Thursday, March 6, 2014

Scouting out Allergy Free Roads ~ Part I: Gluten Free Country Music City

Dreams really do come true. As far as I can remember as a kid, I loved to travel.
I wanted to be a travel writer when I grew up.  Here I am, 37 years later, all grown up (well, thats debatable!) and I'm finally able to share my first real travel blog post. Its never too late to start, right?

My name is Beth, Im the Assistant Director of Events for Gluten & Allergen Free Wellness Events and a certified holistic health coach and essential oils educator.  I had the good fortune of meeting Nikki Everett a few years ago in Houston, Texas when I was managing Gluten Free Houston (now Gluten Free Nation).  Throughout the years, we have continued to share our mutual love of travel, helping people and educating people in the area of gluten free lifestyles. 

New Day Bakery in St. Louis, MO

What better way to educate, than to invite people to experience food and wellness through your own travels? Today Id like to take you down some gluten & allergy-free back roads that I had a chance to explore last week throughout Nashville, TN and St. Louis, MO.  The purpose of my trip was to meet local gluten free vendors, restaurants, companies, wellness practitioners, etc. and also to find a location for our upcoming GFAF Wellness Events in both cities.

Find out more about events in Nashville, Sat. April 26th and St. Louis, Sat. May 31st HERE

The hustle bustle of airport buzz, wondering where everyone is headed, the roaring of the airplane jet engines, the thought of adventure and embarking on personal unchartered territory. ah, travel.  When Im on the road, I feel at home.  My heart & soul comes alive with the anticipation of discovering new foods, talking to strangers and getting to know the character of a new town by hitting local watering holes and letting my GPS (a.k.a. Siri) be my guide. 

Downtown Nashville, TN

The first stop on our trip was Nashville, TN, The Music City.  Its also the state capitol of Tennessee and a center for the music, health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and home to a large number of colleges and universities.  This was my first time in Nashville, so I was super excited to don my cowboy boots, hit the ground running and explore the city!

When you only have 48 hours on the ground and tons of scouting to do, you have to make the most of your time.  I searched online for the best of gluten free Nashville.  My first stop being the local Whole Foods Market.  I feel that you can get a pretty good pulse of the health market by going straight to the core of local grocery/health food stores.  It was a beautiful sunny day and I had the pleasure to meet up here with two leading ladies from the CSA Nashville, Middle TennesseeCeliac Support Group.  (Gathering a strong task force on the ground for these events is a HUGE asset!  Thanks to Peggy and LeAnn for meeting with me on this trip!)

To spare yall with every single work detail, Ill jump into the mouth-watering and juicy tidbits of the trip.what youve all been waiting for.THE GRUB!  Heres a brief chronicle of my culinary journey through two major U.S. cities in 5 days.  

Monday Dinner:  Pinewood Social  33 Peabody St. Nashville **We have since found out that Pinewood Social may not cook chicken in separate fryer. We can not recommend it for those who need Gluten Free as a medical necessity and suggest you ask them before ordering**
Talk about a great tip-off from a local "in-the-know.  Missy from Lululemon Athletica, Green Hills, mentioned that Pinewood Social offered gluten free fried chicken.  Check!  I had to see & taste for myself.

As I entered Pinewood Social, I felt a pleasant slow down in time.  A social gathering place, comfortable and welcoming.  Beautiful copper bar.  Hipster trendy meets classic vintage. 
The bartenders hand-chiseled ice for their signature libations from a 300 pound block of ice.
The dinner menu was so extensive, it was hard to decide what to order.first. Of course I was planning my courses around the ultimate fulfillment of the much acclaimed fried chicken.
I decided to start with the fried broccoli.  Why not keep everything fried for good measure, right?  The bartender told me they used dedicated fryers for their gluten free items and they also paid close attention to customers health concerns and handled each situation individually with care.”  Thumbs up!

The broccoli was not breaded, just flash-fried to perfection with some lemon zest, sea salt and a delightful accompaniment of almond, garlic aoili.   

Licking my lips, and wondering if I could get away with licking the bowl and not being too conspicuous, I eagerly awaited the arrival of my fried chicken.  The gluten free fried chicken had a batter made with rice flour and was every bit as good, no wait, Id say even BETTER than any non-gluten free fried chicken I remember tasting in my pre-allergy days.  Golden brown, crispy on the outside and bursting with moist, juicy flavor as you grabbed each piece with your fingers, napkin tucked into shirt, ready to devour the feast like it was your job! Wait! This IS my job. Im one lucky gal.  I as I type this now, I can taste the wonderful flavors again.  

Although dessert sounded tempting, I had to stop at savory.  I give credit to the manager and staff as well, who were very knowledgeable about dietary needs and requests.  They were very interested in my work and extremely attentive to my questions and investigative reporting.  After a hard-to-beat, first night dinner in Nashville, it was time to roll myself back to the hotel for the night.

Tuesday morning I was ready to find a great little coffee shop en route to my appointments.  
I stumbled upon a place called Eighthand Roast. 
Coffee. Inspired.  I like that. And I did inspiration.  This place is a craft roaster, serving only single cup brews from small estates and small co-operative grown farms.  I opted for a cup of hand-poured Panamanian, with a hint of strawberry essence and a smooth, light finish.  They had a small shelf of locally produced gluten free baked goods and products:  

Vegan Vee -  Made from scratch with local & organic products when possible.  The Milk Barn - gluten free muffins.  Grab The Gold - An amazing company story by founder/creator, Danielle Ontiveros - what an incredible and refreshing spirit Danielle is - I had the opportunity to speak with her while I was in town.  She definitely shares and promotes the high energy, healthy vibe that Nashville is radiating!
Check out her story here:
(BTW, Grab the Gold is a confirmed vendor at the Nashville show on April 26th!)

Moving on from the coffee shop, I stopped at The Urban Juicer, quite a busy place on 8th Ave. But that was just a quick pit stop for a cleansing raw juice en route to fill up my belly once again at the highly recommended and exquisitely inspirational lunch spot - A Matter of Taste  
They make their own bread there and boy is it delicious!  After much thought, I settled on the Mediterranean Vegetarian - A toasted gluten free sandwich with eggplant, roasted red pepper, sun dried tomato, freshly made pesto and feta cheese. Accompanied by a house caesar salad with, you guessed itgluten free croutons!  Score!  A real complete caesar salad - No subtractions!

At this point, youre thinkingman, Beth - how many pounds have you gained in just two days?! Well, fortunately I did manage to get in a good workout at the hotel each morning and a swim in the pool.  

Fast forward to dinner.  Caney Fork Restaurant    
Next to Opryland and close to my hotel. Not an advertised gluten freerestaurant, but what Ive found when youre traveling and intending to connect with like-minded folks, youre frequently drawn to those people and places by the forces that be.  Caney Fork is known for the Best Catfish and Best Ribs in Nashville, in a camp-style, fun setting - theres even a live catfish pond inside the restaurant.  They have a wide selection of wild game which caught my eye!  They were very accommodating to the gluten free diner, in fact, the kitchen manager came out to speak with me and to ensure that each item I ordered was cooked to my liking.  
I decided to try the Wild Boar “Phillyminus the bun.  I also asked the chef to let me sample one ground Elk patty which was out of this world!  Freshly ground elk meat, gently seasoned with some Cajun spice and a little dab of local honey.  Words cannot even describe..

Are you hungry yet?

Wednesday:  Last day in Nashville

Opted for the big lunch prior to my airport departure to St. Louis that afternoon.  On Tuesday I had found this great, relatively new Burger place in downtown Nashville, (Or as they say, “in the Gulch) called BurgerRepublic. Voted Best Burgers in Nashvilleby Zagat.  I happened to pass by their suburban location in Lenox and deemed it a must try.  They offer a gluten free burger bun, but since I was still so full from dinner the night before, I went bun-less.   Since my taste buds were in primal training mode, I felt compelled to order the Buy the Farmburger.  This was the burger extraordinaire - topped with smoked Gouda, fried organic egg, red pepper relish, apple wood bacon, lettuce, tomato and red onion.  Nom Nom!  And my favorite part - the decor - condiments were served in old army ammo canisters. Retro-coolness!

One last mention for Nashville was ThePfunky Griddle. 
Oh how I wish I had one more breakfast in Nashville!  This place is a complete fun food experience, where YOU are the chef and get to make your own pancakes right on your very own table griddle.  The have separate dedicated griddles for us gluten free folks and also package & sell their own pancake batter.  “White. Wheat or Gluten Free?”  I love it.  

*Sidenote - did you know that the Gaylord Opryland Hotel is Certified Gluten Free in ALL their restaurants? Wow! 

Stay tuned for Part II: The Gateway Arch