Most people choose to follow a gluten-free diet because they have a sensitivity to gluten known as celiac disease. In this case, even the smallest amount of gluten can wreak havoc on the digestive system, causing intestinal scarring, bloating and malnutrition. Others follow a gluten-free diet by choice, often as a weight-loss tool.
Following a gluten-free diet can be challenging, as one must do more than simply avoid wheat. Many foods come with additives containing small amounts of gluten. Additionally, the issue of cross-contamination comes to light when one deals with convenience foods and meals in restaurants. Preparing your own meals is the best way to make sure you avoid gluten, but it isn't always convenient as many grocery stores do not carry a large number of gluten-free foods.
Dining out can be particularly tricky. Fortunately, Jacksonville has a number of gluten-free friendly restaurants and grocery stores, as well as a few places to satisfy your sweet tooth. Err on the side of caution when ordering a gluten-free dish from a restaurant. Make sure you instruct the staff to prepare the food separately to avoid cross-contamination.
European Street Cafe
European Street Cafe has four locations in Jacksonville and a robust selection of gluten-free meals. For an appetizer, try the Shakti cheese served with gluten-free crackers. Several sandwiches and wraps are available with European Street's sunflower and flax seed bread or sundried tomato and spinach tortilla.
Outback has a number of gluten-free meat, poultry and seafood dishes. All the restaurant's salad dressings are gluten-free with the exception of the blue cheese dressing and mustard vinaigrette. Baked potatoes and steamed vegetables are also available. Outback has six restaurants in Jacksonville.
Mellow Mushroom offers a gluten-free pizza crust you can customize to build your own pizza. Most of the salads are gluten-free as long as croutons are avoided. There are two Mellow Mushroom locations in Jacksonville.
Jason's Deli offers a gluten-free bread you can use to build your custom sandwich. The vegetarian tomato basil and fire-roasted tortilla soup are also gluten-free, as is the red beans and rice. Fresh-baked potatoes and many of the salad bar items are gluten free. Gluten-free salad dressings include low-fat ranch, bleu cheese, low-fat honey mustard, creamy ceasar and thousand island. Jason's Deli has two locations in Jacksonville.
Maggiano's Little Italy
Maggiano's does not have a specific gluten-free menu, and its basic menu largely consists of pasta, a big no-no for anyone with a sensitivity to gluten. However, the restaurant provides guests with the option of choosing gluten-free pasta, making most of their dishes a safe dining option. The only Maggiano's in Jacksonville is located in the St. John's Town Center.
Carraba's Italian Grill
Much of Carraba's menu is made to order, which means it's easy to have a gluten-free meal. The sicilian chicken soup is gluten-free as long as the kitchen is instructed to leave out the pasta. If ordering poultry, instruct the staff to leave off the grill baste. Carraba's has five locations in Jacksonville.
P.F. Chang's Chinese Bistro
P.F. Chang's has a large gluten-free menu as many of their dishes are prepared with rice or rice noodles. For an appetizer, try the chicken lettuce wraps. Vegetarians on a gluten-free diet can order Buddha's Feast, a medley of vegetables served over steamed rice. P.F. Chang's is located in the St. John's Town Center.
Much of Longhorn's menu can be tailored to fit a gluten-free diet. Order meals without seasoned rice and avoid the meat and poultry sauces, including marinades. If choosing a salad, avoid the raspberry vinaigrette. Longhorn has five steakhouses in Jacksonville and a couple right outside of town.
Chili's loaded baked potato, sweet corn, and chicken and green chile soup are all gluten-free. Gluten-free salad dressings included citrus balsamic vinaigrette, honey lime, low-fat ranch and honey mustard. Sides include black beans, steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes without gravy. There are 12 Chili's locations across Jacksonville.
Sweets and Desserts
New Broadway Square
New Broadway Square is a coffee shop/cafe in Jacksonville's 5 Points District. It features a number of gluten-free delicatessens, including several varieties of cheescake, brownies and cookies. Not all items are available daily, so it's best to call ahead of time to find out the daily specials.
Pulp is a frozen yogurt and smoothie shop in San Marco. All of Pulp's frozen yogurts are gluten-free and a number of their smoothies are. Avoid toppings with gluten such as crushed cookies and granola. If ordering a smoothie, stay away from the soy milk, as it's not gluten-free. Instead, opt for the almond milk.
Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods is an emporium for the gluten-free grocery shopper with two aisles of gluten-free packaged food, including pancake mixes, crackers and other snacks. Several gluten-free breads and frozen dinners are also available. Whole Foods is located in the Orange Park area.
Native Sun Jacksonville
Native Sun has a number of gluten-free specialty items, including prepared and packaged food. Gluten-free foods are marked with a red tag. Native Sun has two locations: one in the Southside area, the other in Mandarin.
Publix has an aisle section specifically for gluten free and other special diet foods. You can also find gluten free dinners and breads in the frozen foods area. Publix has 17 locations in Jacksonville.