We had the good fortune recently to visit Chicago for a family vacation. As parents of two sons, one with life-threatening food allergies, this was the farthest we’ve ventured with them from our home in London, Ontario, Canada. I needed to work out plans for meals in advance, so I asked Jenny Kales of The Nut Free Mom Blog for some restaurant recommendations. She recommended Wildfire Restaurant, which is known for steaks, chops, and seafood, and I’m incredibly thankful that she did.
I called ahead to make a reservation for the night of our arrival in Chicago. We were staying in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, and I was directed to Wildfire’s Glenview location rather than the downtown location, since it was only 10 minutes from our hotel. I mentioned when booking our table that my son is severely allergic to peanuts and all other nuts. Since Jenny has recommended Wildfire to lots of people with allergies and has had excellent feedback, I didn’t question the manager or Chef at booking. I did have back up snacks in my bag as always, in case anything went wrong.
Even when I do verify allergy safety with kitchen managers and chefs in advance, I find that table service can ruin the whole experience. Often a waiter will give us information that conflicts with what we were told in advance, or he or she won’t seem confident serving allergic guests. No matter how safe I was told the food is in advance, Jacob won’t eat under those circumstances, and the back up snacks become his meal. This problem does not exist at Wildfire.
When we arrived, we were greeted extremely warmly by Ian Oser, the General Manager. Once we were shown to our table, our waiter introduced himself, and he opened the conversation with us by acknowledging my son’s peanut and nut allergy and assuring us that they accommodate lots of customers with those allergies. I actually found the table service impeccable in all ways, far above what we normally encounter when we dine out.
I really liked the decor and feel of Wildfire. There’s a bustling vibe about it, and I like the open kitchen where you can see the chefs preparing your food. I felt that the best word to describe its atmosphere was sophisticated and sexy, but maybe it’s just been too long since I was somewhere that nice… Jacob summed it up when he said “I feel special being here”. Let’s all compare that for a moment to the feeling our kids with allergies often get in restaurants ~ I feel like I’m a bother, or I don’t feel safe. Points were scored by Wildfire for creating an incredibly positive and reassuring atmosphere even before our orders were placed.
I viewed the menu online in advance, and I knew that Wildfire has almonds or pecans in some salads, and that there’s a peanut butter dessert. I don’t necessarily look for restaurants that don’t use our allergens, I look for restaurants with proper food preparation and service procedures that can ensure our food does not come in contact with those our allergens. As a precaution, we were told not to get anything made in the deep fryer, to avoid a few marinades, and not to have the wood oven pizza since a nut crusted fish special is made in the same oven.
At Wildfire, when you identify yourself as allergic, a Food Alert sheet is filled out by the waiter and the Manager is notified. If a telephone order is placed, the person who answers the phone gets a Manager to take the order. The Food Alert sheet says “Food Alert. A simple mistake could be life threatening. Food allergy/allergies; Food Ordered; Table #; Check #; Server Name; Manager Name; Date; Time. One copy of this sheet is given to the Coordinator, the other is stapled to your check, and the order is rung in using their Alert/Allergy modifier button. This procedure is followed for all food allergy orders and their gluten free orders (they have an extensive gluten free menu).
In the kitchen, two different people check through the complete list of ingredients is each of the items you ordered to ensure they don’t contain your allergens. There are proper measures in place in the kitchen to ensure that cross-contact with your allergen does not occur, such as using clean cutting boards and fresh gloves.
Wildfire takes allergy accommodation one step beyond anything I have ever seen before.Each Employee must sign this declaration on day one of their training, which is kept in their file:
“I understand and agree that I will follow the allergy alert and gluten free menu procedures as outlined above. I realize this can be a life and death situation if a Guest ingests an item they are allergic to and that it is my responsibility to communicate with both the Manager and kitchen regarding this allergy. I further understand that if I do not follow these procedures, I will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination. If I have an other questions I will ask management immediately.”
When our meals arrived, the food was excellent. Jacob ordered the half rack of ribs which comes with coleslaw and applesauce, and he ate without hesitation. So much can go wrong with allergy communication and the depth of allergy procedures, and the fact that Jacob felt completely safe from manager to server to table meant the world to me. To say that he loved the ribs would be an understatement.
My older son, Aaron, had beef tenderloin, which he said was the best steak he’s ever had. He chose creamed spinach on the side, and we shared a house salad with delicious homemade ranch dressing. My husband had the shrimp and crab bisque, and prime rib. As a vegetarian, I stuck with the salad, the fresh mozzarella pizza, a side of potatoes au gratin, and the creamed spinach, which sides are treats to me and remind me of my mother’s cooking.
I was extremely satisfied with the meal and completely relaxed from an allergy safety perspective, which is amazing to say since we hadn’t been there before, and we were so far out of our normal safety zone. It says a lot for the staff, management, and chefs at Wildfire that in that hectic environment with our allergens in the kitchen, they kept me completely at ease.
I highly recommend Wildfire to food allergic or gluten free guests, either for a meal out or if you’re booking a private party. We went back there for dinner on the last night of our trip, and they executed perfectly for us again. Wildfire is part of the Lettuce Entertain You group of restaurants, and they have locations in Illinois in Chicago, Oak Brook, Lincolnshire, Schaumburg, and Glenview and in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and McLean, Virginia. Their contact information to make a reservation is here. Feel free to let them know that Onespot Allergy recommended them.
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