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. 



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