Monday, July 1, 2013

When a Good Restaurant Messes Up--They Fix It

Before reading this post , please visit my latest review at (click for link to post)

All who are medically mandated gluten free have had both good and bad food experiences while traveling. Hey let’s face it; sometimes we just plain and simply do not want to cook at home.

We personally do not eat out often for obvious reasons—the inherent risk of my beloved, Rick, ingesting food cross-contaminated with a gluten containing product or being prepared on or in cooking equipment not properly cleaned, thus non-gluten containing food becoming contaminated with gluten.

The ONLY restaurant—and, I mean the ONLY restaurant—where we can order our food confident that it will be prepared correctly and safely is Jimmy’s located in downtown Opelika, AL. This restaurant is so conveniently located, only three blocks from our home. Jim, a personal friend, takes pride in his restaurant and his work. In the three and a half years since Rick’s Celiac/severely gluten intolerance diagnosis, Rick has never enjoyed the same dish twice. All we do is say “Please tell Jim that Rick Horne is here.” and in just a little while beautiful, delicious and safe foods just pour forth from the kitchen.

Since his wife, Aimee, would object to our taking Jim along on our excursions, not to mention being a real mood breaker for our private time, we are all too often left to the mercy of strangers in kitchens at unfamiliar restaurants. Sometimes we hit pay-dirt, and sometimes just the opposite. Often the best experiences are those that fly under the radar just our dining at the Grand Hotel in Fairhope AL(click for complete story) in October 2012  . For those of you who may not be familiar with this hotel and restaurant, this is an historical resort, owned by Marriott, located on Mobile Bay and is known for its service, food and golf. 

This restaurant was not on any gluten free apps that we had available. Because of their reputation and long standing prominence throughout the entire Southeast, we thought surely they could take care of us. They didn’t only “accommodate” Rick, they chef made sure he enjoyed his old favs fried in a potato flour batter in a dedicated gluten free vat of oil.

Now, let’s fast forward just little. In December, just two months later we visited the Grand Hotel restaurant again, innocently thinking that we were in for the same great experience we has a couple of months previously. Sadly, we were initally disappointed.

Given the choice of two dining rooms, we chose the one with the piano and Christmas carols. We did not know that the two dining rooms had completely different menus. Since we wanted more of the seafood we had enjoyed a couple of months prior, necessitating a move to dining room without the music. We gave the server our “Chef’s” card (click for card)and ordered a glass of wine. When the server returned with a small glass of wine, we thanked her and placed our order. She was gone for a long time. When she returned she told us that we could have anything that did not have to be fried. Hold it right there. What happened to the potato flour batter from a couple of months prior? They were out was here reply.

By this time customers number five and six had not only been seated, but was enjoying their food and their evening; we were still trying to negotiate safe food as our “date night” meal at a renowned restaurant.

Again, the server left. Charles, the dining room manager, came to our table to see how things were going. If anyone doesn’t want to know what I think, don’t ask. But, Charles innocently did not know this. I pretty much took him to task about how such an expensive, highly regarded restaurant could be “out of potato flour”. How could this chef have forgotten to order potato flour? Charles assured us they could accommodate Rick’s dietary needs. This was not music to my ears. “Accommodate”—you have got to be kidding me. I could “accommodate” Rick with a couple of salads, fruits, a variety of cheeses, homemade granola and more that I had in our hotel room. I wanted the same dining experience the other six or so folks were having.

After a nice long conversation with Charles, the chef found his lost potato flour, fired up a new vat of oil and prepared the delicious seafood in the manner we had so enjoyed previously. As the evening wore on, we got to know Charles who is a super nice man who loves his wife and two adorable children—he shared pictures.

In the chef’s defense, I think that because it was a really slow night and somewhat late, the kitchen staff had basically cleaned the kitchen for the evening and were just waiting to go home. They really did not want to have to fire up dedicated pots and pats and such for just one person. If the chef had explained this to us, I would have been very disappointed, but would have understood. Honesty is truly the best policy. Most people can deal with the facts, but bristle when they know they are being lied to.

The next time we visit instead of asking to speak to the chef, we will ask for Charles. As a matter of fact, we will probably call the day before. Charles turned a horrific experience into a wonderful night out. By the way, the second glass of wine was much larger, plus he had the chef make an extra little treat for us.

Charles, I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thanks! 

Author: Dr. Jacquelyn P. Horne
Copyright: 2013

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