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Gluten-free Chicago: Adventures in the Windy City

Gluten-free Chicago: Adventures in the Windy City
Guest contributor, Kris, shared her helpful and amusing gluten-free dining tips from her family vacation to Chicago. Read on and comment. We'd love to hear from you!

Deep dish pizza and hot dogs. For a city known for its gluten delights, I knew we had our work cut out for us when we decided to break free of VRBO and AirBNB, be celiac rebels and stay in a...gasp…hotel.

The thought of not having our own kitchen where I could confidently provide our daughter with celiac disease ( age 11) with safe meals made me worried I would end up like a teenager who excitedly borrowed the family car for the first time for an epic night out on the town only to find out half way there that the gas tank was empty and she forgot her wallet at home – stuck, out of luck and in need of help! What was I thinking?!

To kick that feeling, I, like most of you would, researched and researched and researched until the sound of my fingers tapping on the keyboard became a tune I found myself humming to. Thanks to www.glutenfreebetsy.com and www.findmeglutenfree.com I found lists and lists of safe places to eat. I click, click, clicked my way to thinking that perhaps we could actually visit this city and perhaps, just maybe, we could have a vacation that didn’t include cooking every day and planning outings based on where we could purchase GF products and when we could get back to our rental for dinner. As much as that irresponsible feeling was still gnawing at me, I threw my reliable friend, Caution, out the window and we booked it. Worst case: we survive on GF bread and peanut butter (luckily no nut allergies for us, just celiac and T1D) for five days. We could do it.

So, how did it go? Overall – it worked – with one close call. I'll touch on that later; for now let’s get to where to stay, where to go and most importantly, where to eat!

A wonderful hotel with GF dining options

We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel on the Miracle Mile, central to everything, and easy access to transportation. I spoke to the hotel food & beverage department before booking and I was told they could accommodate us for breakfast and dinner. And accommodate they did - they managed to safely feed out "palate limited” (read: picky) daughter a plate of eggs and fruit, GF toast and muffins one morning and GF pasta cooked in separate water one evening after a long day in the windy city.

Our GF arsenal

Venturing outside our hotel required us to be well armed with Udi's bread and peanut butter along with a heavy backpack full of GF granola bars and snacks and of course, the trusty “Find me GF” app. If you haven't tried it, it's worth the download. It helps you locate restaurants relative to where you are that either provide GF options or have a GF menu. It’s a huge help but only a place to start. As always, this comes with a warning. I’m sure you have found, like we have, that restaurants with GF options aren’t necessarily safe for people with celiac disease. The item itself may not contain gluten but it may have been prepared on the same surface a gluten sandwich was just cut on. That’s not going to work! It's always worth a call before hand or a chat with the chef upon arrival.

With our 13 and 11 year old, we thought it was best to start off with the classic city hop on and hop off bus tour to get an overview of this gorgeous city. Highly recommended! We got the pass that covered a few days so that we didn’t miss a thing.

Sightseeing highlights along with food tips at each spot

Gluten-free Garrett's Popcorn!
A visit to Navy Pier, although very touristy, was fun. We tried the famous Garrett popcorn (GF) and walked around the pier.

We also visited Lincoln Park Zoo, a free zoo just outside the heart of the city (we walked from the hop on, hop off bus stop). It had a surprising selection of animals (although in some in small concrete enclosures...that’s a whole other topic!) and I noticed that their food concessions had some packaged GF items like cookies and sweet squares but no meal options so we didn't dine at the zoo. The Patio at Café Brauer appears to be the only dining option with GF choices.

Read the rest of Kris's tips on gluten-free dining in Chicago.