Panzanella: Local Commitment

Note: This restaurant is no longer open. After many years of great service, Panzanella closed its doors on December 21st, 2013.

Where: Panzanella, part of the Weaver Street Market Cooperative, in Historic Carr Mill Mall, 200 North Greensboro Street Carrboro, NC 27510

GF Menu: No.

What I ate: Salmon Caesar Chef Salad from the Brunch Menu

How to order it: As always, let the server know you are dining Gluten-Free.

When ordering a salad, make sure that any croutons or accompanying bread items will be left off, and ask the server to check whether the salad dressing contains any gluten.

With grilled meats, it is a good idea to check whether the item has been marinated or seasoned with a mix containing gluten.

After checking with the kitchen, our server assured us that this dish was Gluten-Free.

What it looks like:

A hot-off-the-grill salmon filet rested on cold, crisp romaine lettuce tossed with fresh caesar dressing. This generous salad was then perfectly topped with assorted julienned primavera vegetables, then lightly sprinkled with bacon and grated parmesan.

Green Note: The About Page on their website states,

At Panzanella, we believe that the farmers are the true heroes of today’s culinary scene, leading the way to better food and a better world. On our menus, you’ll find free-range all-natural poultry and pasture-raised beef and pork. All of our meats are raised without antibiotics or synthetic hormones. All seafood served at Panzanella is sustainably raised or caught.

The restaurant also aims to keep it local. The following is taken from a website page dedicated to explaining their commitment to offering local fare:

Our Local Commitment – At Panzanella, we change our menu with the seasons.  This enables us to take advantage of the many products grown and produced locally.  We are committed to serving only sustainable seafood, and when available, we buy pasture-raised pork and beef from local farms.

In summer, the restaurant features “Farm Dinners”, with vegetables, meats, and cheeses from area farms.

Panzanella on Urbanspoon


Top of the Hill: French Quarter Jambalaya

Where: Top of the Hill Restaurant, 100 East Franklin St., Third Floor, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

GF Menu: Yes. If you ask, they offer a laminated menu on which everything that is NOT Gluten-Free is marked with an “X”, making your decision-making that much easier.

What I ate: French Quarter Jambalaya from the Dinner Menu.

How to order it: The jambalaya was listed as one of the Gluten-Free options when I dined at Top of the Hill.In general, though, if there is no GF menu available and you would like to order a rice dish, it is a good idea to inquire whether the rice has been cooked with soy sauce or in a broth, both of which may contain wheat.

What it looks like:

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a form of the word “jambalaya” first appeared in print in a Provencal poem published in 1837, meaning a “mish mash.” Top of the Hill’s steaming hot, hearty jambalaya contained shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage tossed with risotto, onions, tomatoes, and roasted okra. This was an exemplary mish mash, incorporating both flavor and texture to create a well-rounded, satisfying meal.

Green Note: Top of the Hill is set to open a distillery in 2011, creating handcrafted and distilled vodka, gin, bourbon, and rum. The new Topo Distillery will use local and organic agricultural products as the base of all of its products. According to the list of Gluten-Free Alcoholic Beverages on, these alcohols, if distilled thoroughly by the manufacturer, are rendered Gluten-Free.

Top of the Hill has also been voted “Best Outdoor Dining in the Triangle”. Check out their patio seating for an enjoyable al fresco dining experience.

Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery on Urbanspoon

Foster’s Market: Serving Durham since 1990

Where: Foster’s Market, 2694 Durham-CH Blvd., Durham, NC

GF Menu: No. 12/07/2014 Update: Foster’s Market now features a sign at the Deli Counter offering the option of Gluten-Free bread (for sandwiches) at an additional cost of $2.

What I ate: Super Sampler Plate

How to order it: Walk past the case full of fresh baked goods. Do not look at the blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies, and seasonal fruit pies. I warned you not to look. You, dear GF reader, are above such temptations. You are here for a salad that is as beautiful as it is delicious, and will leave you feeling healthy and satisfied. Besides, if you must indulge in something sweet, you can purchase some GF candy at the register.

The salads at Foster’s are homemade daily. Choose any combination of 2 vegetarian salads and one salad with tuna or chicken from their daily selections (1/3 pound of each) to make up the Super Sampler. On the day I visited, there were about eight scrumptious salads, but be sure to ask your server to help you pick three salads that are Gluten-Free.

What it looks like:

Eat your colors. My Super Sampler was comprised of the Curried Cauliflower, Chicken Broccoli Mozzarella, and Sweet Potato salads.

Light and crunchy with al dente cauliflower stems, yellow squash, celery, and parsley, the curried cauliflower salad was an unexpected treat. The chicken broccoli salad contained sauteed onions, black olives, roasted red pepper, mozzarella and broccoli, on the crisp side. The sweet potato salad was a great complement to the other items. It was both sweet and savory, with red onions, parsley, bits of bacon, and shredded cheese.

This food is so fresh, it glows! Okay, the sun may have broken through from the Foster’s fabulous outdoor patio and illuminated my dish, but I believe this light came from within.

Green Note: At Foster’s, you order food at the counter and drinks are self-service. When you are leaving, you bus your own table, separating the washable dishes and cutlery from food waste and napkins. Recycling bins are clearly marked near the drink service station.

The following is excerpted from the Foster’s Market website:

Our guiding principles have always been to serve great tasting food, offer superior customer service, have fun and earn a living. The market/cafe was such a success that Sara opened a second Foster’s Market location in 1998 in Chapel Hill. Over the years Foster’s Market has won many awards from “Small Business of the Year” to “Best Lunch Spot in the Triangle.” Sara also received the award for “2010 Restaurateur of the Year” from the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Foster's Market on Urbanspoon

Wendy’s: Baja Salad

If you are a Gluten-Free traveler this holiday season, you may want to drop by a Wendy’s for a quick meal or snack along the way to Grandmother’s House.

Where: Wendy’s, Just About Everywhere!

GF Menu: No. However, visit the Nutrition Page on their website to view “Menu Items Without Gluten” (PDF).

What I ate: Baja Salad

How to order it: Wendy’s advises:

We encourage anyone with food allergies, sensitivities, or special dietary needs to check our website at on a regular basis to obtain the most comprehensive and up-to-date information.

Having investigated the ingredients ahead of time, I asked for the Baja Salad. 

What it looks like:

The Baja Salad was a fresh combination of iceberg, romaine, and spring mix lettuces, served with Pico de Gallo, Wendy’s Chili (a ground beef chili), Guacamole made from Haas avocados, and a cheddar & pepper jack cheese blend.

This salad was a savory parfait of texture and temperature starting with a base of crisp, cold lettuce, smothered with hot chili, topped with soft cheeses, and crowned with crunchy tortilla chips.

With all of these fresh toppings, this meal was already “dressed” to my liking, so I opted to skip the Creamy Red Jalapeno Dressing this time.

Green Note: Wendy’s has an Animal Welfare Program in which they outline the safe handling and humane treatment requirements of the animals supplied to their restaurants. Here is a quote from their Community Page.

Wendy’s Practice

Wendy’s believes that the key elements to humane treatment of animals lie in effective education, employee awareness, ongoing verification of practices and the commitment of each supplier’s senior management team.

Studies have shown that humane animal handling methods not only prevent needless suffering, but can result in a safer working environment for workers involved in the farm and livestock industry.

Click HERE to read more.


Chipotle Mexican Grill: All That & a Bag o’ Chips

Where: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Raleigh, NC

GF Menu: No, but they feature a helpful “Special Diet Information” page on their website that addresses common allergens. Click HERE to view the allergen chart.

What I ate: Burrito in a Bowl + Chips & Guacamole

How to order it: Order a Burrito in a Bowl. The server will then ask you what toppings you’d like.

Chipotle’s website says: “Most people wanting to avoid gluten can eat anything we serve except for our large and small flour tortillas, and possibly our red tomatillo salsa (there is a small amount of distilled vinegar in it which some gluten-oriented websites still say might be problematic, although most don’t). Everything else is fine to eat for most people wanting to avoid gluten, including our crispy corn tacos and our corn chips.”

What it looks like:

Pictured above is a bowl stacked high with cilantro-lime rice, black beans, beef barbacoa, tomato salsa, corn salsa, lettuce, and cheese, with a bag o’ chips and a side of guacamole. Packed full of protein and fresh veggies, this is a satisfying meal.

As their website menu says, “It’s a burrito, in a bowl & filled with dreams.” You can have all the fun goodies from a burrito, without worrying whether the tortilla is gluten-free!

Green Note: Chipotle keeps the big picture in mind when considering even the small details. As you can see in the photo above, the plate is made of biodegradable materials.

Their website addresses their decision to focus on organic, family-owned farms, and local ingredients. Here’s an announcement from their website:

“In 2010, Chipotle plans to serve at least 50% of at least one produce item from local farms when it is seasonally available (more than 50% and more than one item any time we can).”

If you’d like to learn more about Chipotle’s environmentally-friendly business model, check out these links:

Chipotle: Food with Integrity


Chipotle: Sustainable Design

Penang: Thai Basil Summer Wraps (Now CLOSED)

June 2013 Update: Yelp and Urbanspoon report that this restaurant has closed.

Where: Penang Malaysian and Thai Cuisine, 431 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516

GF Menu: No.

What I ate: Thai Basil Summer Wraps (appetizer) + Rendang Lamb + Singapore Rice Noodle. The portions are hearty and perfect to share.

How to order it: Thai restaurants traditionally rely on rice and rice noodles as the basis for a dish. It is becoming more common for some restaurants in the United States to use other kinds of noodles (egg, wheat, etc.).

You’ll need to ask some questions:

1. Ask the server whether any of the items you are selecting from the menu use a soy sauce, an oyster sauce, or sambai (shrimp paste), any of which may contain gluten.

2. If you are ordering a dish made with crab meat (as some summer rolls are), make sure it is real crab and not imitation crab, as the latter typically harbors gluten.

3. Be wary of pancake-type items (fish cake, patties, or roti) or fried dumplings (pot stickers or gyoza) on the menu, as odds are good that they are made with flour.

4. If, like me, and many other Gluten-Free diners, you are sensitive to MSG, you may want to ask whether the dish you plan to order contains any. Click HERE to read a hypothesis about the connection between sensitivity to MSG and Celiacs.

What it looks like:

The taste of summer encapsulated – fresh basil leaves, shrimp, jicama, lettuce, and cucumber rolled inside a thin rice paper wrapper. The peanut dipping sauce was so scrumptious with its nutty, red peppered, gingery taste, that my dining companion and I ate the rolls and then went after the carrot garnish just to have more of the sauce.

Want to know why the picture above is a little blurry? I must have been intoxicated by the aromas emanating from this dish! Cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass, red pepper flakes, and coconut milk hugged the sides of these simmered pieces of lamb. This dish gets hotter (spicy) as you eat. If your palate prefers something milder, order a side of coconut rice to help beat the heat.

Stir-fried rice noodles (modified with vermicelli) in a special mild sauce with shrimp, bean sprouts, onions, and lettuce. This dish may look light, but it is pasta-based, therefore quite filling.

Green Note: Penang uses washable dishes, glassware, chopsticks and cutlery. I did not see the take-away boxes, as there was no need after my meal, but there was very little waste on the tables in the restaurant. They also provide cloth napkins. Here is one argument for cloth napkins over paper napkins from

Tossing out a napkin doesn’t seem all that harmful but consider that when paper breaks down it releases methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, can remain in the atmosphere for up to fifteen years. Most paper napkins are also bleached which means chlorine gas seepage as well. Considering the millions of paper napkins that wind up at the landfill every day, these gases contribute to decreasing air quality and declining environmental health.

Penang on Urbanspoon

Published in: on June 19, 2010 at 4:05 pm  Comments (1)  

The Loop: Salad Days (Now with Gluten-Free Pizza Crusts)

Good news! A colleague recently shared with me that The Loop now carries Gluten-Free pizza crusts, so I visited in January 2015 to try them out. This is a re-post of an earlier review, now with GF pizzas added.


Where: The Loop Pizza Grill, The Shops at Eastgate, 1800 East Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, not far from the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There is also a location near Duke University in Durham. Visit their website for other locations in NC, Georgia, and Florida.

GF Menu: Yes. Ask to see the Gluten Free menu when you place your order.

What I ate: One of the Loop’s new Salad Specials, topped with Cajun-style Fish Fillet. On another visit (January 2015), I ordered a Gluten-Free pizza with half Mediterranean and half Sausage & Goat Cheese toppings.

How to order it: When ordering a salad, speak to the server about your GF salad dressing options and ask them to leave off the croutons.

If you plan to add a meat topping to your salad, check the GF Menu to confirm that the seasonings used on the meats are indeed gluten-free. According to the Loop’s Allergen menu from April 2010, the Cajun-style mix used on the fish was gluten-free.

The Loop carries Udi’s Gluten-Free Thin & Crispy pizza crusts. When ordering a pizza, be sure to ask whether the toppings are gluten-free.

When I asked whether the pizzas were prepared on their own pans, the manager assured me they were. He went on to explain that the kitchen staff members at The Loop have participated in a gluten-free training program. While these pizzas are not cooked in designated ovens (separate from the regular pizzas), they do have their own pans, and precautions are made to avoid cross-contamination of ingredients. This is similar to the preparation of gluten-free pizzas offered at Brixx Wood Fired Pizza.

What it looks like:

Get excited. “Over a salad?”, you may ask. Yes! This particular salad deserves a shout-out. A warm Cajun-style white fish fillet topped a bed of cool romaine greens with goat cheese, cranberries, mandarin oranges, red onions, and walnuts. The crisp greens, fruits, and nuts emerged with their own distinct flavors through the impossibly light vinaigrette.


This tasty GF pizza was half Mediterranean (feta, spinach, kalamata olives, artichoke, and fresh basil) and half Sausage & Goat Cheese with sun-dried tomatoes.


It arrived on a designated GF metal pan.


This crust was crispy, and almost cracker-like, with a hint of rice-y sweetness to it, therefore combining it with salty ingredients like feta and kalamata olives is recommended.

Green Note: The Loop provides an easy-going dining experience set in an upscale, but not fancy, environment. They use washable plates, cups, and utensils, and there are very few disposable items. Also, the Loop had a sign posted that encourages their customers to “Buy Local.”

Loop Pizza Grill (Chapel Hill) on Urbanspoon

Escazu Artisan Chocolates: Love at First Bite

Where: Escazu Artisan Chocolates, 936 North Blount Street, Raleigh, NC. Chocolate bars from this company can also be found in several Whole Foods locations and a Southern Season in Chapel Hill.

GF Menu: No. Their website encourages you to notify them in advance of any food allergies when placing your order for chocolates.

What I ate: See below. Flavors vary each week at the shop.

How to order it: Most of these chocolates are naturally gluten free.  A few of their artisan chocolates may contain alcohol.  Ask the chocolatier what kind of alcohol was used. For a list of GF alcohols, click HERE.

What it looks like:

Escazu Chocolates

Flavors (from top left to bottom right):

1. Rosemary Bacon 2. White Chocolate Cardamom 3. Cinnamon Chipotle 4. Basil 5. Venezuelan Piaroa Chili 6. Lemongrass

Each handcrafted piece is a culinary work of art. They are exquisite to see, smell, hold, and taste. When you bite into one, you experience the subtleties of natural flavors and a rush from theendorphin-releasing cocoa. These treats should come with a warning, “Do not even think about texting or driving while consuming these chocolates!”

Green Note: In addition to offering their selection of delectable chocolates, Escazu supports another local company by serving Larry’s Beans Coffee. Larry’s Beans is a Raleigh-based coffee roaster specializing in Fair Trade and Organic coffee blends and single-origin coffees right in Five Points, near Escazu. You can also find Larry’s Beans in Whole Foods, Earth Fare, and many other local coffee shops, restaurants, and businesses.

Escazu Artisan Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mellow Mushroom: GF Pizza Pies!

Where: Mellow Mushroom, Wake Forest, NC (This is a successful franchise. Multiple locations also apply.)

GF Menu: Yes! Check out the 04.07.2010 post on Gluten Free Raleigh for specific details. Some Mellow Mushrooms carry a GF beer option, and a GF vodka may be coming soon.

Mellow Mushroom restaurants in the Triangle area are the test market for GF Pizzas. Be sure to express your appreciation to management so that they will continue to offer them.

What I ate: Classic Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza

How to order it: Let the server know you are interested in the Gluten Free pizzas. One of the owners of the Wake Forest Mellow Mushroom, Kyle Watson, said Gluten-Free versions of the House Special, the Mighty Meaty, or the Hawaiian Pizzas in Medium (12-inch crust, cut into 8 slices) are available now. If these aren’t enough to tempt you, build your own from an impressive list of GF toppings.

What it looks like:

Mellow Mushroom GF Pizza

I enjoyed a classic Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza, with added red pepper flakes. The crust was light, slightly crisped on the underside, and bendable. I could fold the slice in half just like I used to with flour-crust pizza. This GF crust, which is distributed by Still Riding Pizza, is made from a combination of bean, rice, and tapioca flours, and starch.

Green Note: On the paper napkins, next to a cartoon drawing of a mushroom bearing an earth logo, are these words: “This napkin is made with

Each Mellow Mushroom is locally-owned and operated.

Mellow Mushroom on Urbanspoon

The Weathervane: Perfectly Seasoned

Where: The Weathervane, located in A Southern Season, a 59,000-square foot culinary mecca in Chapel Hill, NC

GF Menu: No

What I ate: Asparagus Risotto + Scallops

How to order it: Ask the server whether the risotto contains any gluten. Risotto means “little rice” in Italian, and it is traditionally cooked with broth, which may contain wheat. The Weathervane’s does not.

After checking with the kitchen about the risotto, our attentive server asked whether I’d like to add some protein to this dish. I could select any of the meats normally offered as salad toppings on the menu. I chose scallops.

What it looks like:


Risotto with asparagus and roasted red pepper cream sauce with shaved parmesan cheese and extra pan-seared scallops. This dish has everything – texture, color, vegetable, grain, and protein. The sauce – oh, the sauce – dreamy and warming from both the temperature and the roasted pepper.

Try to save room for their artisanal cheese plates or equally scrumptious desserts when you go.

Green Note: The Weathervane uses the freshest, most seasonal ingredients in all of their gourmet dishes.

The Weathervane on Urbanspoon