Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Restaurant Review: 18 Seaboard - Downtown Raleigh

Yesterday, I attended a work function for lunch. The location selected was 18 Seaboard located in Downtown Raleigh. I had previously never been there and they do NOT have a Gluten Free menu.

I called a few days in advance to inquire about their Gluten Free options (as I always do). I was told over the phone in a very confident manner that they indeed could accommodate my special diet. I tried to get more specifics over the phone as to what exactly I could eat but was instead told how they serve people with food allergies quite often and never have any issues.

I decided to show up a little early for the lunch (something else I always do) to talk over the menu in more depth. I spoke with my server and went over the menu. It was recommended that I try the Cracklin’ pork shank with blue cheese grits, spinach, and cantaloupe compote. I began asking some more questions about the meal once I saw blue cheese was included (some blue cheese is made from molded bread). They could switch out the blue cheese grits with cheddar grits. Then I asked how the pork was prepared & cooked. Turns out it is indeed cooked in the same pan which also cooks up other flour laced entrees. Good thing I asked. FYI - I was told that many other people who desired GF options have been served this in the past. Not good.

The server then went back to the chef (I asked to talk to the chef on several occasions but did not get the chance until after lunch) to inquire about other options. He returned with the option of fresh shrimp & asparagus over cheddar grits - this was also listed on the menu. I was told no modifications would be needed. I asked again how the shrimp and asparagus were prepared/cooked and was told "grilled". Another red flag for me is when my food is cooked on a grill. It is always a good idea to request your food to be cooked in a newly cleaned pan or broiled on a newly cleaned pan in the oven instead of on the grill where cross contamination is likely. I asked for my food prepared this way.

Long story short, the food was great. I really enjoyed the shrimp and grits together as it is not something that I usually eat. By the way, the grits were made from corn and I was told their supplier avoided cross contamination issues. It took a little while to figure everything out but this is something that is pretty usual for me - hence why I go early.

The moral to the story is that I am almost more weary of places that seem very confident and say they serve diners with dietary restrictions "all the time". From my experience, not very many people (let alone chefs and waitstaff) in this area are actually familiar with preparing Gluten Free meals. One place may have the ingredients part nailed but might be weak on the cross contamination issues. It is always better to ask a lot of questions until you feel safe.

I'd like to give a special thanks to the owner/chef, management and waitstaff of 18 Seaboard for taking the time to work with me during my dining experience. I had the opportunity to talk to the owner/chef Jason Smith after my meal. During this conversation, I raised the issue of being recommended items that were not actually Gluten Free. We discussed numerous things in our conversation and they were very open to improving their processes. Part of the issue with cooking Gluten Free is that most chefs don't do it every day. It is easy to forget everything that is included in the GF Diet when you don't practice it everyday. Hopefully, I can work with places like 18 Seaboard in the future to help them more easily provide GF options.

18 Seaboard
18 Seaboard Avenue, Suite 100
Seaboard Station - Downtown Raleigh
Raleigh, NC 27604-1144

11:30am – 2:00pm

5:00pm – 10:00pm
5:00pm – 11:00pm

Reservations & Info: 919-861-4318
Website: http://www.18seaboard.com

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Jen said...

18 Seaboard is one my very favorite restaurants. I don't have to be as careful about cross-contamination as most of you do (I don't have celiac...just a wheat and egg allergy), but I'm so glad you were able to talk to Jason about preparing gluten free food. He really seems to be interested in doing whatever he can to please his customers. He's been so nice every time I've gone there for dinner (and asked a million questions). :)

Yum! such delicious food!

LuckyPD said...

Right now, 18 Seaboard is one of my favorite restaurants too. I also don't have Celiac. I do have gluten allergy though. I called the first time I went there after my diagnosis 8 months ago. I also spoke with Jason. He accommodated me with no problem. He prepared the cracklin pork shank in a separate pan, and served it with cheddar grits upon my request. In fact, when I arrived and notified my server, she had already been informed that I had an issue and that Jason would be preparing my meal specifically to cater to my requirements.

Long story short, it was fantastic, and I've gone back twice for the same thing. I am actually probably going there for my birthday dinner in a few days.

I'm glad you have this site, and I will strongly recommend 18 Seaboard (and the pork shank; OMG, buddy, you are really missing something special, and you don't have to because he'll make it so that us wheatards can handle it).

Also, J. Betski's right next door was willing to work with me too. Their food is also fantastic.

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