Naples, Florida: Tommy Bahama’s

Tommy Bahama’s is a popular premium, international, select-market eatery chain in the U.S. They’re generally adjacent to a Tommy Bahama’s store, and the upscale-casual food and decor reflect their “Island Lifestyle” brand aesthetic.

Third Street South's Tommy Bahams features beautiful plantings.
Third Street South’s Tommy Bahama’s features pretty streetscape views and tropical plantings.

As well-decorated eateries with well-plated food and well-presented cocktails, no matter where you sit, you’re probably looking at something pretty.  But…they are very, very busy.  Reservations are more than recommended, as walk-ins often have to wait for hours during popular time slots before they can be seated.

I’d wanted to try Tommy Bahama’s forever. My husband was skeptical. “Are you sure that you can eat here? It’s super busy–what about cross-contamination?  Do they even have anything that’s gluten-free for you?” As I’d already gone online and found the gluten-free menu, I assured him that I’d be just fine. But I was secretly concerned by how large and just busy they were.  Busy restaurants can be challenging for even the bravest Celiac, as more rushing staff  can mean more food-handling mistakes.

The menu contained a section entitled “Gluten Sensitive” which raised a flag for me.  It also contained items different than the online menu that I saw, but it turned out that I’d looked at an old menu by accident.

This is the Gluten “Free” (Sensitive) menu at time of posting. Tommy Bahama’s if you’re reading, a few more selections would be welcomed!

The friendly server came to the table to take our drink order, and also asked if anyone had any allergies. I was impressed. I told her that I had Celiac disease and would be ordering from the gluten-free menu, as  I required a strict gluten-free meal.   As per my script, I asked her if she knew what Celiac disease was.  She said she didn’t,  but understood what gluten-free was, and would talk to the chef for me. Excellent–I appreciated her honesty and her initiative.


She came back with our drinks, which were beautiful; made with lovely, fresh pureès and ingredients! My husband had a mojito, and I had a Pineapple Paradiso. Just….delicious.   Times two, as we ordered a second round.

How can you not love a drink garnished with an orchid?

After learning that the homemade gluten-free nacho chips were fried in the cross-contaminated  glutenous communal fryer (leading me to mention that they were no longer gluten-free, and that this should be noted on the menu), my husband and I decided to split an entreé Lump Blue Crab & Avocado Salad for an appetizer, and I had the Blackened Fish Tacos in lettuce cups for my main entree.

The lump blue crab and avocado salad (one order) plated for two. Doubled, this is a very decent potion for an entree salad. As a half portion, it was very satisfying as an appetizer.

They lump blue crab and avocado salad was delightful, prompting me to comment that I wouldn’t hate salad if they could all be like this.  My husband concurred, and our mains were delivered shortly after we had finished. Very good meal timing.

My fish tacos came with what appeared to be a portion of fried plantain in their creamy, coconut dipping sauce. The plantain was beautifully, evenly browned. The alarms went off in my head, and I asked the food runner if the plantains were fried in a pan. There was NO WAY that they could be that uniformly brown outside of a deep fryer, which we had already established was cross-contaminated and not safe for Celiacs. The runner hesitantly answered yes, he thought that they were fried separately, in a pan.  Thank goodness that my Spidey Senses were on full alert, as I asked him to check.

In flew the Manager, who had overheard  our conversation. He confirmed that the plantain should never have been included in my meal, and that it was out of the deep fryer!  He apologized, and took my meal away to replace the now-contaminated dipping sauce. Crisis averted!!!

A freshly drawn serving of coconut dipping sauce now graced my plate. (Yes I checked that it was a new bowlful, and not just the plantain-removed one).    It still  looked delicious!  I used it on top of my lettuce cup tacos.


And it was mighty tasty.

So the moral of this story?  Let your common sense rule your hunger:  if the supposedly gluten-free food placed in front of you looks too good to be true or  “off” for any reason….


If I hadn’t, my Tommy Bahama’s experience could have had a not-so-happy ending.  But thanks to questioning and the quick intervention of the Manager, everything was fine.

I’d eat here again.  And oh, those yummy cocktails….


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