Last week my brother’s family and my family went on a weekend family vacation. The vacation was a blast, and it’s something we do every year. Now that we have a son with special dietary needs, we have to do a little more planning, as well as make sure we get hotels/lodging with a built in kitchen. We still like to eat out once or twice though, so we make sure to call ahead and do the legwork necessary to make sure Little Z doesn’t have to go hungry or eat only a potato/rice.
Because of the great experience with BD’s Mongolian Grill, we thought Hu Hot (West Des Moines, IA) would be a great restaurant choice because they would have a special grill in the back for allergy sufferers (and I really like Hu Hot’s food). We called ahead, they assured us they deal with allergies all the time; although they don’t have a special grill, they “clean the grill three times, don’t share utensils,” and so on.
Well, cleaning the grill constituting spraying it down with water and scraping it 3 times. Even though I told the employees he was an allergy customer (I don’t even mess with explaining intolerant and celiac disease), they still shared utensils. I asked the manager if he could cook or microwave his food in the back, and he said that he couldn’t because they couldn’t make sure the meat would be cooked fully. I was really disappointed — there was no way his food could have been cooked in the back somehow? Not in a pan?
Well, I decided to only let Z have the rice that is brought to the table when you arrive. Well, it must have been cross contaminated with an offending ingredient because he woke up that night around 1 am and screamed (SCREAMED) until around 3 when we could finally calm and settle him. Little Z developed the standard yeast diaper rash and diarrhea. It took him 5 days before he took more than a 45-minute nap and didn’t sleep fitfully at night.
Lesson learned: don’t assume anything, and always make sure you inquire more deeply into a restaurant’s allergy practices; i.e. when they say they clean a cooking area, ask how they clean it. Do they use soap?
We recently ate at BD’s Mongolian Grill, and it was a good experience. The location we visited (Independence, MO) had a special grill in the back that is thoroughly cleaned between uses, especially for allergy sufferers. I requested that they cook his food only in water, and they were able to give him food from the back that had not been on the line (so it wouldn’t run the risk of being contaminated).
If you decide to go to this restaurant, be sure to still call ahead to make sure they have a grill in the back. Also double check how they clean the cooking surfaces/utensils, and so on. I recently went to Hu Hot (I thought it was pretty much the same restaurant) and it was not a good experience.
Whenever my in-laws, who are from Minnesota, are in town, we love to eat at Fiorella’s Jack Stack. Jack Stack is an award-winning Kansas City BBQ restaurant. When my in-laws said they wanted to eat a Fiorella’s, I thought that I would end up just staying home with Little Z, so I didn’t have to deal with bringing him cold food to the restaurant, while we enjoyed our delicious barbecue. However, I called ahead, fully thinking I would have to stay home, but I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful and knowledgeable the kitchen manager was. I also was surprised to find out that their sauces and rubs are gluten free.
The kitchen manager was amazing, and had had some firsthand experiences with allergies, so he knew how to prepare and cook for my son. When we arrived, he greeted our table, suggested we order the meat plate from the child’s menu (either the beef brisket or turkey because it didn’t come in a brine) and he specially made a baked potato (their baked potatoes are usually coated in a soy butter before baking). The kitchen manager went out of his way to help us, and in fact, personally prepared my son’s food!
Amazing. Fiorella’s has been the best restaurant where allergies are concerned that I have come across.
Eating out is quite a hassle if you have multiple intolerance or allergies. It’s a lot easier if you simply want a gluten free meal, but pair that with other allergies/intolerances, and you will have quite a task on your hands!
It also comes with several risks: if food is not handled/prepared with the utmost care, Little Z will not nap well, will cry, scream, whimper through the night, get a yeast infection/lesions on his bottom, and be sick for several days (and my son’s reactions are relatively mild compared to children who have anaphylactic reactions).
Because of this, and the cost involved, we don’t eat out all that often; however, when we do, these are the steps we take:
- Call ahead and ask to speak to a manager (if possible, speak to the kitchen manager).
- Explain your situation, allergies, and explain what types of foods you would like to try if possible (Little Z has so many off-limits foods, it’s easier for me to tell them what I want and for them to let me know if they can accommodate me). For example, I always ask if they have 100% chicken, turkey or beef that is unseasoned and doesn’t come in a brine/solution/marinade. To prepare it, I explain they can cook it the following ways: boil it in water, cook it in 100% canola or olive oil, or grilled (as in a wood-fire grill) with a piece of tin foil under it.
- Request that they double check the labels (for example, chicken breasts often are injected in a solution, which may have gluten).
- When you arrive, let them know you called earlier and ask for the manager. Re-explain your wants and needs again to the server and manager and have them involved so the kitchen staff doesn’t contaminate the food.
- Remember that most people don’t have a good understanding of food allergies, or the proper precautions in handling them. So don’t feel like you are explaining too much or dumbing things down. One time we ordered our son a burger with nothing on it: “no bun, no seasonings, no ketchup nor mustard. Nothing. Just the hamburger patty.” They still brought it to us with the bun on it, and the server said I could just take it off. I had to explain to her that because the bun touched the meat, he can’t eat it because it will make him sick.
Usually, restaurant staffs are very helpful, friendly and accommodating. Just remember to stay friendly and leave a good tip. I used to be embarrassed, and I felt bad for inconveniencing my server and the restaurant staff, but they don’t have to suffer with a reaction if the food is not prepared properly!
On the few occasions we have eaten out, we have had more success than I would have thought. Here are some of a few:
Fiorella’s Jack Stack (Plaza location, Kansas City, MO)
BD’s Mongolian Grill (Independence, MO location)