Local advice for the allergic
We asked our readers for advice on the best Charlotte-area restaurants for handling food allergies and celiac disease. Here are their responses. Note: The information on specific restaurants below has not been verified by the Observer.
Justin Cunningham, Charlotte: He has developed a free smartphone app, YoDish, that he says helps people share their specialty diet dining out discoveries. It’s available for iPhone and iPad; an Android version is coming. Cunningham said he is not not being compensated by any restaurant. Some of his advice.
• When ordering, ask how the restaurant prevents cross-contamination, so you can assess how knowledgeable the staff is.
• Many chains have allergens menus. Use the allergen menu to narrow your options but always speak to a manager to verify your order because the menu might be out-of-date or your location might use a different supplier.
• Join the Facebook group of your local food allergy support group and ask the group about their experiences locally. Charlotte has a very helpful food allergy support group called Parents of Allergic Kids (PAK: blog.pakcharlotte.org).
• Avoid buffets due to the high cross-contamination risk.
• If you eat at made-to-order restaurants like Subway, Chipotle or Salsarita’s, don’t hesitate to ask the associate to bring fresh ingredients from the back, especially if they are typically situated near your allergens.
• Ask food preparers to change into new gloves and use clean utensils.
• Chipotle can be a great option because none of their food contains any of the following: eggs, mustard, fish, shellfish, sesame, peanuts or tree tuts – all of which are among the top 13 allergens.
• We love Mellow Mushroom, Brixx Wood Fired Pizza and Fuel Pizza because all have strong food allergy awareness and they have vegan crust and vegan cheese options, which are egg and dairy free.
Shannon Vecchiarello, Huntersville: We always talk to the server first, but often have the manager come over. If the server says, “I think you should be OK,” that is code for us to ask someone else!
The biggest trouble areas are cooking oil and desserts. We don’t eat at restaurants that use peanut oil, even the nonallergenic peanut oil. Also, it is important to ask if anything with peanuts is fried in the common fryer, because that can lead to cross-contamination.
Places that go above and beyond:
Bad Daddy’s in Birkdale. Though they have peanuts for the salads and a peanut dressing, they are not kept near the other menu items. The server relays allergies to the cooking staff.
Brixx – all locations; Killington’s Huntersville and Red Rocks at Birkdale.
Ben & Jerry’s Davidson and Birkdale. They will get a clean scoop and open a new carton of ice cream for you. At Birkdale, nut flavors are in a separate cooler.
Sweet Frog Yogurt. They have dedicated lines just for the peanut flavor. Staff will go to the back and get the toppings you want straight from the bag so you don’t have to use the common area where the toppings get mixed together.
Jennifer Barrett, Charlotte: Mellow Mushroom on Selwyn has been fantastic. Others include: Flying Biscuit at Park Road Shopping Center and McAllister’s Deli off Park Road.
Sabrina Amann, Concord: I suffer from shellfish/fish allergy. Every restaurant I visit I ask if all food is cooked on the same grill/fryer and whether they’re able to pan fry something separately, etc. I have found that your mid- to high-end restaurants are more accommodating (Del Frisco’s, Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s, etc.) However, I have found that 5 Church, Bad Daddy’s burger bar, Hawthorne’s Pizza, Midwood Smokehouse and a few others have been very accommodating. Most recently, at Firebirds in South Park, the manager and the chef both came out to assure me that my food was safe.