A Guide to Alabama BBQ for People With Food Allergies: including restaurants with locations in other states

img_0141Although Alabama may not seem like a top tourist destination, Montgomery, AL was recently placed on a list of top tourist destinations for 2018 due to the new Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This is just one of many worthy sites to visit on the Civil Rights Trail, or other tourist destinations like the US Space & Rocket Center, that could bring someone with food allergies to Alabama to visit. Since I recently moved here, I decided to sample the local cuisine in order to report on restaurants that are not the fast food chains that are pervasive throughout the country. Small family owned restaurants can be frequently found on the road, but they are not as good about documenting food allergens online as large chains are. This can make it more difficult to select a place to eat in a hurry.

However, there are several Alabama BBQ joints that I have found to be possible for me to eat at that deserve to be highlighted because it is possible to order plain meat without sauce, that according to the employee that I spoke with has not been marinated in soy based vegetable oil or Worcestershire sauce. However, I obviously can’t guarantee that the person is correct, that it won’t change, or that cross contamination won’t occur.

Alabama BBQ is known for two things: smoked meat and the Alabama White Sauce. Many BBQ restaurants throughout the country grill the meat and serve it with a BBQ sauce. However, in Alabama restaurants slow cook the meat in a smoker, some for as long as 16 hours, or smoke it on a grill so it cooks quicker. Regardless of how fast or slow the meat is smoked, it really adds a nice flavor to the meat so it can be enjoyed without the sauce, unless it’s too salty for you.

The restaurants usually have red and white sauce available. However, menu items frequently say they are served with the white sauce or tang sauce. Alabama White Sauce is a mayonnaise based sauce. So this has egg and soy in it. However, if you want to try to make it at home there are soy and egg free mayonnaise substitutes that can be used. Alabama red sauce is usually a soy sauce based BBQ sauce. I was surprised to actually find such an Asian influence in Alabama, because the BBQ sauce that I’ve tried in the North has no oil or soy in it at all. It’s not the only common food at a BBQ restaurant that was influenced by Asian cuisine. The pickled relish in Alabama is called Chow-Chow. This dish supposedly originated from Chinese cuisine. Although it doesn’t have soy in it, I don’t like pickled flavor, so I haven’t tried it.

Family owned BBQ chains and franchises are very common throughout Alabama. While some restaurants only have one site, some  have expanded to multiple cities or states. The ones that have expanded to the largest amount of cities are probably the safest to eat at. These include Dreamland BBQ, Moe’s Original Bar B Que, Jim N’ Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q, and Full Moon Bar-B-Que.

Dreamland BBQ is the safest for people to eat at with food allergies. It is located in all of the larger cities of Alabama, and is frequently rated as one of the best BBQ restaurants in the country. The website actually does have a section that lists ingredients for allergen information. The red sauce is actually a vinegar based sauce, without any oil in it. The baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and some of the other dishes are also made with out soy oil. I really like that I can get a baked potato with meat and cheese, so I don’t end up paying for a bun that I shouldn’t eat.

Jim ‘N Nicks has expanded to multiple states in the South and Colorado. The restaurant serves both Alabama and Carolina style BBQ sauces, but the sauces all have soy in them. The website does have allergen information in a chart, but doesn’t provide a full list of ingredients. I have also heard that they own their own hog farm, so they can treat the animals humanely. I have tried the beef brisket sandwich without sauce and without eating the bun. The meat was well flavored with a lot of pepper and was juicier than other restaurants that I tried because all of the fat was still on it.

Full Moon Bar-B-Que is considered one of the best BBQ restaurants in the country according to Huffington Post. It only has restaurants in the state of Alabama. However, I don’t think it is as good as Jim ‘N Nicks or Dreamland BBQ. This restaurant is good for those that don’t like their meat to be too peppery. The brisket is rather plain tasting, except for the smoked and salty flavor. Jim ‘N Nicks brisket is much more flavorful. The pulled meat is a bit too salty though. However, one can order salad with a choice of meat. So I really like to get the salad with brisket, without sauce or salad dressing. Although they do not have allergen information available, they told me that they do not use oil when cooking the meat. They use only a dry rub.

Moe’s Original Bar B Que is a franchised restaurant that can be found in multiple states. They told me that they don’t marinate the chicken in a soy based product or Worcestershire sauce, but had trouble finding their allergen list when I was there. So they should have one if you ask a manager. I wan’t sure if I could trust them, but tried the chicken sandwich with macaroni and cheese and chocolate pudding, without eating the bread anyway. The sauces do have soy, but I was able to order food without sauce and had no problem eating it. However, the decor of this one isn’t as nice as a fast food restaurant. It’s more like a graffiti covered dive bar.




Cobblers and Crumbles

Cobbler and crumble recipes are great to experiment with now that the summer fruits are in season at the local farmers markets. They are very versatile and can be altered to meet the needs of many types of food allergies. Any fruit can be used. Margarine can be used instead of butter. Water or milk substitute can be used instead of milk.  Because they do not require egg as a binder, it is an easy recipe to cook with a gluten free flour. They can be eaten on their own, or with ice cream.

Blueberry Crumble

  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 1/3 c. butter
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/4 t. salt

Combine 1 pint blueberries washed and dried, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in an 8X8 pan. Cut together 1/3 cup butter, 1/3 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl until crumbly, about pea size, and sprinkle on top of the blueberry mixture. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake 30 minutes. Mix with fork before serving. It goes great with vanilla ice cream.

Peach Cobbler

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 cups fresh peach slices
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Ground cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

Melt butter in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Combine flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt; add milk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter over butter (do not stir). Bring remaining 1 cup sugar, peach slices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly; pour over batter (do not stir). Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve cobbler warm or cool.

Categories: Blog Posts, Recipes

High Protein Charoset

For those allergic to nuts, quinoa is an excellent substitute to keep the high protein content of charoset so it is not just a sweet dish. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any quinoa charoset recipes on the Internet, so I created my own. I created this recipe by altering a Turkish charoset recipe. Unlike the traditional Ashkenazi charoset recipes, the Turkish and Syrian recipes are cooked and processed so it is more spreadable than the chunky, uncooked Ashkenazi version. Some Turkish and Syrian recipes are only made with dates. So by making it with apples, dates and quinoa, the recipe is a global fusion of ingredients.

1/2 c. Tricolor quinoa (a single color is fine if you can’t find tricolor)

3 c. Chopped apples

2 c. Chopped dates (or a combination of dates and apricots)

1/4 c. Sweet red wine or grape juice

Juice of one orange

1 t. Cinnamon

1/4 t. Nutmeg

1/4 t. Allspice

Cook the quinoa and set it aside. Add the other ingredients to a pan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then let it simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the apples become a bit softer. Stir frequently. Let the fruit mixture cool. Transfer it to a food processor and process it until it is spreadable.

Note: I recommend the tricolor quinoa, because I found that it is the best price for quinoa at Cost Plus World Market. The red and black quinoa taste more like wild rice than the bitter white quinoa, so it is a much better flavor.

Categories: Blog Posts, Passover, Recipes

Tips for a Job Interview for Those With Food Allergies

Last year, I began to apply for jobs at university libraries throughout the whole country. I had known from my friends’ experiences with job interviews at universities, that it was going to be something like I had never experienced before. Librarian job interviews last all day long, include interviews with more than one small group, one-on-one interviews with multiple administrators in addition to the direct supervisor, a presentation with only two weeks of preparation, a tour of campus, as many as three meals, long plane flights, and hotel stays. It can be really stressful, especially when you may not have been prepared to walk 7000 steps on the day of a job interview in painful shoes, and are unfamiliar with a city, local cuisine, and restaurants. Although I was hesitant to travel a lot due to having food allergies, the stress and preparation was totally worth it once I got a job offer that was too good to refuse.

Having never had an interview that included meals with the interviewers before, I read articles online about what to expect, what to discuss, meal etiquette, etc. I was shocked to find an article by Karen Burns on the US News & World Report site that stated: “Order quickly and with no fuss or interrogation of the server. Do not make an issue of your food allergies, your weight, or your likes and dislikes.” While you should obviously not discuss your weight or dislikes during a job interview meal, telling someone with food allergies to not discuss them with a server, believing that a person with food allergies interrogates the server, is extremely disrespectful. Food allergies fall under the category of a disability that requires accommodation. It’s not like food allergies would render someone unable to do tasks on the job unless they were applying for a job that involved food or lots of travel.

When a person is offered a face to face interview that involves meals, that interviewee is most likely in the top three of all applicants. At that point, the interviewers are not just interviewing you to choose who to hire. The interviewers should want to make a good impression so that the right candidate for the position will accept the job. They can assume that if candidates are good enough to be accepted for this position, they will receive other job offers that could seem like a better fit. It is in everyone’s best interest to be able to accommodate a simple request for allowing the candidate to choose the restaurants that can accommodate food allergies. Two out of three universities that I interviewed at actually offered me the option of home cooked meals that the directors of the departments were willing to cook for me personally, instead of restaurants. However, I didn’t want to burden them with cooking for me personally since I am aware of the types of foods that I can eat in restaurants without a problem, and what my tolerances of allergens are. They really made me feel welcome and appreciated. An organization that is unwilling to accommodate a simple request for handling meals during a job interview really may not be the best option as an employer.

Here are some tips for handling job interviews with food allergies:

1. When you are offered a job interview that will include meals, explain to the person that is scheduling the interview that you have food allergies and that you would like to be the one to choose the location to eat at and explain the types of restaurants that are ok. For example, I usually say that grills, delis, Italian and Greek food are ok.

2. The person should email back a list of potential restaurants for you to choose from.

3. The interview candidate should research the restaurants on the internet and contact them to ask a restaurant manager questions over the phone about the food in a timely manner.

4. If the list of restaurants is unacceptable, do some research into other options that are acceptable. For example, I was unhappy with a list of gourmet restaurants. So I found a Ruby Tuesdays and Jason’s Deli in the area and told the organization that I was interviewing with that they were my choices.

5. Report back to the person who is scheduling the interview, the names of restaurants that will work for you.

6. Familiarize yourself with the restaurants at the airport via the airport’s website in case of a long layover or bring some food with. Sometimes I bring my own sandwich for one of my meals while traveling. You never know when a flight will be delayed and you will need to buy food at an airport. If you already know what restaurants are in which terminals, then you can quickly get the food you need.

7. Make sure to bring your own snacks for the plane, breaks, and night spent at a hotel. I like to bring a container of baby carrots that will last for multiple days, unsalted pretzels, and several pieces of cake that I baked from scratch.


Beyond Meat?: Not Worth the Price

I have been intrigued by the concept of Beyond Meat since I first heard of the concept when it made the news before the product was released. The company manufactures soy free, plant based, burger patties and sausages. Instead of soy, the burgers are made of pea protein. They also manufacture  fake chicken strips that do contain soy. The texture and flavor is supposed to mimic real meat. The product is currently being sold at a number of grocery stores including Whole Foods Market, Kroger, and Safeway, and is now available at restaurants including BurgerFi and TGI Fridays.

Ground Beef is one of my favorite foods. It has always been my go to comfort food. Although I have noticed Black Bean Burgers and Quinoa Burgers that are made without soy, I have never really had the desire to try them. I thought they may be too spicy. However, I never thought I would really want to give up beef in favor of a soy free veggie burger. However, Beyond Meat really intrigued me because it’s supposed to taste more like meat. I saw it at Whole Foods Market the other day, so I thought it would be worth the try even though it cost $5.99 for a half a pound.

Since I usually broil hamburgers, I tried to broil the Beyond Meat patty. The taste was rather plain. The flavor was more like a chicken burger than beef. However, the texture was definitely like ground meat. While flavor’s not bad, the flavor just doesn’t cut it for a beef lover like myself. The flavor and price weren’t the only problems. I tend to eat my food really fast, and don’t drink water until the end. This is probably common due to how quickly we eat when we only have 30 minutes for lunch. So after eating half of a Beyond Meat burger at my normal hamburger eating speed, I started to get nauseous. I tried eating some more. But after I was almost done (except for a couple of bites), I really nearly vomited. The Beyond Meat burger wasn’t digesting at my normal pace. It felt like I had swallowed a hamburger sized piece of chewing gum. Water helped settle my stomach, but I would never try that again, and don’t recommend it to people with food allergies. Well, maybe I wouldn’t have had such a bad reaction if I ate it mixed into a tomato sauce with pasta.

Beyond Meat really needs to come with the instructions:

“Eat the food slowly and drink plenty of water while eating it to aid with the digestion process.”

“This food must be consumed in small quantities, only.”

No matter how many reasons exist to try to convince someone to stop eating beef or to become a vegetarian, it would never convince me to give up one of my favorite comfort foods, Beef.

How to Safely Celebrate Mardi Gras With Food Allergies or While on a Gluten Free Diet

I moved to Alabama recently, so I felt that my next several articles should be related to billboard-mardigras-1jpg-d00838f69df2cfb4.jpgthe South. Since Mardi Gras is tomorrow, it seemed that the first article should be on the subject. Mobile, AL claims to be the first city that celebrated it in the US, but New Orleans certainly has out shined the competition. Not being Christian, I hadn’t celebrated it before or paid any attention to the holiday. Mardi Gras is much more important to the Gulf Coast region than other parts of the United States. Given that it is a festive celebration before Lent, it seems like a Christian holiday. However, many of the parade and Ball themes seem far from Christian. Some of the parades in Louisiana honor the cultural heritage of its residents. However, the parade Krewes also honor the local neighborhoods, social and philanthropic clubs, myths, legends, a Yoruban God, Ancient Greek Gods, and Ancient Egyptian Gods. The parades of New Orleans happen for a whole month. Check out: http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com. Some people in Louisiana actually get two to three days off of work and school just for Mardi Gras, which makes this holiday seem just as important as Christmas.

DuIMG_0060ring that month before Mardi Gras, King Cakes are sold in stores. Employees bring them to work to share with the other employees and people bring them to parties. A plastic baby is supposed to be placed in the cake. Whoever finds it has to bring the King Cake next year. However, like many grocery store baked goods King Cakes are made with nuts, dairy, soy flour, soy oil and margarine. Pecans and cream cheese are common flavors to find. So those who have all types of food allergies need to be cautious around this cake.  The most food allergy friendly cake that I found at the grocery store was at The Fresh Market. It was made with canola oil  and only had soy lecithin and eggs in it. Soy lecithin does not bother me, even though I am allergic to soy.

Making a King Cake from scratch is the safest for most people. Traditionally, a King Cake was made as a yeast bread with frosting and purple, yellow, and green colored sugar on top. It also can be made with a variety of flavorings inside. It is also common to find King Cake’s made as monkey pull apart bread, made from biscuits or cinnamon rolls. The quickest and easiest way to make a King Cake is by using the Immaculate Cinnamon Rolls or Biscuits to make a pull apart bread. This brand uses palm oil and sunflower oil. The cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese frosting. If you can’t find the right sugar colors at your grocery, try Walmart. The “Celebrations” section of Walmart also sells packages of babies, to stick in the cake.

Here are some easy recipes:

King Cake Pull-Apart Bread

Quick and Easy Mardi Gras King Cake

If you’d like to make it from scratch or need to make a gluten free cake, I recommend using the sweet potato cinnamon roll recipeIMG_2084.jpg that I previously posted. This can be altered by substituting a gluten flour for the all purpose flour. Since rice flour breads crumble easily, it works better to bake a gluten free King Cake in a 9 x 9 square pan. The cake falls apart easily when a Bundt pan is turned over to remove the cake. In a cake pan it needs to cook at 400 degrees for about 45 min., more or less depending on the oven.



Categories: Blog Posts, Mardi Gras, Recipes

Za’atar: the Herbal Mix Missing from Grocery Stores

I first encountered za’atar, a Middle Eastern herb and sesame seed mix, in Israel while visiting a Kibbutz 12 years. The herbal mix was sprinkled into olive oil, or yogurt (labneh) to dip bread in. I had never seen some of the herbs in it in grocery stores, like sumac and hyssop. I just thought of sumac as poison sumac and didn’t know of the non-poisonous variety until then. Hyssop is nearly impossible to find, because it is labeled as an endangered plant. So I nearly forgot about Za’atar until I encountered it again at a food allergy friendly, Syrian cafe, Aissa Sweets, in Concord, NH. They sold za’atar rolls and za’atar cheese wraps, that were absolutely delicious.

The sumac gives the mix a of herbs and sesame seeds a tangy flavor different than the traditional herbs found in American supermarkets. Recipes to make za’atar are available on the internet. There are a lot of variations on the herbs that can be included in the mix. Since hyssop is not available, thyme is a common ingredient. Some recipes include cumin, and many have oregano. Sumac and sesame seeds really make the za’atar more authentic.

If you don’t want to make it from scratch, za’atar can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, Cost Plus World Market, Penzey’s Spices, and in online stores like Amazon.com. However, some versions look like they may not be as authentic tasting as others, because sumac is not listed in the ingredients. There were two versions sold at Cost Plus World Market. One said it had thyme and other spices in it. The one in the ziploc bag had the sumac listed in the ingredients.

In addition to dipping bread in za’atar and olive oil or labneh. The herbal mix is great to cook with. It is easy to make a za’atar bread by substituting za’atar for other herbs. I like using the Rosemary bread recipe for my bread machine. Instead of Rosemary, I substitute the same amount of Za’atar.

Because sumac is tangy, it goes well with other sour flavors like lemon and feta cheese. You can easily make something similar to Aissa Sweets’ wrap at home by mixing mozzarella cheese and feta cheese with za’atar and placing the mix on top of a pizza crust, or inside a wrap. Pizza crust without soy can be found at Target, Walmart, and other grocery stores. I have even found an uncooked pizza dough in the biscuit section that I was able to use to make an appetizer like cheese stuffed triangles. Phyllo dough frequently is made without soy, too. You can try making a dish with za’atar like lasagna, a calzone, bureka, Tiropita, or other cheese pies. If you can’t eat cheese, you can also sprinkle it on top of a pizza crust to make a Foccacia bread.

Za’atar is commonly used in a roasted chicken recipe with lemon. Here’s a great recipe for grilled za’atar chicken that works well for baking or roasting the chicken, too.



Categories: Blog Posts, Recipes
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