Want to peek in the oven with me? It’s Pizza Night!

Want to peek in the oven with me?, originally uploaded by Kate Chan.

It was a bit of a girl’s night last night – nothing huge, just out for dinner and then on to see a play at one of the local high schools (our friend made the costumes and her husband is the drama teacher/director). The thing is, the two friends that I went to dinner with are new to me. And they picked the restaurant.

(I can hear all of you gluten-free eaters out there sighing with me already.)

Yes, it was lovely to go out with these ladies. They are quite fun.
And yes, the restaurant was a bummer.

They chose to go to a new Italian restaurant in town. Yep. I was cringing too. “Oh goodie,” I thought “Italian to boot.” Well, here’s the silver lining: salad and pre-planning.

Before heading out to meet my friends, I grabbed a quick bite at home (a little cottage cheese and an apple) so I knew I wouldn’t have a hunger fit in the middle of a high school play. (Not good as the only thing to satisfy this would be the candy bars they sell during intermission. Not exactly diet-friendly, those things.)

This restaurant runs a bit like a chain – you order when you walk in, they give you a little number on a stick for your table and wa-lah. The food comes out. I think in the future, I will avoid restaurants that work like this. You see, the thing is without an assigned server to our table, there was absolutely no control over anything. Not good.

So here’s what happened: I entered and perused the menu while chatting. The menu is easy to read when you only have 5 things to look at. The menu is about 90% thin crust gourmet pizzas, a whole 5 different salads to chose from, and the rest of the menu is filled with booze and soda.

I asked the cashier (aka the person you order with) if the salads had croutons or bread. Yes, of course, she replied. Well, I said, I need a salad without ANY bread, no croutons, etc. I repeated this twice. She said, okay, no problem. She asked if I was on a “diet”, I stated no, I am gluten intolerant (please picture teenage eyeball glaze over here as that is what happened).and that the bread cannot be on my salad. “Oh, I think I’ve heard of that,” she said.

I took my little table number over and sat down. And we waited for our salads. Each item on our order was delivered by a different food runner, none of whom bothered to actually see where the food should go, but rather just dropping plates and cups in front of whoever was closest to them (me!). When my salad arrived, there was a huge piece of garlic toast in the middle of it. I put my hands up and stopped the delivery. This threw the poor runner for a loop and she had to pause.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, “I cannot eat this. I told the gal up front that no bread can be on my salad. I’m going to need a new salad. This needs to be remade.”

Oy vey. She was annoyed. But I didn’t entertain it. After all, I’d explained to the gal up front and was quite clear with her.

After dinner and in the middle of the play, it all became quite clear to me too. She had reserved me the same salad after only a slight delay to fake it being “remade”. Now normally, I would have slide a sugar packet or something under the salad before sending it back. That way when it comes back, if the sugar packet is still there? Yea – same salad and I’m not eating it. But this type of service had me off my game. And I paid for it all night/day with tummy pain.

About 3:00 this afternoon, I finally made up my mind to call the restaurant. I spoke to the “senior shift member on duty” as the manager doesn’t work on the weekends (?!). I explained what happened and then told her how lucky she is that I DON’T have an allergy that would have caused anaphylactic response. (I then explained what I meant by this as she didn’t get it.) I quite clearly stated that the negligence and unwillingness of her server/wait staff to take such requests seriously (as she was quite rude to me too) could jeopardize someone’s health and life.

She wanted my name so the manager could apologize. But I wasn’t looking for an apology. I told her that the reason I was calling was to insist that the wait staff/servers/runners at their restaurant be MUCH better trained as they are risking their clients/customers and their business but being short-sighted and irresponsible.

I wonder if my phone call will make a difference.
Well. At least I tried.
What do you guys do when/if this ever happens to you?

……

I made up for it all by having pizza night at home tonight.
No earth shattering recipe to share with you all.
At least nothing you don’t already know/have access to here.

I made a mock lavash recipe with fennel, oregano and basil as my herbs. Then I divided it into 4 equal dollops and smeared each on to a piece of parchment paper. I let the over preheat with our pizza/bread stone inside and then I slid each crust in to the oven to prebake for about 7-8 minutes until golden. I pulled them out of the oven and let them cool a bit on a rack (but still on the parchment paper) while the other crusts baked. Two of the crusts were then wrapped up and packaged for the freezer for a quick meal one night in the future and the other two were made into pizzas. (One was chicken, garlic and roasted shallots and the other was chicken, tomato and garlic.)

And you know what?
I’m convinced that pizza is better when it’s homemade.

AND it sure makes a house smell wonderful.

All’s well when your house smells like garlic pizza, if you ask me. ;)
Happy weekend, everyone!
-Kate

16 comments on “Want to peek in the oven with me? It’s Pizza Night!
  1. Sophie says:

    That is horrible! I’m sorry to hear about your unpleasant experience. So far since I’ve been on a gluten free diet, I’ve only gone out to eat once (precisely because I’m worried about this happening to me :(…) and I didn’t experience this at the restaurant.

  2. zebe912 says:

    Stories like this make me glad that I am not THAT sensitive to gluten. I can eat some and still be okay. I just can’t eat it like I used to.

    A friend of mine has the same problem with people understanding she can’t have dairy, not even cheese on her salad. It amazes me how many people in food service don’t even know what counts as “dairy.” She doesn’t get the anaphalactic reaction either, but still just says she’s allergic, because that’s the only way she can get their attention. Sometimes the hassle of the little food allergy cards seem like they might be worth it in the end; for the education of the staff if nothing else.

  3. H.Peter says:

    Brutal experience.
    Unfortunately if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys…and in the restaurant biz (especially chains) that’s the norm.

    We established a small group of reliable, caring restaurants in our city and do not frequent otehrs anymore.

    On the positive, your Pizza looks fantastic!

  4. Laura says:

    Your home made pizza looks great! I have Celiac too, so I completely understand. If you’re ever looking for a quick, delicious frozen pizza (bear with me- I know the gf frozen pizzas are NOT good) try GLUTEN FREE & FABULOUS frozen pizzas. I’ve tried them all, and this one is SO GOOD. You can get them on Amazon.com and they come delivered to your house. I promise you won’t be disappointed!!!

  5. Oh hunny, I’m so sorry this happened to you. But it also just happened to our brother Steve, too. I just can’t stand it when no one pays attention. It happened to me Thursday (I spent five minutes saying NO BREAD and guess what it came with…)

    ANYWAY, I hope you’re feeling better. I miss our “echats.”

  6. L says:

    I am so sorry to hear that! I work at a place exactly like that so I feel your pain. My coworkers can’t even get the allergy requests right when I order! (And they’ve seen me get real sick over it.)

    What I’ve learned in places like this, you have to flat out lie. You have to say that if any bread gets on my salad I will have a serious allergic reaction. Even describe swelling, hives and the hospital if you have to. If you say intolerant people in those types of restaurants just assume that you mean you don’t like it. Sad, but it’s true.

    The best thing is to make sure that they make a note on your order ticket and ask the server to go and talk to the cooks to make sure they take your request seriously. Watch them go do it and have them do it immediately or they won’t. I work up front and many times I’ll take an order and write things like “ALLERGY TO SHRIMP: Don’t put shrimp on or this person will die” and shrimp will still be served on the pizza. It’s communicated through a computer so the orders don’t always get read properly. I have to physically go and explain to the cooks the importance of it and that if it gets on, they have to throw away the pizza and start over.

    It’s really hard to get it right because there are so many people that your order goes through before it gets to you and most of them usually don’t care. Cross-contamination at these places are horrible too so even if you ask for no bread, traces will probably still end up in your salad. There is absolutely no harm in getting the manager involved if you think your server is not taking you seriously. The manager should make sure that it happens.

    Best thing is to avoid these places, but if you can’t, I hope some of this helps. Also, if you want to get on the servers good side immediately and have them help you, leave them a tip. It’s pathetic, but it gets them to do what you ask and to it correctly. Good for you to call the business, that’s the right thing to do. But I would call back to speak to the manager directly, the senior shift manager is probably also a kid and most likely didn’t report the incident to the manager to keep from getting in trouble.

    Good luck and PS: I love the blog!

  7. Cathy says:

    Boy that stinks. It’s hard to be safe no matter what type of restaurant. The salad experience happened to us at Outback. The waitress went back and pulled the croutons off and I was just lucky enough to see some remaining crumbs before my DS took a bite! Here we have a sit down restaurant at a supposedly GF friendly establishment with “educated” staff. Chains are only as stong as their weakest link….pun intended!

  8. Callista says:

    See, I AM allergic to wheat. Very allergic. On top of the whole celiac thing. So far, I’ve only had to go to places like that (Olive Garden) twice in the last three years – and I just refuse to eat anything. I mean, I’m polite about it, but when people see you refuse to get something to eat and cover up your water glass when they pass the bread tray over it, they get the picture. I feel like a drama queen, but people just don’t get it.

  9. Shirley says:

    That sucks. I’ve had it happen to me as well. Nothing like finding a crouton or crumbs in your salad. Honestly, I probably would not have agreed to go to that restaurant because it was Italian (there are few of those we can eat safely at). It’s just easier to go to a place that is more likely to be safe. I know it’s a bit uncomfortable with new friends though, and like others said, it even happens at places that have GF menus like Outback. BTW, doctoring the salad so you’d know it was the same one is a great idea! I understand what you are saying about being rushed and flustered and not being able to take such measures though. My sympathies!

    The pizza looks marvelous!

  10. cyndin says:

    So sorry to hear about the crappy restaurant. I’ve had that happen to me too. Not with gluten, since my daughter and I are not celiac and also don’t react to traces. But with egg for her and dairy for me back when any trace would make me miserable. Like you, all our symptoms take a few hours to manifest, so we don’t know we’re being nailed until it’s too late.

    I suggest you write a letter to the restaurant. That call you made is already forgotten. I doubt anyone in management ever knew about it. A one page photocopy or printout from a big name medical place on how exposures to gluten for people with celiac have big scary repercussions that go far beyond the symptoms the person experiences would be a nice touch I think.

    It’s one thing for a place not to really have much for you to eat, but lying to you and jepordizing your health (or the life of someone else with a different allergy/intolerance) is something they need to know about and change. Such an easy change too.

  11. jen says:

    Good for you! I would have been too timid to call and complain, but I bet your call made a difference. I know that at least it will be said, and out there, and it’s better than nothing.

  12. Julialuli says:

    I think it is easier to explain to new friends that an Italian restaurant (I live in the Northeast…try to avoid Italian here!)just won’t work. I’d rather sort it out with the people I’m dining with that get frustrated at the restaurant, get my blood pressure up because of retail stupidity and ruin the rest of my night feeling ill.

    Unless we’re eating at a non-fast food place (I consider Olive Garden-type restaurants fast food)I figure I’m taking a risk.

    I have to try your lavash pizza. I’m finding the pizza dough I use is wearing thin on me…not crispy enough.

    Best,
    Juls

  13. Kay says:

    I have figured out how to smuggle one (cold!) New Grist beer into a bar, but I have yet to take my own food into a restaurant. The social limitations of celiac are HUGE!

    I don’t trust any restaurant and haven’t eaten out in 2008. I am a food professional. Try as I might, I cannot prepare a safe meal for myself in my work kitchen. And I know I have tried a lot harder than any restaurant staff ever would. There are too many chances for cross contamination in a kitchen that serves wheat.

    I always pack my lunch and eat it in my car.

    Sorry you had a bad night out. Hope the play was entertaining!

  14. How unfortunate! …But brilliant idea with the sugar packet. I’ve never thought about that before and I will CERTAINLY be doing that next time I get food I don’t trust. I hate that nagging feeling that my food isn’t safe..and then I find myself second guessing the stomach ache (as in, is this gluten, or did I anxiety attack myself into a stomach ache..no no, self, gluten stomach aches are very specfic, blah blah)

    buuut, pizza on mock lavash sounds so, so good. I’m going to be making this in the next week or to for sure.

  15. Dee says:

    “Voila” is French for “Look Here” but sometimes say or spell it “Wa-lah”

    Thank you, Dee. :) I’m not a French-speaker, but I know it’s written “Viola”… i just didn’t want people thinking I was exclaiming “Clarinet! Oboe! Viola!” LOL
    -kate

  16. april says:

    A recent experience in Malta with a Celiac brought home this story to me. I’m gluten intolerant but my friend is a Celiac whose doctor just chastised her for not sticking closely enough to the gf life – the doctor said her red blood cells were too big, and many of her other vits and minerals – ferritin, calcium, others – were very low. Probably due to malabsorption. Anyway, we ordered “scrambled eggs without the toast” at a waterside café in Malta’s Strand – the waterfront street. The waiter was already peeved with us as we’d switched tables to avoid smokers. He brought the eggs on the toast, and my friend patiently but firmly explained she couldn’t eat them. He whipped the plate away and returned in a minute with the eggs sans the toast. My friend ate them, and suffered a bad tummy later. The moral is, though it’s hard, speaking up is a requirement – those that suffer from the teeniest bit of gluten are a good reminder to those of us that can take a little more that ‘taking’ a little more is Russian roulette! I LOVE the sugar packet idea and have never thought of that.

Got a gluten free crumb to leave behind? Share your thoughts!