Gluten-free Dining Review of Picazzo’s: Flagstaff, Tucson, Scottsdale

June 23rd, 2011 yum Posted in Arizona, Gluten Free Dining, Restaurant Review 5 Comments »

Picazzo’s Organic Italian Kitchen
7850 N. Oracle Road, Oro Valley, AZ 85704
Locations in Flagstaff, *Oro Valley (Tucson), Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Sedona and Tempe in Arizona.
*Oro Valley is the location closest to Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton, and is about a 30 or 40 minute drive.

Four years ago, I heard about a wonderful gourmet pizza parlor in Arizona called Picazzo’s that offered not only gluten-free pizza, but an elaborate full menu to its gluten-free customers. I was suitably impressed and vowed to eat there as soon as I could get myself to Arizona. Happily, on a gluten-free food fest family vacation that took me through Portland, Oregon, I found out that they had opened a branch in Portland. (Sadly, Picazzo’s is no longer found in Portland, but the former Portland Picazzo’s is now called Sellwood’s Pizza Kitchen and still offers gluten-free pizza!) I enjoyed every bite but somehow didn’t manage to blog about my experience. Shame on me! This time around I was determined to blog about my own Picazzo’s experience.

The moment our plane set down in Arizona, I had a mission to find and eat the gluten-free pizza at Picazzo’s. Unfortunately when I found them on a map, the DH shook his head. “Sorry, honey, that is not on our way.” I was disappointed, but comforted myself by sending him on a gluten-free goodie hunting trek across the city. I was also consoled by gobbling down some hot gluten-free In-N-Out french fries and strawberry-vanilla shake. Not exactly healthy, but it took the edge off after a long food-less morning messing about at airports. I was also consoled when I found out that Picazzo’s had branches near Tucson as well as Phoenix, particularly a location in a suburb called Oro Valley that was a 30-40 minute drive from the Ritz Carlton where we would be staying. I was pretty sure I could convince the DH to drive us to a gluten-free dining destination after a few days of overpriced resort meals.

Sure enough, after a few days of buffet breakfasts and dinners we were all ready for a change of pace. We decided to go to the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and stop at Picazzo’s on the way back. (For a report on the museum, see the end of this post, and fun vacation collage.*) We all know I just went on the excursion to get to Picazzo’s. I’m sorry, that’s just the way my priorities work.

As planned, we went to Picazzo’s for dinner. There is a convenient Trader Joe’s in the shopping complex with the Oro Valley restaurant, so you can get any travel necessities (or gluten-free shopping done if you live in the area). We like to pick up nuts, seeds, cheap wine, sparkling apple juice, and their gluten-free corn-based crackers. Yum. We bought the cheap wine to drink from the balcony of our hotel room while listening to music from the bar below, but actually, the DH was so busy at his conference we never drank the wine. It was just me and Toddler Yum, and we just knocked back a little sparkling (nonalcoholic) apple juice, a salad and ice cream sundae from room service. What can I say. We really know how to party.

I immediately felt welcomed to Picazzo’s by the big “gluten-free” banner on their side gate. We went in out of the blistering heat to a welcoming and modern dark room with air conditioning. Ah, bliss. They had my favorite lavender hand wipes at the door, which was a nice touch. We sat down at a table and opened the menu. It was a bit early so we were just in time for their happy hour of fun, where you could get cheap gluten-free appetizers (!!!) and presumably alcohol at a reduced rate. I was too excited about the food to really pay attention to the alcohol situation. Sorry, guys. Priorities, you know? What really got me was that there was a kids menu- full of gluten-free items like $5 pizza, pasta, and more. At this point we don’t know if Baby/Toddler Yum has issues with gluten, but to err on the side of caution we are feeding her a low-gluten diet. The only gluten she eats is in any non-certified-gluten-free oatmeal. I just about teared up when I saw that we could get her small portions that were naturally gluten-free. Granted, I usually scoff at the fact that restaurants universally assume that all kids eat is tater tots and pizza, with a side of fruit and boring-as-heck steamed veggies (and not the yummy ones) if they are really being “health” conscious. However. The fact is that Toddler Yum does have something of a bland palate, and she loves plain pasta with butter and cheese. Being able to order that for her made my Mommy-heart weep with happiness.

The first time we went we got her this delicious gluten-free corn-quinoa pasta with butter and cheese. She gobbled it up. I think my girl was a bit tired of fancy-shmancy resort food.

The second time we went we got her gluten-free pizza. Look at these adorable baby pizzas! And no, this isn’t a veggie pizza. For various reasons, my girl is not fully vegetarian at this point. It was so nice to be able to order a small portion of what she will eat and then be able to order my own veggie fare too without feeling guilty about spending the money! Toddler Yum was feeling peck-ish and didn’t eat that much pizza, but the DH was happy to help her out. Her favorite thing- and the DH’s favorite thing too was a non-veg appetizer. Cover your eyes, my dearest fellow vegetarians. They love the *BBQ Maple Wings*. Ok, you can uncover your eyes now.

MY favorite appetizer was the spinach-cheese topped artichoke hearts, which came with delicious gluten-free bread (left) which just so happens to be on their happy hour menu. SCORE! The first time I ordered it it had a really rich spinach cheese-sauce topping and the second time they were more skimpy with the cheese, but it was good both times. I love the idea of using a full artichoke heart as the delivery system for cheesy goodness. I also enjoyed the cheesy pesto bread appetizer on our second visit.

But of course, I can’t talk about a gluten-free menu at a pizza place without talking about the pizza! How was the pizza? I like most pizzas, and this was no exception. It had a clearly rice-based crust with a crispy texture that was appealing. It doesn’t beat my favorite pizza crust from Boulder’s gluten-free bakery, but it is very good and the price was reasonable. The pizzas seem to be basted in oil for extra browning and crisp, so it is fairly heavy fare. You better not be on a diet! I enjoyed the indulgence, though, and the DH gave it thumbs up. Also notice the cute little flag. I don’t know why my pizza was patriotic, but it was an interesting little touch. Maybe it signified gluten-free pizza? Unclear.

The second time we went I decided to order one of the many gluten-free pasta dishes. I was torn between a vegetarian portobello mushroom bolognese and wild mushroom penne and I finally went with the latter. So many choices! We had to rush back to the resort for the DH’s conference and so I ended up taking the pasta and eating it in the car. Toddler Yum gobbled up the noodles in a cream sauce with green peas and savory mushrooms. Well, she ate the noodles, and not so much the peas or the mushrooms. I liked them, though.

When the time came to order dessert, the wait staff couldn’t decide which dessert was better- their cheesecake or their giant chocolate cookie. The first time we went I had a crust-less gluten-free cheesecake with a chocolate berry sauce. The DH enjoyed it and we didn’t even miss the crust. The second time I was afraid (rightly) that it would be our last time and so I ordered that giant chocolate chip cookie, sans ice cream because I had no way to keep it in our hotel room and I had no room in my stomach to eat it. When I tried the cookie later, I was a little disappointed. It somehow had a flat flavor, as if it was made with shortening instead of butter or margarine. I saved it, though, with the thought that maybe I’d use it and make smores. On the last night at the resort hotel, I ended up ordering a kids ice cream sundae from room service, having a picnic and putting the ice cream on top of the leftover giant cookie. What a treat!

I really enjoyed our visits to Picazzo’s and appreciated the amazing variety on their gluten-free menu. It appears that many dishes only have a gluten-free version, which makes cross contamination and mix-ups all the more unlikely. And further, they seem really competent and well trained at serving their gluten-free clientele, I felt very safe eating there. The one thing I didn’t know until after I ate there is that the gluten-free bread products (including the pizza) are probably not, strictly speaking, vegetarian because they use the Tom Sawyer flour blend that contains gelatin. Their gluten-free salads and pastas (made from prepared box pasta) are likely to be either vegetarian or easily made vegetarian.

I’m not the only person to love the gluten-free options at Pacazzo’s. Here are some other reviews:
Gluten-free Travel Blog Picazzo’s Review
Celiac Chicks Review of Picazzo’s

*The Arizona-Sonora Desert museum was really very cool, except for the fact that it was about 110 degrees out and I felt like my face was melting. Baby Yum particularly enjoyed the prairie dogs and I liked the agave cactus garden (low right photo in collage). I also enjoyed the gift shop at the nearby state park visitor’s center, where you could buy a plethora of chili-themed and other southwestern cookbooks and exotic prickly pear jellies.

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How to Stay Gluten-free at a Ritz Carlton or other Resort Hotel Part I

June 18th, 2011 yum Posted in Arizona, Az, Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton, Gluten Free On the Road, Ritz Carlton, Travel 12 Comments »

Welcome to the desert.
Last weekend we found ourselves sitting in a rental car at the Phoenix, Arizona airport ready to drive towards Tucson Arizona to stay at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton for a joint ninth wedding anniversary treat combined with a business conference. I was excited but also scared. I’ve made it a policy to always stay in hotels with at minimum a microwave and refrigerator, or ideally a kitchenette so I can easily prepare my own gluten-free meals. Restaurants, even restaurants with Gluten-free menus, are rarely careful enough with cross contamination issues, and the more meals I eat out, the more rumbly tummy issues I get. The idea of staying at a hotel without any cooking facilities, even a fancy one, terrified me.
I had a plan of attack, however. Here are some tips based on what I did to prepare and what I wish that I had done.

1) Grab a quick gluten-free meal from a gluten-free friendly fast food chain on your way to the resort, if you have the time. You will probably get tired of fancy food at the resort and a quick, cheap meal in the hand is better than being hungry and confused about your options when you first arrive.

On the drive in, I wanted to get dinner at Picazzo’s gluten-free pizza, a local pizza chain that I once enjoyed in Portland, Oregon. But, time was pressing, so we stopped at In-N-Out instead.* They have safe gluten-free fries and milkshakes, and for those that eat meat they have a protein burger in lettuce. Those in the know say to skip the spread as it has cross contamination, and tell them you have a wheat allergy. The french fries are pretty foolproof, though, unless your companion orders something in a bun and it is snuggled in the bag next to the bun. Long ago, I used to get fries from McDonalds on road trips. This was before the great reveal of meat and wheat (although the gluten is probably denatured). Now that I have In-N-Out as an option in both California and Arizona, I am happy to snub the gross grease sticks at McD’s. The people working at In-N-Out are just so darned nice, too. Other options include Wendy’s with their naturally gluten-free baked potatoes (watch for glove cross contamination) and Five Guys fries, which are fried in dedicated friers in peanut oil. Some people swear by Chipotle’s but I haven’t tried them myself.
*Don’t feel too sad for me missing Picazzo’s. Later in our stay we went to the Tucson Picazzo’s… twice. Review coming soon.

2) Pack or Buy Some Basic Staples to make your life easier.
You may enjoy eating out every meal and trusting to restaurants to provide for you. While a good resort hotel can make reasonable accommodations, especially during regular business hours, I like to have an emergency stash for midnight cereal cravings and to have options for a light meal when I don’t feel like a restaurant experience. I know there is always room service, but I’ve always found that the person taking my order rarely fully “gets” gluten-free so it can be stressful. Besides, room service is always dreadfully expensive! Going on a Target run in your destination city can be a lifesaver.
My Shopping List for Basics:
2 sets of full plastic silverware (unless you like ordering room service a lot or borrowing silverware from the restaurants.)
At least one set of plastic (non breakable, bpa-free preferred) dishes with one cereal sized bowl. If you are minimalist a ziploc type round plastic container will get you far, paired with dishwash solution.
Small dishwash solution or the cheapest dollar store equivalent in a large bottle. You can pitch it prior to packing up.
Freezer safe quart or gallon-sized ziploc bags or your favorite wax paper sandwich sacks etc. for transporting bread to or from your dinner
Gluten-free Dry Cereal (I prefer to buy this in our destination city as it is bulky. Your mileage may vary)
Gluten-free Nuts or Seeds for a quick protein snack. I tend to shop at Trader Joe’s for our nuts. Baby Yum loves sunflower seeds and asks for her “seeds” regularly.
Nut or Seed-butter for a Protein Snack in another form I bought a jar of almond butter in our destination city just for convenience. If peanuts and peanut Cross Contamination is ok for you, Justin’s Almond Butter Squeeze Packs are wonderful for travel. They contain palm oil and some varieties contain sugar. There is a new brand called Barney’s with a similar product that claims to be peanut contamination free.
Gluten-free Protein bars like Lara Bars These are easily available at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts and many other places. Or bring them from home. I like the blueberry muffin, pecan pie, and banana bread varieties myself.
Aseptic Cartons of dairy or dairy-free milk (These do not require refrigeration; just put in your ice bucket prior to opening to chill for best flavor. Bring in your checked bag OR buy from Whole Foods or other health food store.)
Horizon Organic 1 % 8-Ounce Aseptic Cartons
Dairy-free Silk Soymilk 8-Ounce Containers

*If at Target, consider picking up some Gluten-free California Baby Sunscreen in the Baby section. More on this later. Also- if your destination in hot and sunny, pick up any extra clothes that might make your stay more pleasant. Do you or your loved ones have a swimsuit? A long sleeved loose cover up to avoid burns or to wear if you acquire one? How about a long sleeved shirt that you could wear into the pool that will block the rays? Need an extra pair of cheap sunglasses? Sandals you can get wet? Pool toys? Selection at the Resort Gift Shops tends to be limited and pricey, and I bet you’d rather buy things you actually want rather than necessities from them.
Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton Arizona Tip: In June, the Walgreens in driving distance from the resort had cute cheap-o sundresses, sunglasses, flip flops, and plastic beach and pool toys for the kids. They ALSO had an interesting Gluten-free snack- Twice Baked Potato Stix. Note: they are produced in a facility that also processes wheat. That being said, I risked it and it worked for me, but your mileage may vary.
2) Pick up some local gluten-free goodies to take to the resort for snacks. If you won’t have refrigeration (which is the case at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton), keep shelf-life in mind when purchasing.
If your hotel is a nice one, they may offer some basic gluten-free breads to you at meal-times with advance notice. However, resort meals can get pricey and repetitive, so it never hurts to have something in your room to snack on.
Research local Gluten-free Bakeries in your destination area online prior to your visit or do a search from your Iphone etc. in the car
I read up on gluten-free resources in Phoenix and found the Gluten-free Creations Bakery. Their Phoenix bakery is closed on Saturdays, and their cafe is in Scottsdale and we didn’t have time to go, but I was able to find a limited selection of their products at a local Whole Foods in the freezer case with other gluten-free baked goods. I was tempted by a strawberry cupcake, but since Baby Yum seems to be sensitive to strawberries I held off in favor of their Whoopie Pies and Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes (pictured left). These lovelies were pricey (oh how pricey), but I do so love trying new local gluten-free baked goods. The Whoopie Pies weren’t really my thing, and I bought them more for the DH who loves chocolate cake type things, but both Baby Yum and I enjoyed the yummy cupcakes. Brilliant! While I was at Whole Foods I also picked up some gluten-free cereal (thank goodness cereal only requires milk), Udi’s gluten-free bagels, and Glutino’s gluten-free pretzels.
Where to Shop for Gluten-free Goodies on a Trip:
If you’re a gluten-free veteran, you probably know this already. But, for nationwide options you have Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Regionally there is Sprouts in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas, and local health food stores that I didn’t have time to investigate.
Sprouts is an Arizona-native chain that also has some gluten-free frozen products, although they don’t tend to be local. Among other products, they carry a Canadian-based O’doughs excellent gluten-free banana cake with chocolate chips that I can recommend, although it is not cheap. It keeps well in a dry climate at room temperature. Sprouts also has other gluten-free snacks, bars, and chips in their grocery section so may be worth a stop. I don’t find their produce impressive and the resort should have a decent fruit buffet and salad options, so I would skip their fresh stuff.
3) Bring specialty Gluten-free items from home in your Checked Bags so you don’t have to worry about liquids.
My Gluten-free Packing List:
Gluten-free Soy Sauce Packets
Your options are:
San J Wheat Free Tamari Travel Packs, 200-Count
Kari Out Low Sodium GF Soy Sauce 400-count
You could also pick up a cheap bottle of the gluten-free La Choy soy sauce from Walmart or a regular grocery store if desired. Read the labels carefully as not every type of La Choy soy sauce is gluten-free. I think the flavor of the packets is superior and they are certainly easier to stick in your purse!
Having gluten-free soy sauce makes sushi so much more interesting. While sushi is not available every night, at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton the Ignite bistro offers sushi on special days (usually around the weekend, Thurs-Sat ). If you are doing a long stay, the variety will appeal to you, believe me. Besides, any major city and even some minor ones will tend to have a tolerable sushi bar that you could dart out to and gluten-free soy sauce will make your avocado and cucumber rolls even tastier.
Toaster Bags for the courageous and determined gluten-free guest
Any dining option with a buffet (such as Core at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton) will have a toaster for that nasty gluten-filled bread. Do you hear horror music when you think of that toaster? It is scary, and a huge source of cross contamination, unless of course you have some awesome toaster bags, called “Toast it” sold at various online retailers. These babies are great to take on any trip, and kept me very well fed on European trips. You can even melt a cheese sandwich in one if your bread is thin enough! It does take some guts to whip out your bread in a bag in front of other diners or attentive wait staff. If you prefer to, you can trust in the resort to provide you with gluten-free bread (with caution), ask them to toast your bread and hope that they will do it, and do it safely OR choke down your gluten-free bread untoasted. I have also bought a cheap toaster (you can get them for $10 at somewhere like Walmart) and toasted my heart out at less fancy establishments, but I would sure hate to set off the smoke alarm at the Ritz. If you go the untoasted route, which is what I did this trip because I forgot to bring toaster bags, the more sugar or fat there is in the recipe, the longer the shelf life and the better they will taste cold. Protein levels in the flour will also extend life- the higher the protein the softer the bread may be on day 2 or 3. Watch your climate. A dry climate like Arizona is fairly forgiving- worst case is it will dry your bread out somewhat. In a humid climate you may have to fight the mold monster. At a Ritz Carlton or other high quality resort, restaurants MAY have gluten-free pancakes or bread available. Availability may depend on the notice you are willing to give them, or their personal schedule. It may take longer to get anything that they have to make from scratch, and it may not always be available, so keep this in mind. *Report on my experience with gluten-free breads at the Ritz Carlton coming soon*
Gluten-free Graham Crackers
Ok, I don’t ordinarily bring gluten-free graham crackers wherever I go. However, Dove Mountain at the Ritz Carlton offers smores nights for families, complete with potbellied stoves. You can buy a package of (gluten-filled) homemade graham crackers, marshmallows and some form of chocolate from Ignite on some evenings. If I had known this, I might have been tempted to bring my own crackers and either use their marshmallows and chocolate or pick some up from a local drug store. My favorite mainstream option is Kinnikinnick Gluten-free Graham Style Crackers which you can either order from Amazon or find at a specialty health food store. I didn’t notice this product at Whole Foods in Phoenix, but I was also not looking for it. Another option is Health Valley Gluten-free Crackers, which isn’t my favorite but I know some people like them for smores. However, my favorite way to go with graham crackers would be to make my own and bring them, following Rebecca Reilly’s recipe in her cookbook Gluten-Free Baking. Smore nights aside, these are wonderful snacking crackers and I thoroughly enjoyed them when I brought them with me to India.
Gluten-free Sunscreen I don’t usually worry about gluten-free topical products as doctors say that the gluten molecule is too large to enter the body through the skin and should not provoke the gluten antibodies for Celiac.Those with secondary wheat allergies or skin sensitivities will want to avoid topical wheat, of course. However, even those with “just” Celiac will have to take precautions when wearing gluten-containing sunscreen or lotion and snacking with their hands. As an infant, Baby Yum had a dreadful habit of licking lotion on her face or dipping her finger into the jar and tasting it, so I decided to buy her gluten-free and allergen-free creams. I ended up buying California Baby for her, which smells yummy and works beautifully. The lotions keep her dry skin soft and their mineral sunscreen has kept her burn free without nasty chemicals OR gluten. You can buy California Baby Sunscreen Lotion from Amazon or from (nice) Targets in the baby section, which makes it easy to find wherever you are. I also like their gluten-free bubble bath soap, which comes with a bubble wand, smells divine and is fun to bring on trips. Resort bath tubs are perfect for bubble baths! *For those allergic to coconut, their products do contain coconut, but are otherwise very allergy friendly.

This is not connected to being gluten-free at all. But… let me just say that floppy garden hats are the BOMB when it comes to sunny resort vacations. I bought a sassy green floppy hat for gardening and took it on our vacation. It was perfect for the pool! I only had to take it off when we took Baby Yum down the water slide. Baby Yum has a cutie pie Flap Happy Floppy Hat, too, and for the 110 degree weather, I made sure she kept it on. It worked beautifully. My girl has a golden glow but never burned thanks to careful sunscreen application and her stylish hat.
See what fun we had?

Share your experiences traveling gluten-free in the comments! Have you stayed at the Ritz carlton gluten-free? Any tips or stories to share? I’d love to hear them!

Coming Soon:
A review of the specific Gluten-free Options offered at the Dove Mountain Ritz Carlton. My experience should prepare you for what to expect from a Gluten-free Visit at other Ritz Carltons.
A review of the gluten-free offerings at the yummy Picazzo’s restaurant in Tucson (Branches also in Phoenix and other Arizona locations.)

Adopt a Gluten-free Blogger News: This month’s edition is being hosted by Wendy at Celiacs in the House. Sign up now! Last month was hosted by Zoe of Z’s Cup of Tea and the roundup is here. Thanks to both of these ladies for coming to my rescue and helping with the Adopt a Gluten-free Blogger Event. If you would like to host this event, drop me an email!

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