Sunday, April 4, 2010

Our Gluten Free Family Eats Out: Fogo de Chao Restaurant

It is quite ironic that while reading Animal Factory on vacation we also visited Fogo de Chao, "an authentic Brazilian steakhouse" and Five Guys Burgers and Fries TWICE each for gluten free food. My husband is an expert at finding fun gluten free food in every city, and these were both his discovery while we were on vacation in Miami.

Fogo de Chao is a chain of Brazilian restaurants that serve 15 types of meat (mostly beef) on skewers. It is an all you can eat affair. And there is a huge, mostly unappreciated, salad bar with various salads, asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and assorted vegetables. meats and cheese. Most people are too busy enjoying the tasty (and gluten free) breads, the sides and the meat to bother with the salad bar.

The truth is, we ended up at both Fogo de Chao and Five Guys Burger and Fries because most of the food is naturally gluten free. At Fogo de Chao, they even serve tapioca cheese bread and polenta that are gluten free. So, it was easy for everyone to find something to eat. I am not as big a fan, as others in my family are, of the all you can eat meat--but it certainly was easy for everyone to get a tasty gluten free meal.

It was humorous on our way to the restaurant when my eight year old woke my four year old up by telling him "It's time to wake up, we are almost at the restaurant where you can get MEAT on a STICK!" The truth is that my four year old is the least interested of any of us in meat of any kind. He reluctantly had a sausage but filled up on the polenta and a few pieces of lettuce. If I had known they also offer rice and beans, on request, I would have ordered him some. I just learned they had rice and beans available when looking at the side dishes on the online menu.

The manager, Paulo, helped us out when we arrived and gave us instructions on what was gluten free, what contained dairy and what we could enjoy. Unlike most restaurants, where most items contain gluten, at Fogo de Chao there were only a handful of foods served which contained gluten. Paulo walked me through the salad bar saying "Avoid the salad dressings--they contain a thousand ingredients and might contain gluten. Avoid the prepared salads (chicken salad, potato salad etc) if you can't have dairy since they contain heavy cream. Avoid the bread and croutons, of course. As well as the tabouli salad. As far as the meat items you need to avoid: chicken drumsticks (which are prepared with beer) and pork chops which are breaded with parmesan cheese as well as the parmesan cheese on the polenta." He told us he would have them bring us polenta without the parmesan cheese since they put gluten in the pre-grated parmesan cheese.

When you sit down, they give you little cards that look like coasters. One side is red and one side is green. The servers walk around carrying large skewered pieces of filet, top, bottom, sirlion, ribs and various other cuts of meat. You flip the card to green when you want them to serve you meat and you flip it to red when you want a break or are finished. It is actually a fun way to meat. Although, reading Animal Factory, took a little fun out of it for me, I also knew that being together as a family enjoying a meal together was more important at that moment than trying to avoid meat.

I was impressed that Paulo knew that both beer and the pre grated parmesan cheese contained gluten. This kind of knowledge indicates that the items he points out as being gluten free are in fact gluten free. So often, people think gluten is just in bread and pasta. They don't realize that it is hidden in pre-made salad dressings, soy sauce, beer and even parmesan cheese. But Paolo was fully aware of the gluten that was hidden.

Our favorite cuts of meat were the top and the bottom. My son and I had more of a polenta/salad bar feast than the others. But everyone enjoyed being able to eat a variety of dishes so easily. The mashed potatoes were gluten free, but they contained dairy, which some of us couldn't have. On our second visit, Paolo even went to the trouble of preparing a portion of mashed potatoes that were dairy free so everyone could enjoy them. I don't even like mashed potatoes but the specially prepared mashed potatoes were perfect. They also served cooked bananas as a side that were cooked in oil and gluten and dairy free.

Dessert was more of a challenge--the strawberry ice cream and crème brûlée were gluten free. There were no desserts that were gluten and dairy free. But we brought a gluten free brownie for my four year old who is dairy free and ordered a bowl of fruit the first night. The second night I brought some gluten free dairy free Easter candy--jelly beans and peeps and some sugar cookies.

Fogo de Chao is kid friendly, in the sense it is easy to go with kids and they were welcoming and accommodating. Although kids are half price, it is expensive, so it isn't a place where a lot of families go. We saw one other child there. For any gluten free family (who eats meat) it's a big treat.


Cathy said...

What did you eat at Five Guys?

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