Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Gluten-Free Road Trip: Aruba, One Happy Island

Poolside at the Aruba Marriott
The more things change, the more they stay the same. When we honeymooned in Aruba 21 years ago, I could hardly envision that if we returned it would be with kids in tow, let alone at the same hotel. Part of the "A-B-C" island chain off the coast of Venezuela (also comprised of Bonaire and Curacao), Aruba has fabulous year-round weather and is particularly popular given its proximity outside the Caribbean hurricane belt.

We joined many Americans from the Northeast U.S. last week who fled the frigid conditions back home for some sun and relaxation on "One Happy Island," as license plates in Aruba proudly boast. Though American Airlines flies direct from Philadelphia, we left and returned out of Baltimore on Southwest, whose fares were substantially less than American's. Our base was the Aruba Marriott in the Palm Beach resort area, located on the island's northwest coast. The hotel was one of several with small in-house casinos, while water sports are plentiful along the beach and there are off-road adventure tours as well. Mainly, though, Aruba is a place to unwind, whether by sitting poolside or wading in the sea.

The gelateria at the Aruba Marriott
(Photo Credit: Aruba Marriott)
I had emailed the hotel concierge in advance of our trip to see what options were available for our son on site. He referred me to the executive chef, who told me about the gluten-free section at the breakfast buffet, complete with dedicated toaster, cereal, bagels, donuts and muffins. In addition, the Starbucks at the Marriott has gluten-free egg sandwiches and marshmallow rice crispy treats, the pool bar serves salads and burgers with gluten-free buns, and the sundry shop sells gluten-free cookies and chips. There's also an on-premises gelateria with many gluten-free gelatos and sorbets (each flavor has its own scoop).

I also received positive responses from several restaurants ahead of time where I knew we'd be meeting friends for dinner over the course of our trip. English is widely spoken in Aruba, and we found that our son's requests for gluten-free food and preparation were easily accommodated.

Here are some of our best bets from our vacation (keep in mind that most food in Aruba is imported and, as a result, food at restaurants and grocery stores on the island tend to be expensive):
The popular Eduardo's Beach Shack serves many gluten-free bowls,
shakes and smoothies - even waffles
(Photo Credit: Eduardo's/Facebook)
Eduardo's Beach Shack: Friends told us about about this seaside hut near the Playa Linda Beach Resort early in the trip, and our son ended up there every day - sometimes more than once. His orders varied: sometimes, it was a raw açaí or pitaya bowl, other times he went for one of several protein balls or shakes. Nearly everything on the menu is gluten free, including waffles (made with Bob's Red Mill flour).

Garden Fresh: Part of the Gianni's group of eateries, Garden Fresh is a healthy to-go spot where our son ordered a salad and juice. Sister restaurants with gluten-free options include Italian Gianni's [menu] and Azzurro [menu], Daniel's Steak & Chop [menu], and pan-Asian Azia [menu].

Gluten-free station at La Vista's breakfast buffet
La Vista: We dined at the Marriott's house restaurant several times: twice for the breakfast buffet and once for the dinner buffet. While the dedicated station was available at breakfast, a manager took our son around the rest of the buffet each time to point out what options were gluten free. There is a omelet station every morning. (Other breakfast options on the island include The Dutch Pancakehouse, which offers gluten-free pancakes.)

Champions: We watched the Eagles-Raiders game at the sports bar at Marriott's next-door Ocean Club timeshare resort, where several menu items (including our son's quinoa kale salad) are gluten free.

(Photo Credit: Barefoot)
Barefoot: Aruba has several restaurants with outdoor seating right on the beach, including Barefoot, where we dined with friends from New Jersey and Atlanta. There is no set gluten-free menu, but the kitchen was able to accommodate our son, who enjoyed lobster bisque, Caribbean grouper and coffee crème brûlée. (Other beachfront dining options include Elements [menu], Flying Fishbone [menu], Passions [menu] and Las Ramblas [menu].)

El Gaucho: My wife and I went to this Argentine steakhouse on our honeymoon and the steaks were as good as we remembered; the famed Gaucho Steak - one pound of grass-fed beef - is still on the menu. All proteins are served with several sides, several of which (corn on the cob, rice, broccoli) are gluten free. There are also several gluten-free desserts, including flan. (Other steakhouse options include The Chophouse at Manchebo [menu] and Texas de Brazil.)

Madame Janette: Many restaurants in Aruba feature seafood as well as beef, including this Euro-influenced spot. Our son ordered the tenderloin-lobster tail-shrimp combo. (Other surf-and-turf options include Yemanja Woodfired Grill [menu] and Chicken & Lobster [menu].)
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