P. F. Chang's Makes Eating Out GF Easy
Photo Credit: Mark Crawley, flickr.com, license CC BY 2.0
I used to live in central Utah. It wasn't the best place to live if you have celiac disease. You can’t go out to eat without getting glutened, and you can’t always find the gluten-free things you need. When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I tried every restaurant in the area. That didn't work out well for me. I always ended up sick for weeks afterward.
Not giving up, the hubby and I started experimenting with restaurants that were farther away, but after watching a food handler rearrange a plate of rolls and then with the same gloved hand start heaping fistfuls of salad into the super-sized metal bowl at the salad bar, I gave up.
Nothing was safe, not even naturally gluten-free foods.
One weekend when we were visiting a friend of ours in Las Vegas, she announced that she wanted to take us to P. F. Chang’s China Bistro. I hesitated. Although the restaurant comes with an excellent reputation, and they are well-known for taking celiac disease and other allergies seriously, I am so super-sensitive to gluten that I didn’t know whether to trust them or not. My husband has dermatitis herpetiformis and can’t eat gluten either, but he’s far less sensitive to gluten than I am. Up until then, I had never had a good experience at a restaurant, even those with gluten-free menus or accommodations.
My First P. F. Chang’s Restaurant Experience
Photo Credit: Torus, flickr.com, license CC BY 2.0
P. F. Chang’s is well known among the celiac community for their gluten-free menu. They are one of the first restaurants that stepped up over a decade ago to offer something more than a side salad and a baked potato to those of us who need to eat gluten free. At that time, their menu was small, but those with celiac disease were grateful that they could actually go somewhere to eat. The fact that it was the best Chinese food around made it even more exciting.
Although I was hesitant about the potential consequences if they didn't get it, there were dozens of good restaurant reviews, so we picked an off-hour that fell between lunch and dinner. To say I was nervous would be putting it lightly, but the relaxing atmosphere and the fact that I didn’t have to explain what celiac disease and gluten free was to our waiter soon put me at ease. In fact, their gluten-free menu was not a single-sheet flyer, but it was a part of their actual menu.
Photo Credit: Krista, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0
That day, there was at least 12 items on the menu to choose from. Today, there is even more. When our server learned that my husband and I would be eating gluten free, he pushed aside the sauce tray and brought us out our own. Normally, they would remove it completely from the table, so as to avoid any chance of a mistake, but since our friend and her daughter were not eating gluten free, he left the sauces in the white cups with gluten for them and brought us a set of red ones. The different colors help servers and other personnel to know that we were eating gluten free.
We ordered their Spicy Chicken and the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, which arrived fairly quickly. We also asked for steamed brown rice rather than white.
Our food arrived on special plates stamped with P. F. Chang’s logo. The gluten food came on plain white plates instead. The purpose for that was so the cook and server could make sure that the gluten-free dinners didn’t get mixed up with the regular meals. Their gluten-free sauces come in red cups for the same reason.
Photo Credit: pointnshoot, flickr.com, license CC BY 2.0
Despite the dishes being gluten free, the food was the best I’d ever tasted. Even my own home-cooked Chinese food didn’t taste as good as this was. It isn’t difficult to convert oriental cooking to be gluten free, but cross contamination with gluten in a restaurant setting has always been a problem. That has made it particularly difficult to cope.
P. F. Chang’s Became My Favorite Restaurant
When you can eat anywhere you want, don’t have to stay away from social functions and places where people wear perfume or heavily scented body-care or hair-care products, it can be difficult to appreciate the little things in life that really matter. Thanks to P. F. Chang’s gluten-free ingredients, their policy of providing an enormous amount of gluten-free training to their owners and managers at the franchise level, and the actual servers and cooks who follow through with those tedious precautions, my husband and I have a decent restaurant that we can go out to eat at. It’s a little thing, but I feel particularly blessed.
Photo Credit: Krista, flickr.com, license CC BY 2.0
While I’m sure there are other safe restaurants, when I started going to P.F. Chang's, I hadn't wanted to venture that far from safety as the closest P. F. Chang’s was about an hour-and-a-half drive for us. For that reason, we didn't go out to eat that often, but at least when we went north to the Orem, Utah area, we had something more substantial to eat for lunch or dinner than a bag of mixed nuts and a stick of original-flavored jerky from the gas station.
Today, we live in the Riverton, Utah area, further north than Orem, so we have more options that we are experimenting with, but it's been slow going. Most restaurants with gluten-free menus are catering to those who eat gluten free by choice and not those of us who need to eat gluten free for medical reasons. For those less sensitive to cross contamination, eating out now and then might be okay, but for a great many celiacs, cross contamination with gluten has to be taken seriously, which most restaurants do not.
Other Features P. F. Chang’s Offers
P. F. Chang’s China Bistro is an international restaurant chain with over 200 restaurants in the United States alone. They pride themselves on offering their diners convenience as well as luxurious food. You can easily make reservations ahead by phone, or you can make them online. They have a special form at their website that will remember what you ordered and which restaurant you went to, so ordering next time will be even quicker.
Some chains like the one in Orem are located inside malls with their front door leading to the outside. That makes it possible for them to be open later than the mall is. Plus, if there’s a waiting line, their helpful staff will give you a pager, so you can go shopping at the mall while you wait.
Today, their gluten-free menu has expanded to include appetizers, salads, side dishes, and desserts as well as entrees. Although most gluten-free dishes come with a higher charge than similar items, the surcharge is welcomed by those of us who understand the lengths to which this restaurant goes to keep us safe. For example, gluten-free soy sauce costs three times more than standard soy sauces and gluten-free cooking requires them to purchase separate cooking utensils, prepare the food in a different part of the kitchen, and pay to train their staff.
Having talked to other restaurant owners, they all agree that the extra dollar P. F. Chang's charges doesn't even begin to cover the expense they have taken on.
The current menu has over 25 items and 2 different desserts to choose from if you need to stay gluten free. They have a variety of tempting items such as lettuce wraps, Mongolian beef, Singapore Street Noodles, fried rice, a vegetarian option and a flourless chocolate torte or chocolate mousse. Chocolate is one of my passions, but the food is so filling and they give you so much of it that I only recently tried their chocolate torte. It was similar to a cheesecake, thick and extremely rich.
Photo Credit: Ell Duke, flickr.com, license CC BY-SA 2.0
Although other restaurants cater to the needs of those with allergies like Domino's Pizza or those who are experimenting with gluten restriction, most restaurants don’t understand the necessity for having dedicated dishes and cooking utensils for those who must eat gluten free. When it comes to pizza, flour stays in the air for 3 days after it becomes airborne, so you can get glutened just by walking into a pizza place, even if you don't eat the pizza.
Nor do others do a thorough enough cleaning job when cooking containers, pans, or grills must be shared. Like the server in the all-you-can-eat restaurant we tried before, they don’t understand the ramifications that come from simply picking croutons off a celiac’s salad or using the same pair of gloves to handle gluten and non-gluten foods. Cross contamination with gluten can keep a celiac feeling sick. It can lead to additional autoimmune diseases and life-threatening conditions like cancer.
For that reason, P. F. Chang’s China Bistro goes out of their way to keep their guests safe. They use a separate wok and separate gluten-free sauces for all of their gluten-free cooking, and they use completely clean oils, just as the following video explains. Even though we don't live close to a P. F. Chang's right now, they will continue to be my favorite restaurant for a very long time.