Cotton Patch Cafe: A Restaurant Review

A very dear friend of mine recently got married and that meant a rare road trip for just me and the hubby.  And I do mean rare….

After a delightful six-hour road trip (and no that’s not sarcasm…we had a fabulous visit) up to Wichita Falls for the wedding, we dined at Cotton Patch Cafe.  We first ate here at this exact location a year or two ago on a different road trip, and had such a wonderful experience.

With some advance research, my son (peanut and nut allergic) and myself (gluten-free) were able to eat safely here and had fabulous service.  I really can’t say enough wonderful things about this establishment.  However, for the purpose of this review, I will focus on my own experience from this month when I dined at the Wichita Falls Cotton Patch.

When we pass through small towns on a road trip, the food isn’t something I really want to get carried away with.  While I am usually able to find something safe to eat, I prefer to save my calories for a nice sit-down dinner when we reach our final destination for the day.

So when we finally arrived at Cotton Patch I was starved and ready for a nice meal.  Both the hostess and the waiter were very knowledgeable about food allergies and already had a gluten-free  menu available.  (They have several allergy-friendly menus available upon request.)  I had plenty of choices, but opted for the sirloin steak and loaded baked potato with steamed veggies.  Doesn’t it sound fabulous?  The steak was cooked to perfection as was the rest of my meal and the staff came and check on me periodically to make sure everything was satisfactory.

Dinner at the Cotton Patch where we usually stop on our way up to COMy hubby in front of Cotton Patch Cafe in Wichita Falls, Texas

Bottom Line:  Cotton Patch Cafe is a dining establishment that my family and I will continue to seek out when traveling because of their amazing customer services and attention to special dietary needs.  I give this restaurant an A+!  Thank you Cotton Patch!


Jersey Mike’s: A Restaurant Review

A very dear friend of mine recently got married and that meant a rare road trip for just me and the hubby.  And I do mean rare….

With a six-hour drive ahead of us, we decided to take our time and really savor the moment.  We made a side trip through Mansfield on the way to Wichita Falls and stopped for lunch at Jersey Mike’s.

Jersey Mike’s reminds me of Subway, but maybe a little more upscale and with less topping choices.  Before I go on, I would be remiss if I didn’t disclose that although the restaurant offers gluten-free choices and offers a detailed allergen listing of their products, there are plenty of opportunities for cross-contamination since all food is made on the same counter (or at least it was at the location we visited).

With that said, most of their cold “subs” can be made into salads, otherwise known as the “sub in a tub,” for those that are gluten-free.  I ordered the Turkey Breast and Provolone Sub in a Tub and requested the server put on a clean pair of gloves before assembling it.  He was very gracious to do so and even took time to clean off the counter before assembling my salad which is made in a bowl (so the ingredients never touch the counter).

Although my salad was good, without the array of toppings that Subway offers, it tasted a little bland.  Ordering a different kind of salad might have done the trick.

My meal at Jersey Mike’s was decent and I appreciate their extensive allergen information available on their website, but overall, this is not a place I will be craving the next time we hit the road.

What are some of your favorite “safe” places to eat when you are on the road?

The Best & Worst of Eating Out With Food Allergies: Two Restaurant Reviews

As I mentioned in my last post, my family and I traveled to a wedding in Texas last weekend and knew we would be eating on the road.  For most individuals with food allergies, this is highly doable if you do your homework and research ahead of time…plenty of time.

This routine has become the norm for us when we travel.  I usually call ahead to speak with restaurants about at least two or three menu items that would be allergy-friendly for our family.  (My son has peanut and nut allergies and I am gluten-free.)

We’ll get the worst of my travel dining experiences out of the way and then end with a positive note on a story about our best travel dining experience.

Texas Land & Cattle  (Hickory Falls, Texas)

The rehearsal dinner was hosted at this location so I called ahead to speak with the chef several times only to be put on hold and/or passed around.  On my first call, the young man I spoke with said the manager was in and would be happy to answer my questions and asked me to hold for ten to fifteen minutes.  I made this call well before the dinner hour rush and was put on hold for a whopping 35 minutes before I finally gave up.  Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly a happy camper.  On subsequent calls I was passed around with the general consensus being, “We don’t have peanuts in our restaurant.”  Anyone familiar with food allergies knows that statement is not a reassurance.  The only thing it indicates is that the staff is untrained or unfamiliar with food allergies, ingredient labels, and cross contamination issues.

On my last call with the restaurant, I got a marginally better response, but still one of uncertainty.  Upon arriving, I spoke with a teenage waitress who was WONDERFUL!!!  She helped me choose items that would be safe for the whole family…and even threw in a safe dessert. Overall, it was an unpleasant experience, but God bless that young woman who waited on us that evening…she made the dinner enjoyable for everyone!  She deserves a raise!

(Special Note:  Texas Land & Cattle does offer a gluten-free menu online but provides no additional allergy information.)

Hooray for Cracker Barrel!!!

We made an unexpected stop at Cracker Barrel for breakfast one morning.  A quick check of my phone showed the restaurant had no allergy information listed on their website.  Staff participation would be key for us being able to eat there.

I made sure my kids understood that breakfast might just be fresh fruit if we couldn’t find anything safe.  I asked the hostess about food allergies and she said to explain it to our waitress and she would coordinate with the kitchen.  There were ten in our party on a Saturday morning at peak breakfast time and our waitress took time to patiently answer all of my questions and coordinate our order.  She had the chef make allergy friendly pancakes and bacon in a dedicated pan to avoid cross contamination.  She was even able to wrangle up a gluten-free breakfast of eggs, bacon, and grits for me.

This was a completely FABULOUS experience for us and the entire extended family was able to sit down to breakfast together.  What a treat!

What restaurants have you visited that have been accommodating for food allergies?  Which ones have not?  Is there a special restaurant that deserves a gold star for it’s good work?   Please share your stories and offer recognition to gold-star establishments!

Eating At Luby’s Can Be A Challenge for Those With Food Allergies

I love Luby’s.  I’ve eaten there since I was a little girl.  I still associate church on Sundays with eating at Luby’s because one inevitably led to the other.

Now that I have my own family, we still love Luby’s.  But eating there is a downright challenge.  Although I am satisfied that Luby’s provides several meats and vegetables that are peanut, nut, and/or gluten-free (and you can forget salads and desserts), they aren’t easy to come by and chances of cross-contamination are staggering.

Everything is served buffet style at Luby’s…so the individuals behind the counter are serving you.  The problem is in the placement of the food and the utensils that are used for serving.  For example, in the vegetable section today there were some safe items like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and green beans for my son.  However, next to those vegetables were sweet potatoes with pecans.  Although each food bin should have its own respective utensil for serving, there is always an outside chance that the wrong utensil could be used.  In addition, the food bins are stacked so close together, it is not uncommon for some food to be spilled out of the bin or accidentally dropped into another bin by the serving utensil.  It’s more than a little scary.

The same thing goes for meats.  Some meats such as the roast beef I’ve found to be okay, but there is often almond-encrusted fish in an adjacent food bin.  If the knife that is used for roast beef is accidentally used to half a piece of nut-encrusted fish, there has been contact with the allergen and the results could be catastrophic.

On very rare occasions, I do allow my family to eat at Luby’s.  I’m sure the employees almost hate it when we do eat there because I’m polite but firm in requesting fresh food, fresh utensils, and so on and it does slow down the line.  So what?!  My son’s safety is my only concern.

In this day and age, I see so many restaurant chains and even mom and pop dining establishments making changes to accommodate those with food allergies.  So I’m a little stumped as to why a family dining institution such as Luby’s hasn’t followed suit.  It’s more than a little disappointing because Luby’s is one of the last places around where you can provide the entire family with a well-rounded and healthy meal for a decent price…if you don’t have food allergies.

So, Luby’s…if you listening…we love your food, your prices, and your commitment to remaining a family dining experience but maybe it is time to begin considering safe-serving options for those with food allergies.