A Tale of Three Jersey Mike’s Restaurants

It was V who noticed a big sign on the window of one of the Jersey Mike’s restaurants: “Gluten-Free Bread Available.” Do you have Jersey Mike’s near you? They make yummy sandwiches. And let me tell you, it’s not common that a sandwich place will have gluten-free offerings. Naturally, we had to check it out.

We have a few locations near us. I was rather skeptical as V insisted we visit one of them. As we got in line, I noticed this sign!

Photo is a little blurry, but you are looking at very clear and detailed instructions on how to prepare a gluten-free sandwich in a way that would minimize chances of cross-contamination.

As we placed our order, our expectations were met and exceeded. Without us even asking, staff informed us that they would be preparing V’s sandwich in the back using fresh ingredients that were not part of the “buffet” set up at the counter. They had a couple of different sizes of bread available. They knew very well what ingredients were gluten-free and uncontaminated.

We had to wait a little bit longer for V’s sandwich but it was completely worth it. It was delicious. We went back to this location several times and had excellent experience every single time. Instant winner, shiny A+!

When sometime later we came to a different location, we assumed that we would have a similar experience. We proceeded with our order without asking any questions. Big mistake.

The staff started preparing V’s sandwich right at the counter. “Don’t you do it in the back, separately?” They looked puzzled by our question. “No, we change gloves and put a clean piece of paper on the counter.” Oh crap. They were rather clueless about cross-contamination. V was very hungry, so we decided to risk it but were watching them closely. On at least one occasion, the staff set the sandwich on the counter, then immediately realized it, picked it up right away and placed it on the paper. If my looks could kill he would have dropped dead on the spot. This was not safe. We really should have walked out, and if V had a history of getting sick after ingesting gluten, we would have walked out. I felt extremely uneasy and unhappy. I debated going back in and talking to staff but decided against it. It was not their fault that they did not receive proper training. Needless to say, we will not be returning to this place again. Instant looser, big fat F!

By the time we visited a third location, closest to our home, we adjusted our expectations. I scanned for a sign that we spotted at the first location about safe handling of GF orders. It was nowhere to be found. There was a different sign by the counter, a standard disclaimer that while GF ingredients are available, they may come in contact with gluten and that safety is not guaranteed. We asked the questions about ingredients, preparation and cross-contamination. First time ordering, staff seemed reasonably well-informed. They made V’s sandwich in the back; however not all ingredients were safe for her. Bacon was grilled on a shared grill. And they did not have uncontaminated avocados. On a second occasion, staff were less informed, though receptive to my requests. I had to ask them to prepare sandwich in the back. And when I noticed they used avocado out of a container at the counter that is used for all breads, spreading it with the same utensil, they had to start over with a different piece of bread. While I do appreciate that overall staff were more informed and accommodating here compared to the second restaurant, I think it’s completely worth it for us to drive just a little bit farther out to the first restaurant. This third restaurant gets a passable C+.

Three branches of the same chain, three very different experiences. And moral of the story is to never assume and to always ask questions before ordering. Sometimes it ain’t easy being gluten-free.

More reasons to love In-N-Out

V mentioned to me several times how much she missed being able to eat french fries in restaurants. Most restaurants do not have a dedicated frier and their french fries are, therefore, not GF. I had been wondering about In-N-Out, thinking that maybe their fries are OK since they use fresh potatoes don’t fry anything else. Then a couple of days ago we needed to grab a quick post-endo celebratory bite, after learning that V’s latest A1C was 7.0. She had to go back to school for a dance performance, so we had very limited time. While we were waiting for something at the office, I decided to do some research on my phone and see once and for all if In-N-Out was an option. And I stumbled across this post that 1) confirmed that it was easy to order GF at In-N-Out and 2) that they have an allergy button. Allergy button? Hmm…

As a sidebar, Celiac is not an allergy.  There are times – many times – when I make the point of explaining to others the difference between Celiac, wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity. They are not the same and I think it is important for people to understand it. However, in cases like this I let it go. There is a time to educate and there is a time to order a meal with as little fuss as possible.

Off we went to In-N-Out, with high hopes. When I went to order, I could not muster the courage to ask them to press an allergy button. As much awareness as there is nowadays, you still never know if people will stare at you like you are crazy, or have an understanding of what you are talking about. But I did tell the clerk that my child had a gluten allergy. And he nodded and waited for me to proceed with the order. That was an encouraging sign, he was not acting like I suddenly sprouted two heads or was asking for something unreasonable or unknown to him. I ordered V’s cheeseburger protein style, and my burger with the bun. When the order came out, V’s GF food was in a separate tray from mine, so clearly they took notice of my allergy mention and were mindful of cross-contamination. And then I looked closely at receipt.


Gluten allergy is clearly written on the receipt and what I ordered for V is marked with the asterisks. Thank you In-N-Out! We have even more reasons to love you now.

Restaurant Review: The Trails Eatery

I can’t remember how I’ve heard about this restaurant before – maybe someone mentioned it, maybe I’ve read a review somewhere. I definitely passed by it often, as it is right in our neighborhood. Last weekend we were discussing where to go for dinner, wanting real home-made food and not some chain restaurant greasy, fatty, carby food. I checked Gluten Free in San Diego website and noticed that The Trails Eatery was on their list, so we decided to give it a try.

I am so happy we did! We came in right at 5 PM when the restaurant opened, so we were among the first customers that evening. They have a separate GF menu, though dinner menu is not included in this link. There were definitely plenty of choices, including salads and sandwiches.  It wasn’t busy yet and we didn’t feel bad taking up staff’s time with our questions. And we had lots. How big is a serving of this? Do you happen to know how many carbs are in that? What gluten-free bread do you use with sandwiches? The staff were very nice, answered questions and went back to check on the carb count for GF bread (they use Udi’s brand).

V decided to order turkey and bacon sandwich and mashed potatoes and really enjoyed her meal. The rest of us opted for gluten-filled food, including a humongous grilled cheese sandwich for my son and cajun chicken pasta for me and my hubby. Everything was delicious. At the end we split the GF chocolate flourless cake for dessert. You could not tell it was GF. Finger-licking-good!

Carb content for V’s meal: Sandwich = 22g, all from bread. Udi’s bread is really low on carbs, two slices are only 22g of carbs. Mashed potatoes = 30g, estimated. The serving was about 1 cup. We eyeballed it and sized it up using our collapsable measuring cups. The carb content for the cake was a pure guesstimate of 60g.

Bottom line: two thumbs up! Tasty GF options, fresh and home-made food, staff is knowledgeable about GF and understanding about diabetic needs, willing to answer questions and make accommodations. And it is a local business to boot. You should check out their GF breakfast menu, including pancakes! (I shall tell you a story of my first half-failed attempt to make GF pancakes in due time.) We are definitely coming back!