I know, I know, you can probably tell by the name that Texas Roadhouse is not a LIKELY place the health foodie is going to frequent. But our purpose was great...here's the thing...LIFE happens and you will not always find yourselves in health focused places! People have friends, and not all health seekers have friends with other health seekers, so you may find yourselves in restaurants that don't cater to your particular ideals, but you still want to hang out with your friends so you go anyway, or like many of us, you decline the invitation. But when is the next time you have a business trip, business meeting, or conference and you find yourselves (again) among the sticky caramel rolls they bring in the morning, the donuts they don the tables with, the pizza they deliver. I'm telling you, it's a tough world for the health conscious, or dietary restricted, to be in. What seem to be normal activities to most people are often the downfall of social life for the health enthused. And I GUARANTEE ANY friend group has at least ONE friend that has dietary restrictions (or shall we say, complications). That's the truth, folks. No matter how you look at it, we have to learn to get along with wherever we find ourselves.
So that was our mission on this particular evening, to find a typically conventionally inhabited joint that is commonly frequented by the average Joe, but not necessarily what would be expected to cater to the dietary determined. Enter Texas Roadhouse - St. Cloud.
We were skeptical. I'm not personally a meat lover, so finding myself festooned in flanks of steak did not leave me hoping. HOWEVER, I was pleasantly surprised. I have learned doing food reviews the very true art of never judging a book by it's cover. This was was telling example.
This is a restaurant we never would have had the opportunity to go to because of a nut allergy we have handled in my son, so as he wasn't with us, it was a perfect night to go. But it is worthy to mention for those of you that are travelling will not be disappointed. They also work towards this effort and do warn of peanuts and peanut dust with a sign posted right by their entrance door.
At first glance, looking over the menu the options looked slim and fell down to the typical options of SALAD. I'll admit, if I was a major meat eater, the options would have been more plentiful, but when it came to gluten, wheat or dairy free, the task was daunting. But here is an important lesson that most of us don't want to hear because we don't want to be a burden: ask.
My husband asked and lo and behold, Hunter, our server, WHIPS out a separate gluten free menu! By not wanting to be a problem customer, I could have missed this very cool opportunity. I said "WHIPS" because the other cool thing about this was that Hunter was obviously not clueless about dietary options. Being knowledgeable - even partially - goes a long way!
I appreciated the minutes, even during a busy hour, for service manager Nick to talk with me. He said food issues do come up and they have regulars that come in where they are aware of what they can and cannot eat. I was impressed that he said he has cooked in the kitchen basically everything that runs through the place, so when he says he can accommodate, he has the experience to know what he's talking about. He said while they can adapt many things, MSG was the hardest to work with as it's in many of the seasonings. He left us by saying with a smile that he takes pride in being able to accommodate the menu for people.
Basically the offerings are meats without seasonings, and some vegetables and salads and that is always the tough part - why go out when you can probably make and season to taste your own food better than what a restaurant could, that is, if there are not chef quality specialty entrees, why go to a restaurant any way? I often think, when at restaurants, that there are some very simple little things that would move a restaurant from merely "adapting and accomodating" to actually offering chef quality restaurant entrees. Like my husband's meal could have worked for me if they had used an onion gravy, for example. (pulverizing a boiled onion gives the starchy thick feeling of a gravy.) But while I think what I would do, I do not in any way believe a restaurant SHOULD do anything. They do not have to work to accommodate all palates.
What I settled on was the "Country Veg Plate" (4 side dishes of vegetables) and I was pleased with my meal. I am happy knowing that you DON'T have to decline the invitation, that perhaps surprisingly, you will find at least something you can eat in regularly occupied establishments.
I find during these reviews there are basically 3 A's a restaurant falls into: Adaptable, Accountable, or Advocate.
Adaptable? Yes. With ease they could adapt the menu to accommodate special dietary needs
Accountable? Yes. It is obvious they have had education on food accommodations to suit various needs and keep people safe. Many don't even do this in any way (again, they are not expected to) so thumbs up Texas Roadhouse!
Advocate? This is the title I give to those restaurants that DON'T settle for adapting and accountability, but want to give a unique restaurant experience to ALL customers no matter of need by offering actual entrees, made specifically for the dietary conscious. This, I realize may be a pipe dream, as the allergies and intolerances and reasons for them are varied and numerous. Could it be more than a restaurant can do? Possibly, but I will keep looking for those that want to "treat me" with a night out at a restaurant, because salads and steamed veg in order to be safe do get boring.
To reiterate and in defense of a truly wonderful, great service restaurant that you'll find at Texas Roadhouse, no restaurant is REQUIRED to live up to this ideal. What I hear most often is why should they? Chinese restaurants cater to those that just want a great chinese meal. Mexican cuisine intend to put out a great mexican meal. Texas Roadhouse has it's following and they cater to it. So no, I don't think all restaurants need to work to be pleasing to all particulars. What I DO believe is that ALL restaurants have clients with special diets and it's just going to increase in the years to come and it would be wise for restaurants (especially the bigger, more well known ones) to be ahead of the game and stand apart from the competition. In fact, ten years from now, I don't know how restaurants, simply staying with status quo as they are, will be able to adapt to the changing health we will be seeing over the next years.
Last thoughts: Texas Roadhouse - St Cloud, MN knows there are current needs, they adapt to them well, they educate themselves on how to meet the need, and give great service. We felt very welcomed and feel good that our mission was accomplished. Yes, say yes to the dinner date, you CAN find something to accommodate you here. I KNOW they will be happy to help.