Burtons Grill and Bar is a godsend. I’ve gotten sick so many times at restaurants, I rarely eat out anymore unless the entire restaurant is gluten free. It’s not worth the hassle and the risk to my health.
If I do try to eat out, I usually spend a ton of time interrogating the staff until they’re thoroughly annoyed with me, and until I’m pretty confident they have no idea how to prepare a celiac-safe meal.
I recently traveled to Virginia and, as I always do, packed a bunch of food in my suitcase and was fully prepared to eat from the grocery store. I was visiting with people, and someone said they’d looked online and found a celiac-friendly restaurant, Burtons Grill and Bar.
BURTONS GRILL AND BAR HAS EDUCATED STAFF
I called the restaurant and asked a bunch of questions before we went. To my utter astonishment, the hostess was able to answer my questions without transferring me to anyone else. She articulated that gluten free food is prepared in a separate area and strict procedures ensure no cross-contamination occurs.
I’ve been burned so many times before that I’m very slow to entertain hope. But I remembered to pack my Nima sensor (a portable gluten sensor), so I figured I’d give it a go. If they were wrong, my Nima would catch the error and keep me from getting sick.
When we arrived at the restaurant the hostess asked us if we needed any gluten free menus. This, in and of itself, was shocking. In the restaurant world, celiacs are always an afterthought and usually an extreme inconvenience. So to have someone offer me something as part of their standard process was pretty astounding.
We were seated and our waitress explained that gluten free food was prepared separately and that the gluten free area had dedicated, colored cutting boards and utensils to ensure no cross-contamination occurred.
She also explained that my food would come out on square plates (as opposed to circle plates on which the rest of the food was served) and that it would be served by a manager as yet another safety measure/cross-check.
Our waitress also explained that the restaurant’s CEO has celiac disease. She said he had challenges eating out and subsequently decided to make Burtons Bar and Grill a safe option for those with celiac disease.
BURTONS GRILL AND BAR MENU
If you’re gluten free and vegetarian or gluten free and paleo, they’ve got you covered! Burtons Grill and Bar’s gluten free menu is extensive—I HAD A WHOLE MENU OF CHOICES! Celiacs can have anything in green.
My confidence was bolstered when I opened the menu and saw an insert explaining a previously gluten free item was no longer gluten free due to a manufacturing change in one of the ingredients.
The simple fact that they monitor their source ingredients with that level of detail speaks volumes. And not only did they highlight the change to make sure no one was accidentally glutened, they offered an alternative to facilitate a seamless dining experience.
It was SO fantastic. If it weren’t socially inappropriate, I probably would have wept. I felt like I’d reclaimed a vestige of my former life.
I was in Virginia 4 days and I ate at Burtons Grill and Bar 3 times at 2 different locations (Sterling and Alexandria). Honestly, those numbers would be higher if I’d discovered it sooner. It was such a treat and such a relief to have a place I could trust to not make me sick.
My first visit to Burtons Grill and Bar was in Sterling, VA. Even with all the information I received from the staff, I was still nervous initially. Complex dishes with a lot of ingredients are rife with the opportunity for error—the more ingredients, the more opportunity for me to get glutened.
This is especially true when it comes to dressings, sauces, and such. So I Nima tested my appetizer and main course which both tested gluten free. I decided to trust on the dessert and wasn’t let down—I had zero issues. Not only that, the food was delicious!
We ordered the stuffed grilled zucchini appetizer to share and it was phenomenal. I highly recommend it.
I ordered a Caesar salad with steak for my meal and it was fantastic.
For dessert, I ordered the chocolate cake which was decadent! I actually don’t like chocolate cake—I like chocolate, but not if it’s diluted with flour or sugar. This was flourless and the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had in my life. I’m not exaggerating.
The second time I went to Burtons Grill and Bar was for a late lunch the next day, also in Sterling, and I was served by the bartender. I was a little concerned he might not be as knowledgeable as the regular wait staff, but that concern was quickly alleviated.
I decided to try the Maxx Burger and was nervous about the mushrooms. Mushrooms are fungi and require nutrition to grow, and the nutrition provided is often grain-based. In a nutshell, mushrooms are often grown in both a spawn and substrate of rye. For this reason, I only trust certified gluten free mushrooms.
I asked the bartender if the mushrooms were gluten free. Now guys, here’s the best part—he wasn’t annoyed by my question at all!! He was happy to find out. He asked the kitchen and they said the packaging didn’t specify gluten free. So I passed on the the mushrooms. It was that easy!
I was also curious if I could have ketchup for my fries and he (without any prompting from me) said he wasn’t sure if the ketchup were gluten free or not. I asked him if he could check and told him Heinz is gluten free (which is often what restaurants carry). He checked to see if they used Heinz, but also checked the label to make sure it was gluten free.
In my entire time being celiac, I’ve never had such a friendly, helpful, cooperative eating experience.
The Maxx Burger was heavenly. I ordered the crème brûlée for dessert and it was exquisite!
The third time I ate at Burtons Grill and Bar was in Alexandria, VA. My waiter this time was not very knowledgeable (I think he was new). The evening began with him recommending an appetizer from the whim menu (a small menu that changes frequently).
I said I’d love to try it, but asked if he could make sure it’s gluten free. I told him if he had any hesitation, I was happy to order a different appetizer. My waiter came back and told me it was safe so I placed my order.
About 5 minutes later a different staff member came to my table and explained there was some uncertainty as to whether the appetizer was entirely gluten free because they couldn’t verify if they fried the tortilla chips in the dedicated gluten free fryer or not.
She asked me if that were an issue. I said it was, and she took my order for a different appetizer.
My takeaway from that interaction was, first, I’m grateful their process includes managerial oversight on gluten free orders—I think it was critical to my safe experience that evening.
And second, I’ll probably stick to standard menu items going forward, as those seem to be more clear-cut/established with regard to what is gluten free. I don’t say that as a criticism, I just say it with the perspective that I should also do my part to ensure a safe eating experience.
In lieu of my I original choice, I opted for the General Tso’s Cauliflower. I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical about whether or not I’d like it—it didn’t sound like a winner. But it was absolutely delightful! The cauliflower was surprisingly tasty and the ginger aioli sauce was delectable.
For my entree, I ordered the crab cakes and they were pleasant. It was my first time trying crab cakes, so I don’t really have a basis for comparison, but they were a good size and I enjoyed them. In fairness, I don’t know that I’m a crab cake person, so if this is something you enjoy, you’d probably love it.
Again, a manager brought out all my food on a square plate, and again, I didn’t feel high-maintenance at all! It was a fantastic experience every time.
Now for the sad part—Burtons Grill and Bar currently only has stores on the east coast (insert pitiful sobbing here). They are presently in Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
But I’m hoping one day they’ll be nation-wide. We celiacs could use a national chain like this to lead the way and set the example for restaurant education on celiac disease!
I would recommend Burtons Grill and Bar in a heartbeat. It’s rare that I can eat out without paralyzing food anxiety, but this place diffused any concerns I had.
The biggest challenge when eating out as a celiac is that all it takes to get sick is a lack of diligence or lack of knowledge on the part of one person in the restaurant. Food anxiety drives me to eat at home almost exclusively and travel is prohibitively stressful.
Burtons Grill and Bar built a relationship of trust with me this past week, which is pretty mind-blowing. I recommend them without reservation and look forward to traveling out east again (with considerably less food packed in my luggage)!
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