Monday, August 6, 2012

Food Allergy Dining Adventures in Southern California

I was in Southern California recently. We hadn’t yet been to visit my oldest son since he moved there for work earlier this year, so a week in the LA area seemed to be the right thing to do for a family vacation this year. Of course, I worried about the food – but not too much, as I did some research ahead of time, and I expected California to be very gluten-free and vegan friendly.

On our first night we went to The Cheesecake Factory in Pasadena (where my son lives). This is the Cheesecake Factory that Sheldon and his friends frequent on the TV series The Big Bang Theory. I can report that the inside of the restaurant doesn’t look a bit like the setting on the TV show, and we didn’t have Penny for our waitress.

I asked if they had a gluten-free menu. The person seating us said, “No, but I expect we will soon with gluten-free becoming so popular.” Hmmm… gluten-free as a fad, interesting. Nevertheless, they were able to accommodate my gluten-free diet and my son’s food-allergy diet without any difficulty. We skipped the cheesecake.

Day two was Disneyland! I had made advance reservations at the Blue Bayou (which happens to be part of the scenery for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction). I had heard that Disneyworld was the master at handling food allergies, but wasn’t sure about Disneyland. The restaurant had advance warning of our dietary restrictions, and it came up on the computer when we checked in.

Shortly after being seated, the chef came out to meet with us, and took my order for a gluten-free meal and my son’s order for an allergen-free meal. When my son tried to adapt his own dish with the usual “Can you do the vegetables steamed, no butter?” the chef responded by suggesting he make a version special for him. (Yes!) We ate well that night, but here’s the catch – while both my son and I were thrilled with our meals, my husband and older son thought there meals were just okay. That was a first.

Later in the week we took a road trip to wine and avocado country, and met my friend and fellow blogger, Mimi Holtz, for breakfast at Annie’s Café in Lake Elsinore, a stone’s throw from Temecula (where the wineries are). Breakfast with food allergies is hard – especially when you are allergic to eggs, wheat, and milk. We had been making our own breakfast at my son’s apartment, so this was our only restaurant breakfast. I had called ahead, and learned that Annie’s had gluten-free pancakes. Good for me, but not for Patrick. I asked if he could order ribs or steak for breakfast and Annie responded, “This is Annie’s. You can have anything on the menu anytime you want.” Good, we should be set.

When ordering, I asked for the gluten-free pancakes. Our server said, “We don’t have gluten-free pancakes.” I decided not to panic and asked her to check (now wondering whether anything I was told when I called was correct). “Yes! we do have gluten-free pancakes,” our server announced. Can I have any flavor gluten-free pancakes? Yes! I ordered chocolate chip gluten-free pancakes and Kevin ordered the chocolate chip pancakes with gluten. His looked like this:

And mine looked like this:

I daresay, mine were better.

Patrick ordered a burger, no bun, and fries, and he was quite happy with his meal.

But while we there, we were treated to some entertainment. Annie herself likes to greet new visitors by making them wear silly hats. My husband earned the chicken hat because he wouldn’t tell Annie his real name. Kevin had a pirate hat. They both wore green because we were visiting Mimi's avocado farm later that day. Pat's hat was some kind of animal:

I got to wear the hippie hat. It’s a good look, don’t you think?

We were told that we had to keep our hats on throughout the meal, or we would be forced to dance. Because we kept our hats on, the staff danced for us! While the staff at Annie’s likes to joke around, they take their food very seriously!

Who else has vacationed in Southern California with food allergies? What are your restaurant picks?


Kathryn @ Mamacado said...

Wow, looks like fun! Your son's are so handsome too! I agree about breakfast challenges...we've never gone out to breakfast with my 2 year old as he's avoiding eggs, dairy, wheat and nuts. thanks for sharing your vacation experience!

Rogene said...

Glad you had a good trip and were able to eat. Annie's sounds like fun. I miss fun restaurants.

Mimi Avocado said...

We had such fun when you came to visit! Hope you'll come again...more fun restaurants to try out! There's an Ethiopian place in San Diego that is allergen-free friendly!