Friday, September 9, 2011

Eating Gluten free: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Orlando, FL

Universal Studios consists of two parks:  The Studios (the original park) and Islands of Adventures, which has several roller coasters, water rides, and Seuss Landing for the younger kids.  Our oldest has been begging to go to Islands of Adventure for over a year, so we finally decided to go this past summer. I hit the internet to find what I needed to make sure I could eat healthy while there.  I also packed some of my staples:  ThinkThin bars, Larabars, and a banana or 2.

When you park at Islands of Adventures you walk from the parking garage into the City Walk area before entering IOA.  You can come to Universal and just to go to City Walk if you want. It is an area with many restaurants, shops and a movie theatre.  You will pay $$ to park. If you are a resident of Florida and you want to eat here often it would probably be a good idea to purchase a year pass to Universal Studios and then parking is free.

 Universal Orlando City Walk:

One of your first sights will be the movie theatre on the right and

Moe's Southwest Grill: Check out their website.  It is a cheaper place to eat with sustainable foods, gluten free and vegetarian options.  I have enjoyed the food here and love that you can see the servers prep your meal as you move along the line. Make sure you ask them to change their gloves and using toppings from another area is a great idea.

* Just an update - I have not eaten at a Moe's gluten free as of yet.  I am a bit nervous due to watching them handle wheat products and putting their hands in the gluten free toppings.  I have been informed by Moe's of Orlando via Twitter that not only will they change their gloves, but they will use toppings from another area if you ask. I would not feel safe eating toppings from the bar on the counter.

Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville - an awesome place to eat gfree....the link is to their gfree menu.  The chef came out to our table to ask me if I had any questions without me having to ask.  How often does that happen?  The wait staff was very knowledgeable and considerate when speaking about the menu. They prepare in a separate area as well.  Their nachos are excellent and you can order a gluten free burger on gluten free bread.  They used Kinnikinnick bread on the day I ate there.  You can also eat fries with this meal.  And Red Bridge beer is available.  I have eaten here several times always a great experience.

Gluten free nachos at Margaritaville

Bubba Gumps - I have eaten at the one in Madeira Beach and enjoyed my meal, though a bit over priced.  They do have a gluten free menu.

Update:  December 2012. It was a Saturday night and the restaurant was very crowded.  There were A Lot of fried dishes coming from the kitchen.  I must say I was happy with my waitress.  My ticket was marked, a manager handled my meal and it was brought out before the rest of my parties - they always bring allergen meals out separately. I did not get sick. 

I have had a friend who has eaten here and has gotten sick. I am not sure if they have changed the way they handle food since then or I just got lucky.  Always, always question wait staff and ask to speak to a manager.

 I enjoyed blackened salmon with white rice and vegetables/capers. The sauce on the veggies is not dairy free. You can always ask any restaurant to cook with olive oil.

Emeril's  - No online menu, but I have heard they can be very accommodating.  Emeril's twin daughters have been diagnosed with celiac disease.

Latin Quarters -  corn tortillas can be given to make many items gfree.  Guacamole is made at your table.  Ask if you can have chips fried in fresh oil....I have heard that they have done this for others.

Pat O'Brien's - I have no idea if they have anything gluten free, but being from New Orleans, I just love that they have Pat O'Brien's here.  You of course can have a gfree drink and enjoy the patio bar or piano bar.

NBA City - can not locate online menu items, but have heard a chef can come to your table and offer you choices.

Hard Rock - not many options .... maybe you can have a bun less burger and/or salad for a steep price.


In the Parks:

  The word is:  Chefs within all sit down restaurants in the parks and hotels are very knowledgeable and instruct their wait staff and kitchen staff how to handle food items.  Ask to speak to the chef.

Universal Studios -

Monsters Cafe  roasted chicken corn and roasted potatoes with onions (seasoned with fresh herbs and s/p).  They also serve salads.

Lombardi's:  is a sit down restaurant where the staff and chefs are very accommodating. 

Finnegan's Bar and Grill:  an Irish-American Pub.  Check with staff.  I have eaten here before when I was half gluten free.  They have potato items and we enjoyed some hard boiled eggs wrapped in bacon, but my husband seems to remember them being breaded.  I would think this dish could easily be converted.

Fruit Stands:  apples, oranges, grapes and watermelon.

Lemon Slush carts

Turkey leg carts - smoked plain.

Islands of Adventure -

Walk Up/Cafeteria Style Restaurants:

Enchanted Oak:   roasted chicken, smoked ribs, roasted corn on cob, baked potatoes, and smoked turkey legs.  You can also have the fries which are all natural and cooked in canola oil (nothing else is cooked with them). No Corn Muffin.  You can see their menu options and prices on the link.  We ate lunch here during our visit to IOA. 

Burger - no bun.

Thunder Falls Terrace:   smoked or roasted chicken, smoked ribs, turkey legs, roasted corn on cob, roasted potatoes with fresh herbs and salt and pepper, baked potato, and salads.  If the salads are pre-made with croutons, as for a fresh one to be made with no croutons.  They also have French fries all natural cooked in canola oil that is the only thing cooked in those fryers.

We ate here and the chicken, corn and potatoes were all great.

Update: December 2012 They now have a gluten free menu on the counter when you walk up. Ask the staff if you do not see it. I ordered the turkey leg and corn. I could have gotten one more side with my meal, but I can no longer have potatoes and honestly the turkey leg is big enough for more than one person.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter  -  Butter Beer should be gluten-free, however if you are lactose intolerant the "foam" on top has lactose in it.  I have also read that the foam is processed around a lot of flour careful.  Ask for it without the topping.  Check out Tiffany Janes article on for more information. 

I have enjoyed the frozen one....not so much the not it just was not that good in my opinion.  I can not remember feeling funny after having it, but I only had a few sips of my daughter's.  I sat on the ground with my iPhone googling, googling....and wish I would have come across Tiffany Jane's article then.

Sit down restaurants within IOA:

Confisco's:  Ask to speak to the chef so that they can go over what they have to offer.  They may have gfree pasta.  Have heard at times they have had it and other times no.Mytho's:  same as above.  Have seen that they at times even offer a flourless cake.

Also available within the parks are Fruit Stands, Lemon Slush carts, and Turkey Leg carts.Sal's - Market Deli - same as above.  If you call ahead a gluten free pizza can be made for you.Mama Della's - has delicious salads and pasta. One plate can easily feed 2 people.  Call ahead to ask about gfree option.


Portofino Bay Hotel (PBH): If call ahead they will have ingredients available to have gfree pancakes (Pamela's is the word) and muffins available for breakfast. As well as gluten free bread and pasta for other meals.

Royal Pacific Hotel:
Emeril's Tchoup Chop - the wait staff is helpful and gfree options are available.

General Information given by Universal:
For the convenience of our guests with special dietary needs, we have chefs in residence at each of our full-service restaurants (Lombard’s Seafood Grille and Finnegan’s Bar & Grill in Universal Studios Florida®, and Mythos Restaurant® and Confisco Grille® in Universal’s Islands of Adventure®) who can create meals customized to suit individual tastes and needs. In addition, the managers at any of our quick-service restaurants can assist with specific menu questions to help you select appropriate items during your visit.

Gfree options (groceries and restaurants) in the Orlando area:

Grocery stores in the Orlando area:

Chamberlin's grocery in Winter Park and Oviedo, FL  The one in Winter Park is larger, carrying a larger variety of gluten free and specialty items.

Publix grocery store - has a variety of gluten free options available (pasta, chips, crackers, etc.)  You can ask for a gluten free list at the front counter that includes all Publix brand names that are gluten free.  I can do the majority of my shopping at Publix, but go to Whole Foods for more specialty gluten free items (some breads and baked mixes).  Publix has a GF label on the shelves now to denote gluten free items.  Still always check your labels to make sure you are comfortable with where the item has been processed - on shared machines or within shared facilities.

Winn Dixie - many have a gluten free area for specialty items.


P.F. Chang's China Bistro -  This is one of the safest chain restaurants to eat gfree.  They have separate prep areas, gluten free plates and gluten free soy sauce.  They take extra precautions when bringing your food to you always double checking with you to let you know that your meal is gluten free.

CRAVE - we have eaten here during the past year and I again was half way gfree. I had some gfree soup. On the menu attached they have 2 to choose from. They have several meal options as well as appetizers...which is often a rarity. Update as of 8/2012:  I have eaten here twice with good gluten free knowledge and I have never had an issue. 

I highly recommend Crave.


CRAVE patio

Mitchell's Fish House - Winter Park, FL   All good experiences.  They have separate preperation areas.
Chipolte's Mexican Grill - This is a great fast food restaurant with natural ingredients. Organic and local when available.  You can eat everything gluten free here except the two flour tortillas and a "garden blend"...guessing this is a topping of some sort.  Recently I went to one on University Blvd. and did not have a positive experience. I also was recently diagnosed with an allergy to chicken and I was eating chicken.  The server did make my dish in the back with fresh ingredients.  Chipolte tweeted to me that while they do have gfree ingredients they do not guarantee gluten free for anything they serve due to the possibility of cross contamination. 
Chili's - We often eat at Chili's and of course you can always find one in Florida.  Ask about cooking surfaces especially if you are ordering a burger. Some will have a print out of the allergen menu.  I always look it up online before I go or when we are there. Check out their Allergen menu on their Menu Page on the lower left portion of the page.
Outback Steakhouse - same as Chili's...always in the area.  Outback is now one of my favorite gfree places to go - due to clean cooking surfaces for all their meats.  I have been told that they have a upper management/CEO? that has celiac and this is how they went the route to be trained by GIG.

Bonefish Grill - GIG trained as well.

Jason's Deli - offers a gluten free bread and salad bar.  Before gluten free this was one of our favorite places for lunch.  I always got the muffaluatta and the cup of gumbo.  Unfortunately, I can no longer have this.  But I did enjoy building my own sandwich and it was delicious.

Word of note: They are not all knowledgeable about keeping your item safe. I was asked if I wanted it the "gluten toaster" at the Altamonte Springs location.  I quickly told the employee, "No, it would then have crumbs from othe breads....and Not Gfree".  

I have heard that some of the Jason's Deli's have separate prep areas for their gfree breads.  I went when I was just starting out, so had not asked. 

Here is a copy of cross contamination information.  They are using Udi's breads.  And note the kids menu - all sandwiches can be ordered with gluten free bread.

Jason's Deli "Build Your Own Gluten Free Sandwich"

Boston Market  - No cornbread muffin, but you can eat a lot here (at many even the chicken gravy is glute free ~ check with the individual restaurant).  Check the menu and make sure you note to the staff that you have gluten intolerance.  I always check out what gluten items are around the non-gluten items on the serving counter...and choose carefully. 

Pei Wei Asian Diner - Here is their allergen information.  We have eaten here and found it ok.  I have friends that love it.

BJ's Restaurant Brewhouse - Only including this as a Serious Warning:  Update: I have eaten at the Orlando restaurant and experienced one of my first and worst "glutened experiences". I had a salad, soup, and a supposed gluten free pazookie. They initially had issues with my salad that the manager caught, but it was obviously not enough. I  have major issues now when a gluten free dessert and gluten dessert "look the same".

They have a gluten free pizza, soups and yes, a dessert. I have tried BJ's once more and have no positives to add, I blogged once again about my experience on 8/27/12.  It is on my will not eat again list.

Downtown Orlando:

Gringo's Locos -  This is a great little walk in Mexican restaurant.  We have been here a few times when in the downtown area.  I have been told when asked, that all their ingredients are gluten free along with their corn tortillas.  Just proceed with caution as I have not seen ingredients, but I did not have any reactions to the tacos or chips when I ate here.

Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar -  They have gluten free options as well as vegetarian and vegan items. I drove by here just the other day and wanted to stop, but my agenda was finding a Julius Cesar book for my high schooler at Barnes and Noble.  Next time I will stop to report!

Ethos Vegan Kitchen - Here is their brunch menu with gluten free items noted.  They also note that they do not have a static menu and will have weekly specials.

Dandelion Communitea Cafe - a majority of menu is gfree and is local, organic and Eco-friendly.  Check out
their menu!  I am ready to take a day off and head here with my husband.

Chick-fil-A - I used to eat here on the go often.  I order a bun less grilled sandwich and make a wrap with the lettuce.  Be aware that you can ask them to not charge for the bun.  I have also been told at the one in our town that they can grill the other chicken items as well, not just the filets.  You can eat the fries here as well.  I am not a huge fan of eating at fastfood anymore and would even recommend going in vs. going through the drive through and asking the manager questions about cross contamination.


Leena Marie said...

Downtown/ College Park has "Mellow Mushroom" and they make a carefully prepared gluten free pizza. I haven't had it yet but I hear from friends that it's amazing!

Also, in regards to Universal, Lombards chef is very helpful. They usually keep gluten free pasta on hand. I was there recently and they were willing to alter a dish so that I may have gf penne and a salmon fillet.

Wendy said...

Leena ~ Thank you for the information about Lombard's and Mellow Mushroom. There is also a MM in Winter Park on Aloma Ave. I have unfortunately never been due to being dairy free, but have friends that have eaten successfully there and love it!

Anonymous said...

Mellow mushroom also has Daiya cheese, so it can be made dairy free as well!!!!!!

Wendy said...

Awesome! That is so nice to know! Thank you for sharing.

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