Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flat Top Grill feast and Wild Beasts

Eating at restaurants and being gluten-free is one of the more stressful situations, especially when going somewhere you have never been before. Once you find places that can reliably prepare a gluten-free meal, it is easy to stick to them and not stray too much for fear of eating somewhere and getting ‘glutened’. Fortunately, Flat Top Grill is one place that is not only allergy-aware, they even have it written, literally, on their walls! Last week before heading to Schubas to see the Wild Beasts, we went to Flat Top Grill for dinner.

For those who have not had a chance to visit Flat Top Grill, it is a create-you-own stir-fry restaurant. Basically, you take a bowl, pile it high with a starch and veggies, add a protein, a sauce and hand it off to be cooked, and you have your meal!

I visited their web site beforehand and was pleased to see they have an entire pagededicated to allergens as well as a page for vegetarian/vegans and another with nutritional information.

We went to the location across from Schubas at Belmont and Southport. For a weekday night they were pretty crowded, which could sometimes be a deterrent to someone with gluten-free needs, but they took care of me. Once we were seated, I told them I was gluten-free and they handed me a sheet that listed what sauces were safe for a gluten- and wheat-free diet. In addition to the allergen safe list, it was also clearly written on the wall behind the food stations. For those with specific allergies, you can place a stick in, or next to your bowl to alert the staff and they will cook your meal in a separate wok that has not been used for any of the allergens listed. You can create your dish to be a rice bowl, or used in lettuce wraps. They also serve gluten-free beer.

I started off by choosing brown rice from a rice steamer and adding veggies to my bowl. I could clearly see which sauces were safe for me, as everything is labeled, but was a bit nervous to take one, because they are placed right next to gluten containing sauces, and who knows what has dripped in what, or spoons have been shared, so I asked the manager if he could get me some sauce from an unused container in the back, and he was more than happy to do so. I am not regularly a meat eater, so I stuck with the tofu, but there were plenty of meats and seafood options that are safe. There is also a bottle of wheat-free tamari to use as extra seasoning.

The end result was delicious, warm and satisfying, and I will definitely go back again. I love the variety of fresh veggies and the quick service. For a couple more bucks you can make yours an unlimited bowl, but one bowl seemed to be completely sufficient. This would also be a great place for kids.

Our server and the manager went out of their way to make sure I felt comfortable and had a safe and delicious experience.

After this yummy meal we headed across the street to Schubas and enjoyed the unique sounds of British indie rock band, the Wild Beasts. The music was amazing and tight. The lead singer, Hayden Thorpe’s voice was absolutely beautiful and kept me completely mesmerized during their set. Thorpe’s sound reminded me a bit of Sigur Rós, and had such a wide range from operetta to pop. If you are unable to see them live, check out their latest album, Two Dancers and their previous albumLimbo, Panto, both on Domino Records. You can check out a few of their tracks on their web site. Be sure not to miss "We Still Got the Taste of Dancin’ on Our Tongues" and "The Devil’s Crayon". Schubas did not have gluten-free beer, but they have plenty of liquor and I enjoyed the music with a side of Magners Irish cider.

Flat Top Grill has 14 locations around the Chicago area including Champaign and Normal, Illinois, with two in Wisconsin (Madison and Wauwatosa), and one in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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