Gluten-Free from Sea to Sky
A journey to Whistler, British Columbia
by way of Seattle and Vancouver
Our family loves skiing, but with our kids’ spring break often falling in mid to late April, it’s often too late for a spring ski trip. Last year, however, we lucked out, as our county’s spring break fell in late March.
When we realized this, we could hardly contain our excitement and began deliberating where we would go. Although we are big fans of skiing at Deer Valley in Utah (and big fans of the surrounding town of Park City), we wanted to try someplace different. Upon recommendations from friends, we chose Whistler, British Columbia—about 75 miles north of Vancouver. We flew into Seattle so that we’d have a chance to do some sightseeing and catching up with family and friends there before departing the next morning for our drive to Whistler. It also presented us with an opportunity to try some of the wonderful gluten-free fare that has become easier to find in Seattle. We began our culinary journey through Seattle at Blue Moon Burgers, which has three locations in the city. Blue Moon offers beef, turkey, chicken, and salmon burgers on gluten-free buns, as well as gluten-free French fries and onion rings, both fried in a dedicated fryer. Having the opportunity to order gluten-free onion rings is such a rarity, and Blue Moon’s were particularly good—large, crispy, and not greasy. Other offerings included gluten-free cheesesteaks, milkshakes, and a selection of gluten-free beers.
For dinner, we ventured to the number one tourist spot in Seattle, the Space Needle. Their rotating Sky City restaurant has put a greater emphasis on the food (not just the view) in recent years and even notates gluten-free choices on their menu (although you won’t find their gluten-free listing online). The view and service were both spectacular. We even saw Mt. Rainier, which is not always visible in this cloudy, rainy city. The sun set as we ate dinner, treating us to the twinkling lights of the city below. Although dinner at Sky City is pricey, admission to the observation deck is complimentary for restaurant diners. I’d highly recommend this not-to-be-missed dining experience if traveling to Seattle (especially on a clear day or evening).
The next day, before departing the city, we made a pilgrimage to the original Starbucks at Pikes Place Market. There are no baked goods here—just coffee—so no worries about being tempted with treats you can’t have! Apparently, Coffee & A Specialty Bakery is right nearby. This is a dedicated gluten-free bakery and coffee shop that comes highly recommended, and we were sorry we missed the opportunity to seek it out. We did, however, stumble upon Pappardelle’s pasta stall in Pike’s Place Market, where we bought several varieties of gluten-free pasta to cook in our condo at Whistler. We borrowed a cooler from our cousin and stocked up on the rest of our grocery needs at Whole Foods Market before heading out of town. After driving for about two and a half hours, we made a pit stop for lunch at The Wallflower Modern Diner in Vancouver. The place was packed—mostly with gluten-free folks who brave the line for a table so they can order burgers and sandwiches on homemade gluten-free bread. Brunch is served until 4 pm each day. Almost everything on their menu can be prepared gluten-free. The best part of our journey followed as we traveled across the Sea to Sky Highway that transports travelers from Vancouver to Whistler. The ascending road heading north along the coast provides sweeping vistas of evergreen forests, snow-capped peaks, and crystal clear sparkling water. About 90 minutes later, we arrived in the mountainside village of Whistler, home to the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Whistler is among the continent’s best ski towns. The two huge mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, empty skiers into a quaint village full of restaurants and shops. You don’t need to use your car much while in Whistler, as everything is very walkable. We stayed in a condo booked through our gluten-free savvy travel agent, which gave us the flexibility to cook some of our own dinners. Groceries can be purchased at Marketplace IGA in the village, which has a good selection of gluten-free items, although you’ll pay the typical high prices of a resort town. One interesting find we wished we’d discovered earlier in our visit to Whistler was Rogers Chocolates, the oldest chocolate company in Canada. The shop offers a beautiful and extensive assortment of handcrafted chocolates, almost all of which were gluten-free.
When dining out, we sampled a variety of cuisines, doing research in advance to find the most “gluten-free friendly” spots. Highlights included a teppanyaki feast at Teppan Village, where the chefs entertained us with their tableside cooking theatrics and offered us a gluten-free menu full of fresh and delicious food. We enjoyed a more typical après-ski experience at a popular restaurant called Earl’s. Situated right in the village, it featured a gorgeous bar, flat screen televisions, an open dining room decorated with antler chandeliers, and outdoor seating. Options on their gluten-free menu included entrée salads, steaks, two preparations of chicken, and salmon. Another night, we had the opportunity to try Old Spaghetti Factory’s gluten-free menu. While somewhat limited, it offered enough of a range of gluten-free choices to please everyone in the family: pasta with three choices of sauce, steak, a pasta chicken “bake,” grilled chicken, and even a Thai curry dish with prawns or chicken. Prices were very affordable and as such it was clear to us that this restaurant draws a big crowd of hungry skiers each night!
For lunch on the slopes, we consulted Whistler’s website to find the lodges that offered gluten-free options. We had the best experience at the Glacier Creek Lodge, situated near the Glacier Express lift on Blackcomb Mountain. If you’re skiing Whistler Mountain, be sure to try Dusty’s Bar and BBQ located in Creekside Village at the base of the mountain. This is a full-service restaurant that offers gluten-free ribs, burgers with gluten-free buns, and many salads. We also packed gluten-free snacks in the pockets of our big ski jackets so we’d have something “just in case”…a good plan, no matter where you travel.
Our last night proved to be the most incredible with dinner at Quattro at Whistler. It was arguably the most spectacular gluten-free meal we’d ever had. The gluten-free menu at this Italian restaurant is virtually identical to the regular menu and includes perfect, al dente gluten-free pasta (imported from Italy) with a range of unique and delectable sauces. It was tough deciding between the pasta offerings and the seafood and meat specialties that sounded equally as appealing. Our family ordered a range of options and traded tastes. Notable choices were the Pistachio Crusted Sea Bass with Fire Roasted Pepper Sauce, Penne with Pesto, and Pasta with Seafood Pescatore Sauce. The Pasta Tartufati with wild mushrooms, white truffle oil, fresh sage, and porcini cream sauce was my personal favorite. I think our family would plan a trip back to Whistler just to dine at this restaurant alone!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Broussard is the founder and president of GlutenFreeTravelSite.com, a website with thousands of user-submitted dining and travel reviews searchable by location and many other valuable gluten-free resources. Karen also publishes the Gluten Free Travel Blog ( www.glutenfreetravelblog.typepad.com).