Dining out in NYC with Food Allergies
Back in the early spring, I spoke with Sloane Miller, food allergy expert, coach, and blogger, in preparation for my trip to New York with my food allergic son. She was incredible and really helped me feel empowered for the trip and less overwhelmed by the thought of dining out. You can read about her great advice here.
I emailed quite a few restaurants in the NYC areas I knew we’d be in – most were recommendations from Sloane’s website, Allergic Girl Dine’s Out. I was quite surprised to receive replies from 5 out of 6 restaurants. Now, not all of them were positive, but hey, a response is still an acknowledgement, not an immediate dismissal. At the time, my son had allergies to dairy, all gluten, soy, tree nuts, and corn. Obviously this extensive list would prove a bit challenging, but not impossible, for a willing chef.
This is what I emailed to each of the restaurants:
My child has the following severe food allergies. We’d like to dine at your restaurant, but want to confirm that you can provide food that is free of these ingredients. Please let me know what our options may be for him.
So, just how did it go down? Here are the restaurants that replied.
Risotteria (270 Bleecker Street, between 6th / 7th aves) proudly offers a wide variety of gluten-free option on their menu and even a gluten-free bakery. Impressive. BUT, when I emailed them asking if they could accommodate my son’s multiple allergies, I got a short reply: ” I’m sorry we don’t exclude dairy, soy or corn.” As Sloane had mentioned to me, just because a place may offer gluten-free options, it doesn’t mean they are attentive to other allergens. She sure was right in this case. At least we knew to steer clear since they obviously weren’t ready to accommodate us.
Nizza (630 9th Ave) is a charming, open air Italian bistro with excellent food. Sloane has a great blog post with video where she interviews the chef, check it out here. Their general manager replied to my email quickly and was so welcoming and confident in their ability to provide my son with a safe meal that I was immediately drawn to the place. He wrote:
“We take pride in serving our allergic/GF community. …We would love to have you as our guest and will do everything we can to address your particular needs. We have a walk-in refrigerator full of raw, fresh veggies & protein, and would be happy to create whatever you could want. We have an excellent reputation and every member of our team is well aware of most allergic issues. Please inform the manager/server about your particular needs upon arrival. However, we are a very small neighborhood restaurant and our premise is not a certified allergy free /GF premise. Please be aware that there is always a possibility of cross contamination even with the extreme cautions. “
Yes, of course, there is always a chance of cross-contamination. It is not possible to be allergy free for everyone, but still, I was very impressed, so we dined at Nizza for lunch one day. The manager and chef came out to speak with us both before and after the meal, the server constantly checked back with us – my sister (who we were visiting) laughed and said the other diners must have thought we were celebrities the way they were so attentive with us! And the food was amazing! Their Socca gluten-free pizza crust was out of this world. My son wolfed it down and I kept sneaking bites.
BUT, yes there is a but, BUT I don’t believe it was the restaurant’s fault. I think it was mine. Cross contamination had not previously been a concern with us as my son wasn’t declared anaphylactic until just a few weeks before this trip, when he experienced his first anaphylaxis. Before that, we kept food he was allergic to in the house because we thought it just triggered his severe eczema, so while we kept certain foods out of his mouth, we didn’t worry in many other ways. So, I ordered a cheesy yummy lasagna for lunch and tried my best to keep my meal and glass to myself. Somehow some cheese very likely wound up near his food, glass, napkin, etc. because about 20 min into lunch, just as he’s finishing his pizza, he started to cough. Nothing big, but a few coughs every few minutes. After a couple of minutes I asked him if he’d like his “breathing medicine” and he said yes. Uh oh. We left the restaurant and 20 minutes later he suddenly started to itch frantically and broke out in hives. Oh boy. We’re at Rockefeller Center as I desperately grabbed for the antihistamines in my bag and gave him a dose. 20 more minutes later and he’s completely fine. Thank goodness! Emergency averted. Believe me, I had the epinephrine out and ready to use. I was watching him like a hawk with that last anaphylactic episode so clear in my mind. But thankfully, he was fine. Phew!
But back to this awesome restaurant. They saw my son coughing while we were still there and came to check on us. I insisted everything was fine as I thought the inhaler alone would have sufficed at the time. That night I checked my emails and the manager had actually emailed me to check in on us again! He was concerned and wanted to make sure my son was ok. Above and beyond.
Again, I was very impressed with Nizza.
Everybody Eats is a dedicated gluten-free, nut-free bakery that sells items from a small retail front and also distributes their products to many restaurants and stores in NY. They quickly responded to all my emails, but sadly we didn’t have the chance to visit their store or try any of their baked goods. Next time!
Cochinita Tacos (Brooklyn) = YUM! I love Mexican, tex-mex, mex-mex, tacaurias, you name it. So, when I heard about this little spot in Brooklyn I was over the moon. Why? Because it’s gluten free, tree nut free, peanut free, and shellfish free and because Sloane Miller had been and loved it, read her review here. Take a look at this video where she interviews owner, Adam Frank. Wait, I forgot to mention that they are very eco conscious! Love it! Adam made me very comfortable in our email exchanges, so I took my son there for lunch. We were supposed to meet Adam, in fact, he came in on his day off to meet my little guy and to help him relate to another person with allergies, but sadly, we were late and so we missed Adam. His staff was amazingly accommodating however, and we drooled over every dish we tried. This is a GREAT place!
Bill’s Bar & Burger (Multiple NYC locations) – This restaurant is owned by the BR Guest Hospitality Group, which owns multiple restaurant ventures around the country, all of which were trained on preparing food safely for food allergic patrons by none other than Sloane Miller. So, I knew this one was a sure bet, but I emailed them anyway and got a direct reply from their corporate chef who was really fantastic both before our visit and during it. He offered to personally prepare my son’s meal because by chance he would be at the Bill’s location we’d be visiting at the right time. Lucky us! In fact, he planed to hand make my son’s French fries – freshly cut potatoes with special oil in a dedicated pot (not even a fryer) because as he wrote “no child should go without French fries.” How great is he?! The chef came out multiple times during our visit to discuss the menu and safe options. I was very impressed to see they labeled food for their allergic customers with special allergy tags to alert the services to be extra careful regarding cross contamination. What a great restaurant with an outstanding chef!
I didn’t email this place, but we went anyway because you can’t visit NYC with allergies and a sweet tooth without visiting….
BabyCakes (248 Broome Street (Btwn Orchard & Ludlow) is an adorable little vintage bakery that is vegan, dairy free, egg free, soy free, and gluten free. Most items are refined sugar free too! Wow! You can read more about their allergy policy here. This adorable, but very tiny little shop, is packed with yummy and safe goodies. But they are pricey! $4.75 per cup cake! I bought two for my son to enjoy over the weekend and enjoy them he did. He was in silent and savor mode as he gobbled them down each night. You don’t have to be in NY to enjoy their goods anymore, they now have locations in Los Angeles and Orlando too! And they have a couple of great cookbooks for those wanting to attempt to recreate the BabyCakes desserts at home.
We had a great visit with my sister and meeting my new adorable nephew. My son was thrilled to eat out at so many restaurants (which is a rarity at home) and to explore the city. And for my son and I, a very memorable trip together with lots of bonding time.