Restaurant review: Milestones' gluten free menu

Monday, July 25, 2011

Milestones Restaurants are (with the exception of two locations) a corporate chain, and not independently owned franchises. The chain falls under the Cara Foods umbrella which also heads up a whole host of franchises including Kelsey's. From what I understand, Milestones is unique in the collection in that it boasts what it refers to as "the gluten free experience".

I was contacted by Cara and asked if I would visit a local Milestones (on the house) and blog about my experience. So the husband and I arranged a special outing to the Milestones location on Sussex in Ottawa, Ontario. This was not our first trip to that location; in fact, we were there recently for an event and I was able to take some photos from that trip too so this review will be a combination of both events.

How they accommodate a gluten or dairy intolerance 
When you order from the menu, you need to tell your server that you have a food allergy/intolerance and they will work with you in making the dish perfect. They make a clear distinction between whether or not you can tolerate trace amounts. For me, trace amounts of dairy are okay, while a lot is bad news. Any gluten is a definite no-no. Here are their next steps:
  1. they immediately have a discussion with the kitchen manager, and at this location (not sure about all), the meal is prepared in a dedicated area of the kitchen. 
  2. The chef goes so far as to change his/her whites, use clean cooking utensils, and a clean pan to cook grilled meats (they warm bread on the grill so it's not okay for severe gluten intolerance or allergy). 
They are not "bothered" by this, don't give you any attitude, and in fact, seem truly happy to provide you with a tasty meal that will not make you sick. This is over and above what I've seen at other restaurants. They are quick to point out what is made outside the restaurant so that you know they cannot guarantee it; they don't make promises about anything they are not making from scratch. I totally respect that- and really REALLY appreciate it. This has been my experience every time I have gone; it was not only what I experienced when they knew I was coming. :)

The menu
Let's talk about the menu. It's big. There are a myriad of dishes to choose from- anything from salads to noodle bowls, steaks, burgers...they've got it all. There is a dedicated section called "Gluten free favourites" in which they list several menu items that are naturally gluten free.
Here's a peek at the regular menu (though additions appear from time to time also)...

I have one complaint about this menu: Milestones- you are missing out on all the other naturally gluten-free food you offer! The menu items in the gluten free section are tagged as gluten free, but you need to tag the items that are also naturally gluten free, or that can be made gluten free. Add a little comment about being sure to identify your food allergy/intolerance to your server and wham- you have a ton more dishes to choose from. There are five items in the "Gluten free favourites" menu, but so many more that you can add to your already fantastic list. The noodle bowls can be made with brown rice noodles, several salads are gluten-free-friendly, as well as simple dishes like steak and seafood are all easily gluten free. If you ask your server to make you something, they will accommodate, so Milestones should take the opportunity to toot its own horn about all the possibilities they offer. You guys are doing a great job in offering real food, hot meal options, and you should celebrate all those choices!!!

What I ordered
Having been to Milestones several times, I've had the chance to try quite a few things.

Visit numero uno:
In my first visit (of the two I'm reviewing here) I began with the California spring salad off of the "Girls' night out" menu. This is the Monday night event where you and three friends can hit Milestones for four Bellinis (undoubtedly the best frozen girly drink you'll ever consume) and four appetizers for 40$.

Here's a pic of the dish, and another of me enjoying that divine dish. It is made with greens, strawberries, onions, candied pecans-not guaranteed GF as they are made outside but they didn't make me sick- and a lovely light vinaigrette.

Next I chowed down on the Mediterranean chicken, which as you can see comes with greens, chick peas and sauteed tomatoes. The chicken is usually stuffed with cheese, which I omitted. While this wasn't the best time I've had it (greens and chick peas were dry), I am not giving up on this dish as it was positively mind-blowing the other two times I've had it. :)
The piece de resistance: gluten free chocolate Ganache torte. Yes. A real gluten-free dessert, on a menu at an actual restaurant. The crust is pecans, the torte is smooth and sinfully delicious. I'm told there is dairy in this, but I took the plunge anyway and was not severely bothered by it. Whew. Dodged that bullet but even if I hadn't, it was SO worth it.
Um yeah. The hubby and I tore that puppy up. It was RIDICULOUS. Is it rude to lick your plate at a restaurant?

Here's what I had on the last visit...
Visit numero dos
We were greeted by the manager Meghan and our waiter Todd (both fantabulous) with two glasses of champagne- apparently because I had mentioned to the super-fantastic Andrea at Cara that my beloved and I were celebrating our anniversary (8 years!!). Is this a Milestones standard? I have no idea. But it was lovely. :)
Yes, 8 years of marriage and 10 years together. It's quite possible that no one else could stand either of us because we're so weird.
Exhibit A.
 Exhibit B.
I digress. So, off of the seasonal menu, I chose the watermelon and roasted beet salad. Now, I had to omit the beets and the cheese, because of possible deep-fryer cross contamination of the beets and the dairy component obviously, but this was MIND BLOWING people. It had greens, watermelon, and although it is not on the menu, what looked like roasted plantain slices. Maybe that was a substitute from the kitchen staff?? Maybe it was the beets and they forgot?? Not sure. Whatever it was, I LOVED it. The dressing was citrusy and had a nice soft spicy kick to it. Plus I didn't get sick, so there you go.
Hubby had the caesar salad complete with roasted garlic. Without croutons, this is definitely gluten (though not dairy) free and I'm told it is also fantastic.
This is me, studiously taking notes so that I'd remember to relay all this to you...
This is hubby's dinner of top sirloin of with crab and shrimp. He tried to describe it to me, but was too busy moaning in ecstasy to get two words out. I think it was good.
Please sit down, I don't want to be responsible when you pass out. This, friends, is a gluten free burger. Yes. A bun. At a restaurant. In Ottawa. Our waiter Todd (remember his name, and ask for him- you won't be sorry) really didn't do this bun justice. I am a consumer of all kinds of disgusting gluten free bread. Most of it is gross, tasteless and so dense it could be used to knock someone out in a tricky situation. But this was fluffy, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, slightly sweet and delicious. Yes, it did come apart a little while I devoured the chicken breast nestled inside, but it was glorious- every drippy bite of it.
This typically comes with a salad but I thought it was kind of weird to have two salads in one meal so I was pressed to come up with an alternative and chose rice. It was boring (sorry Todd...yes, boring) and I ended up coveting the asparagus above. Milestones- please list the available sides on your menu. This would help in moments of stress such as these. :)

All in all, a big thanks to Cara foods and to the Sussex location of Milestones in Ottawa. The hubby and I had a great night and of course, we'll be back. 


Enjoy life - Perky's Crunchy Flax cereal (allergen free) review

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I wanted to give the folks at Enjoy life a quick nod for their Crunchy Flax cereal. This sweet and super crunchy yumminess, is one of only a handful of dry cereals that I would recommend- particularly when you're talking about Gluten-free cereals. Most GF cereals are made with lots of starches or corn and neither of those I would recommend. Their lists of nutrients are poor to say the least. Essentially you are eating a bowl full of sweetened starch. Hello blood sugar spike, nice to meet you.

So the folks at Enjoy life (who also make a no-nuts trail mix that is school safe and awesome) are a company that eliminates the 10 most common allergens from all of their products. What are they? Here's the list:

  1. wheat
  2. dairy
  3. peanuts
  4. tree nuts
  5. eggs
  6. soy
  7. fish
  8. shellfish
  9. sesame
  10. sulfites

Perky's Crunchy Flax has the following ingredients:
Whole sorghum flour, ground flax seed, honey, raisin juice concentrate, salt.
Yep. That's it.

How about the nutrition panel? Here you go:

Now, have a look at the fiber- 6g. That's pretty spectacular for a breakfast cereal. Throw 1/2 cup of raspberries on there and you up that amount to 10g. Now scroll down to the iron section...In Canada, we say that this serving (3/4 c) is 20% of daily recommended iron. I see that the American version pictured above is 15%. Regardless, trust me when I say that it is almost impossible to find that in a gluten free breakfast cereal. You'll also note that despite the honey and juice concentrate, a serving only has 2g of sugar. PLUS, you will note a whopping 7g of protein. Amazing! Add a handful of sunflower seeds to completely blow that figure out of the water and with those, the raspberries and the cereal, you're rockin'.

Note: I did not receive free product nor compensation from Enjoy life for this product review. Opinions are my own.


Anaphylactic nut reaction: Reflection and thanks

Friday, July 15, 2011

Had a very scary night. During my wee lass' 4th birthday party (she was a very happy little girl, by the way) her friend had an allergic reaction to the cashews in the icing of her cupcakes. Obviously no one knew she was allergic to cashews until now. This beautiful little girl and her family are very special to all of us, and are a constant presence in our lives. It was very scary, and all I can say is that I am so grateful that she is okay. She and her parents had a long night at the children's hospital, but all is well and everyone is back home resting.

In addition to the ways in which yesterday (being the 4th anniversary of such a momentous event) had inspired both a trip down memory lane and also that feeling of grace and thanks, last night's event brought it all home once again. Big hugs to that very special family- we love you guys.

I'll have my smoothie to go, please: necessity is the mother of invention

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I have one of those pesky day-job things. Now, I actually do LOVE my job, but the major drawback of schlepping there every day is that it takes me out of the house and away from my beloved kitchen. So how do I cope? I make a transportable smoothie that I can blend in the quasi-functional blender at work. How does one do that?

You take a cloth napkin, spread it on the counter.
Add your little bed of greens (here I have organic spinach and some weird reddish stuff we grew in our community garden).

Then you add your fruit which today is an organic pear...

...then throw on some fresh herbs (curly parsley today) and a peeled lemon...

...then you change your mind (okay maybe that's just me) and add another piece of fruit. I added a green organic granny smith apple...

...then some kind of fun little "extra"- today it was ground flax seeds (you could also just keep these separate to avoid the inevitable mess it makes when it sticks to the napkin...whatever). :)

Wrap up that little bundle of goodness like a burrito...

...then slip it into a ziplock bag that you can reuse over and over again...

The next morning, you unwrap the green goodness, toss it in said quasi-functional work blender (much to the chagrin of your coworkers who just LOVE the noise) with 1/2 cup of water and wrestle with the blender blend till as smooth as possible. Add a handful of ice, blend again and you have a delicious breakfast that will give you all the energy you need to get moving. Plus, even just at breakfast, you'll have had 5 or 6 servings of fruit and veggies. I'd wager that's more than most people get in a day and you're just getting started.

You have no idea how much happiness that little bag of goodness inspires in me. I love knowing I'm all set for the next morning.

Seeing these come out of the oven after my little burrito was tucked away also makes me super happy. My little wee lass turns four tomorrow and she will be thrilled to see these chocolate cupcakes ready to roll. 

Happy eating, folks!

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