Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Mellow Mushroom: A Disappointing Case of Doing Everything Right (With a Tasty Ending) August 20, 2015

Oh, Mellow Mushroom.  Had I appreciated just how amazing you were and how difficult it would be to get to you afterwards, I would have eaten your pizza every day during college and not simply most days.

On a recent trip to Charlotteville, we decided to introduce the kids to the deliciousness that is Mellow Mushroom.  Although pizza is typically an easy food to negotiate with peanut, tree nut, and sesame seed allergies, we still ask our standard questions – just in case:

  • Is there any sesame seed flour in the pizza dough?
  • Is there anything unusual in the sauce (like pine nuts, etc) that we should be aware of?
  • What kind of oil do you use in the fryer to cook chicken wings?

I was impressed that our young waitress was completely focused on our questions, taking notes, and didn’t assume she had the answers.  She had clearly discussed our concerns with the cooks and managers by the time she returned to the table, ready to take our order.  Everything we mentioned had been cleared and deemed safe for my son, except they had one concern:  the marinara sauce listed “an oil blend” and they couldn’t track down which specific oils were in it.  (Good catch!) And, they were worried about serving it to my son without being one hundred percent sure.

This excellent attention to detail, while VERY MUCH APPRECIATED, derailed us totally.  Everyone in our party of nine had ordered except my son.  And, there was nothing else on the menu that constituted a meal that didn’t involve marinara sauce. He was hugely disappointed (also hungry and tired) and I was rapidly researching everything I could find to get a more definitive answer while we were still there.  I was thrilled to see that Mellow Mushroom has an online allergen menu that covered everything but the marinara sauce in question.  Fabulous! but grrrr….

In the meantime, we cobbled together a meal of yummy pizza dough pretzels, apple slices, and promised him a second dinner wherever he chose.

My son was frustrated, my husband was mad, our dinner guests were upset.  But me?  I was quite pleased with how Mellow Mushroom handled our allergy questions.  Disappointed in the answer – or lack thereof – and concerned about my son’s feelings, but pleased.  They took it seriously.  They understood the implications of a mistake or a (pardon the UVA-related pun) cavalier attitude.  Mellow Mushroom’s online menu is easy to navigate – my only wish is that it included sesame seeds as is required in Canada and the EU, thus eliminating this quandary in the first place.

That Monday morning, I called Home Grown Industries which owns Mellow Mushroom and inquired about their marinara sauce.  For the record, it does NOT contain sesame seed or any peanut/tree nut oils and would have been safe.  My kids jumped up and down upon learning that the sauce is safe AND that there are not one but TWO Mellow Mushrooms within a few miles of us at home.  We’re already planning our next meal!

Mellow Mushroom

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McKeever’s Pub July 16, 2013

I can’t believe I just discovered a gem in my own backyard!  We have a local pub here in McLean that impressed me.

 

McKeever’s is a little place with a great, big response to food allergic patrons.  When my son was ready to order his burger and fries, we asked our usual litany of food allergy questions:

 Can you check the bun’s ingredients for sesame seeds?;  What kind of oil do you use for french fries?;  Is there any concern of cross-contamination in the frier?;  etc…
 

The waitress waved over the manager and both ladies informed us that not only was everything assuredly safe, but that the restaurant’s owner shared similar food allergies.  At that, my sons perked up!  The owner uses dairy-free butter (begin hallelujah chorus) and fries their food in safe vegetable oil.  In fact, after a customer began frequenting their restaurant with different food allergies, they began keeping a book listing all the ingredients in all their food, including those from each of their suppliers (Cue the choir of angels!).

 

McKeever’s staff is not only knowledgable and serious about food allergies, but they respond with a smile.  If you go, you’ll likely see us there!

 

 

Follow-Up Review: Gordon Biersch and Food Allergies November 15, 2012

Even though I already wrote a review on Gordon Biersch’s express restaurant at National Airport in Washington DC, I wanted to follow-up with a more general write-up having just eaten at one of their full restaurants.

 

Again, Gordon Biersch’s waitstaff was incredibly helpful and clearly trained to handle allergy questions.  They were more than willing to take all questions back to the chefs and return with workable suggestions.  For example, GB’s fries have dairy in them.  Big bummer for a 7 year old.  But the waiter came back with several possible safe side substitutions from which my son could choose.

 

GB also has both a Vegan (which, of course, means dairy and egg-free) as well as Gluten-Free Menu from which to order.  Although the vegan selections are limited, it’s nice to have them singled out.  And, if you’re a meat eater, there is certainly a lot you can have on the menu with a little tweaking.

 

Finally, when the rest of the kids were planning to order dessert, the managers at our particular GB didn’t mind us running out to grab my FA son something he could enjoy.  We really appreciated the accommodation – and so did my son!

While we wished for french fries, we all had a great experience at GB.  With their attention to food allergies in both staff training and menu, we’d certainly go back.

 

 

Fire Works Wood Fired Pizza Restaurant August 18, 2012

After keeping my tight schedule, relaying instructions to the babysitter in fast forward, beating traffic and getting the best possible parking in an area known for it’s rare spaces, my friend and I managed to miss the movie we have been so excited to see.  We didn’t exactly miss it…. In fact, the theater closed that wing of its building that morning for renovation.  The only theater in the metro area still playing it. Sigh…..

 

In any case, we decided to do dinner.  So, we walked around the corner to try Fire Works Restaurant  – a restaurant located in the Courthouse area of Arlington, VA that I had heard so much about.   What a find!

 

Here’s the skinny:

  • First of all, we dined outdoors, right at sunset.  It was beautiful and once the sun dipped below the buildings they lit up a fire.  Great ambiance.
  • Importantly, they serve gluten-free pizza.  And if the GF version is anything like the delicious Siciliana one I had, you’re in for a treat!
  • They also serve a gluten-free Cookie Dough Sundae; a sundae that, in it’s regular version, is legendary.
  • They also serve SORBET!   I believe the flavors vary.  Mine was pink lemonade that night  and so refreshing.
  • And, last but definitely not least, our service was fantastic.  They were helpful, knowledgeable about their menu, and didn’t mind us lingering while we chatted.
 

My friend and I had a great time catching up while NOT watching a movie (the best way, generally).  We both felt Fire Works was such a coup given that her husband is gluten intolerant and my son is allergic to dairy that we can’t wait to come back with our families next time.

 

Summer Camp With Food Allergies – Our Experience May 31, 2012

Filed under: Preparedness — malawer @ 11:25 am
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Last year, we enrolled my oldest son in Headfirst Summer Camp.  He was enthralled with the idea of his week at their all-sports program and even more ecstatic to be participating with one of his best buddies.

 

As excited as we were for him, I was – as always – a little apprehensive of sending him to a camp where lunch was involved.  Before enrolling, I called Headfirst’s administrative office to ask questions.  To my surprise, they couldn’t have been either more professional nor more prepared for handling food allergies.  Campers bring their own lunch – already a good start – and snacks were not served.  Phew!  There is a nurse on site (yay!), nut-free area for dining and the counselors carry each campers emergency medications (for us, EpiPens and Benadryl) in a fanny pack (poor counselors) or backpack with that child everywhere the child goes.  Headfirst was both prepared and thoughtful about food allergies (see the policy in their words) – I was impressed and happily signed him up!

 

We had one little snag for the whole week:  the camp wound up rewarding the kids with ice pops one afternoon – something that was not communicated to me, as a food allergic parent, in advance.  When my son came home and admitted to having the ice pop because he didn’t have an alternative snack and he was sure he had eaten the same kind before, I was concerned.  First of all, this wasn’t the protocol we taught him and secondly, ice pops occasionally contain dairy.  Thankfully, my son showed no allergic symptoms but I checked with the director before camp the following morning, confirming that the pops were, in fact, something my son had eaten before.  I let her know that food allergic parents should be made aware of this reward as they register on the first day of camp – giving them a chance to okay the product in advance.  She agreed and we both called the main office with this suggestion.

 

All said, my son had a fantastic week at camp!  The program suited my son (and his friend) soooo well.  They were excited going to camp each day and left wanting more.  And, I could send him off without worry knowing how well thought out the camp’s food allergies plan was.

 

What has your summer camp experience been like?


 

Chasin’ Tails…. Laissez Les Beignets Rouler! May 7, 2012

A new restaurant opened near us in Arlington, VA:  Chasin’ Tails.  And because I loved their sense of humor (their coming soon banner read “Chasin’ Tails… A Crawfish Seafood Restaurant” just to stay in the good graces of the neighbors as they built), I had to try it.

 

As usual, before we went I reviewed their menu online and phoned in with questions.  The manager was happy to hunt down answers to my many questions, and as a result we had a great experience.  This was a fun, casual, family friendly place that we can’t wait to return to.  Best of all, we had great success with my son’s allergies.

 

Here’s the skinny:

  • The manager checked the full ingredients of everything from the dessert (beignets!!!!!) to the breading of fried items;
  • He was quick to bring up issues, like the fact they use buttermilk to bind the seafood/chicken to its breading;
  • The chefs were willing to alter the way they operate in order to prepare food safely for my son.  For example, when he wanted chicken tenders, they used egg (thank goodness he’s now outgrown that allergy!) to bind the breading to the meat;
  • Their fry oil is a canola/soybean blend.  If you’re allergic to dairy, you may wish to check to see if the fries are fried with the buttermilk-bound seafood and, with the help of your allergist, determine if that is safe;
  • The regular fries are flavored with a cajun spice.  They are DELICIOUS, but a little spicy for the kids.  Like most items, you can order them without the spice.  (P.S.: The amazing sweet potatoes fries – of which I ate 2 lbs – come UNspiced);
  • The beignets are nut-free!  They are warm and they are yummy!
 

My son excitedly tried my lobster, my friend’s shrimp in addition to his own chicken tenders.  Everything we ate was so good, we are all talking about going back very, very soon!

 

Cava Continued March 24, 2012

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Did I mention Cava has also marked gluten-free dishes? Again, so easy!

(Yes, I loved this place!)