Category Archives: Restaurants

Nalley Fresh Opens in Columbia, Build Salads and Better Health

Nalley Fresh_Food Lineup Veggies2
March is National Nutrition Month. The lineup of veggies at Nalley Fresh is a good way to celebrate the month and your health.

The power to choose veggies and proteins at Nalley Fresh, Columbia’s newest restaurant, successfully lured my 12-year-old to eat all of her salad, including the peas – Wasabi peas. Chef Greg Nalley’s approach to Nalley Fresh, the eighth restaurant opening in Maryland, sheds more light on the not-so-secret approach to healthier eating. Make it yourself. Well, sort of.

restaurant decor

A team of folks do the hard work of preparing the assortment of vegetables, meats, or rather proteins, including tofu and falafel. Make it in a bowl, salad or a wrap is part of the process. And mix it with dressings like Basil Dijon, or pour a broth in your bowl to make it real interesting.

The menu of choices

The range of choices are a bit intimidating at first. But the menu for seasonal signature salads is a good starting point. During the community event that offered free meals, I selected the Nalley Fiesta salad. Anything Mexican-inspired works for my palate and the order flow is much like Chipotle, so this came second nature. With envy I also delighted in the looks of the Shades of Green with Thai Pork my mom ordered and my 12-year-old’s Asian Salad (edamame and Wasabi – peas!) with chicken, which she mixed with Old Bay dressing. Gotta keep a bit of hometown flavor in all things.

Salad with Porkv2
Shades of Green with Thai Pulled Pork


Managing food allergies 

Restaurants that have ‘point and pick’ are prime for cross contact risk of allergens. And places we tend to avoid dining as a family because of my youngest daughter’s multiple food allergies.

Nalley Fresh_Food Lineup proteinsv2

However, Chef Nalley and nutritionist, Monica Rainagel, were on-hand during Community Day to answer questions, accommodate and guide us through the ingredients, including those in the sauces.

My youngest daughter chose grilled chicken, bacon, bleu cheese, cucumbers and romaine lettuce mixed with ranch dressing filled in a wrap, which she enjoyed safely.

Chicken Wrap

It is estimated that 15 million Americans have a food allergy. The common eight allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, soy, dairy, and eggs. Shrimp and salmon are among the standard proteins you can select, for an extra cost, but these were not on the bar during Community Day. Toasted almonds, a tree nut, are also on the bar.

Proteins listv2

Nalley Fresh’s website features a nutrition guide, nutrition calculator and the listing of allergens are available onsite at the restaurant. The ingredients of the dressings are displayed. And the Asian Vinaigrette contains fish sauce and Caesar Dressing contains anchovies.

It would be further helpful to have all allergens listed as part of Nalley Fresh’s online interactive nutrition guide. Like most consumers, food allergy diners check websites for menus, but also call restaurants ahead to check for cooking practices and options.

Healthy lunch budget

I went for a second helping during a HoCoBlogs  event after the grand opening and tried the Bleu Collar, a salad with shredded beef and pretzel bites.

bleu collar
Bleu Collar Signature Salad

Nalley Fresh is a likely go-to-spot for an occasional work lunch break. Not so much for our entire family in light of  food allergies. However, it may be a consideration for those who have a gluten-free diet (without the bread and some toppings), vegan or prefer a Paleo way of eating. It’s about $9 for a meal without a drink. And I already signed up for the rewards program to get my 7th meal free.

The greatest reward you can give yourself is to make food choices that are tasty and healthy. And for that reason,  Nalley Fresh hits the spot.

Restaurant allergen guide refreshes dining lesson

I wanted to share a recent restaurant experience over Thanksgiving weekend that is still very noteworthy during this holiday season hustle. After a long weekend road trip, we stopped at a local steakhouse to grab a late dinner. First mistake – never eat late after 9 pm or near closing.  My daughter had already eaten at one of her favorite ‘allergy-friendly’ spots about two hours earlier.  I thought she may not be as hungry as the adults. Our second mistake.

We get seated and review the menu.  My daughter joins in on what she thinks she may want. We’re used to this. We’ve eaten here before, but it’s been awhile. When the server arrives, we discuss her food allergies. And the manager comes over and introduces himself and brings us the monthly Allergen Guide.  Kudos on the updated monthly allergen guide!

Before reviewing the guide I mention my daughter wanted Baby Back Ribs. She’s had them before and I ask the manager to share how they are prepared. The manager informs us the steaks (topped with nuts) are prepared on the same grill as the ribs – “There is no way she can have that – I’m sorry.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that!

Decoding the guide

One of the pages from the restaurant's allergen guide.
One of the pages from the restaurant’s allergen guide.

I glance at the children’s menu section of the allergen guide – there’s no mention of the common allergen “nuts” for ribs.  But it has a noted risk of cross contamination – actually almost all of the children’s menu items have that risk.

And the guide has the disclaimer like most restaurants “we cannot completely eliminate the risk of cross-contamination or guarantee that any item is free of any allergen.”

We have decoded these allergen guides with our daughter ever since she could read and understand symbols.

Daughter started reading menus of allergen information during her early years at local restaurants
Daughter started reading menus of allergen information during her early years at local restaurants

But, it was late – she wasn’t feeling it or interested in looking at any allergen guides that night. She just gave me “that look.” She puts her head down on the table, then  looks up and directly asked me, “Why did we even come here?”  That was my third mistake. Mom guilt sets in.

The manager was standing there, clearly feeling restaurant guilt. He tries to accommodate and offer her Macaroni and Cheese or fruit. Really?  Ribs versus fruit and pasta. She politely responds, “That’s okay, I’m not that hungry.”

We have been dining out with food allergies for a few years. I’m usually better about planning, but not that day. I’ll admit that. I had experiences where chefs meet with me personally, voluntarily go to a different grill area, clean it, and prepare a dish she wants just for her. Not that night.

I have access to use apps for restaurant reviews, but I still use personal judgment when we arrive.

Sidebar – Maryland Restaurant Law effective March 2015

Starting March 1, 2015 in Maryland, restaurants will be required to: have one employee on premises at all times with food allergen awareness training; ask customers to inform them about their food allergies and discuss meal options. If you want to call Kraft Macaroni cheese and fruit – “options” – okay. It’s a step forward, but not a leap.

I am aware of the rules of how to handle places you’ve been before. I know it’s not good to eat late. In my rush to go to a place we’ve been before and to satisfy hungry adults (myself included), I thought she would be covered and accommodated. That was the worst mistake. We could have gone to a different place; it was too late in the night.

We all lost our appetite. Beyond the allergen decode debacle, service was slow.  Our party of six arrived with a steak appetite and most just ordered an appetizer and drinks. We received complimentary free desserts. My daughter nor I wanted to risk dessert for her by now.

The lessons never end –

  • You can’t always anticipate accommodations at a restaurant, even if you’ve been before.
  • Preparation is everything when dining out with food allergies at any hour of the day or night.