On Monday, the kiddo had a day off of school and I had some vacation time to burn. So, I took the day off and we took a day trip to Dubuque, IA. Yah, yah, I know. Iowa (and Dubuque in particular) doesn’t exactly sound like a thrilling mecca to visit. But, as a day-long family adventure, I highly recommend it. Did you know that there’s a branch of the Smithsonian in Dubuque? Yep, it’s the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. We spent a lovely afternoon there, walking through old ships, watching otters play, touching sturgeon and crayfish, and checking out a bunch of lizards. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, because before we did all that, we ate lunch at Carlos O’Kelly’s.
For those not in the know, Carlos O’Kelley’s isn’t some strange combination of Mexican and Irish cuisine. It’s just a poorly named regional chain found in 10 states in the Upper Midwest. We used to have one in Madison. But, it’s been gone several years. Madison is blessed with a ton of excellent, local restaurants, and typically, I try to frequent the local places over the chain restaurants. But, Carlos (as it was called in our house) was a favorite guilty pleasure. This was back in my cheese and chicken and flour tortilla eating days. My favorite thing on the menu was the naked nachos – a plate of beans, chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and guacomole, served with a side of chips. Yum. Oh and their salsa? It’s crack, people. I don’t know what they put in it, but it’s ridiculously delicious. Anyway, Carlos has been gone a long time and we haven’t had any of it in years, but the kiddo still fondly sighs, “I wish we could go to Carlos.” So, when we were driving in downtown Dubuque and saw a sign advertising Carlos off of Route 20, we knew we had to go in search of it. I figured that if nothing else, I could probably get a plate of beans and salad. Mexican is usually a pretty good bet in terms of finding something on the menu that’s safe to eat. But, imagine my joyful surprise when we walked in and I saw this:
(Sorry for the glare there, I was trying to get a quick picture without looking like a total freak.)
It’s not a huge menu, and it’s mostly variations on their normal menu items. But for those of us eating gluten free, any time you find a restaurant that actually has a special menu for you, it’s a reason for celebration. Vegan-friendly it was not. In fact, most items were heavy on the dairy and meat. Apparently, their tomato-based enchilada sauce has wheat in it (a common issue). So I had to go off menu a bit. I decided to have the garlic chicken, since I will still eat chicken and turkey on occasion. I told my server that I couldn’t have dairy either, and asked her to make sure they left off the cheese sauce and all the cheese garnish. It turned out that my server is also gluten free, and she commiserated with me a bit about being both gluten and dairy free. The chicken was moist and flavorful. The pico de gallo was fresh tasting. The beans were your standard refried beans. Overall, the food was nothing to swoon over. But, just the fact that this small regional chain cares enough to create a gluten free menu makes me oh so happy.