Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Legal Sea Foods – Fish and Chipper about Food Allergies January 20, 2012

Legal Sea Foods

It had been forever since I’d eaten at Legal Sea Foods.  I couldn’t be happier that my nephew chose to ring in his birthday here —  our meals were great, there were so many choices for my food allergic son he had to make a plan to come back, and they took great pains to ensure his dinner that night was allergen-free.  Although it had been off my radar for a while, Legal Sea Foods is now officially IN the rotation.


Here’s the skinny:

  • The staff as a whole was super-accomodating, answering every question we had about ingredients in many, many dishes.  My son loves seafood and wanted to try some new things which they were patient about investigating one at a time.
  • Legal Sea Foods were very willing to substitute allergen-filled sides with safe alternatives for my son, making the meal a balanced one.
  • They have a gluten-free menu which includes something from every category of their regular menu (soups, salads, main courses, desserts, etc) as well as a GF Children’s Menu.  Their GF Menu has an informative section demonstrating their understanding of gluten sensitivities, including a paragraph which states,

“All seafood and meat items will be prepared by the following methods: wood grilled, steamed, pan-seared, baked with gluten free crumbs, or fried in brown rice flour and cornmeal. All cookware and plateware will be pre-washed and wiped dry before cooking and presentation.”

  • Legal Sea Foods has a policy whereby the allergic individual’s meal gets prepared first and the manager often serves it.  In our case, the waitress served but the manager came out to make sure everything turned out all right.
  • The bread was safe for my sesame seed-allergic son.  That’s a big one, so he was on cloud nine.
  • As it was my nephew’s 13th birthday and we absolutely HAD to have dessert.  In my scramble to get out of the house, I completely forgot to bring something for my food allergic son.  Agh!  I ran to my car and assembled some Pez, left over from a recent car trip.  It would have to do. Unless…..  Thankfully, Legal Sea Foods serves sorbet!  Amen !

Bottom line:  we fell for Legal Sea Foods’ commitment to food allergy-safety hook, line and sinker.


Crazy About Clyde’s Food Allergy Safety Program November 25, 2011

When it came time to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday a few weeks ago, we headed to an oldie-but-goodie restaurant, Clyde’s.  It had been a while since we dined at Clyde’s with our kids, so I asked all my usual food allergy questions right off the bat.  As soon as I mentioned my son had food allergies, the server moved closer to me and began taking serious notes.  She explained that his allergies would be entered into their system and that she would help us navigate the menu to find something safe for him to eat.


Here’s some of the things we picked up:

  • They have nut-free, sesame-free bread, but you’ll need to specify that you need this as they serve two types of bread (if I understood our waitress correctly);
  • The fries were fried in canola oil;
  • Dessert options include Hagen Daaz sorbet (a safe sorbet for my son!);
  • They were more than happy to substitute an unsafe side for something my son could eat;
  • The waitress was knowledgable and willing to ask questions of a manager or chef when she didn’t have the answer off-hand .

It is unusual to find a place where my son can eat dessert.  This was a hugely important find!  Especially on a birthday.  We all sang a loud and enthusiastic “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl, enjoyed our own delicious sundaes and went home extremely happy and eager to return!


I recalled seeing something about Clyde’s and food allergies somewhere.  When I looked it up again, here’s what I found on their own website.  A smart and appreciated piece of information!  (


Helping diners with allergies
It’s a growing trend, Griffith notes, for local health departments to require restaurants to have an allergens program as a condition of certification. Although DC-area eating-places don’t yet face such regulation, Clyde’s decided to take the issue head on.

The Company reasoned that true success in accommodating guests’ allergies could only come as a result of collaboration between server, cook, and manager.

First step: Educate the workforce, with training materials from the National Restaurant Association and the food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a local nonprofit. These included a video, binders, and posters on major allergens. Clyde’s food safety team drilled employees on the potential seriousness of the issue. “ When something comes up, and you’re not 100% confident about it,” they advise servers,” it’s time to involve a manager.”

Still, the servers don’t push the issue- they wait for a cue from a customer and are ready with information. A customer might say she’s allergic to peanuts and be fine with a particular salad. But if she orders an appetizer that includes peanut oil, the server is there to alert her.

“We’re not nutritionist,” says Griffith. “We can’t tell people what they should or shouldn’t eat. But we can tell them what’s in the food we serve. We can communicate ingredients, and tell our guests how we might remake a dish to satisfy them.” That level of customization isn’t as costly as you might think, says Griffith- when allergens are involved, the simpler the better.

Clyde’s is also beginning to see more cards from Food Allergy Buddy program (FAB). Members enter their allergy information on a free Web site (, print out a card, and present it at restaurants- simplifying the process and reducing errors. Clyde’s promotes the FAB plan on its own website ( in a section on allergens.

Whenever an allergy issue arises – at the table, on the phone, with a buddy card- Clyde’s point-of-sale system marks the party’s ticket with an allergy alert. As the ticket makes its way through the process, it focuses attention on the food order and the table.


Food Allergy Fancy: The Capital Grille October 24, 2011

The Capital Grille Home

Celebrating a birthday or special event at the Capital Grille has always guaranteed a delicious meal and a wonderful time.  But dining there with a FA child would be another adventure.


Here’s the skinny:

  • The wait staff were clearly well trained about food allergies and seemed well informed about how their menu items were prepared.
  • The easy thing about dining at the Capital Grille is the mainly a la carte menu.
  • The steaks are all seasoned (nut-free, dairy-free) and delicious and, having ordered the very smallest one they had, was more than enough to split between my two boys.
  • The sides appeared tricky at first:  none of the potato sides would work for my dairy-allergic son.  When I mentioned this, the waiter offered to make him regular french fries instead.
  • The fries are fried in soybean oil.
  • For a delicious dairy-free dessert, they offer fruit sorbets.  And, I’m certain you could order just berries.


  • The bread basket contains bread with sesame seeds.  For us, that’s a no-go.
  • Their calamari is battered in only flour (not with egg).  It is amazing (and a little spicy)!  My son was excited to be able to partake in an appetizer.
  • The green beans, which heretofore were merely sauteed in olive oil, are now served with butter.  Many of their side dishes appear to be dairy-based.  But, as mentioned above, the Capital Grille staff seem to be very willing to make reasonable accommodations for allergic patrons.

The staff were fabulous and attentive ensuring that everyone (right down to those of us who could show our age on one hand) enjoyed our meals.  In short, we’re already looking for another excuse to go back!


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)


Jason’s Deli – A Healthy Habit I Could Get Into! March 14, 2011

Jason’s Deli, located locally in Tyson’s Corner, Fairfax and ALL over the country, has a simple philosophy.  Keep it healthy and delicious.  We ate lunch at Jason’s for the first time this weekend.  I had heard rave reviews and even so it exceeded my expectations.  And, while the philosophy may be simple their menu is extensive!  Jason’s Deli serves soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as baked potatoes with every kind of topping imaginable, po’boys, and desserts.  Plus there’s FREE ice cream.  That’s right: free.


Many of their ingredients are organic and all are nitrite-, artificial color- and dye-free.  Jason’s Deli long ago eliminated high fructose corn syrup as well as trans-fat from their food — and you’ll never miss it!


The menu appears to be highly customizable – which is how we ordered for my food allergic older son and my picky eater younger one.  And, they offer a gluten-free menu for those avoiding wheat and gluten products.  Jason’s Deli handled our allergy requests with ease and took our concerns seriously from the register to the table service.


NB: their organic lollipops, located at the registers, are dairy, egg, soy, tree nut and peanut-free (  It seems like just a small thing — unless you’re on line with a 3 year old!

Jason’s Deli Menu

Jason’s Deli Gluten-Free Menu

Jason’s Deli Allergen Info


God Bless Bloomingdales! February 28, 2011

I spent the weekend in and around my hometown in New York.  And, as we’ve been known to do, my  mother and I decided to head down to White Plains to check in at Bloomingdale’s.


If there weren’t already enough reasons to love Bloomingdale’s, let me give you one more.  A trip to their cafe, Forty Carrots revealed something else to love about this landmark department store.  They sell Divvies treats!   If you don’t already know, Divvies bakery produces delicious dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, peanut-free cookies, candy, and popcorn among other things.



Now I’m not sure all of Bloomingdale’s cafes carry Divvies’ products, but it’s worth checking out.   So bring the kids shopping and reward them (or yourself!) and replenish with SAFE treats once you’ve exhausted the sales racks.


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!