Thursday, August 9, 2012

Casey's Grill Bar, Cobourg Ontario

While at the cottage, we spent a rainy day in Cobourg, and decided to go out for lunch.  Last year, we checked out Boston Pizza and ordered my son a gluten free pizza.  Click HERE for my thoughts on that visit. 

This year, we decided to try something new.  I'd heard a lot about Casey's extensive gluten free menu, but never had the chance to check it out.  When I realized that there was a Casey's in Cobourg, I made a point of choosing it as our lunch destination. 

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I am aware that Casey's is a chain restaurant, and as such I can only speak about the experience I had at this specific location. 

That being said, the Casey's website has the same menu for every location, including a separate gluten free section of their menu.  Click HERE to see the menu from the Cobourg website.  The gluten free part begins on page 4.  The site also has an allergen and nutritional information chart, which is always helpful for me since my son also can't have dairy.  I did my research before going, happy to see that there were even gluten free items on the kids' menu, and that the french fries were gluten free as well. 

Unfortunately, the staff at this location were not as well informed as their website.  I asked the hostess about the gluten free menu when we walked in the door, and she said she wasn't sure, but that the waitress would be better informed.  After being seated, I picked up the menu on the table.  The menu in the restaurant did not have the same gluten free section that is included on the website, although the rest of the menu is the same.  I asked our waitress about the gluten free options and she said that she was unaware of specific gluten free offerings.  She did say that the restaurant had an allergen binder, so I thought that maybe it would be helpful. 

The binder is quite thorough, but at about one hundred pages, it takes forever to navigate.  The allergen chart on the website is much more precise and easy to follow.  Based on the binder, there was very little available for my son to eat: french fries, steamed veggies, pad thai, and tortilla chips were about it.  It took me almost 20 minutes to go through the binder to figure this out.

I will say that our waitress was friendly and tried to be helpful, but I was disappointed at her lack of knowledge.  She eventually printed off the gluten free menu from the website, but when I asked about many of the items, they were unavailable.  They didn't have corn pasta, and the fries were cooked in the same fryer used to cook everything else, including the breaded items.  They were presented as gluten free, so if I hadn't asked about preparation, my son would have eaten them and gotten sick.  She pointed out items that could be modified to be gluten free, but at that point I wasn't confident in the kitchen's preparation methods, and was afraid of cross-contamination.  We ended up ordering my son a blueberry smoothie made with water, tortilla chips as an appetizer, and tomato pasta using the rice noodles that are used in the pad thai. 

Verdict:  I'm really disappointed in my visit to this location.  When I take my son out to a restaurant, I generally don't go with high expectations of having much to choose from on the menu, and I'm OK with that because most places don't advertise as having gluten free options.  But when a restaurant specifically highlights the several gluten free items available on their menu, I walk into the establishment expecting that a) those items will be available, b) that the staff will be aware of these items and be able to answer questions about menu ingredients and preparation.  Neither of these expectations were met at this Casey's. 

We chose this restaurant specifically because of the GF menu, and  to be honest, if we weren't all so hungry, I probably would have left without ordering anything after realizing that no one on staff (including the chef that the waitress kept going back to ask for clarification on things) even had any idea that the restaurant HAD a gluten free menu. 

It's difficult to find appropriate places for my son to eat, and I choose locations with care.  I often spend more money on his meals because often I have to order off the adult menu or have something specially prepared to meet his dietary requirements.  Again, I'm OK with that because I realize that I'm asking the establishment to make changes to their menu, or to prepare something new or to modify a recipe to meet my son's dietary restrictions.  I have no problem when I can't find something on the menu or when preparation restrictions make it impossible to accommodate his requirements, because they didn't promise those options to me on the menu.

Casey's got my business specifically because they targeted the gluten free consumer, and I feel as though I was duped since no one at the establishment had any idea what I was talking about, and the preparation methods of the few items they could identify as being gluten free, such as the fries, would actually ensure cross-contamination and illness in someone with celiac or a gluten sensitivity.  Not only was it frustrating to encounter staff who were so uninformed, it could have been dangerous for my son had I not asked the correct questions. 

If Casey's is going to advertise itself as an establishment with a gluten free menu, then it needs to ensure that staff in the restaurant are trained in what items are included, and how the food is prepared.  The menu in the restaurant needs to be the same as the website, and it shouldn't take flipping through a 100 page binder to find potentially suitable options, only to find out that the preparation methods of those items actually make them unsuitable. 

I would not recommend this restaurant to those looking to eat gluten free, and won't be trying out any other locations. 


  1. My wife has celiac. We have eaten at this restaurant numerous times and we have never had a problem ordering from the GF menu. She has never had a gluten reaction. Maybe you visit on a day where there were some staff not familiar with GF. I would recommend this restaurant for GF menu

    1. I'm happy to hear that you've had good experiences here. I was really disappointed with my visit, but maybe it was just a bad day. Thanks for your feedback!