Gluten Free in Florida

As anyone who follows me on social media probably knows, I have Celiac Disease.  That means that I have to eat exclusively Gluten Free.  I remember when I was first diagnosed 6 years ago, I felt totally overwhelmed and sad but now, I see the big difference this has made in my health so it is worth the effort to make sure I don’t ever get “glutened”.  At home…no problem.  When we travel it’s a whole different situation.

no-gluten-fbI have to trust that people in restaurants will take the proper precautions to keep me safe and that is a bit scary.  I use an app called Find Me Gluten Free to locate restaurants that have great reviews and I regularly review the restaurants that I visit there and on my blog to help others with their gluten free vacation choices.

Over Thanksgiving break my family traveled to Cape Coral/Fort Myers Florida.  It was a wonderful and relaxing trip but the best part of all, for me, was the great gluten free food that I enjoyed.  When we arrived, I had not made any plans for getting dinner.  I saw that there were several restaurants on my app that were grouped together so we headed in that direction.  That led us to downtown Fort Myers…a super cute place that looked like it would be fun to walk around and see the sights.  We were tired and only killing time until our house was ready, so we drove around a while to find one of the scarce parking spaces and headed toward the restaurants.  We originally intended to go to a different restaurant but when my family saw Capone’s…they knew it was the place for us.

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Capone’s Coal Fired Pizza is a speakeasy themed restaurant that specializes in pizza.  That made me nervous as usually restaurants like that cook everything together in a big oven with flour flying everywhere but they assured me that they would keep mine separate and cook it in a pan.  While they did not have a dedicated gf menu, they do have gf pizza crust and I was able to order the caprese salad.  The salad was good and fresh and I was starving so I wolfed that down without even thinking about a photo.  My pizza was served in a pan and seemed to be made from the Chebe brand mix.  (no picture of that either darn it!) It was tasty and satisfying.  I did have some gluten symptoms the next day but I wasn’t sure if it was from that or something else so I say eat at your own risk.  At least my family was happy!

Another restaurant that we visited was Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill.  It was located right on the water and we sat outside…both pluses in my book!

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Doc Ford’s has a dedicated gluten free menu with quite a few choices on it.  I started off my meal with their mussels.  They were very tasty and came with a side of gf flatbread which was nice since a big part of eating mussels is dipping your bread in the wonderful broth.  Thoroughly enjoyed!

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For my main course I ordered the Shrimp & Grits.

thumb_img_5520_1024This was prepared differently than I make it as the shrimp had a sort of breading on it and were fried while the cheese grits were served kind of dry.  I was worried about the sauce and/or grits being too spicy for me (I’m a wimp!) but they were not spicy at all.  The flavor was nice and I loved having fried shrimp.  I would eat this again for sure.

thumb_img_5524_1024Overall, Doc Ford’s was a win for me…and I didn’t get sick!  A great start to the trip!!

(As a side note…we visited Doc Ford’s at the end of our trip again and my experience was not as good.  I had the mussels which I enjoyed but the fish tacos that I was served were not good.  The fish was rubbery and bland and the salsa was very hot but not really fresh or flavorful.  I wish I would have had the shrimp & grits again.)

Another win for me was an interesting restaurant called Salty Papas Shrimp House.  It came up with good reviews on FMGF so I thought we would head over.  Imagine my surprise when we pulled up and the restaurant was at the end of a very nondescript strip mall.  Not quite the ambiance of the first place but I am always willing to give it a shot…especially with the good reviews.  saltypapasheader

This restaurant also had a gluten free menu but I was sad to find no fried fish or shrimp.  I started this meal with peel & eat shrimp.  They were so good…I can’t even explain it.  Amazing!  thumb_img_5528_1024

Then I went with my old standby…shrimp and grits.  I figured I liked it so much last time…why not.  This shrimp and grits was totally different from the last.  It was more like what I would make at home.  Check it out…thumb_img_5532_1024

There was sausage, shrimp and veggies and that sauce…my mouth is watering thinking about it.  It was so good I practically licked the plate clean.  Apparently…my family was in agreement with me on this place after they shared this dish…

thumb_img_5529_1024I don’t see this on their online menu and I can’t remember the name but it was an appetizer with fries, gravy, cheese and other stuff.  My entire family (minus me of course) ate every bite of this dish.  Even my picky sons wolfed this down and declared it the best they had ever had.  I would go back here in a heartbeat!

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For Thanksgiving we chose a fan favorite…Bistro 821 in Naples.  We had eaten there a few years ago while visiting Marco Island and I absolutely loved it so, since no one in my family is that into turkey, we decided to enjoy some seafood instead.  They have a great gluten free menu.  My favorite dish from our previous visit is the one pictured above….jumbo prawns with crisp sushi rice cake and  Thai chili sauce (the lemon sauce was my own add on and does not typically come with this dish).  These are probably the best prawns I have ever had.  I enjoyed it again this time as much as I did last time.  For my main dish I ordered the sea bass and lobster tail.

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I’m sorry to say that I didn’t capture my own photo so I borrowed this one from Trip Advisor.  This is the sea bass pretty much how I had it except there was a half lobster tail and asparagus instead of beans.  That sea bass was incredible.  If we go back, I will probably have that as my dish alone.  So enjoyable.  And still one of my favorite restaurants in Florida!

We had a few other great experiences while we were there but, unfortunately, I did not take photos so I will share the details and apologize for my slacker behavior in the photo department.

Ford’s Garage…..this was a win with my family who loved it so much they wanted to go back again.  For me…it was just so /so.  This is mostly a burger place and their burgers are fantastic.  My beef (LOL) is that they don’t have a GF bun.  So, basically you are just getting a beef patty on a lettuce leaf.  Now, it was the best beef patty I have ever had…don’t get me wrong…but they really need to step up and get a bun.  If Culvers can do it…so can you!

Bianca’s Ristorante….So good we went back twice.  This place was close to our rental house which made it a total score.  Another amazing restaurant located in a nondescript strip mall (it must be a Florida thing).  They were very nice and took time to explain what I could eat.  While they didn’t have a dedicated gluten free menu, they do offer pizza and pasta that is gluten free.  Because all of their dishes are made to order, they can accommodate you with almost any dish.  I had one of their pizzas as a starter and it was amazing.  I also enjoyed (twice) their Kale & Chicken ravioli with alfredo sauce and it was the best I have had since going GF.  The couple who owns the restaurant were very friendly and remembered us from our first visit which was nice.  Seriously…highly recommend!

And….the highlight of my trip was visiting an ice cream shop on Sanibel Island called Pinocchio’s Italian Ice Cream.  Not only did they have a ton of yummy flavors that I could eat, they knew to change gloves and wash the utensils thoroughly before scooping my order.  And….are you ready for this….they had a GLUTEN FREE SUGAR CONE!  As someone who has eating her ice cream in a cup for the last 6 year I can’t tell you how exciting this was.  I had the this Italian wedding cake flavor that was fantastic with a nice almond flavor just like the old Italian wedding cakes of my childhood.  I wish we would have found this place earlier in our trip so that I could have gone there a few more times.

I would consider the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area a perfect spot for the gluten free diner.  I was worried at first that I wouldn’t find any great choices but almost every restaurant we visited would be on my list should be ever travel there again.  I hope this will help you if you are planning a trip to that area.  I would love to hear about your experiences should you visit any of the restaurants mentioned.

And today….as the snow comes down…I am wishing I was back in Florida!

XO

Cayman Paradise!

You might have noticed that I have been MIA for a while.  My husband and I just returned from our second trip to Grand Cayman.  Last year we chose the Cayman’s as our destination to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  It was like a second honeymoon (OK, who am I kidding, it was our first actual honeymoon since back then we were too poor for anything like this!)  This year he gave me a choice between a 50th birthday party or another trip and I happily chose to lounge here, kid free, for a wonderful week!

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I thought it would be fun to do a few blog posts about our trip and Grand Cayman as it is one of my favorite spots in the world.  When we were doing research into a spot for our trip last year, we had several requirements….Beach, Snorkeling, Gluten Free Food, Relaxing and Safe.  Cayman met all of those and more…

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So many people have asked about our trip so here’s the scoop….The Cayman Islands are comprised of 3 islands in the Caribbean.  Grand Cayman is the largest followed by Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.  My goal is to visit all three eventually but, for now, I can tell you a little bit about the biggest island…Grand Cayman.

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Grand Cayman is a British Overseas Territory.  The advantages to visiting here are that English is the primary language, everyone takes US Currency, and it has the kindest people I have ever met.  It is very safe on Cayman which allows you to travel throughout the island, taking advantage of all that it has to offer.  The Cayman Islands have their own currency called CI.  Everywhere you go, your bills will be calculated in both CI and US$.  The US$ is not worth as much as the CI$ so be prepared that things aren’t quite as inexpensive as they might first appear.  If you pay in US$, you will receive your change in CI.  We enjoyed bringing the bills back to the kids as they are unique and interesting.

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Grand Cayman is not an inexpensive destination…I’ll just put that out there right now.  There are no all inclusive deals there (although I heard that something was in the works). Of course, as with anything, you get what you pay for and this place is well worth the cost. The place to be on the island is Seven Mile Beach.  It’s incredibly beautiful, calm and safe.  Last year we stayed at the Westin Grand Cayman Beach Resort and Spa.  In keeping with the relaxed island vibe, it was pretty casual and overall we loved it.  Unfortunately, we found out upon arrival that all of the restaurants were closed for renovation so that was a bummer but, other than that, it was a nice place to land.

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This year we decided to go a different route and rented a condo of our own right on the beach.  I mean…10 steps to the beautiful water!  (those are our chairs right outside our condo door above^^^)  I highly recommend this route if you visit Cayman.  We were walking distance to the Marriott which had an amazing breakfast every day and we rented a car so that we could tour the island at our leisure.  While you certainly don’t need a car on Cayman, we like to drive the island and snap photos so it works for us.  The island has numerous buses that are very inexpensive as well as taxi’s with the friendliest drivers ever.  They will give you a card and you can call them all week to take you anywhere you wish to go.  We even bumped into a cab driver from last year who remembered us this year.  Great stuff!!

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If lying on the beach all day is not your thing, there is so much to do at the various resorts.  We brought our own snorkel gear as the snorkeling right outside of the hotel/condo was great.  Last year we went parasailing, rented wave runners, took a sunset cruise, visited the Turtle Farm and Sting Ray City (where you can hold them in your arms right there in the ocean).

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This year we were more interested in relaxing and seeing the rest of the island so we took a drive to the East End where so many of my photos were taken.  We also went to Rum Point…a fun tourist beach with showers, restaurants etc.

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There are many artists who work on Grand Cayman including one of my favorites whose studio we visit every year.  This year we purchased an original painting to commemorate our trip.  I can’t wait to find a place to hang it in our house.

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If you are celiac/gluten free like me, Cayman is the perfect place to visit.  Even if you are not, the restaurants there are top rated and wonderful.  While they do have the less expensive basics like Wendy’s and Burger King, I highly recommend that you try Chicken Chicken (imagine a Caribbean version of Boston Chicken).  The food was great and the portions were huge.  I will be writing an entire post about eating gluten free in Cayman in the future so don’t miss that.

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Grand Cayman is a beautiful, relaxing, and happy place to visit.  If you have any questions or need more information about the places that we stayed or visited, just comment below and I will be happy to share with you.  I highly recommend it as a vacation destination!!

XO