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Posted by on Oct 7, 2013 | 0 comments

G-free Dining Part I: Eating Gluten-free at Pura Vida in Downtown Cleveland

G-free Dining Part I: Eating Gluten-free at Pura Vida in Downtown Cleveland

{Editor’s Note from Collyn & Lisa} – We have a handful of friends who have gone gluten-free by either necessity or choice. But we’ve wondered: is dining out “safe” if a person has celiac disease or even moderate gluten intolerence issues? Especially with so many (possibly untrained) restaurants jumping on the g-free bandwagon? Our friend and fellow food lover Sara has developed a wealth of knowledge on eating gluten-free safely and deliciously in Northeast Ohio. Here’s her first GUEST POST of two on the topic; tomorrow she’ll share her top picks for gluten-free dining in Cleveland, Akron and Canton. Thanks, Sara!!

GUEST POST: It’s a sad and dangerous fact that not all restaurants are educated or prepared enough to handle all gluten intolerant guests, even if they claim to be. With some trial and error (and unfortunately abusing a friend with celiac disease as a guinea pig) I have found some local restaurants that are capable of providing gluten-free food without cross-contamination issues. Don’t feel too bad for the guinea pig, I’m almost 80% sure he is still alive. Probably.

One of the most educational (and enjoyable) experiences I have had thus far was at Pura Vida restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. (Collyn already gushed over her vegan lunch at Pura Vida here.) When I first discovered its existence, I was thrilled (as I always am before dining out somewhere new). They seemed to be very knowledgeable regarding dietary restrictions and prepared to handle any gluten intolerant customers. Even the daughter of the head chef had gluten allergies, according to a server.

On the morning of my reservation, I received a confirmation call that enforced my faith in Pura Vida. They asked about the guest with celiac disease, assuring me that the chefs would use a separate work station in the kitchen and it would be a safe dining experience.

After we arrived, we were greeted by a server who was ready to handle a guest that had a bone to pick with gluten. She covered the items on the menu that could be made gluten-free and gave us some helpful information on the restaurant. Each time the menu rotates, the entire staff is educated on how the items can be made to be gluten-free (and why).

However, my experience with Pura Vida went downhill quickly. We ordered the Pura Vida Bacon appetizer to be gluten-free. She assured us that the chef could make it to be safe, but when it arrived on the table the pickled vegetables, pimento cheese spread, bacon and normal bread were on the same wooden platter. When plating, everything could have become cross-contaminated. Not only that, but it was served on a porous surface that could lead to cross-contamination issues for a person with celiac disease. I informed the server about the issue and ordered a side order of the cheese and asked if she could bring us gluten-free bread. She was happy to oblige, but I was worried the damage was already done to the rest of the food. The bacon was set inside of a mason jar, so I hoped that would at least be safe.

We also ordered the Ohio Crispy Chicken and Kobe Beef Sirloin gluten-free as entrees. I left a good tip and a note for the server to be careful regarding customers with celiac disease in the future. But, unfortunately, after our experience there, the celiac guest reacted and fell ill. It seemed the appetizer indeed had been contaminated.

Our experience led me to leaving this review on Yelp. I was very pleased with the food and overall experience, but I was concerned Pura Vida wasn’t as educated as they should be.

I was surprised that, within a week of writing the review, head chef and restaurant owner Brandt Evans emailed me. He was concerned about my review and offered to create a gluten-free tasting menu for me and a guest of my choice. Given just how AMAZING the food was at Pura Vida, I was happy to give them another chance.

The following Saturday, I headed up to Pura Vida with the same guest, ready to eat. As soon as we got there, they put us outside on their beautiful patio but didn’t give us menus. Our same server (the poor thing) came out to welcome us back. She informed us the chef had an entire menu ready for us along with paired wines. Each offering would be gluten-free, and the kitchen was informed of the situation.

The food was phenomenal along with the service and care that Pura Vida provided. Managers and other members of the staff stopped by our table to make sure we were enjoying our experience. It was so incredible to see a restaurant care so much about making things right for a guest with dietary restrictions (who had a Type A companion like myself).

I would like to officially retract my Yelp review and former opinion of Pura Vida, which was already pretty awesome. I think they are well-equipped to handle guests with celiac disease. Just make sure to do THEM a favor and be as clear as possible about your dietary restrictions when you dine there. You can’t fault a restaurant for making you sick if you weren’t clear about your condition.

One note about the most recent dining experience: some of the food was served on the wooden platters that I’ve seen floating around the restaurant (not literally, although maybe they should look into that). My only concern here is that wood is a porous surface that could absorb particles and lead to contamination of food. This wouldn’t be an issue if they were used exclusively for gluten-free items, but it might be something the restaurant should address, just to be safe.

The experience with Pura Vida proved to me that many wonderful restaurants can be safe for a guest with a gluten intolerance, but you have to be cautious no matter what. They treated us like royalty and I’m now a life-long fan and advocate of Pura Vida.

If you aren’t in the mood for semi-healthy (and possibly vegan) food at Pura Vida in downtown Cleveland, I’ll be back tomorrow to share some of other tested, safe, and tasty gluten-free restaurants in Northeast Ohio.


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