When Fawn Freis was diagnosed with celiac disease and Hashimoto’s, she knew that it was nearly impossible to dine out, so she turned the obstacle into an opportunity. She and her husband, Adam, both had a decade of restaurant experience and had been kicking around the idea of opening their own restaurant.
“I knew I wanted the restaurant to be completely gluten free, so we started thinking of menu items that would be naturally free of gluten,” Freis said.
Her family had lived in Mississippi which is known for catfish, and believe it or not, hot tamales. Both items are made with cornmeal which is naturally free of gluten, so the menu started to take shape. The Freis family toured the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail (seriously, it’s a real thing. Click here for the map of the Hot Tamale Trail) and sampled a variety of tamales in the small Mississippi delta towns of Indianola, Clarksdale, Greenville and everywhere in between to find the perfect flavor. After eating dozens of hot tamales and spending countless hours in the kitchen, Freis created her own tamale recipe.
Freis had also resided in Louisiana for several years where she was introduced to Cajun food like crawfish etouffee, red beans & rice and alligator sauce piquante. She enjoyed these dishes that could easily be adapted with a gluten-free roux.
With their new recipes, the couple opened the doors of Delta Blues Hot Tamales in December 2015 offering flavors of the Deep South without the gluten in their hometown of Birmingham, AL. The restaurant’s front entrance has a gated courtyard that has a New Orleans feel and diners are greeted with the soulful sounds of Delta blues music.
“We didn’t tell anyone it was gluten free in the beginning,” Freis confessed after explaining there is sometimes a stigma that goes along with the words ‘gluten free.’ “We wanted this to be a place for everyone to enjoy great food that just so happens to be gluten free.” They do have a sign at the entrance stating the whole menu is gluten free. She also advertises on gluten free apps so customers can find them.
In addition to being completely gluten free, the restaurant is soy free (with the exception of one dessert that is not made in house), but they also accommodate peanut, tree nut, sesame, egg and dairy-free customers. Fries said they are very aware of food allergies and they work hard to accommodate diners with dietary restrictions. All allergy orders receive special attention. Kitchen staff changes gloves and uses a separate prep area. They also have a vegan-dedicated fryer and offer vegan options including black bean tamales.
We planned our stop at Delta Blues Hot Tamales during the lunch hour so we could enjoy a safe meal on our way to Atlanta. We enjoyed it so much that we drove an hour out of the way the next week on the way to Florida to eat there again and we all ordered the exact same dishes.
I was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, so my doctor has recommended that I eat no gluten, dairy, soy or sugar. Even with those restrictions, I didn’t have any problems eating at Delta Blues Hot Tamales. I ordered Mississippi catfish with sweet potato mash. The catfish is breaded with blue cornmeal that is milled just a few miles down the road in Wilsonville, AL. The blue cornmeal made the dish look different than what I’ve ever seen, but tasted just right. Freis told me that they chose blue corn meal to go along with their blues theme. Plus, it is non-GMO and is locally produced.
My husband enjoyed the hot tamales and actually put an extra order in the cooler to enjoy for dinner. He said they were spicy as the name implies, but they weren’t just hot for the sake of being hot. He devoured the homemade blackberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert.
My kids both ordered chicken tenders (no surprise there) with fruit and ice cream for dessert. While I would love for them to try new things, they rarely get to dine in a restaurant, so I let them order whatever they wanted. They are both picky eaters, so they were excited to have “normal” food on the kids’ menu. My son said the sweet tea was perfect. He’s from Mississippi, so he knows how sweet tea is supposed to taste and he will be happy to let you know if it isn’t right.
If you live in the Birmingham, AL area or will be passing through, Delta Blues Hot Tamales is dedicated gluten free and is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner. I vote that Delta Blues Hot Tamales should be added to the Hot Tamale Trail map! Until then, it’s a great detour!
Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo Recap
We were like kids in a candy store at the Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Expo-Atlanta--except it wasn't just candy! There were cookies, cupcakes, bread, donuts, pizza, pasta, and even cosmetics--just to name a few! My family had a blast sampling new products and we left the expo with both our bellies and our GFAF Expo tote bags full! This was the third year that we have attended this event and we can't wait to go back next year!
As an official blogger, I received free admission to the two-day event, as well as an awesome swag bag from BFree Foods, the official blogger sponsor of the expo, filled with their amazing wraps and pita bread—some of which are not yet available in stores. I loved the sweet potato wraps and cannot wait for those to appear at my local grocery store. BFree Foods provided a nice breakfast for the official blogger team before the doors opened to the public where we had an opportunity to learn more about the brand, enjoy some great bagels and get to meet fellow bloggers in person.
One of the things I love most about the GFAF Expo is that it is a safe place where my son is not excluded and he feels comfortable sampling products from any table without reading labels or asking my permission. The excited look on his face was more than worth the price of admission.
We each received a red tote bag at the door that was already half-filled with gluten-free products, so we started making our way down the first row of vendors. The first booth was Enjoy Life Land, a new consumer event experience by Enjoy Life Foods which takes visitors through Cookie Canyon, Chocolate River and the Free-From Forrest with stops along the way to pick up samples of their amazing Top-8 allergen free products. My kids especially enjoyed the Plentils and chocolate chip cookies!
I’m currently on the autoimmune protocol (no gluten, dairy, soy or refined sugar) so I didn’t sample many products at the event, but my kids sampled everything—some things more than once. One of their favorite booths was the Smart Flour booth. They offered samples of their new Snack Bites (think pizza rolls) which were a huge hit with my son. He said they were really good and he ate enough Snack Bites to call it lunch.
My kids are big fans of good gluten-free pizza. They enjoyed sampling several varieties of Sonoma Flatbreads including the new dairy-free pizza. They were also big fans of the pizza at the Against the Grain booth. We have purchased so many pizzas over the years that they did not like, so it is really nice for them to try them all at the expo and know which ones they really enjoy so I know what to buy at my local grocery store. We also were able to get some money-saving coupons to use at our local grocery store.
The kids enjoyed tasty treats from Glutino, Udi’s, Namaste, Aleia’s, Marilyn’s Gluten Free Gourmet, Kinnikinnick, Sugar & Spice Market, and Brazi Bites. They also loved visiting the Ronzoni booth where they could take pictures with props and leave with a full size box of pasta of their choice. The Mahatma and Success booths were other fun stops for the kids. They were able to spin a wheel to get free full-size boxes or bags of rice.
I was really impressed with Create Your Cupcake, a cupcake bakery in the Atlanta area with a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, which offers custom cupcakes. The customer selects the flavor of the hollow, hexagon-shaped cake, mousse-like Cremache® filling, frosting and toppings. These can be ordered and shipped almost anywhere east of the Mississippi and in some parts of Texas. It was such a unique and fun idea and my husband and son said the cupcake was delicious. They really liked the Cremache® filling.
There were so many free product sample giveaways, but there were items for purchase, too. Many vendors had special discounts just for expo attendees. I bought a new set of gluten free, organic spices from Just a Little Spice that I have enjoyed very much since returning home! My husband, an ultra-marathon runner, really enjoyed the Honey Stingers samples, so he purchased a couple of boxes at a discounted price. We also bought allergy tests from Affordable Allergy Testing to see if we can pinpoint allergies and sensitivities through hair analysis. We are anxiously awaiting results to see which of the 600 food and non-food substances may be causing some of our symptoms.
The expo provided more than just gluten free products. There were several educational sessions taught by healthcare experts, cookbook authors and chefs. I attended a few of these classes this year and learned so much. I was reminded of the gut-skin-brain connection and broadened my knowledge about what I should and shouldn’t be putting in or on my body.
One of the best things about this show was the amazing people I met. The book authors and guest speakers were so generous with their time and they were there to truly help people. I had the opportunity to spend time with several of them and they answered many questions and offered some great tips and ideas to improve my health—and my cooking! Amy Fothergill, author of The Warm Kitchen and Nadine Grzeskowiak, author of Dough Nation: A Nurse’s Memoir of Celiac Disease from Missed Diagnosis to Food and Health Activism, were very kind and I enjoyed getting to know them and look forward to sharing more about their books in the near future.
This well-attended event proved that there is a need and demand for gluten free products. I am thankful for the companies who "get it" and offer products for the GF community. The GFAF Expo-Atlanta is such a wonderful event that I travel six hours to attend each year. Who wouldn’t love gluten free product samples, discounts, coupons, educational sessions, new friendships and a fun weekend with family. If there is a Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo in a city near you (or close enough for a weekend road trip), I highly recommend attending.
Have you attended a GFAF Expo? Tell me what you loved most about it!