This past weekend we visited Hermann Missouri for the first time - and interestingly enough, "gluten free" seemed to become the theme of the day.
We started at a restaurant at a winery near our motel where I had heard a gluten free menu was offered, Stone Hill. It was important for me to make sure I was comfortable with our dinner destination before starting off on the wine trail. I wanted to be able to look forward to a full warm meal to end our day. A gluten free menu does not necessarily mean "we understand cross contamination." But I felt comfortable enough with the answers to my questions so we were ready to hit the trail. We didn't start here with our wine sampling because there wasn't an option to sit indoors on this chilly, drizzly day. We decided to wait until we came back for dinner (if we still felt like wine by then, that is.)
We had to pay $4.00 to get into the second winery, but this included 8 samples for each of us. I like to sip my wine slowly, but up at the sample counter I felt more like I was slamming shots! (Well, not quite, lol). We were offered crackers in between our samples, and of course (as I always do) I said, "No thank you, I can't eat those." He responded with, "Oh, are you gluten free?" ("Yes, I am.") He went on with, "I'll have to tell you about a winery where everything they have is gluten free!"
At first I was so excited! But he clarified that its just "snacks," no warm meals. He told us that it is family run and the entire family is gluten free. So, you guessed it, we made Martin Brothers our next visit. I wasn't eager to stay at this first winery anyway, since there was no option to sit indoors - and besides, I had my fill with samples. If I was going to drink too much wine, I was going to wait until we were downtown near our motel and I could walk.
We found this third winery, and yes, the whole family is gluten free due to celiac. All their cheese, sausage, and cracker options are gluten free; nothing that isn't gluten free, actually. Although, finally a winery where I can eat those little crackers between sips of wine and no crackers were offered. lol Not a big deal; I didn't need them. I just found it humorous.
I would think it might be better (business wise) to also offer nongf crackers as well, since its all packaged food anyway, and no risk of cross contamination between items that are sealed. It was wonderful to see such amazing awareness opportunities though! Customers are allowed to bring in their own food (as was the case at every winery we visited - which I LOVE - so there would surely be gluten items brought into the winery.) - - -Now, if it was cooked food that they offered, I'd be thrilled to discover that everything was gluten free (with no risk of cross contamination); maybe some BBQ, grilled brats or hearty soup. They are a new winery, so hopefully we will see some warm food options in the future. But if you forget your cheese, sausage or crackers, you can surely get some there.
We enjoyed our $4.00 worth of samples (although only 4 samples this time) - and again decided to move on since (again) - no indoor seating - although this was the first winery where we discovered fire pits available to sit by. This would have been delightful; a warm fire, beautiful view, but we weren't quite ready to share an entire bottle, and they didn't offer it by the glass.
We'd been on a few other wine trails in past years, (and several wineries) and just weren't used to not having the option to sit indoors when the weather wasn't favorable for outdoor seating. Interesting. This is a lovely German town where Octoberfest is celebrated the entire month. October often has some very lovely days - but there are also days like this past weekend where the chill and the rain has a person seeking shelter (or staying home).
The next winery was our favorite, Oak Glenn. Great view. Fun music. And if it was a warm day, it would have been perfect. But - you guessed it, still no indoor seating (or heaters or fire pits). We decided to hang out here for a couple hours though because the atmosphere fit us, (the view and the music.) Like the others, our own food was welcome, so we unpacked our cheese, sausage, and crackers and enjoyed the music and a glass of wine. We would have stayed longer had I brought my coat, hat and gloves, lol.
We finally got cold enough to move on and seek warmth (mostly for me) - heading downtown. We next visited another winery that didn't offer indoor seating (even though they had a building but "it hadn't been cleaned" to make it available on this cool, drizzly day smack dab in the middle of Octoberfest. huh?)
Hermann is full of amazing old buildings that include several bed and breakfasts, and lots of personality. We walked through some stores and restaurants where I asked if they offered gluten free. We weren't ready for dinner, but just checking on options. One restaurant said they had a few gluten free options: burger without a bun, brat without a bun, chicken breast. The gal proceeded to tell me her mom had celiac - and then she told us of a restaurant where I could get gluten free fried chicken - Wings a Blazin.
I was psyched! Of course, I was picturing a quarter fried chicken, mashed potatoes, salad, as I only heard "fried chicken" not the name of the restaurant, which included the word "wings." She sounded like she understood celiac and she sounded very familiar with the restaurant (probably from her mom.) So, after exploring more shops, we headed to the restaurant a few blocks away, deciding to have fried chicken for dinner instead of going where we originally chose.
Once there, however, we realized it was more of a 'wings and fries' restaurant (thus the name, of course.) Our server didn't seem familiar with what wing sauces or even what sides or salad dressings were gluten free. My husband asked for a manager who shared with us that while the wings are fried in a separate fryer, all the fryers are filtered through the same filtration system - thus, not completely safe for someone with celiac.
This is where it is so important to do the right thing. I was not willing to take that kind of risk with my health (and my mood that is impacted by gluten). But the manager was clear and he was honest - which I respect. We thanked him sincerely and told him we were not going to risk it. No anger is called for. No need to get emotional or testy. No restaurant has to provide gluten free. I just asked for clarity - which they provided. If an owner wants to hang on to those who walk out, they will become educated, plain and simple. But they don't have to.
A half hour earlier, while walking out of one of the stores we visited, a friendly outdoor food vendor who was packing up his truck told us, "If you were here 30 minutes ago I could have fed you." I said, with a laugh, "Probably not. Do you offer gluten free?" He said, "No." But then he proceeded to tell us about his niece who has celiac. And he sounded knowledgeable about gluten free. Cool! Here was the third person in a span of about 4 hours who offered conversation about someone they knew who had celiac.
We also walked through the doors of another restaurant that someone told us about earlier, Black Walnut Bistro. I didn't do extensive research, but was told they do offer gluten free pasta and they do use separate pots to cook it in. I thought they just offered pasta dishes, but after getting home I saw that their online menu includes other items marked "gluten free."
Next, looking for some place to be able to spend the evening in this small town (to listen to music or watch the ball game once we finished dinner) we visited a local establishment, Concert Hall and Barrel - that had INDOOR seating! It was warm and it offered a pleasant, cozy atmosphere. I asked if they had any gluten free beers or ciders (which they had a few cider options) and all of a sudden I noticed one of the customers by my side (from where, I don't know, lol) telling me Redd's Apple Ale was gluten free. Of course, I told her right away that it wasn't. She had been misinformed and I'm glad I could provide that information. But then I learned that she also had celiac, as did her son, and we had a pleasant conversation that included local options and diet struggles in the schools.
"Gluten free" just seemed to be popping up everywhere!
We headed back to the original restaurant for dinner. It was good; not amazing, but good. I was starving and ready for a hot meal. The tomato soup that I started with was delicious. I also got the Reuben (without the bread, of course) and mashed potatoes. Plenty to eat. The best part was the entertainment just behind my husband's back. I couldn't help but stare (and yes - giggle a little, immaturely). A gentleman, who was alone, had 3 glasses of white wine in front of him. I don't know if he was testing for an article, for use in his own store, or just for his own enjoyment, but it was entertaining to watch as he sniffed the contents of each glass, swirled it and then sipped, letting the contents linger in his mouth until he found what he was looking for. His facial expressions and his gestures let me know that the first wine was 'pretty good,' the second was 'really good,' according the way his finger pointed directly to that glass while his lips silently lipped the words, "I like that!" - and the third was just ok, as his head gave a slight nod and one eyebrow raised in an approving manner. Who he was sharing this information with, I'm not sure, but I enjoyed it.
And all in all - the day was a home run - all the way through the end when the Cardinals won the second game of the play offs, as we watched from our seats back at the cozy bar we visited a few hours earlier.