Monday, July 1, 2013

Alabama's Gulf Coast's Best Kept Secret--Sad Epilogue 6-28-13

Dinner 6/28/13
Epilogue to the initial post on October 16,2013:
My husband asked me where would I like to go for a little birthday get-away. The first thing that came to my mind was the Gulf Coast even though I knew that eating anywhere along Alabama's Gulf Coast for Rick is always sketchy at best. I was confident I could take a few things I had prepared, throw in a few certified gluten free granola bars and pick up fruit at Publix in Fairhope. We would be fine because I knew that we could eat our special dinner relaxed at the Grand Hotel in Fairhope because of the awesome skills of the chef and his staff to prepare fried seafood that is totally gluten free. 

Now, I knew my buddy Charles had gotten a well deserved promotion, but he had assured me the quality and service would not change. This meant we could continue eat delicious, gluten free fried Gulf Coast seafood with wild abandon in a gorgeous atmosphere. He suggested to call ahead to give the "chef" a head's up a few hours ahead.

On Friday afternoon, June 28, 2013--actually the day after my birthday--my husband called about five hours in advance to make a reservation for two. He explained to the reservationist  that he was Celiac and  we would be ordering the fried seafood platter that the chef had prepared for us using a potato flour blend the last three times we had visited. He also gave her his cell number and asked her to call if there was any problem. She assured that she would relay the message.

We arrived all dressed up and relaxed for my night on town, looking so forward to a wonderful meal that we did not have to prepare in such a beautiful area. We presented our server with our chef's card and told the her what we would be ordering so that she could alert the chef. She said they could not fill our request because they did prepare anything with potato flour. We demanded to speak to the dining room manager and the chef. A person who spoke limited English came out and was clueless about our reservations, food requirements and preferences. 

We demanded to speak to the chef. A young man wearing a chef's jacket came out. He said that he knew nothing about the kitchen protocol of the main chef. He had never heard of the main chef using a flour mixture or using a dedicated fryer. Again, communication was a problem, not because of broken English, but because he could not intelligently discuss Celiac disease, gluten intolerance or food preparation methods. I offered to teach and show him how;--I am a home economist and ServSafe Certified. 

From my perspective, there were several problems: 
1. The person who took the reservation simply lied. She did not relay the message as Rick had asked and she had promised, not did she call.
2. The dining room manager could not communicate well enough to convey to us he had any understanding of the seriousness of dietary restrictions and allergies. 
3. The person in the chef's coat was apparently not a chef or even a cook, just someone they jerked out of the back and slapped a chef's coat on. 
4. Management has no interest and/or does not want to handle dietary restrictions of their clientele, which is abysmally stupid for a four/five star restaurant in a resort area. One percent of the population has Celiac disease and another seven to eight  percent have some degree of gluten intolerance, which means they are conceding almost 10 percent of their diners to restaurants who are smart enough to offer delicious gluten free options.
5. If the restaurant had changed its protocol and could not handle special dietary restrictions, simply tell us. I would have understood and respected that, but they chose to lie and tap dance.

We ended up eating smoked tuna fish salad I had made, along with some fruit and gluten free Refrigerator Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies (Click for recipe) and shared a bottle of cava in our hotel room.

The Grand Hotel ruined our special evening--at least on the surface. My husband and I always enjoy time spent together. But, I must admit that after that horrible experience, it took us two or three hours for our disappointment to lift, and that should never have happened.

Sadly, I can no longer endorse or recommend my all time favorite place to have a special meal. My original accounting that you will find below no longer applies. 

 Dinner on 10/16/13
Does this look like a deprived diner? This past weekend was the ultimate culmination of one of the busiest weeks I have had in a very long time. Back-to-back meetings and events and then a whirlwind trip to south Alabama to put flowers on the graves of my parents and to check on family property. An emotional trip to say the least.

Late Saturday evening, we were trying to find a place where Rick could safely eat. We typed in the location on two gluten free apps on the iPad. Both yielded two choices--Winn Dixie and Chick-Fil-A! Really?

With so many places in this fabulous resort area, I knew there had to be a restaurant that could "accommodate" a Celiac. We called one place that had done a good job a couple of years ago, but as the restaurant business goes, this establishment was out of business. Okay, what now?

Rick suggested calling the Grand Hotel in Fairhope, AL--a landmark hotel owned by Marriot. I had my doubts; the hour was getting late and with no reservations . . . 

Rick, the eternal optimist, called anyway. We were assured Rick's dietary restrictions would not be a problem. As soon as we were seated, the chef came to talk with us. As we learned in the course of conversation, Rick was the 5th Celiac that evening out of probably 400 or so people. When Rick asked the chef what could he fix for him, the chef's response was "I had rather tell you about the couple of things you cannot have." The only two choices not open for Rick were the crab cakes and the seafood mac-and-cheese. The chef added that if we would call the day before, he could convert those to gluten free. I could have hugged his neck.

Rick took one look at the menu and his face fell. Many of  the options were fried, which we thought would be off limits. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the chef uses a potato flour breading mixture for all of his fried seafood. Rick said, "You mean I can have a fried seafood platter? I have haven't had one in years." The chef's replay was "You bet!"

That interchange brought tears to my eyes! Yes, people can eat gluten free safely IF the eating establishment makes it a priority. Obviously, the Grand Hotel in Fairhope, Alabama places a lot of emphasis on making sure all customers are served the food they require to remain safe when traveling.

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