It was very crowded that night, as there was a "football" (soccer) match on and the pub was filled to the rafters with cheering fans.  On the table, each person had there own individual mason jar with a vinegar-style salad in it.  I think it was Rettichsalat (radish salad), but honestly, I only ate a few bites of it.  I am not a big fan of those types of salads.  It was certainly very German, however, and the presentation was cute.

Bavarian Salad in Munich
Unfortunately, the meal only went downhill from there.  I got rice.  Just rice.  It had a few little veggies on top, more than a garnish, but not by much.  A couple broccoli florets and a few strips of bell pepper.  I had to laugh.  Like I said, the tour guide was stuck with the same meal, so that took the wind out of my sails as far as complaining is concerned.  I mean, I only have to do this once.  She does these tours over and over again.  Yikes.  There was a dessert custard, but the tour director was unsure about it, so I didn't eat it.

The third night was also in Munich, this time at Muhlbacher an der Au.  I did better here, as I was able to eat the same meal as everyone else.  We had chicken, with rice and veggies, and the chicken was very tasty.  For dessert we had a little dish of strawberry yogurt.  By the way, "Au" is the district in which these two restaurants are located, hence both have "an der Au" in their name.

Muhlbacher an der Au

The fourth and fifth nights, we ate dinner at our hotel M14 in Padova.  I loved this hotel!  I had a huge room with wood floors (I hate putting my bare feet on carpets in hotels.  Ick.) and a nice bathroom.  The teens were all amused by the bidets, which most of them had never seen before. Also, they had the only reliable Wi-Fi we saw on this whole trip.
M14 Hotel in Padova

 This hotel does not normally serve dinner, but they had it catered in for us in their banquet room.  The first night they brought me a huge garden salad with shredded pork on top, which was delicious, in lieu of the pasta the teens were eating.  

The next night, I was able to eat the same dish as the kids, which was pork and potatoes.  It was very good.  I assume there was a dessert served here, but I was so tired, I asked to be excused early both nights and went straight to bed.

Our sixth night, we ate a our hotel near Lucerne: the Hotel Engel.  This was a really nifty place.  It was very quaint and sweet, nestled in the Alps, looking so picturesque.

View from my room at the Hotel Engel
Interior of my room at the Hotel Engel

 The meals we ate there were simple, but tasty.  I can't remember, but I think I ate the same meal as the teens on the first night.  The second night, the kids had spaghetti with a meat sauce, and I had chicken with a side of gluten free pasta.
Dinner 1 at the Hotel Engel

Dinner 2 at the Hotel Engel (with gluten free pasta)

Our very last meal was in Heidelberg at a local restaurant called Schnookeloch, a fun and historic pub right in the heart of the Old Town.  It was a very upbeat place to end on, and my food was delicious.  I wasn't served the same dish as the kids.  Instead I got a baked potato with meat and salad. (Beef? Pork?  I am not sure, but it tasted good.)  The potato was smothered in either a creme fraiche or yogurt sauce.  I am not sure which, but it was definitely not sour cream.  Either way, it was good.

So for the most part, EF Tours was a win, food wise.  There were several vegetarians on the trip as well, and they were accommodated too, mostly with pasta.  It's not a foodie experience, but for cheap eats on a student tour, they did very well by me.  I would definitely travel with EF Tours again.