Last Wednesday I was treated to a friends and family evening at Island Cafe Bar in Long Island City, Queens.
Island opened about six months ago with some buzz given that a former contestant from Top Chef was chefing there. Then I didn't hear much about it until this summer, and this invite for dinner came along with news of a new chef: Chef Dan Morales.
A sit-down, fixed menu fall tasting was on offer that evening, showcasing their new chef; however, a pre-set menu is not necessarily allergic girl or guy friendly. Regardless, I thought I'd go look at the space, have a drink, mingle, see what was what.
I wasn't disappointed by the space. Nestled in Long Island City, just over the 59th street bridge, in a residential neighborhood, this two-story building is an oasis. The space features white washed walls, white pillows and furniture, soft candlelight, double height ceilings, lanterns, tall clay urns and blond wood beams. The vibe is Miami Beach meets Mykonos.
Because the room was so inviting, I thought, "Maybe I will try some food." After speaking with two out of the three owners about the allergic girl sitch, my mind was put more at ease about trying a dish or two. (I'm never completely at ease until I eat without incident, I'm sure you know what I mean).
One part-owner John is also the Maitre D'Hotel at the St. Regis in midtown Manhattan. He said he's very used to handling all kinds of food allergy requests. On a more personal note, he told me that his niece has very severe food allergies, and traveling with her involves all kinds of separate pots and pans. Aha! Here is a man who really seemed to get the cross contamination issue. Excellent!
Then I spoke to Tim, part-owner number two, about the menu and what was allergic girl safe. He was only too happy to accommodate me, reminding me that "there is always a way" to accommodate a patron's requests or needs, dietary or allergic or otherwise. They have three grills where meat and fish are grilled separately and three Fryolators, two for calamari and one for squash blossoms etc.. It was that point in the conversation when he happily offered to fry something separately for me or anyone with allergies.
His statement, "there's always a way," resonated in my ears all evening.
These two men made it clear they have years of experience working in the food service biz (as Tim reminded me he's in the SERVICE industry) and aren't frightened off by a special request or two. Both owners said they have special requests all the time and they both made a point of reminding me that their job is to make the customer happy and feed them safely.
This business attitude is music to an allergic girl's ears and I wanted to make sure you all heard it too. You never need to patronize a restaurant that will not accommodate you as they are plenty of wonderful restaurants that will. Go out there, get to know your local business owners, your Maitre D's, your managers and servers: find the ones who want your business and want to feed you safely.
What did this allergic girl end up having? I had the Australian lamb chops, which were delectable, grilled simply with a bit of salt and pepper, tender and tasty. Funnily enough, they seemed to take a very long time to show up. Tim came over apologizing saying the waiter made a mistake and brought my dish to another diner - with shellfish and nut allergies! Totally proving their point that they get special requests and allergic diners all the time. How funny!
The upshot: I admire the owners respectful and understanding attitude towards allergies and special requests; the space is inviting, it had the kind of light that made everyone look great, relaxed and happy [or was that free flowing wine?]; and next time I find myself in Long Island City I would definitely stop in to try more of their nouveau Greek menu.
If you want to try out Island Cafe Bar for yourself here are the guys to talk with: From left to right, Tim, Shari their publicist, and John.
Island Cafe Bar
35-15 36th Street
Long Island City,