BEFORE I SHOWED up at Cafe Flora in Seattle’s Madison Valley, I thought I knew all the dietary requests out there. I’ve puzzled over restaurant menus, looking for the entree without gluten or dairy, and questioned servers about sugar and soy.
Cafe Flora has a special binder full of detailed dietary information. I learned that the vegetarian/vegan restaurant can accommodate people who don’t eat garlic, onions or eggs; the kitchen can work around nut allergies; and raw vegans can get a special dish if they call ahead.
Cafe Flora has handled allergies and dietary restrictions for years, says general manager Stephanie Flora (no relation). “It just happens to be trendy, but we’ve always been here.”
I once sighed to myself when friends questioned servers about ingredients or asked for options off the menu. Now, I don’t bat an eye if someone does it — that person is often me.
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Around here, dietary restrictions are so common that servers sometimes clarify. Ask for no cheese, and the server might follow up and ask if it’s an allergy or preference, since dairy might be tucked into a salad dressing or sauce. Many pizza places offer gluten-free crust. Some restaurants have GF (gluten-free) labels on the menu, others also have separate kitchen setups for people with celiac disease.
Some requests are easier to work around than others; the more restrictions, the harder to accommodate. It’s hard to eliminate sugar. Take out garlic or onions and you might find yourself having to stay home.
Some restaurants try to give everyone an option. Blue Moon Burgers, which has three Seattle locations and is opening a fourth, started with a gluten-free bun. But the more general manager J.R. Gifford looked into allergies, the more he wanted to do.
Instead of coming up with special gluten-free fries or onion rings to order on request, they all come gluten-free, cooked in dedicated gluten-free fryers. He fiddled with the black-bean patty to make it vegan and gluten-free.
“It’s way easier than having a mistake happen,” he said. “We’re kind of mom-and-pop, but with a fourth location, we have more responsibility now.”
Part of that responsibility for Blue Moon includes staying vigilant about allergies, like nuts. If a kid has a peanut allergy, the staff handles the order separately to prevent contamination, Gifford said. If you ask for a gluten-free bun, the staff is trained to ask if you’re celiac.
Blue Moon also has an ingredient binder for its staff, and can accommodate sugar, egg, onion and garlic-free diners.
Cafe Flora is known for its ability to accommodate restrictions, and it gets requests such as no nightshades — eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. About 50 percent of tables make some sort of request to modify a dish, Flora said.
All restaurants have some limitations. They can’t remake sauces on the spot, though they can sometimes substitute. A gluten-free vegan will likely only have a couple of choices, even at the most accommodating restaurants.
One tip I learned is that you should do your research in advance. If you have requests, call ahead. It will save you some trouble, and result in a far more delicious experience.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Email: email@example.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.