The gluten-free fried rooster tacos at Tacoshop in Cape Could Courtroom Home, one of many locations to eat gluten-free on the Shore. Learn extra

The fried rooster taco hovered tantalizingly like a promising lunch — but in addition a juicy open query. Might it probably be gluten-free, as marketed?

“We’ve got a fryer that’s devoted gluten-free!” the cheerful supervisor at Tacoshop in Cape Could Courtroom Home stated reassuringly, elevating my daughter Alice’s hopes. She’s been unable to eat gluten safely since being recognized with celiac illness in 2021, and the pleasures of crunchy fried rooster have been few and much between.

Now 24, and greater than two years into navigating dietary wants which are extra stringent than for somebody who chooses to keep away from gluten for life-style causes, she’s come to be taught by some arduous classes: Simply because a menu says gluten free doesn’t imply it’s.

That was a recurring theme through the week she spent on trip with us on the Jersey Shore, and, in consequence, we skilled a variety of surprising stumbles and hole guarantees — in addition to some notable successes.

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When trying to find gluten-free choices, there are all the time follow-up inquiries to be requested. Equivalent to: what’s within the breading? And from the second the Tacoshop supervisor stated cornflakes, the joy drained from Alice’s eyes. She knew that almost all manufacturers of cornflakes harbor gluten, and this specific field of Kellogg’s, which has malt, was no totally different.

The information was deflating, not just for us after making a particular journey there for lunch, but in addition for Tacoshop proprietor Lucas Manteca, who prides himself on gluten-free choices.

“I’m devastated,” he instructed me after I referred to as him from the automotive after leaving the restaurant. Manteca, a longtime supply and star chef on the Jersey Shore (Quahog’s, Purple Retailer), had gone to nice lengths to ensure this interesting quick-serve Mexican idea was protected for gluten-free eating, from the devoted fryer and griddle to house-pressed corn tortillas and even gluten-free soy sauce for the Mexi-Poke bowl. “We don’t have flour right here in any respect,” he stated. However he realized after I reached out that he’d made a mistake by assuming the cornflakes had been gluten-free. That devoted fryer was unwittingly contaminated.

“I take full accountability,” he stated later in a textual content. “However by tomorrow your daughter will be capable of come right here and eat safely with us.”

We took him up on his promise. However the cautionary lesson was not misplaced on us.

“Even when individuals have good intentions, typically they don’t do it proper,” Alice stated.

Individuals with celiac illness should keep away from gluten fully or danger extreme sickness. And studying to prepare dinner and eat gluten-free after a lifetime of loving bread, pasta, and soy sauce isn’t any simple process, even in your individual residence. Not just for the plain elements that have to be averted, however for the pervasive risks of cross contamination. All the pieces from unsterilized slicing boards to cooking instruments, unchanged gloves, reused steam desk spoons, and fryer oil holds potential for contamination.

To eat out in eating places requires additional fortitude, from placing belief in others to having the arrogance to advocate for your self. Think about the indignity of going to a Chipotle, which has commonsense protocols for accommodating allergy requests, and watching the workers roll their eyes as they alter their gloves after which ask with a dismissive sigh: “What’s incorrect with you, once more?”

It occurs so usually, Alice says, that asking for a burrito bowl usually fills her with the dread of “feeling like a burden.” Or that going out to eat on a assessment meal with me — a cherished journey we’ve shared since she was little — is now freighted with angst. As a household whose world revolves round eating places, we’ve been decided to push by, albeit armed with precautions. But it surely requires a leap of religion {that a} kitchen is aware of what it’s doing.

In some instances, the warning indicators are proper on the menu. That was the scenario at Betty’s Seafood Shack in Margate in early June, when the menu posted out entrance listed as gluten-free choices each the clam chowder (which used flour as a thickener) and tuna tataki (which had wheat in its ponzu sauce).

“Oh, you’re educating us now. Thanks,” stated one worker, not precisely inspiring confidence within the different supposedly gluten-free gadgets.

Co-owner Steve Marchel concedes errors had been made early on along with his new enterprise, the place he’s since carried out workers modifications and menu fixes: “You’re not the one one I’ve to apologize to. I wanted to herald a culinary professional who has expertise with this, and that’s precisely what I did,” he stated, noting the brand new chef has cooked gluten-free at his different restaurant, Water Canine Smoke Home.

Typically, although, regardless of probably the most earnest efforts, issues go incorrect. At Iccara, a Sicilian-inspired BYOB in Cape Could with “GF” labels scattered throughout its menu, somebody switched the marketed tomato-lemon French dressing for the octopus with a sesame-soy sauce that contained gluten. Alice took one chew of octopus, acknowledged the Asian taste profiles, and immediately sounded the alarm to the mortified server, who’d not been apprised of the change, although the Ken’s dressing label on the container clearly stated it contained wheat. Fortunately, Alice had not eaten greater than a chew, and suffered solely from a headache that night.

All of the uncertainty and danger is sufficient for some restaurateurs to easily keep away from even making an attempt.

“You’re trusting a bunch of cooks which are paid by the hour [to avoid cross contamination],” stated Heather Gleason, explaining why her Good Canine Bar’s new Atlantic Metropolis department declined to prepare dinner for us once we visited with Alice, regardless of providing a secondary “allergy” menu that’s absolutely notated with potential allergens. The Good Canine regularly cooks efficiently for individuals who keep away from gluten, Gleason stated. “However you simply appeared too nervous.”

Who may blame us?

Brine BYOB in Cape Could, the place two managers had given me assurances that the restaurant may accommodate somebody with celiac illness, had second ideas when the chef received within the subsequent day and referred to as to cancel our reservation.

A extra favorable situation performed out at Nobu at Caesars in Atlantic Metropolis, after some tense uncertainty. As soon as seated and able to dine, we had been instructed Nobu’s common sushi chef at that location refused to accommodate gluten-free requests, too nervous he’d make a mistake. Fortunately, upon inquiring additional, the chain’s company chef from New York, Ryo Hasegawa, was standing in that evening and completely keen to do it.

We had a memorable feast of gorgeous sushi that night as we missed the Boardwalk and ocean at nightfall, and a way of gratitude radiated from Alice realizing that somebody had made the additional effort to point out her such true hospitality. To me, although, the inconsistency appeared frustratingly arbitrary — till Caesars’ meals and beverage director Invoice Fritz later gave me the information after I adopted up with an interview: The on line casino’s new coverage is to accommodate gluten-free sushi requests, and no matter chef runs Nobu’s counter should be taught to observe the established protocols. Hasegawa had confirmed they work.

The profit isn’t just for the advantage of hospitality. Efficiently serving a gluten-free menu is nice for enterprise, too.

“There’s a requirement for it and I wish to be the availability for it,” says Betty’s Marchel. “The seasonal crowd that comes right here is mostly extra health-conscious, and I’d estimate that no less than three-quarters of the individuals who order gluten-free will not be even celiac.”

On the Hula Restaurant & Sauce Co. on the Ocean Metropolis boardwalk, cofounder Amy Rihl, who’s gluten illiberal, determined final yr to make the Hawaiian-inspired menu much more accommodating to gluten-free wants, adjusting recipes akin to its butter sauce to eradicate gluten and providing gluten-free buns as an choice.

“Altering the butter sauce opened the door for thus many different individuals to eat right here,” she stated, noting that the restaurant additionally has particular alert buttons on its order system, and color-coded cooking instruments to protect towards confusion.

Except for their single fryer, which can’t be used for gluten-free gadgets, the one remaining stumbling level was the restaurant’s widespread Huli Huli sauce, a teriyaki glaze made in giant portions with customary wheat-based soy sauce that’s bottled on the market and used on their Hawaiian plates. The hurdle is financial: Gluten-free soy sauce prices Rihl greater than twice as a lot.

“I’d really feel responsible charging $25 for a rooster plate that usually prices $19,” she stated.

Rihl determined as a substitute so as to add solely a modest $2 upcharge after making a small take a look at batch of the dearer gluten-free model of Huli Huli to see the way it goes. The early gross sales final week had been sluggish as phrase had but to unfold, she stated, “however prospects are very grateful for the choice.”

No effort was spared, nevertheless, in Manteca’s quest to come back again from his fried rooster misstep at Tacoshop. Inside hours of our name, he and his spouse and accomplice Deanna Ebner had are available and accomplished a deep cleansing to sterilize the fryers. He additionally reworked the fried rooster recipe to make use of gluten-free panko crumbs as a substitute of cornflakes.

Once we returned to Tacoshop the next day, I may instantly see the attraction of this brilliant native replace to the customizable fast-casual template — however with scratch elements, house-pressed tortillas, deeply steeped quesabirria tacos edged in griddle-crisped halos of cheese, outgoing service, and a menu with clearly marked choices that makes prospects with each nut allergy symptoms and gluten-free wants really feel valued, not a like burden.

“It’s personally satisfying to know everybody can dine with us,” Manteca stated. “It’s not honest to open a restaurant for under a really particular clientele and exclude individuals with dietary restrictions. It’s not their alternative.”

As for the rooster? It crackled inside a greaseless buttermilk crust over tangy slaw and a swirl of sauces embraced by the velvety softness of three contemporary tortillas. And Alice, now assured that Tacoshop’s good intentions had been correctly executed, devoured them earlier than delivering a glowing assessment: “My new favourite!”

The LaBan household’s gluten-free Shore

Discovering locations to soundly eat gluten-free is a problem any time you allow your consolation zone and go on trip, however apps like Discover Me GF have been helpful sources to get us began. By the top of per week on the Jersey Shore, we’d discovered gluten-free success at a number of locations.

Right here’s a listing of finest bets, although make sure you all the time let administration know your dietary wants earlier than ordering.

Just about the entire basic French dishes at this stellar Cape Could newcomer, from duck à l’orange to Black Forest torte, are made with out the same old flour, and 95% of the menu may be modified to be gluten-free. Chef-partner Michael Schultz, a vegan who additionally excels in plant-based cooking, is very attuned to the subtleties of potential cross contamination. 311 Mansion St., Cape Could, 609-435-5554

This brilliant native fast-casual Mexican makes all the things in-house and has sturdy gluten-free protocols. After fixing a problematic fried rooster recipe, it will get an enthusiastic GF thumbs up. 5 Courtroom Home South Dennis Rd., Cape Could Courtroom Home, 609-536-2821

The service workers and scorching kitchen at this high-end Japanese chain is well-versed in navigating the menu for dietary wants. The once-reluctant sushi counter has additionally, after a latest coverage change, dedicated to following protocols to accommodate gluten-free requests. Caesars Atlantic Metropolis, 2100 Pacific Ave., Atlantic Metropolis

This beloved Hawaiian-themed grill on the Ocean Metropolis boardwalk modified a lot of its menu to be gluten-free final yr, aside from gadgets from the fryer. A gluten-free model of its Huli Huli teriyaki sauce can also be now obtainable. 940 Boardwalk, Ocean Metropolis, 609-399-2400

A devoted gluten-free fryer (and hand-breaded GF batter) provides this up to date seafood shack on Margate’s bay attraction, however early menu errors gave us pause in June. The proprietor says these points have since been rectified with the arrival of a extra seasoned kitchen crew from its sibling restaurant, Water Canine Smoke Home. 9315 Amherst Ave., Margate Metropolis, 609-246-7411

Gluten-free pancakes are the draw at this cheerful brunch specialist in downtown Ocean Metropolis, and for good motive — they’re well-marked, and so they’re glorious. 916 Asbury Ave., Ocean Metropolis, 609-938-9285

The basic seafood shack informally referred to as Smitty’s in Somers Level truly has a separate printed menu for gluten-free choices, with a deal with their contemporary baked fish of the day, obtainable with eight totally different sauces. 910 Bay Ave., Somers Level, 609-927-8783

Ocean Metropolis’s favourite Greek diner does an incredible job with gluten-free choices, particularly for its large salads, kebabs, and dinner platters, when rice is out there as a facet. 847 Asbury Ave., Ocean Metropolis, 609-391-1113

This upscale addition to Atlantic Metropolis’s Orange Loop all the time has gluten-free choices. A halibut with quinoa tabbouleh and pork tenderloin with parsnip puree — however minus the same old Bordelaise sauce, which has gluten — proved this kitchen is aware of what it’s doing. 201 S. New York Ave., Atlantic Metropolis, 609-246-6670

This fashionable Italian on the bay facet of scenic Ocean Drive has a number of gluten-free choices and modifications obtainable, most notably a contemporary fettuccine-style gluten-free pasta alternative for the linguine that got here piled excessive with clams and crab in garlicky wine sauce. 991 Ocean Dr., Cape Could, 609-600-2115

Greek grills are sometimes an excellent wager for gluten-free choices, and this stunning Margate standby isn’t any exception, with grilled octopus, crispy roast rooster, and branzino that provided easy however satisfying flavors. 9314 Amherst Ave, Margate Metropolis, 609-822-9111

This informal sibling to the Washington Inn has a separate gluten-free menu and color-coded plates to eradicate confusion — which explains the orange plate that held our stable gluten-free sausage pizza. The meals isn’t spectacular, however once you’re in a pinch for choices, as my household was, the reliability, hospitality, and accessibility right here counts for lots. 200 NJ-109, Cape Could, 609-884-2663