Pass the bread.

Or, if you’re like one out of every 100 Americans, pass the gluten-free Asian rice crackers.

In response to the recent national attention surrounding Celiac Sprue disease, the digestive disorder for which awareness is growing so rapidly that it’s almost trendy (like the Brangelina of diseases), local restaurants are scoring popularity points with the launch of gluten-free menus, educational dinners and other initiatives.

Before you write it off, sitting there smug knowing you can eat all the wheat, rye or barley you want, think twice. Some studies show that nearly half of the population carries some fraction of gluten intolerance. Since gluten-free menus rely on the freshest, cleanest ingredients, give your tummy a break (or maybe just pretend to be hip enough to have Celiac) and consider ordering off the special menu.

Crave Kitchen and Cocktails was one of the first to get on the anti-wheat/rye/barley train with the launch of its new gluten-free menu. With three members of its service staff suffering from Celiac disease themselves, Crave’s separate gluten-free menu hits close to home. The special menu covers all categories from appetizers to entrees, including a Mahi Mahi favorite, served encrusted with macadamia and coconut, accompanied by a spicy mango chutney sauce and steamed jasmine rice. Nothing restrictive about that. (We also love its Limited Calorie menu, displaying the exact calories and grams of protein and fat in each dish, but that’s another story entirely).

Oak Steakhouse is on its own “gluten-free journey” that began with its first gluten-free dinner, which turned into an educational support event with impromptu speeches by diners telling their Celiac stories. Chef Brett McKee has brought on renowned certified nutritionist Marti Chitwood to collaborate on future efforts, which will include more gluten-free dinners, educational trainings with the entire cooking and wait staff, strict instruction on purchase and storage of ingredients so there is no crossover in preparation, etc. Oak will also debut some new gluten-free menu items and desserts (perhaps a Celiac-inspired version of the famous chocolate cake slice and shot of milk?).

Fat Hen and Fish are among other local restaurants making it easy, starring menu items free of gluten. Ordering right off the main menu, you can be sly and not even let on that the little star had everything to do with your order decision.

For those with the real thing, the Charleston Celiac Support Group gets together every other month (next meeting: 4/20) to talk, learn, share recipes and dine around at local restaurants. To learn more, contact Sara Hinkle at 478-3777

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