We interrupt this not-so-regularly scheduled program to bring you this special report…Subway is testing gluten-free sandwiches in its restaurants here in the North Texas area.
That’s right, a gluten-free sandwich, only a few minutes away.
Normally, I am one to plan in advance for hectic days. Not sure where/when I’ll get to eat? I stash my purse with nuts, dried fruits, LARA bars, or a banana. I pack my lunch nearly every day for work, which often is a salad, soup, or leftovers from dinner. I rarely eat out, and when I do, it’s almost never a fast food chain. There’s just not many safe options, and they’re not all that appealing to me. I have my small circle of restaurants that I trust (Which is to say that I still explain my whole situation to them every time, share my Triumph dining card, and they are accommodating, and I haven’t gotten sick. These restaurants are also the ones that receive a generous tip from me for their efforts.), and I am cautious about when and how often I venture outside of that circle.
When I heard that Subway was trying out gluten-free sandwiches in our area, I was skeptical. There are bread crumbs everywhere, I thought. In my mind, it didn’t seem worth the risk. Then my brother called.
Guess what I’m doing right now, he says into the phone.
Ordering a gluten-free sandwich at Subway.
I start to express my concerns for cross-contamination, and he responds with a description of all of the precautions they take.
I’ll call you back afterwards to let you know how it is, he says.
A few hours later, he calls back to tell me that it pretty good, and he was headed back for another for dinner. This was a reassuring sign, but I wanted to see for myself.
This past week, when I was swamped with training for work, I decided I would try it out for dinner. I look online beforehand at their allergy chart to determine what I could safely put on my sandwich. I decide on roast beef with lots of veggies and some brown mustard. I call the store near my home to make sure they’re offering the gluten-free sandwiches. (They were.) I arrive in the evening, and see that they even have a sign inside showing the “safe” ingredients for sandwiches. I place my order. Immediately, the guy behind the counter takes off his gloves. He goes and washes his hands thoroughly. He puts fresh gloves on. He takes a gluten-free bun, which is individually wrapped and sealed in cellophane, and opens it and places it on a brand new piece of uncontaminated paper. He takes out a plastic knife, which is also individually wrapped and sealed in cellophane, and opens it. He splits the bread, and moves the bread (still on the paper) to the toaster. He removes it, and tops with my meat (which has been underneath that paper that separates the slices, so there was little chance of contamination there too). Back into the toaster, still on the paper the whole time. Then he tops with my requested vegetables and mustard, and wraps the sandwich. Never does my sandwich touch their counter, and gluten-y fingers never touch it. (In fact, the guy making my sandwich held that piece of paper containing my sandwich so gingerly, so carefully, one would have thought he was carrying a small infant for the first time.) Sure, there is still a slight possibility for cross-contamination (there always is when there is gluten in the same kitchen), but Subway has obviously trained their employees well. My brother’s description of the process he encountered was identical to what I witnessed. Being able to watch the employee like a hawk also gave me some peace of mind – even in the best restaurants, I have to trust that that they understand what I mean when I describe how my food should be handled. This time, I can watch for myself.
They also offered a French Meadow Bakery gluten-free brownie. To my surprise, upon reading the label, it was also dairy-free. I opted to give it a try, just so I could share the results. See the sacrifices I make for you?
So…how was it? Good, actually. Not gourmet, of course (this is Subway, after all), but the bun was soft, which honestly, is more than I can say for their regular buns, which as I recall, were sometimes stale and hard on the bottom. It is a smaller sandwich than the typical 6-inch sub, but for me, that was just fine. They did have a sign guiding which chips were gluten-free (I didn’t buy chips), if one was interested. As for the brownie, it was surprisingly tasty – better than I anticipated. It was fudgy, and darn good for a packaged brownie, gluten-free or not.
While I’m not likely to eat this often, I do hope that this endeavor is successful for Subway, and that they soon expand it nationwide. I’m much more in favor of eating whole, unprocessed foods whenever I can (my body much prefers it, and I can ensure what I’m eating is indeed gluten-free), but for many, this would be a wonderful option. It wasn’t extremely cheap – my sandwich and brownie cost over $8 – but it was fast, and as safe as one can get eating at a fast food restaurant. If I was on the road traveling, this would be a nice option to have available for sure. So many companies and restaurants have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon lately, and many times, it seems more as a response to a fad than an actual help for those of us that have real gluten issues. In my opinion, it seems a lot of these companies give little thought to cross-contamination, and there is often a lack of education in the restaurants. I was happy to see the care that the Subway employees took. I hope to see this trend continue. While those of us with food intolerances/allergies often have to be our own advocates when it comes to our health and food safety, it comforts me to know that someone else is paying attention.