Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Missed Opportunity in Birmingham AL

Traveling with a Celiac or anyone with food allergies for that matter is dicey at best. Do you take safe food you prepared at home, or do you gamble on finding a restaurant that can and is willing to safely prepare food for someone with food sensitivities?
Armed with apps on the iPad to help find eating establishments with a gluten free menu on out latest trip. This time, we were visiting Birmingham, AL. Just a tad concerned, I decided to split the difference, knowing we could always opt for fresh produce and greens in a local grocery. So, we packed foods for breakfast, while at Rick’s insistence, I reluctantly chanced finding some place safe Rick could eat lunch and dinner.
Misery does love company. We were excited to learn one of the nurses in the doctor’s office we were visiting was also Celiac. Finally, a local person to talk shop with and get the inside scoop on local places to eat. One of her suggestions was a seafood place only three blocks away. She was definitely speaking our language at this point.
As soon as we left the doctor’s office, we hit a bee line to this really quaint and quirky seafood restaurant that even had a fresh seafood market co-located. Not only were the display cases prominently situated, the characteristic smell of fresh uncooked seafood aromatically alerted everyone who entered.
Once I learned what to me was an offensive smell was coming from their fresh market instead of their kitchen, I relaxed a bit, quickly getting past the odor. I was impressed with their extensive menu which included a fair number of clearly marked gluten free choices, taking a lot of the guess work out of trying to communicate with the kitchen staff via a less than knowledgeable server. With Rick’s dietary constraints under control, I decided to jump off the proverbial gluten free band wagon, ordering fried shrimp with all the trimmings—coleslaw, hush puppies and French fries. I could not wait to sink my chops into southern fried seafood, a real treat we have both really missed.
The food arrived right on cue. Rick’s meal arrived beautifully plated. Mine looked more like someone had gone through a cafeteria line, with each item in its own little dish. The exception was my French fries that looked suspiciously like those many commercial establishments bring in frozen and then fry on sight. My slightly undercooked “naked shrimp”—most of the batter was falling off—came in a little boat shaped bowl situated on the plate with my fries.
One bite revealed a real need for a little salt. I had no idea what a huge surprise was in store for me lurking on the side of the table. After picking up and moving everything on the table, I finally found the salt—not shaker—but container. I wasn’t looking for a vessel larger than my box of Morton’s salt. I assumed if I opened the little flip top, I would have a shaker.
Well, you know what happens when you assume anything. Not good. Close to a quarter of a cup of salt abruptly emptied out onto my “naked” shrimp. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. A big warning label in neon colors should be slapped on the side of this sucker saying “I don’t shake; I pour”. Rick brought my “accident” to the attention of our server, who kindly offered to bring me another bowl. Again, I innocently assumed he was speaking of a new bowl of shrimp. To my total amazement, he returned with a big smile and handed me a little white, thin, plastic bowl that was empty.
The bowl was not the problem; the salt “ pourer” had dumped way, way too much salt onto my order. I needed new food, not simply a new bowl that was empty, I might add. With additional explanation, the waiter eventually corrected the problem.
The hush puppies were good, and the French fries were okay for frozen. The service was less than desirable. With Rick’s entrĂ©e being perfect, his food would have been well past its prime a half hour or so later.
This truly unique restaurant truly is a missed opportunity in action. Downtown, unique setting, quirky, quaint, unique business model with valet parking—what more could you ask? Actually, a lot! For starters, let’s get the characteristic “seafood smell” under control. For me, that was a real turn off.
Second, change the salt containers to salt shakers. I know I can not be the only one who has made that same mistake.
Third, train the wait staff to listen to what the patrons are saying and respond appropriately. Again, if the waiter had paid attention, he would have understood “my” problem the first time.
Fourth, don’t “train” the staff to rush customers to turn over their plates in the name of “flipping a table”. I understand that the faster tables turn, the more money the restaurant AND the wait staff make. When they push the envelope because of their mishandling a problem and then receive less than 10% gratuity, there are many to blame: the owner takes care of the offensive , the maitre d checks on customers and the establishment better trains their wait staff.

This is truly a unique restaurant with a truly missed opportunity!

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