Gluten-Free Noodles at P.F. Chang's

So, first let me say that I can't remember ever eating at P.F. Chang's China Bistro. Until this week.

Which is a bit weird since the chain's very first restaurant opened a few miles from my house, and now it has hundreds of restaurants around the world and is a go-to dine-out place for a lot of people.

But it just gave off that impersonal, nondescript, corporate chain persona to me, and I was never enticed.

Until this week.

See also: In Defense of Red Lobster and the People Who Eat There

Well, I wasn't enticed, exactly, but summoned.

One of my co-workers loves P.F. Chang's and chose it as her birthday-lunch location. So off we trooped, me thinking I'd get some kind of impersonal, nondescript corporate salad or something.

Imagine my shock when I was handed a menu with a large gluten-free section.

"Why, yes, I'll have the gluten-free Singapore Street Noodles," I said, my voice lilting with pleasant surprise. The menu says they're thin rice noodles served with a light curry sauce, sliced chicken breast, shrimp and fresh vegetables.

"Do you have an allergy?" the attentive waitress asked. When I responded that I did, she said she would bring me my own plate of gluten-free dipping sauces.

Okay. Okay. Schooled again. Personal, caring service from the corporate chain.

Before I could get my head around that, she leaned over my shoulder to set down my gluten-free egg-drop soup.

All right, is this some kind of sick joke?

Later, at home, I Googled and learned.

P.F. Chang's has been offering gluten-free meals for years and is recognized by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. The restaurants provide strict training for their employees. Gluten-free meals are served on special round white plates so everyone in the line from kitchen to table knows it's a gluten-free dish. Gluten-free sauces are served in red ramekins. In the kitchen, gluten-free foods and utensils are kept separately and food is prepared at dedicated gluten-free workstations.

I found some posts from a few people who got sick when protocols apparently weren't followed, which sadly can't be eliminated entirely, so you have to decide what level of risk you're willing to take.

As for my meal? It was good, not great. But sometimes good is great. I had noodles for lunch, and I didn't get sick.

So, I give P.F. Chang's an A+, and I'll be back to see if something else on the gluten-free menu is more to my liking.

Just FYI, there are no gluten-free options in the frozen food line available at grocery stores.

On another note: While I'm feeling grateful for P.F. Chang's caring about my gluten-free needs, let's think about our gluten-free brothers and sisters in real need.

I'm sorry to say that, in the two-plus years of dealing with my celiac diagnosis, I've been very self-centered about my gluten-free issues. I have chafed at the struggle to find ways to eat at home and in restaurants, and groused about the cost of gluten-free foods at groceries and health-food stores.

But somehow, it never once crossed my mind that there are others in my community for whom that would be a moot point, people who share my disease, but not my level of financial comfort. Even though I've often volunteered at the food bank and packed hundreds of boxes of food, often gluten-laden spaghetti, crackers, cookies and other prohibited items.

So, thank you to Madison's Original Hot Sauce, which has teemed up with the Foothills Food Bank & Resource Center in Cave Creek, to host a gluten-free food drive. The Food Bank recently added a gluten-free division to help people who are hungry but cannot eat gluten.

The food drive starts Sept. 13, which is National Celiac Awareness Day. Suggested donations include quinoa, rice crackers, GF bagels, vegetable stock, rice pasta, dried beans, canned veggies, GF pancake mix, and GF cereals such as Chex and Rice Krispies.

You can drop off items at the Whole Foods Market, 7111 East Mayo Boulevard in Scottsdale, or at the Gluten Free Country Store, 3345 South Val Vista Drive, Suite 101, in Gilbert. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day, Brad Child creator of Madison's Original Hot Sauce, will provide demonstrations and samples of his gluten-free sauce at the Whole Foods location.

I'll be bringing some rice noodles and curry, so someone can make their own Singapore street noodles.

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