Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

The smiling white-coated waiter glided up to our rooftop table and introduced himself as Paul.

“I understand there are some food allergies at this table,” Paul said,  handing  us leather-bound menus.

When I’d made the reservation for Watermark Restaurant in Nashville on Urban Spoon, I listed my son’s and my celiac disease as well as my allergies to soy and dairy. We were driving through Nashville on our way home to Colorado and wanted to have a special family dinner with our college boy. Watermark was on our bucket list of restaurants to try.

“I’ve gone over your food restrictions with the chef and I’ve marked what dishes have your allergens.” I looked down at the extensive menu where Paul had placed an X for not gluten-friendly and crossed out the items containing dairy. “Of course, we can also make accommodations, such as leaving off butter. And you don’t have to worry about soy here.”

The chef marked what I could and couldn't eat before I arrived

His words were music to An Allergic Foodie’s ears. I told him how much I appreciated his efforts. Little did he know I had recently had a terrible experience when a chef didn’t want to communicate with the waitstaff and didn’t take my food restrictions seriously. I actually think this demon chef, as I’ve come to call him, intentionally “poisoned” me by including allergens in my food.

After taking our drink orders, Paul then told me because we had decided to eat outside, he didn’t have our table. I panicked. I wanted Paul! The waiter who had done his homework to provide a complete stranger with a safe meal. We considered changing to an inside table, but after a day in the car driving for eight hours, we were enjoying the pleasant evening air.

Watermark Restaurant in Nashville

Paul returned with our drinks. “Well, looks like I’ll be your waiter after all.  The other waiter is uncomfortable with your food allergies.”

This was a first.  A waiter who fully admitted food allergies alarmed him. I appreciated the other waiter’s honesty, especially since it meant I got Paul back. I’ve often witnessed  a waiter’s anxiety over serving me, but I’ve never had someone pass the reigns to a waiter who was more experienced and comfortable with special dietary needs. Kudos to the waiter who didn’t want to serve me for the right reason–not because I was a pain in the neck, but because he wanted to keep my son and me safe.

Executive Chef Joe Shaw’s  food was heavenly. Each of our appetizers and main meals were a work of art and just as delicious as they looked.  For appetizers, Steve had pan-seared scallops with duck confit over a sweet potato puree and poultry demi glace. I had New Orleans style barbecue shrimp, and George had corn and duck egg custard with pan-seared foie gras.

Watermark Restaurant

Watermark uses a wood grill–absolutely no gas–that lended my main dish,  a Niman Ranch pork chop a mouth-watering hickory flavor. Even the rapini melted in my mouth. Steve had lamb on ratatouille and George had his usual ribeye though he said there was nothing usual about it.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared

Since developing food allergies and celiac disease I’ve had more terrible experiences than good ones. But Paul gave me hope that there are those in the restaurant industry who do take my son’s and my health seriously–and who take pleasure in serving us.

Thank you, Paul, for renewing my faith.

Renewed Faith: A Waiter Who Cared first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

Food of My Dreams

I stuff fistfuls  of potato chips into my mouth.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

“It’s four in the morning,” my husband says. “Are you eating chips?”

I swallow and look  down at the half-empty bag of Cape Cod Waffle Chips sitting between us in bed. Baffled, I set them on my nightstand, pull up the blanket, and go back to sleep.

When I enter the kitchen in the morning, my husband’s head is inside the refrigerator.

“I think you ate last night’s sausages,” he says.

My husband tends to be a bit OCD. He freaks out when a sock goes missing and the drink glasses aren’t ordered by size. I ignore him and make coffee.

“My sausages are gone,” he announces again.

Now I’m peeved that he’s making such a big deal about leftovers which are most likely behind the carton of eggs. I am not a morning  person.

I march over to the fridge and  pull out the drawer where I stored the baggy of sausages from last night’s meal. But only half  a sausage, the half that was somewhat burnt, remains. I’d put two and half links in there last night. I am sure of it.

“That’s weird . . . ”

Then I remember the predawn chip episode.

“Oh my God, I think I was sleep-walking and sleep-eating! Have I ever done that before?”

“Not that I know of.”  Content that he’s made his point, my  husband picks up the morning paper.

The sausages in question were grilled last evening for my husband. While they are gluten-free, the corn ingredients tend to make me ill.  I prefer Boulder brand sausages or chicken sausages from Al Fresco.

Evidently, I’m not that discriminating about brands or ingredients when I’m asleep, nor do I care whether the sausages are warm or cold.

Dream Food

At first, I’m embarrassed by my late-night munchies. Then it hits me.

I’ve deprived myself so much these last six or so years — passing on slices of birthday cake and Christmas cookies, avoiding crackers and cheese plates during cocktail parties, skipping on the movie popcorn but smelling it throughout the entire movie, sipping my water while the rest of the table chews on warm bread lathered in butter — why wouldn’t I raid the refrigerator or the pantry in a unconscious state?

In fact, why has it taken me so long?

I’ve woken in a sweat from dreams where I’ve eaten an entire chocolate cake with vanilla whipped cream frosting — I’m not only allergic to dairy and eggs and gluten but also vanilla. Still, I’ve never eaten in my sleep. Or even walked in my sleep.

I saw a TV show once about overweight people who have to lock up their food to keep them from eating in the middle of the night. Has my celiac disease and multiple food allergies created some sort of sleep-related eating disorder? Will my husband have to start padlocking his full-of-gluten-and-allergens food before heading off to bed?

After a quick Internet search, I discover that some people who are on diets may unconsciously eat at night. Eliminating gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn and so many other foods could certainly be called an extreme diet. That particular night I went to bed hungry because there’d been little for me to eat at a social event and once home I didn’t want to consume the extra calories before bed. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem all that odd that I  raided the kitchen at 4 a.m.

The funny thing is I could have grabbed some peanut M&Ms or some leftover pizza or even a brownie that was sitting on the kitchen counter. But I didn’t. I chose gluten-free sausages and gluten-free chips. I’m so accustomed to avoiding foods that will make me sick, I’ll even avoid them in my sleep.

The chocolate cake with vanilla whipped cream will remain in my dreams.

Food of My Dreams” first appeared at Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.

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Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus

Ten days ago I posted a photo on Instagram of an awesome gluten-free pizza using Udi’s Gluten-Free crust that I enjoyed at Flatiron’s American Bar and Grill in Colorado Springs. I hadn’t eaten at this restaurant for over six months because all I could ever order was salad. You all know what that’s like.

Some Restaurants Shouldn't Have Gluten-Free Menus

So imagine my surprise when I learned Flatiron’s now had a huge gluten-free menu that could also accommodate my dairy and soy and corn allergies. We’d just picked the College Celiac up from the airport and I was thrilled we went to Flatiron’s because he could eat safely. I even tweeted my appreciation. The restaurant is locally owned and I like to support neighborhood businesses.

Last night I was craving that pizza. So my husband and I went to Flatiron’s and I ordered the exact pizza I ordered ten days earlier: Veggie pizza but substitute the poblano peppers and garlic for pepperoni. I clearly stated that I was celiac and needed the pizza to be as clean as possible.

The pizza arrives with cheese, which was entirely my fault. I sometimes forget pizza typically comes with cheese! I send the pizza back and the next one arrives with no cheese and no pepperoni. Overcooked, barely any sauce, it tastes awful. And I know that Udi’s Gluten-Free pizza crust tastes good when cooked correctly.

I whip out my camera and show the ten-day-old Instagram pizza photo to the manager who says matter-of-factly, “That doesn’t look like our gluten-free crust, it looks like our regular crust.”

Here’s a photo of the one I got last night. The only difference I see is this one is overcooked and lacking sauce and pepperoni.

Bad Gluten-Free Pizza at Flatiron's

I turn to my husband. “So I guess I can eat gluten now.” I was being sarcastic. It was late and I was hungry.

The manager says, “Maybe you’re not allergic anymore, I’ve heard that can happen.”

I just stared at my husband with my mouth wide open. Here is a manager of a restaurant with a huge gluten-free menu–they even advertise 20 percent off gluten-free items on Thursdays–who clearly has no understanding of celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

I should have said something like, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease with over 300 symptoms and it is not reversible. The only cure is to not eat gluten.” But at that point, I just wanted to go home and get in my jammies and heat up a can of soup.  We left cash to cover our wines and bolted out the door.

Of course, as soon as I got home I tweeted about my bad experience.

People jumped to my defense and were appalled by the manager’s ignorance.  I just love my Twitter friends.

So here is what I woke up this morning thinking: If a restaurant is going to offer a gluten-free menu, every single employee must be educated and trained. They must understand what celiac disease and food allergies are, and why preventing cross-contamination is so important. They must understand that one wrong ingredient can be life-threatening. They must take their customers’ health concerns seriously.

Otherwise, don’t even bother offering a gluten-free or allergy-friendly menu.

I’d rather order that boring old salad than risk getting sick. I certainly don’t want my youngest son with celiac disease and my oldest with dairy and egg allergies to think they are ordering safely when they aren’t.

Ten days ago, I thought I’d re-discovered a restaurant I could eat in. Obviously I was wrong. Just because a restaurant has an extensive gluten-free menu doesn’t mean you should eat there. I’m pretty sure this restaurant, like so many others, jumped on the gluten-free diet movement to make a profit. If they are serious about serving their celiac and allergic customers, they’ll immediately remove the gluten-free menu while they get proper training for the waitstaff and the chefs and the managers. This experience makes me question every restaurant’s reason for offering gluten-free choices–unless I see a certification from a third-party or talk to a manager who clearly “gets it,” I won’t feel safe dining out.

Here’s the other thing that bothers me about this whole experience. As a blogger and social media guru, I recommended this restaurant to my celiac and food-allergic brothers and sisters. Less than two weeks after doing so, I realized this is not a safe restaurant to eat in. So should I stop reviewing restaurants and posting food photos on Instagram? I’m still trying to figure this one out.

Oh, and by the way, I did get sick the next morning–even after eating one small piece of the pizza.

Some Restaurants Shouldn’t Have Gluten-Free Menus appeared first on Adventures of an Allergic Foodie.