Gluten Free in the Florida Keys

Uggh… that’s so close to rhyming… ‘gluten frees in the Florida Keys’?  Nope…. it’s kinda making me crazy. Maybe I should just change it to ‘What I Ate on Vacation.’ Boring, but the almost rhyme wouldn’t bother me then. *sigh*

Anyway… so Gluten Free Stuff That I Ate on Vacation in the Florida Keys. 

The first day as we drove down the A1A (between St Augustine and the first Keys) we stopped for a picnic lunch along the beach. (Because there are sandy beaches along that stretch, but not IN the Keys.) We’re back on track with our much healither GF lunches… lunch meat, nuts, fruit and water. It’s easy to pack, way healthier, lower carb and travels nicely in the small cooler. 

The Florida Keys are filled with Gluten Free Friendly resturants. You could walk around and eat forever…. which I strongly considered… and tried to argue for, but Brian wanted to be ‘healthy’ and sight see and stuff.  ūüė©

Thank heavens for the Find Me Gluten Free App. I don’t know how any GF person can survive without it!  FMGF was filled with recommendations all throughout the Keys. 

For lunch we stopped at Marker 88 in Key Largo. They had good reviews on FMGF  and the sales guy from the Visitor Center gave us a card for 10% off. 

The food was really good and the staff was polite and helpful with ordering GF safely. They had a separate GF menu and I appreciated that the GF menu was posted on their website. It’s nice to see what’s available before you get to the restaurant. 

Brian and I were even able to stay on our Arbonne Detox plan (a little longer). Except for the Coconut Crusted Deep Fried Ice Cream that we shared for dessert…. umm… but I had to order that for you guys, right?!  I have a responsibility to my readers! 

Brian got the Shrimp Zoodles. My mom has been telling me to make zoodles for forever, but I kept resisting… they just didn’t sound yummy…. Mom was right (As usual) the zoodles were delicious! 

I ordered the Alligator Reef Salad. There’s no alligator in the salad…. but the crab, shrimp and hearts of palm were super yummy. It was served with a Mango Citrus dressing that really complimented the shrimp and crab. 

The Coconut Fried Key Lime Ice Cream sounded better than it actually was.  The coconut crust was good, but the ice cream was super frozen. Obviously it had to be really cold so it could be fried, but it made it really difficult to eat.

Marker 88
88000 Overseas Hwy
Islamorda, FL 33036

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By dinnertime I didn’t care about keeping to the detox…. I wanted pizza!  Off the Hook Grill was well recommended on the GFMF app…. for a good reason! ūü§§

Brian got the Duck BLT… made with duck bacon. OMG! Sooo good. 


I got the Lobster Pie.  It was good… but also kind of odd, but good…. I liked it, but it wasn’t my favorite pizza ever.  The bits of fig and balsamic vinegar gave it a slightly sweet flavor. Not bad, but I prefer more savory pizzas. The crust was fabulous though! 

Our waitress brought me a sample of the blueberry cider from Slim Pickens Cider and Mead. (A local brewer!) I’m not normally a big cider drinker, but I couldn’t pass up blueberry. It had a nice berry flavor, but not overly sweet…. crisp.   Perfect with pizza. 

We liked the restaurant so much that Brian and I went back the following morning for breakfast. 

Brian ordered the GF pancakes. He liked them, but they weren’t my favorite. They were thick and a bit ‘biscuit’ like. 

Since we were going out on the Sailboat / Snorkel / Kayacking tour that day I didn’t want to eat anything that might upset my tummy. 

I ordered scrambled eggs and duck bacon with a side of potatoes and gf toast. The waiter was great and told us that the potatoes themselves were gf, but since they’re fried there could be cross contamination… but since we were the first customers that morning and they change their oil every day the potatoes would be safe.  I appreciate that he took the extra step to warn me that they were safe this time, but might not be next time. 

The toast seemed to just be Udi’s… I should have told them to skip the toast, but every once in a while I come across something new and yummy. 

Word of warning: the restaurant is tiny.  Seriously tiny… 18 seats at tables and about 8 at the bar. Make reservations! 

Off The Hook Grill
728 Simonton St
Key West, FL 33040
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After a fun / tiring day on the sailboat, snorkeling and kayacking we were starved. (They fed us a good lunch on the sailboat, but I tried to stay out of the after lunch snacks… and a day in the water will wear you out!) 

Brian had been craving BBQ. I argued for Mexican, but I caved when I heard that the BBQ place was closer. I was just ready to eat and then go back to the room and get cleaned up. 


The waitress gave us a separate GF menu (single sheet of paper). She didn’t seem very knowledgeable about what was GF or not. I asked if the potato salad was safe and she said she thought it should be safe because potatoes are gluten free. Ugh. We ordered the BBQ Plate for Two. All of the sauces were Gluten Free and we decided to stick with green beans for our sides since they were listed on the gf menu. 

Despite asking for a Gluten Free menu, talking about Gluten Free choices and SAYING that we were Gluten Free they still brought us a basket of cornbread. What?!? (Strangely, the only mention that I can find on their online menu about gf is that the cornbread isn’t Gluten Free… but no other mention of what is or isn’t gf. So why bother?) 

The food was good and we didn’t get sick…. I’m not confident that they had the best understanding of GF…. it seems more like the meats and sauces are gf and if you stick to those you’ll be okay. 

Charlie Mac’s 404
404 Southard St
Key West, FL 33040

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I read some delicious sounding reviews for Le Petit Paris and had insisted that we weren’t leaving Key West until I got to go there for breakfast. 


Cinnamon Rasin French Toast with cinnamon butter and walnuts. *gasp* It was syrup coated heaven! I should have asked what brand of bread they used, but I was so busy stuffing every last bite into my mouth I never managed to ask. It was absolutely delish!  


Brian ordered the GF pancakes. They were…. cute?  Four very small, strawberry decorated pancakes made up Brian’s breakfast. It was almost comical compared to my heaping plate of French Toast. Fortunately for me, Brian doesn’t like raisins, so I didn’t have to share! 

Breakfast was not inexpensive. There was a $4 up-charge for all GF orders… which seems a bit steep to me…. but, the food was delicious. So just go in knowing that you’re going to pay an arm and a leg. (It’s worth it though!) The pancakes were $12 and the French Toast was $11 before the extra $4. Strangely, my French Toast got the upcharge, but Brian’s pancakes didn’t…. I took a bite of his pancakes and didn’t have any issues, so…. 

Le Petit Paris
825 Duval St
Key West, FL 33040

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I also made an extensive search of Gluten Free Key Lime treats, but that’s a whole other post. It was challenging, but I love my readers…. Diet be damned!  I ate every gf Key Lime treat I could find…. ’cause I love you guys! ūüėĀ  Post coming soon 

The Florida Keys

I’m just going to start his post by saying that I’m a terrible, spoiled snob about my vacation spots. I’ve visited Hawaii several times with my family and Brian and I went to Koh Samui, Thailand for our honeymoon. I warned him that starting off with a five star, tropical island resort was a terrible idea…. I’d expect everything to be that level from then on, but he insisted…. *sigh*  He really has no one to blame but himself. 

So that’s my basis of comparison for everything now. 

Me: It’s not Thailand

Brian: Not everything can be Thailand

Me: ūüėĒ

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We had some time to sneak off by ourselves for a few days. Since we live in Florida now I thought going to the Keys would be fun… and close…. but it’s not really ‘close.’  From Jacksonville it’s still a five hour drive just to the first Keys and another three to Key West.

I’m perfectally content to sit in the car, listen to music, Snapchat and nap. Brian could probabaly drive forever. We stop at pretty places and I take a few photos and then we drive again…. we’re good Road Trippers. 

We took the A1A or Hwy 1 most of the way down. I’d expected there to be more places to stop along the way… beaches, parks, cute little shops…. but not so much. 

(Brian told me to edit this and point out that there are cute shops, resturants and sandy beaches between Jacksonville and the Keys. Once you get into the Keys things change.) 

We finally stopped at Long Key State Park and learned that the Keys don’t have sandy beaches…. unless you’re at a resort that had sand trucked in. Huh, okay…. We paid our $6 and wandered off into the park. The Ranger told us that we could get to a rocky beach, so we figured we’d give it a try. Or, at least I thought we were going to the beach…. Mr Let’s See Where This Trail Goes led us off on a one mile hike through spider infested woods instead. 


With raccoons. 
When we’d passed the front gate I saw something fuzzy cross the road and I asked the Ranger what it was and he said it was a raccoon. In Missouri when we saw a raccoon durning the day we worried about rabies and distemper because raccoons are usually nocturnal… so Day Racoons = Bad, but the Ranger didn’t seem concerned. 

There were more racoons in the woods along the path… the narrow…. very quite…. spider infested path. 


These suckers were HUGE! (I couldn’t get my phone to focus of them, but I got some good pics on the big camera. I’ll post those when I get back to my computer.) 

The trail was long and hot and kinda creepy. 

We finally found the ‘beach’ which was actually just a strip of road and rocks with ocean on the sides. They had BBQ grills and picnic tables, but not what I was thinking when I heard ‘beach.’ It was fairly crowded already so we decided just to keep heading south through the Keys. 

We hadn’t booked any hotels… I just wanted to wander and see where we landed. Aside from the pictures I’ve seen online I didn’t really know anything about the Keys and I just wanted to take our time. It’s just a bunch of little islands… how lost could we get?  But the lack of planning/destination was just killing Brian. 

We stopped at a Visitor Information Center as we entered Key Largo. I was thinking it was the usual State Travel/Welcome Center that you come across on the highways as you enter a new state…. noooope. This was a commercial travel center. They’re selling shit. 


Now, I’m not entirely opposed to the commercial travel center… they’ve gotta pay the bills too, so if they make a commission for booking my reservations and I get a bit of a deal and good recommendations for going through them then that’s fine. Win-Win. What I am oppose to is the ‘used car salesman’ joking, badgering and juggling. We kept getting tossed between sales people. One did hotels, the other tours. Neither one could focus on the task in front of them or figure out how to use their own damn computer and they were both trying to work multiple groups of people. (Form a line, help each group in order. Duh!)  I’d have left, but Brian was having heart palpitations from the lack of trip planning and reservations. 

This is one of our big differences as a couple: When I’m with a group I plan everything down to the last second. I make itineraries. I have binders. I set alarms on my phone. I am ORGANIZED. I once earned the title ‘Evil Tour Guide Barbie.’  I’ve never lost a vacationer and the pictures always look great. The truth is though…. I HATE traveling like that. It’s no fun for the tour guide to lead 10 whiny people through a trip and answer ‘where are we going’ and ‘what’s for lunch’ ninetyeight times an hour. I like to just wander off and see where we end up. No schedule, no real destination. Brian hasn’t had to play tour guide as long as I have, so he doesn’t quite understand my aversion to ‘planning.’  Usually we compromise by choosing hotels in advance and leaving the days relatively open for wandering…. but this time I tried to skip reserving hotels and it was just killing him apparently. 

So we suffered through the sales pitches and finally got it down to a tour, a restaurant and a hotel. Brian was relieved but I wasn’t even entirely sure what we’d booked or IF it had even been booked at all. The whole thing felt sketchy to me.  (Since we survived the tour and the hotel I can tell you that it had all been booked and it did work out, but this still isn’t my preferred way of making reservations… it felt way too used car salesman-y.  Just know that when you go in and be prepared.)


We got reservations at the Pegasus International Hotel in Key West. The sales lady said it was right in the center of things and they had a special price in it. (We ended up paying $159 a night vs the $200 a night that I saw on Booking.com) The hotel was right in the middle of things…. read ‘noisy,’ but most everything was in a reasonable walking distance. It’s an older hotel, recently remodeled… ‘cheaply.’ (Cheap laminate floors, makeshift upgrades in the bathrooms.). Not high end, but clean and functional. I liked the location because we could walk to most of the stores and resturants, but it was quite noisy at night when all the other people were still out drinking or the trash and delivery trucks were out preparing for the next day. If we visited again I might check out The Garden Hotel of the Southernmost Hotels. They were set a few blocks back and looked pretty.  

I wanted to get some sunset photos so we killed time visiting the shops and taking photos. 

I wanted to get a photo at the Southernmost Point Marker…. but the line was crazy long. (I’d read that it would be.)  Brian and I ditched the line and stood in front of the wall. I caught a few photos in between the groups taking their photos. (We weren’t in anyone’s way, so I figure this is totally fair… I angled Brian’s head to block the couple standing next to the marker and I think we actually got a better photo by being a little further away from it.). 


We also got a photo at the “0” mile marker. 

The shopping wasn’t quite what I’d expected either. I was expecting something more along the lines of (again) Hawaii or Hot Springs, AR with an even mix of art galleries, tourist crap and nicer shopping. There were art galleries, but much more expensive ones, mixed in with ‘tourist crap.’ (Offensive t-shirts, lots of smoking/hookah stuff… I’m not complaing about the cigars,  those make sense here…. and tacky souvenirs.) I was hoping for the local artist galleries… but I didn’t see much of that. Maybe we didn’t make it to the right area?  

There were tons of food options. You could just roam around and eat all day. Even looking for Gluten Free food was easy.  That’s a whole other post! 


On our second day we took a sailboat tour with Danger Charters. It was a bit overcast that day so we didn’t get roasted on the boat, but I think that effected the snorkeling visibility and the kayacking location. 

I’m having trouble rating this tour… to compair it to the snorkeling/catamaran tour in Hawaii or the snorkeling/power boat tour in Thailand isn’t entirely fair….  Partially I think the weather kept us from potentially better snorkeling/ kayacking areas. I loved the sailboat, but I’m pretty happy anytime I’m in a boat.  The water was a murky green as we snorkeled and a darker blue as we sailed…. not the beautiful turquoise that I’d been expecting. 


The crew was great. They fed us constantly (with plenty of gluten free options like fruit, hummas, salsa & chips and a ‘make your own sandwich’ spread of chips, deli meats and cheeses.) and offered wine, beer, sodas and water every time we turned around. 

It was a smallish sailboat with room for twenty passengers and three crew. The crew, food and sailing were great, but I wasn’t impressed by the snorkeling and kayaking… again… consider my basis of comparison. If you’ve never been to Hawaii or Thailand, you’d probably love this tour. 

The Florida Keys aren’t what I expected…. I like em…. It’s not Thailand…. or Hawaii… or New Orleans for that matter (though Key West has some similarities).  If you can swing the air fare, go to Hawaii. Always choose Hawaii. The little islands of Thailand are also phenomenal, but depending of your starting destination the flight time (17 hours from LAX to Bangkok) is a killer. If you’re looking for fancy resorts and beaches I’d suggest Mexico. The all inclusive resorts and air fare are much more reasonable than Hawaii….. but it’s NOT Hawaii either. 

I was plenty happy with a three day trip, but we certainly could have spent more time taking other charter tours. There are jet ski, glass bottom boat, sail boat, kayack, SUP, parasailing and diving tours. There are also the historic walking and tram tours too. If we’d have stayed longer I would have liked to see the Earnest Hemingway house. You can rent bicycles, motor scooter and golf carts to get around since parking is limited and there are a lot of one way streets. Of course that makes things more interesting if you’re trying to walk and not be run over. ūüôĄ

I enjoyed Key West. I’d recommend it…. and I’d be happy to go back sometime…. but I’m not in any big rush. 

Le Cellier Steakhouse

Brian finally managed to get lunch reservation to Le Cellier Steakhouse…. and I was so excited… until I woke up with a raging headache.

The nice thing about living near Disney and having Annual Passes is that it’s not like I’m ‘wasting’ a vacation day if I can’t get going…. but I really, really wanted to try Le Cellier and it’s not the easiest place to get reservations.

I took hot shower, aspirin and chugged a bunch of water….. then I moped around the hotel room and whined for an hour or two. Brian made me eat a banana and drink coffee… which because that cured my headache once, he assumes it should work every time.

I finally felt well enough to venture out… and I figured if the headache did finally kill me maybe the ghosts at the Haunted Mansion would take me in. You know there’s 999 ghost in the Haunted Mansion…. but there’s room for 1000!


Epcot was celebrating their International Flower & Garden Festival… which is GORGEOUS!!! They had a bazillion flowers and topiaries everywhere…. and food vendors. I love the food vendors at the Epcot festivals. The signs are clearly labeled with Gluten Free, vegan and vegetarian options. Most of the booths had at least one GF option. Since I was still whiny about my headache Brian stopped at every booth with a GF offering and made (oh, the torture!) me eat. And drink a bottle of water. I have a bad habit of getting my meals out of wack when I have a headache…. or letting myself get dehydrated…. so Brian just keeps shoving food and water at me until I stop whining.

I ate the scallops too fast to take a picture and Brian wouldn’t let me get another order even though I told him it was for the sake of the blog.

I did manage to restrain myself long enough to take a photo of the Raspberry & Chocolate Creme Macaron though.


We wandered around a enjoyed the topiaries until it was time for our lunch reservation.


Le Cellier Steakhouse is super hard to get a dinner reservation and only slightly easier to get a lunch reservation. It is one of Disney’s Signature Dining Experiences. (If you are on the Disney Dining Plan it will cost you two dining credits.) We’ve been wanting to try it for a while, but just haven’t gotten the chance. By the time we made it to our reservation my headache had mostly faded, but going from the lovely warmth outside to the air conditioned cool indoors made it flare up again. I felt guilty as I poked at my rather expensive chicken.

Poulet RougeAndouille-stuffed Chicken Roulade, Autumn Hash, Acorn Squash Purée, and Ginger-spiced Cranberry Glaze

Brian ordered the Rib-Eye.

Black Angus Rib-EyeCrisp Fingerling Potatoes, Neuske’s Bacon Vinaigrette, Heirloom Carrots, Maple Bordelaise Butter

I didn’t get a photo of the Rib-Eye, but I did manage to steal and eat about half of it…. The chicken was good, but headache-tummy likes steak better. (I don’t understand it either… don’t even try.)

The food was fabulous… even with a headache I recognized that the food was delicious. The restaurant itself was beautiful. Dark and rich looking with gleaming wood and soft lighting. I really wish I’d been feeling better and could have tried more of the menu. My headache just really hated the air conditioning so we didn’t get to stay long. Once back outside I started to feel better. (I’m such a weirdo.)


Le Cellier is defiantly on my list of Must Visit Again places. I’ll try not to have a headache next time!

Mouse Waffles 


Last weekend Brian and I popped over to Disney World….. OMG! That still sounds so crazy! We just ‘popped’ over to Disney for the weekend…. ’cause we can do that now, ya know…. since we live in FLORIDA!

Sorry, sorry…. NOT SORRY! I am loving everything about moving to Florida! ¬†(Except getting the stupid house built, ¬†but that’s a whole different story.)

As soon as we had our Florida drivers licenses we got our Disney FL Resident Annual Passes.  I was not a fan of Disney as a kid, but after we went to the Osborne Festival of Lights with my in-laws one year, I was hooked. Disney is SO wasted on the little humans.

Brian and I planned to hit The Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Epcot this time… Hollywood Studios has a bunch of construction happening and Mom kept asking ‘How long are you going to be gone?’ ¬†So we figured three days would be plenty to start.

One of our favorite things (on our very long list) to do at Disney is EAT! ¬†Disney has some really good restaurants….especially in Epcot. Now if you’re wrinkling your nose at me right now then you’re probably thinking about the quick-serve places…. like Pizza Planet and such…. while those places aren’t bad…. I’m actually talking abut the REAL restaurants. Chefs Du France and Yack & Yeti… places where you go in and sit and a person comes to your table and asks your order.

Disney is especially amazing if you have a food allergy. At the quick service places you can ask for an Allergy Menu and they’ll ring you up a special ticket and your food is made in one of the Allergy Safe kitchens somewhere… magical? ¬†I’m not sure where exactly, but your food comes on a special tray and is delivered by a special cast member who verifies your allergy again before handing over your food. ‘Gluten, right? Just gluten? ¬†Okay… here’s your food.’

I have never once been concerned about the safety of my food in Disney… and I’ve never gotten sick. It’s amazing the number of allergies they can work around. You can always ask to speak to one of the chefs.

Best of all (okay, second best… first best is not getting sick), no one ever makes you feel like a freak… or a problem, or sneers at you…. ‘Gluten Free? ¬†Sure! No problem…. we have gf cookies too!’

So I was totally excited to go to Disney and EAT my way through the three parks. Calories don’t count in Disney. Last year Brian and I had breakfast at Trattoria al Forno on Disney’s Boardwalk. I ordered the Gluten Free Mickey Waffles that I’d heard all my favorite GF Disney Bloggers rave about.


They were the best waffles that I’ve ever had… gf or otherwise. (That’s a glob of Heaven in the center there… aka Mascarpone with cinnamon and sugar).

So this year I was totally wound about getting more Mouse Waffles… as I like to call them….


First of all, the presentation wasn’t nearly as cute, but I was just going to eat them… and there was no mascarpone… but I asked and they brought me some, so that was fine…


And then I sliced into my much anticipated, dreamed about waffles…. and they were gummy in the center! ¬†Crisp on the outside… gummy in the center.

I sent them back and the manager brought me a bowl of fresh fruit while I waited for a new batch of waffles to be made.

The second batch was gummy too.

I gave up. Brian had already finished his meal and I’d eaten the bowl of fruit while I’d been waiting…. a third try wasn’t going to make anything better. Their recipe had obviously changed.

I asked about a recipe change when I sent my uneaten waffles back, and the waitress said that she didn’t think they’d changed anything. Later she returned with our bill having removed the waffles, and said that she’d overheard the manager and Chef talking. Apparently they had switched to using Bob’s Red Mill Pancake mix for the waffles and pancakes. (Ha! ¬†I was right!)

After our visit last year I’d done some Googling and read that Disney used Cup4Cup Waffle mix for their waffles. I can’t remember where I read that… but I started using Cup4Cup to make my waffles at home and they tasted pretty much like I remembered Disney’s waffles.

The Cup4Cup website has several different waffle recipes, but I use their pancake recipe. At this point I can’t remember why I started using the pancake recipe instead of the waffle recipe… but I like the way they turn out and I think they taste quite a bit like the Disney waffles that I remember.

Cup4Cup Waffles

INGREDIENTS
1 cup Cup4Cup Original Flour or Wholesome Flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¬Ĺ teaspoon baking soda
¬Ĺ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup reduced-fat buttermilk, milk, or dairy alternative
1 large egg, room temperature
3 tablespoons melted butter or canola oil
INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat griddle over medium heat.

2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

3. Whisk in milk, egg and canola oil until there are no lumps. Batter will be thick.

4. Spoon pancake batter onto preheated griddle. Flip when bubbles appear, cook on opposite side until golden brown.

Stuff to do in The Lou

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When we decided that we were actually going to move (to a whole different state!) we started trying to visit all the places that we figured we’d miss when we left St. Louis. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely since we want to move…. there weren’t¬†that¬†many places that we felt like we had to visit.

These were our top six places to visit in Missouri.

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St Louis Zoo

My #1 place that we had to see again, and the place that I’d actually recommend to STL visitors would be the St. Louis Zoo. ¬†Brian and I got a Zoo membership¬†before we got married and we visited fairly frequently. ¬†It’s been our go-to place for when we just wanted to do something. Technically, there are lots of things you can do in STL completely free…. but you’re going to have to walk and be a bit creative. ¬†STL has a really amazing zoo and you can do it completely free, but I’d recommend getting either one of the zoo memberships (a lot of zoos honor other zoo’s memberships too) or one of the day pass things. ¬†I adore riding around on the train and seeing the sea-lion show… oh! and the new Stingray area! I’m not a big fan of the children’s area, but if you bring little humans with you, they’d probably enjoy that too, so you’d might as well have bought one of the bands or membership thingies. ¬†Try to go mid-week if possible, otherwise the place is busy.

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Ted Drew’s Frozen Custard

Brian and I visited Ted Drew’s the first time I brought Boo along on one of our dates. ¬†We sat in the back of the MINI and people watched and ate our custard. ¬†(For the record, Boo likes blueberry) Brian’s parents took us to Ted Drew’s to celebrate our engagement (Cindermint). ¬†Birthdays…. (Fox Treat) and Christmas (Hawaiian). ¬†It’s one of those STL traditions and it became one of our favorite special treats.

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Missouri Botanical Gardens 

The Missouri Botanical Gardens is one of those places that my mom and aunts used to drag me every summer and I hated it…. and then I got my own house and my own yard and learned to appreciate all the flowers and landscaping. ¬†The gardens are beautiful any time of year, you really can’t go wrong. ¬†They also have a number of festivals throughout the year that are all really cool, but they’re also really crowded. ¬†If you have the chance though, I’d absolutely recommend the Garden Glow at Christmas.


Okay, so those are the typical ‘Must See’ things that you’re going to see on every other list. ¬†And I completely agree…. I love ’em too, but there are lots of other great things to see and do¬†outside¬†of St Louis. ¬†I’m not a huge fan of being in the city anyway. ¬†I’d rather escape the crowds and traffic. ¬†The next two items are going to take you about 45 minutes to 1.5 hours outside of St. Louis….. and they are totally worth the drive.

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Historic Kimmswick 

Kimmswick is probably the place that I am most going to miss in the St Louis area. ¬†Mom and I spent many a lazy afternoon roaming through the historic homes turned adorable and eclectic shops. ¬†Each visit was always capped with a visit to the Blue Owl. ¬†If you’re not gluten-free you should order the Levee High Apple Pie for dessert. ¬†I don’t care how much you ate for lunch…. order dessert. ¬†The Blue owl is famous for their desserts. ¬†Order dessert. ¬†If you are gluten free, there aren’t may dessert options, but you can go next door to the Blue Owl Sweet Shop and get ice cream. ¬†I’m a fan of the Coconut Sunday. ¬†There are plenty of Gluten Free entree options, and the staff is so sweet! ¬†I am going to miss all of the ladies at the Blue Owl…. and the food. ¬†Kimmswick hosts several huge festivals throughout the year that are great… but huge and crowded. ¬†If you’re going to visit during a festival make plans to come back on another day to just enjoy the town. ¬†(The whole town is closed on Monday.)

Elephant Rocks State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park is a fair drive out of St Louis, but it is a fun place to wander and explore. ¬†You can climb all over the huge, elephant like rock formations and wander down paths surrounded by the granite monoliths. ¬†Take a picnic lunch and spend the day climbing, wandering and taking awesome photos. ¬†On your way back to the city, drive north on Hwy 21 and stop in Caledonia, MO. ¬†It’s a teeny, tiny, blink and you missed it town, but there are several cute little shops that are fun to visit. ¬†Stop at Old Village Mercantile to check out the antiques and enjoy and ice cream sundae.

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Chaumette Winery

Chaumette Winery is also a bit of a drive from St Louis, but certainly well worth the trip. ¬†The wine is delicious and the food at the Grapevine Grill is wonderful. ¬†Everything is locally sourced from area farms and dairies. ¬†The menu changes seasonally, but there are usually several gluten-free option for entr√©es and dessert. ¬†The staff is knowledgable about Gluten Sensitivity and I’ve even had the chef come out and talk to me once or twice. ¬†He even offered to make a special sauce for me once! ¬†Delicious food and wine, great staff, pup-friendly, allergy friendly, beautiful views, good music….. ¬†They even have bed & breakfast villas and a spa. ¬†I’d always wanted to do a spa weekend, but never got around to it…. It would make for an awesome Girl’s Weekend.

 

Hershey’s Chocolate World

We visited Hershey’s Chocolate World today. I mean…. we’re in Hershey, PA…. we HAD to go to Chocolate World, right?!


Now don’t confuse Chocolate World with ChocolatePark…. I know, I know… ChocolatePark is an amusement park (think Six Flags) while Chocolate World is…. well…. maybe a really small amusement park?  

There’s the Hershey Chocolate Tour which is free. When we started on the tour I thought it was going to be a really awful walking tour, but the walking part was actually the ‘holding area’ for the line…. if there had been a line… which there wasn’t today. You weave though the ‘people corrals’ and there are all these facts about Milton Hershey and how chocolate is produced. And the whole time they’re pumping in the smell of chocolate. We got stuck behind this guy who wanted to stop and read every sign on the wall and take a picture of each one…. OMG! Keep walking, pal!  At the end of the line there’s a… cocoa bean?  I think it’s supposed to be a cocoa bean… boat thingie and we climbed in the bean and toured the chocolate making process… from animated cows that sing… to the Hershey factory where Hershey Bar and Kiss finish off the tour. It’s cute…. nothing mind blowing, but cute enough… especially since it was free. As we exited the ride we were each given a mini Hershey’s bar. 


We bought tickets for the 4D Mystery, Create Your Own Chocolate Bar and the Chocolate Tasting Experience. (We saved $11 purchasing them together as Adventure Package 2) – $28.00

The 4D Mystery was one of those things where you wear 3D glasses to watch an animated movie and then there are smells piped in and water (why?!) sprinkled from the ceiling. I wouldn’t recommend it for grown-ups. If you’re bringing a kid, okay, but I’d say it’s for the 12 and under crowed. I will admit our showing was strangely (accidentally) entertaining. We had a school taking a class field trip today (gods help us!)… 3rd graders…  This is one of those shows where at the beginning while everyone is getting seated the animated character on the screen interacts with the crowd. It talks and asks questions and responds… it’s a neat trick. So at the end of the movie the bad guy has been captured and Hershey Bar comes back on the screen and asks what should be done with the bad guy… he’s asking for a punishment or maybe give him a second chance… forgive him… something like that. 

Hershey: What should we do about Dr VonSauer, kids? 

Kids: (screaming) EAT HIM! 

Whoa, what?!  Even Hershey seemed shocked. 

Hershey: Um, no… we don’t eat people here. 

Kids: (chanting) EAT HIM!  EAT HIM! 

Hershey: This isn’t Lord of the Flies!  We’re not going to eat him. How about we give him a second chance?

Kids: (still chanting) EAT HIM!

Hershey: (stares blankly at the crowd) Okay! A second chance it is! 

Kids: (still chanting) 

Video resumes…. no cannibalism…. second chances given. 

I don’t know what they’re teaching at that school, but I was starting to get pretty nervous sitting there surrounded by 100 screaming, chanting 3rd graders bent on cannibalism and revenge. Fortunately, we escaped and were rewarded with another bar of candy at the door. 

The Chocolate Tasting Experience was a huge disappointment. This is geared towards the adults… kids would be bored outta their skulls. I was expecting to get a variety of chocolates and somewhere I’d read about a hot chocolate tasting, but apparently this wasn’t it. We were each given a little gift bag (that they wasted their money on because most people threw it away as they left) with four small chocolate bars inside. On the table was a placemat that listed the different flavors/notes that we might taste in the chocolates, a bottle of water to cleanse our palates between bites of chocolate, a cup of ground cacao nibs, a Hershey’s Kiss and a Wet Wipe. 

The presentation was okay, but the ‘tasting’ was underwhelming. I certainly wouldn’t recommend spending $11 on four little bars of chocolate that you’re basically instructed to sniff and then let melt in your mouth. 

We were also each given a certificate of completion at the end… which most people threw away. Big waste of money and paper. 


I did actually enjoy the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar experience. ($20 for this event by itself) 


It starts out with Hershey wasting a bunch of money and resources again… each of us were given a disposable hairnet and an apron… because we’d be in an actual factory kitchen…. everything was behind glass!  We weren’t getting near anything that we could contaminate. 


We went to a series of computer screens where we’d scan our ticket and then make our selections for our candy bar. Scanning the ticket kept your candy bar and personalized wrapper coded just for you. Which was cool. 

We made our choice of white, milk or dark chocolate candy bar and then filling selections… I chose toffee bits and butterscotch chips in a dark chocolate candy bar with sprinkles. Then we got to watch the machine place our hollow chocolate bar on the conveyer belt… then the fillings were sprinkled inside…. then the whole thing was coated in milk chocolate.  (So everybody actually ended up with a milk chocolate bar in the end… some just get a white or dark chocolate base under the milk chocolate. 

While the chocolate is cooling we personalized our wrappers on another set of computer screens… then we shuffled back out to watch the cooled chocolate bars ride another conveyer to the packaging area. Our tickets are scanned one last time before the nice Hershey’s people packed the bars into a tin box and then the personalized wrapper.  


In typical amusement park fashion, every attraction dumps you out in the shopping area. There were tons of Hershey’s candies and souvenirs available…. but I’d rather wait and buy clearanced Halloween candy… same stuff, way cheaper. There was also a huge food court, but we came after lunch and we were going back to Piazza Sorrentos for dinner so we didn’t bother with the food court. 

Hershey’s Chocolate World was a fun way to spend an afternoon… I wouldn’t suggest making a special trip to Pennslyvania just to visit Chcolate World, but if you’re already staying at the Hotel (which I think you should) and visiting the Spa (which is a great reason the visit Pennsylvania all by itself), then sure, visit Chocolate World. It’s not Disney by any means, but it’s an enjoyable attraction. 

Chocolate Spa Day

Mom and I had the most wonderful day!  We spent the entire day at the Spa at the Hershey Hotel.

We hadn’t initially planned to visit Pennsylvania, but Michigan was colder than we were enjoying and a lot of places had already started to close. ¬†So we breezed through Michigan and curved around through Pennsylvania. ¬†As soon as Brian mentioned Pennsylvania I screamed ‘Hershey!!!’ ¬†Which totally freaked mom and the cats out, but mom understood the yelling when I showed her the website for the Spa at the Hershey Hotel.

I lucked out and was able to get appointments for us later the same week. Chocolate Dipped Coconut Immersion. Doesn’t that just sound like heaven?!

The perfect summer Chocolate Spa experience combines the sweet tropical aroma and super-hydrating properties of our exfoliating Coconut Sugar Scrub with the moisturizing and skin soothing benefits of our rich Chocolate Fondue Wrap. It’s a delicious head-to-toe treat for your skin!

Chocolate Fondue Wrap – Our exclusive formula of warmed moor mud and essence of cocoa revitalizes and nourishes the skin as it relaxes the body. A luxurious body brushing is followed by the fondue application. The body is then wrapped in a soft warm blanket to enhance the total effect. A Vichy Shower rinse culminates the effect.

Coconut Sugar Scrub РThis sweet scrub will leave your skin silky soft and best of all … chocolately smooth!

We arrived way early, but we roamed around and looked at the gift shops in the hotel and then checked in for our appointments. They’d said we could come as early as we wanted and hang out in the relaxation rooms.

We checked in and were assigned a hostess who showed us around the Spa, locker/dressing rooms, steam room and the relaxation rooms. This place is fabulous! 

Our hostess gave us robes and slippers and then showed us how to work the electronic locks on the lockers.

Normally for a massage they suggest that you undress to your level of comfort…. usually recommending you strip down to panties. Since we were getting a coconut scrub our hostess said we’d probably want to strip completely since anything left on would get soaked during the Vichy Shower. Glad those robes were thick and snugly!


After undressing and storing our stuff in the lockers we wandered through the three Relaxation Rooms before settling in the Quiet Room. The other two rooms were smaller and you weren’t supposed to talk. Yeah… like Mom and I were gonna be quiet?!

The room was beautiful. Rich, dark wood panels on the walls, coffered ceiling and a gorgeous fireplace dominating the far wall. Mom and I settled into the cozy leather chairs with a cup of hot chocolate (not hot cocoa… hot chocolate. ¬†Liquid chocolate. In a cup. Hot.) Bowls of purple and silver Hershey’s Kisses sat on tables around the room. Heaven.

Before long our therapist came and softly called our names. Mom’s appointment was a half hour before mine so I played around trying to take the perfect picture of the Hershey’s Kisses and then hunted for a place to go to dinner after our appointments.¬†

My therapist was super sweet. We chatted about Jacksonville… she’d attended a Russian Bible School in the area. Her parents immigrated from Russia before she was born and we talked about the current political BS over immigration. Honestly, what would America be like without all of the immigrants? ¬†I’m sure the Native American would sure appreciate it, but most of the rest of us would need to get the hell out. I’m third generation American…. I’ve got a bit of Native American so maybe they’d let me stay…. but would I really want to? ¬†Isn’t the diversity what makes America interesting? ¬†I mean… just think of the foods that we’d be missing!! And the accents and languages that have blended together. I know I’ve wondered off onto what might be called a political track… but not really… hate and exclusionary ideology does effect us everyday and everywhere. I like my blended country. I like that an Irish/German/Native American girl and a Russian girl can meet at a day spa and be friends. Why would we ever want that possibility to go away?

Back to the spa:

So I enter the spa room… and immediately think ‘Shit! I’ve unwittingly committed myself to a sanitarium.’

The walls were covered, floor to ceiling, with white ceramic tile. The white tiled floor sloped gently toward the drain middle of the room. A table stood in the middle of the room covered in sheets of plastic. Over the table, jutting out from the wall on a long silver arm, hung seven shower heads.

Dear gods, I’m in the hydrotherapy chamber.

My therapist explained the treatment… which still sounded vaguely like a treatment in an asylum… but with chocolate. Oh well…. I was already here… and there was chocolate. ¬†If I’d managed to accidentally commit myself at least I’d done it at Hershey’s.

Remember where I told you that we’d been told that we should probably leave all of our clothes behind? ¬†Yeah… now I was told to lie face up on the table (that was covered in sheets of plastic) and cover myself with two (ridiculously small) towels. Ooookay.

What the hell, right? ¬†It’s a spa… you’re supposed to be body positive… or at least act like you are. This was still way better than the time that I was at a Hot Spring Bath House and the attendant took my towel. Took it! ¬†¬†So fine, here I at least had two towels.

The therapist left while I climbed up on the table and fussed with the towels and tried not to stick to the plastic wrap covering the table.

The treatment started with a coconut sugar body scrub. OMG. Heaven. The scrub felt and smelled delicious and left behind a light oil that soaked into the skin. After the scrub was scrubbed on it was rinsed off with warm water. Then I was instructed to sit up again (I’d already sat up once so that she could scrub my back… I didn’t know there was going to be sit-ups! ¬†I could have eaten more chocolate Kisses!) and she dried off my back and wrapped a few towels around me… then executed this impressive maneuver where the plastic wrap was folded/rolled and swooshed out from under me without getting a drop of water on the other sheet of plastic wrap below.

I settled back into the table and she magically switched out the big drying towels for two new tiny modesty towels…. then came the Chocolate Fondue Wrap. My skin was coated with a rich, delicious smelling chocolate mud. I really wanted to lick my arm, but I was hoping that this was just a ‘trial commitment’ and I’d get to leave later… Once I was completely slathered down with the chocolate mud I was wrapped up in the plastic wrap. Which was a tiny bit freaky, but mostly because I watch a lot of Law & Order and Investigation Discovery…. I tried to convince myself that I was in a cocoon, but mostly I thought I looked a lot more like someone on the ID channel and I wondered which show I might end up on when I went missing. I’m hoping for Homicide Hunter… Lt Joe Kenda is pretty cool…. I bet he could find me! (Of course… I’d be dead… but anyway….) So you see now why it’s so dangerous when my mind starts to wander? ¬†I’ve gone from a lovely spa treatment to an insane asylum to a starring role on Homicide Hunter. I’m dangerous if left alone in my own head. Which is just where I was left (imagining the interviews friends and family would do after I went missing from the Hershey Spa/Sanitarium… ) after I was covered with two more big fluffy towels, a tarp (I swear to god, a blue tarp!) and a heavy blanket. The therapist dimmed the lights and told me that she’d let me nap for a while and then left the room. Of course my nose chose that moment to begin itching.

Either I was left alone for a very short time or I did end up takeing a bit of a nap.

I was uncovered, unwrapped and then it was time for the Vichy Shower… which is apparently what that silver arm with the seven shower heads hanging from the wall was called. It still looked a bit like a water torture device, but once the gentle blast of warm water hit me I was ready to forgive its evil looks.

Once all the chocolate mud was rinsed away the therapist preformed her magic trick (which required a fourth sit-up) and the wet plastic wrap was whisked away and replaced with warm, dry blankets. The shower was followed by a light massage with chocolate scented lotion. (I really wanted to lick my arm.) I dozed and melted into the table while the therapist rinsed the chocolate mud down the drain in the floor and then dried a path for me. I was left alone to ooze from the table and drunkenly find my robe and slippers. Out in the hall my therapist handed me the fancy scrubby brush that came with the package and a bag of purple and silver chocolate Kisses. (Apparently a reward for all those sit-ups!)

I found Mom reading a magazine in the Quiet Room and together we made our way to the dressing room and finally back out into the rainy Pennsylvania night.

We were both starved and not quite willing to have our day of decadence end just yet. I found a restaurant nearby with stellar reviews on the Find Me Gluten Free app so we decide to give it a try.

Piazza Sorrento¬†was absolutely fabulous! ¬†I asked for a gluten-free menu when we were seated and as soon a our waitress arrived she said ‘I see you have the GF menus, are there any other allergies or dietary concerns that I should be aware of?’ Wow! ¬†Usually you have to point that out 15 times… she asked us! ¬†(I heard her asking the other tables throughout the night if there were any dietary concerns… and I heard at least two other tables had GF people too.)

The food was insanely good. Mom and I decided to split everything because I was already drooling over appetizers and desserts… and they brought us GF bread to dip in the olive oil and crushed pepper.¬†

We shared an order of Hot Crab Dip with GF bread…. Lasagna and Chocolate Lava Cake with ice cream. Each plate came with a little slip of paper that said ‘gluten free choice.’ ¬†Just one more touch to make us GF people feel safe.

I’m so glad that I got to share such a fun and decadent day with my mom. She has always done so much for me. ¬†I love being able to take her to new places and spoil her back.

If you’re ever in Pennsylvania… scratch that…. Go to Pennsylvania and stay at the Hershey Hotel (the hotel was beautiful too) and spend a whole day at the spa. Also, you should definitely visit Piazza Sorrento… and go hungry!