Gluten-Free Restaurant Profile: Choices By Shawn
Nestled in the heart of Fairfax, Virginia, Choices By Shawn is truly a unique model of the ideal gluten-free restaurant. For anyone visiting Washington, DC, it is worth traveling the 20ish miles outside the city to experience dining at this family-run American eatery.
Opened in 2009 by Shawn Warner, Choices By Shawn originated as a home-based baking business. Upon request by a gluten-free customer, Shawn began experimenting with gluten-free ingredients. Shawn does not live gluten-free, so she was starting from scratch (like any GF newbie) and needed to learn how to use gluten-free ingredients to create baked goods that tasted just like their non-GF counterparts—not an easy feat. Shawn’s first gluten-free triumph, her carrot cake, is still the #1 dessert on her menu. (Sadly, it was sold out both times I visited so I have not yet tried it myself!)
What makes Choices By Shawn such a special restaurant?
After all, there are now lots of restaurants that accommodate gluten-free diners and diners with a variety of food allergies/sensitivities.
The Menu (Check it out HERE)
First and foremost, the food is awesome. It tastes delicious—and not just in that “it’s good for gluten-free” way that a lot of GF food is judged. The food is legitimately delicious—and happens to be gluten-free. Oh, and they make their own ice cream.
Every menu item is clearly labeled (Gluten Free/Can be made Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegetarian, and/or Vegan). There are currently only two menu items that cannot be made gluten-free: 1) the Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts and 2) the Macadamia Encrusted Mahi Mahi). The gnocchi is not made in-house and therefore cannot be changed. The mahi can be made gluten-free but, according to Shawn, “just isn’t the same” without the macadamia crust. Warning: it may take you a long time to decide what to eat!
The menu has a variety of choices to suit just about everyone (healthy food, comfort food, vegetarian/vegan) so you can take your non-GF friends, family members, house guests (and their KIDS) to eat here with no concern about satisfying everybody. Plus, dinner entrees conveniently include wine pairings and every dessert comes with a scoop of homemade ice cream.
There are gluten-free and non-gluten-free options all together on ONE menu, which means everybody gets the same menu and orders from the same menu—convenient, efficient, and (most importantly) inclusive.
Did I mention the homemade ice cream?
Meticulous Attention to GF Needs
Gluten-free is taken seriously. Staff members are thoroughly educated about how to keep gluten-free diners safe and why it’s so important. All new staff members are paired with veterans to learn the ropes before taking care of any gluten-free diners. Bonus: turnover at Choices By Shawn is minimal, so the staff members have been able to perfect their gluten-free systems over the past six years.
There are two kitchens! The MAIN KITCHEN is 95% gluten-free (non-GF pasta is cooked separately and in different pans because there is no stovetop in the second kitchen). The second kitchen has storage for non-GF items as well as a flat top and convection oven for heating and preparing non-GF items.
The ordering process uses a series of checks and balances to prevent gluten contamination. Customers are encouraged to inform staff members if they are gluten-free (don’t worry, you will be asked if you forget!). All gluten-free diners receive a red card for their table to remind their server of their GF status and inform new diners that all gluten-free dishes are served on red plates. Gluten-free orders are handled separately and circled in red on the ticket. All gluten-free food is served on red plate to ensure the diner that their food is, indeed, gluten-free.
The kitchen currently has an allergen list (for ALL menu items) that includes gluten, dairy, egg, corn, seafood, nuts, and soy. Additional food sensitivities may be accommodated—make sure to ask if you have any dietary concerns!
80% of all food is made-to-order, so it is relatively easy to make accommodations on the fly. The kitchen makes its own gluten-free breads, fried chicken, meatloaf, crab cakes, and more!
Do you live in the DC Metro Area? Planning to travel here sometime soon?
Make sure to visit Choices By Shawn! Don’t forget to mention you heard about it from this blog!
Choices By Shawn:
3950 Chainbridge Road
Fairfax, VA 22030
Not local or planning a visit?
I am in the process of writing three additional posts based on my experience at Choices By Shawn:
– Tips for the Gluten-Free Diner
PS – All food pictured is gluten-free!
*This post was not sponsored*