About a week ago, my husband and I dined at Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT, just off Rt. 84. If you read my blog, you know that, for the most part, I’m leaning towards not eating meat (or flesh of any sort). But I do make exceptions, especially when traveling, as I find it enormously challenging to find safe, gluten free dining options. This was one of those cases. If I’m going to eat meat, this is the kind of restaurant I want to patronize. In my 4 1/2 years of eating gluten free on the road, this was, hands down, the best experience I’ve had. Check out their gluten free menu.
Soon after being seated, I learned that the management made a very wise choice by bringing in Rick Fask of Good Life Foods (gflifefoods AT aol DOT com). A gluten free restaurant consultant, Rick worked with the boss, the cooks, and the waitstaff, bringing them fully up to speed on everything from:
- creating a separate gluten free prep station with clear signage
- creating a separate gluten free serving station with clear signage
- using green cutting boards and utensils with green handles for prepping all gluten free food
- using a separate, dedicated toaster for the gluten free bread products
- making sure all of the foods served from the gluten free menu are gluten free
- wearing gloves while prepping the gluten free food
- teaching the staff about the dangers of cross contamination
- teaching the staff to serve the gluten free food on green trays to distinguish it from the non-gf food
- making sure condiments for gluten free meals (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise) are served in small, disposable single serving cups with lids. Why is this important? It’s not uncommon for non-GF diners to open the ketchup and mustard bottles that sit on each table and dip their knives in to extract the condiments – instant contamination!
- providing a gluten free instruction manual
Shortly before leaving, the night manager, who had seen me furiously snapping away with my Nikon, asked if I wanted to take pictures of the prep area. I happily agreed. This is a restaurant that takes gluten free seriously AND listens to its’ customers. I’ve been to plenty of restaurants that claim to have gluten free menus or serve gluten free food, but clearly have no idea of how to do it safely and well, or even how vitally important it is to do so. Any restaurant that steps up to the plate and serves gluten free food would do well to follow in Rein’s footsteps, as well as to hire Rick Fask to make the transition safe and seamless.
We started with an appetizer of herring in cream sauce, accompanied by a toasted gluten free bagel. If there was any flaw in the evening, it was with the bagel. It was ok, though a bit small to our liking. From a bread standpoint, the homerun was truly with the ryeless rye which we all had our sandwiches on.
I had a turkey sandwich. I think it might’ve been the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Let me start with the ryeless rye. Words aren’t sufficient. Not kidding. It was perfect – the size, the taste, the texture, fantastic. And the turkey was moist and tasty and out of this world delicious. The pickles: Peter Piper couldn’t have picked a peck of better pickles.
My mom, may she rest in peace, ordered Dr. Brown’s cream soda whenever she could! Though I’m not a huge soda drinker, I had to order a Dr. Brown’s black cherry, just to honor my mother’s memory.
My husband had his favorite – pastrami and swiss cheese on toasted ryeless rye with potato salad and potato chips (he was hungry!). He loved it. Our dinner companion had a Reuben – corned beef and swiss cheese on toasted ryeless rye. We all shared a Gluten Free Double Chocolate Brownie Cookie Sundae (sorry, no pictures, for some reason the dessert pictures didn’t come out well). The cookie could’ve stood on its’ own – it was delicious. But it didn’t hurt to have it smothered in ice cream and U-Bet’s chocolate sauce. The ginger cookie was equally delicious.
We all had potato salad and coleslaw. I’m not a lover of potato salad, but my dining companions thought it was superb. As for the coleslaw, I am a coleslaw snob. This was perfect coleslaw. And it SO complemented my turkey sandwich.
I loved my sandwich but couldn’t finish it (I wanted to save room for dessert), so they gave me a doggie bag. Check it out – Rein’s gives the customer the plastic bag in which he/she can insert her leftovers and also gives the customer a gluten-free labeled doggie bag. Brilliant.
In terms of the food choices, the only advice I would give Rein’s is to add a separate fryer for making gluten free french fries, get some sort of panini sandwich maker that would allow fully grilled sandwiches to be made, especially for the Reuben which, while delicious, would’ve benefited by having been grilled so that the bread would be sufficiently greasy and crisp, and to add some vegetarian non-dairy sandwich options. I would’ve loved a tofu eggless salad sandwich – they could easily make tofu eggless salad by combining mashed tofu with vegan mayo and diced celery. Or a Tempeh Reuben which would be a cinch for them to make. Check out the post on my blog about Tempeh Reubens – the marinade is from Heidi at 101 cookbooks blog fame. But these few suggestions, while they would add a few more points to their score, will not keep me from patronizing this restaurant again. I loved it! And anyway, how can you not like a restaurant that tries to buy locally made products? Their spices are purchased from The Spice Mill, a merchant in a neighboring town that makes and packages gluten free spices. And their ice cream comes from a local dairy called Shady Glen. Back in the late 70′s, when I taught music in Manchester, CT, Shady Glen was THE place to have lunch.