Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Sonny’s BBQ and the Problem with Menu Allergen Lists February 27, 2014

We recently ate at my father-in-law’s favorite restaurant chain:  Sonny’s BBQ.  It’s a southeastern BBQ chain that reminds my father-in-law of the time he spent at the University of Florida.  So whenever we’re in Florida, we “dine” there.


As usual, before we went, I reviewed their allergen menu and identified a few items my FA son could choose from.  And, as usual,  I verified all my information with the manager.


Now, let me say, Sonny’s manager couldn’t have been nicer or more responsive.  He researched the ingredients for the hamburger bun and the cornbread from his suppliers and was willing to bend over backwards to accommodate my son as best as he could.  And, as a result, we enjoyed a safe and yummy meal.


But I noticed something that was distressing in asking all our usual questions.  While the manager knew his ingredients and was willing to investigate further when he wasn’t sure, Sonny’s BBQ corporate may not understand how food allergies actually work.  For example, Sonny’s Corporate allergen menu shows that their fries are milk, egg, tree nut, peanut, shellfish, and SOY free.  But that’s only if you eat them UNFRIED because their manager confirmed they were fried in vegetable oil.


While soy is no longer a concern for my son, I can imagine this mistake would pose a danger.  If I had read their allergen menu and decided to just take it at face value, my son could have wound up with some serious problems.


Corporations need to take into broader considerations when publishing food allergen menus.  Their menus must reflect fry oil and cooking methods as well as supplier-driven “manufactured on equipment” issues.  More information of this kind allows diners to make better, clearer choices.  Whenever I can make more sure-footed decisions about meals for my son and other food allergic family members, I feel grateful and relaxed.  And, that’s something that will keep me coming back.



Lost Dog Cafe April 25, 2011

Filed under: Restaurants,Washington DC Metro — malawer @ 8:00 am
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Most foodies might find it insulting that I have lived in the DC-area for almost 12 years now and never tried Lost Dog Cafe or its sister site the Stray Cat in Arlington.  It was nothing personal – just not on my gastronomical radar.  Thankfully, the Lost Dog opened up a second location in McLean and my radar started blipping.

The first time I ate at Lost dog was at lunch.  The ambiance was lively and fun and the location larger than expected.  Perusing their extensive selection of sandwiches and pizza, I almost got lost myself.  Plus, I noticed that they deliver and tucked away that information for future reference.  The second time we went was for dinner with a large crowd, half children.  The waitstaff was patient, pleasant and helpful and, again, our meal was delicious.
Here’s the skinny:

  • Their menu appears customizable since there are a wide variety of sandwiches made with every variation of cold cuts, breads, and toppings.


  • Lost Dog serves both gluten-free pizza and pasta.  Great news for me who just learned I need to try a gluten-free diet (again!) to see if there’s a connection to my migraines.


  • Their fries are fried in peanut oil.  And, they sell Route 66 chips up front that are made with peanut oil as well.  But, the helpful staff up front told me that they use different chips in the kitchen (dine-in vs. take out option?)  and we could ask to see if they were safe.   At a very minimum, the tortilla chips were safe for my peanut, tree nut-allergic child.


  • Their pizzas come in individual, small and large sizes.  Perfect for any sized crowd.  And, their crust is made without sesame seeds – an odd ingredient that gets added to crust every once and a while.


  • The best news of all is not great news if your allergic to dairy:  dessert.  Lost Dog serves milkshakes, malts, creamsicles and floats as well as three different kinds of brownie sundaes and an assortment of cakes, pies and cookies.  None of these options worked for us (as is typical), so we headed home for dessert.


Even without the dessert that I was pining for and a few allergy-unfriendly menu issues, we all left very satisfied and excited to return.


PF Chang’s Gluten Free Menu March 21, 2011

This post is about PF Chang’s restaurant and the way they handled our gluten-free requests.  As a bit of background,  I’m going gluten-free this week at the suggestion of a few doctors to determine if a gluten intolerance is a trigger for my incessant migraines.  Coping with this change has been interesting and challenging (and it’s only Day 2!).


I was relieved to learn that PF Chang’s has a gluten-free menu that could satisfy my week-long hankering for Chinese food.


Here’s the skinny:

  • The Gluten-Free Menu offers several dishes from each part of the menu – including dessert – making it easy to find something I liked.


  • We ordered our meal take-out.  Speaking to the waiter, I was pleasantly surprised with how attentive they were to my perceived allergy/intolerance.  I began by ordering some gluten-free dishes for myself and continued on to order regular meals and appetizers for my other four dining guests.  He was quick to point out that their meals were NOT gluten-free and asked if I still wanted them or wanted to switch them with gluten-free alternatives.


  • Our regular-menu Mu Shu Pork showed up without plum sauce or pancakes (a simple mistake?  Or, did they make it gluten-free without asking?).  Either way, it looked funny and didn’t taste right.


  • The gluten-free dishes were so-so.  The Gluten-Free Lettuce Wraps lacked some flavor.  The Gluten-Free Chang’s Spicy Chicken didn’t resemble General Tso’s chicken as described.  And, the sauce from the Gluten-Free Monogolian Beef was less viscous than its regular counterpart.


In summary, while the taste left a little to be desired, PF Chang’s handled our requests VERY well.  And, all in all, it satisfied my craving sufficiently.


PF Chang’s Menu (check out their Gluten-Free selection)


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Sesame March 4, 2011

Sesame seed allergies are a little tricky.  Sesame seeds may be  tiny but they are potent and can cause a serious reaction for those who are allergic.  Additionly, federal law does not require sesame to be highlighted on grocery items (although it will still be included in ingredient lists).  So it’s worth familiarizing yourself not only with foods that typically contain sesame seeds but also the names of ingredients that are sesame seed derivatives.


As discussed in an earlier post (, sesame seeds are often included in bread crumbs, making ordering food with breadcrumbs just a little more complicated.  Sesame seeds are often an ingredient in wheat and multigrain breads (sliced bread, baguettes and rolls).  They also make frequent appearances in crackers and cereals (such as muesli), so read your ingredient list carefully.  Cross-contamination with sesame seed bagels are an issue when ordering bagels from a bagel store.  Again, proceed with caution.


Sesame oil is unrefined, meaning sesame seed protein can still be found in the oil — the same protein that will likely cause an allergic reaction.  Ordering Chinese food is likely out for anyone with a sesame seed allergy as much of its restaurant fair is cooked in sesame oil and includes the actual seeds in their dishes.  But, if you’re cooking Chinese meals at home, you should also know that Hoisin sauce lists sesame seeds as an ingredient.


Remember when you are ordering sushi to do so without sesame seeds.  Not only are rolls often covered in seeds, but seeds can be sprinkled on a variety of hot dishes as well.



As for Mediterranean fair, be aware that tahini is sesame paste.  This is important to know as tahini is included as an ingredient in hummus, amongst other dishes.  Ask whether or not your dish is cooked or served with tahini when ordering at Mediterranean restaurants.




Hamburger buns are not just sprinkled with sesame seeds.  Many times, sesame seeds are included as an ingredient.  Veggie burgers sometimes include sesame seeds as do various salad dressings and marinades.  Again, read ingredient labels carefully and ask all appropriate questions when dining out.

There are several ingredients that are derived from sesame seeds.  These are:

■ Benne/benne seed/benniseed
■ Gomasio (sesame salt)
■ Halvah
■ Sesame oil is also known as gingelly or til oil
■ Sesamol/sesamolina
■ Sesamum indicum
■ Sim sim
■ Vegetable oil (read ingredients, most are made with soybean oil)

(Source: Food Allergy Initiative)

Also, be aware of contact with sesame seeds via some beauty products, cosmetics and dog food.  Just pay attention!


ICFBD… Read On, And Your Plan for Feb. 5th Will Surely Change January 29, 2011

I hope you’re sitting down, because I just heard of a holiday that I want to scream about!  International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.  Yup, you read that right.

As the story goes, the parents of Joe and Ruth invented ICFBD to beat the winter doldrums in Upstate New York.  The rules of the holiday are simple and easy to follow:  eat ice cream…at breakfast…on the first Saturday in February. (

As simple as that tradition is, this could pose a tricky problem for those of us who are avoiding dairy.  I plan on celebrating this February 5th with sorbet.   Unlike sherbet and ice cream, sorbet does not contain dairy.  It’s not hard to find in a grocery store, but sorbet can be tough to find if you’re out on the town.  Here are a few national and local tips for where to celebrate ICFBD in dairy-free style!


photo taken by TheCulinaryGeek via flickr

Baskin Robbins:

Although they carry 31 flavors, it’s worth calling ahead to your local Baskin Robbins to see if one of those flavors is their sorbet.  It comes in Pink Grapefruit Sorbet and Daiquiri Ice.   Additionally, and I’m not sure if this is sacreligious to ICFBD, but there are a few other dairy-free concoctions that Baskin Robbins serves:  Strawberry Citrus, Peach Passion and Wild Mango Fruit Blasts which are free of all allergens (milk, egg, soy, peanut, tree nut, and wheat) according to their nutrition panel.

Ben & Jerry’s:

I can always count on Ben & Jerry to come through for me in a pinch.  And, they do in four different flavors:  Berry, Mango, Lemonade and Pomegranate.  Again, call ahead to make sure it’s on your local franchise’s menu.

Be aware that although Haagen Dazs and Cold Stone Creamery make sorbet, neither can guarantee they don’t contain trace amounts of dairy (and/or other allergens in Cold Stone’s case).  Bummer!

Locally in and around D.C., Pulcinella’s (McLean, VA) serves orange and lemon sorbet in their shells.  Be aware if you also have a nut allergy: last I had checked these were manufactured in a factory that also handles nut products.  Down the street, Sweet Leaf (also McLean) serves delicious strawberry and mango sorbets.

In Falls Church, both Clare and Don’s Beach Shack and Lazy Sundae serve delicious homemade sorbets in a variety of flavors.  Lazy Sundae regularly carries pear and pineapple sorbet, but I’m not certain sorbet is always available on the dessert menu at Clare and Don’s; so again call ahead if you’re going specifically for that.

If you know of any other local or national places that serve sorbet or dairy-free ice cream, help us celebrate International Ice Cream for Breakfast Day by posting a comment below.  Happy ICFBD!