In my last post, I discussed a restaurant "near miss" with pine nuts in pizza. Now it's time to talk about a great restaurant experience with nut allergies. As I've learned over time, a lot of it has to do with your own communication with a restaurant. Still there's something to be said for a restaurant that just gets it. When you find that, it's like the Visa commerical: "Priceless."
My husband found such a place with the Medusa Grill and Bistro in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. From the outside appearance, it couldn't have been a more unlikely place for us to have our optimum dining experience with food allergies. The restaurant is housed in an old store front off the main street of this resort town. When it comes to dining out with food allergies, I tend to trust modern and updated--I figure they'll be more aware. (And as my pine nut story illustrates, sometimes that's wrong!)
Once we stepped inside, I could see that the restaurant was casual but upscale with a small but comfortable dining room, bar, etc. It had a great atmosphere. It wasn't a family restaurant in the sense of having a kids menu and all of that, but other kids were there, so: so far, so good.
When my husband called to make the reservation, he had described our daughter's allergies and had asked about the menu. As soon as we were seated, the waiter came over and before I could tell him about our daughter he said "I know we have a nut allergy at this table. Let me tell you what you may want to avoid." He gave us a short list--maybe like 2 things. He spent a few minutes answering questions and just trying to make us feel comfortable that they could handle our dietary restrictions.
That is the first time I've ever had waitstaff take the reigns with the food allergies. I could see my daughter visibly relax after the initial "sit-down" and usually that's not the case.
The food was outstanding, but the best part was the feeling of confidence we all had. The restaurant took some of the pressure off of us by understanding nut allergies and acting natural about it while still showing concern. I didn't feel (as I sometimes have) like we were putting them to any trouble or added stress. If we were, they didn't show it.
My daughter even got dessert--Bananas Foster, which being unbaked and nut-free, we allowed her eat. She was in heaven--dessert is generally off-limits in restaurants for her because of the cross-contact concerns. All the desserts that evening were nut-free, so we let her go to town.
It was a great family meal and we had so much fun. The best part was when my daughter said that it was "the best restaurant experience of my life."
On our way out, we thanked the waiter for his great handling of our situation and he told us that they deal with nut allergies and other food allergies all the time. In fact, he said 4 out of 5 families they had booked in the last few days had kids with food allergies!!!
This was not a four-star restaurant in Manhattan or Paris--it was a tiny restaurant in a Wisconsin resort town. But they had great food and they handled our food allergy needs like pros. How simple it was! Know the ingredients, acknowledge your guests' needs, that's all it takes. I can't wait to go back there.
Granted, we did call ahead (which I highly recommend) to discuss our situation, but that was pretty much it. I'm sure making the restaurant aware in advance was a huge part of why it went so well.
On another note: As a follow up to my previous post, the Madison, Wisconsin cafe where we had the close call just emailed me to let me know that they were going to change their print menu this week to reflect the fact that their cheese pizza contains pine nuts. They also apologized profusely for the mix up. I feel great that I spoke up and hopefully prevented someone else from their own "near miss."
When dining out with food allergies goes smoothly, it's always a great feeling. Every family likes to go out to a restaurant for a treat. Still, I'm looking forward to cooking at home for awhile!