Pennsylvania: A Food Allergy Vacation Review
Recently my husband’s parents moved up to Pennsylvania and last month we traveled up from Texas to visit…and despite my careful planning, I’ll admit to still feeling apprehensive about being soooo far from home and keeping us all food-allergy safe.
My son has multiple food allergies, including peanuts and tree nuts, and I have celiac and am gluten-free…so as many of you know first-hand…eating is sometimes an adventure in and of itself!
Luckily, we were able to stay at my in-laws’ house, so we knew we would have lots of safe foods to choose from at home. It also made packing meals a snap for all of our little side trips!
As detailed in one of my July posts about our trip, we flew as a family for the first time. Although my husband and I have flown many times, we have never flown with either of our kiddos…one of which has food allergies. To read more about our experience with flying, visit my previous post here.
Once we landed, Strasburg, PA was our first and home-base destination for the week as this is where my in-laws live. It is a sweet little town that is rich in history and full of charm! As we got closer to the house, the scenery became fairly rural and I panicked a minute wondering where on earth we would find the “safe” food items we needed from a grocery store. Corn and wheat fields stretch as far as the eye can see and it is somewhat common to pass Amish buggies as frequently as other automobile drivers.
There are several grocery stores, some of a large size, within 20 minutes or more of the house that had everything we needed. Believe it or not, they had most of the things we are used to down here in Texas, plus some new and exciting “safe” food items…especially when it came to gluten-free foods.
The Strasburg Country Store and Creamery is an adorable old-fashioned ice cream shop that is as charming on the outside with its beautiful floral and cobblestone landscaping as it is on the inside with delicious homemade treats and novelty toys.
I will say, the store makes most, if not all, of their own food products with everything from fudge to ice cream cones to specialty candies a lot of which include peanut and nut products. I felt my blood pressure go up a bit just walking in and seeing the possibility for cross-contamination. Still, I took the time to visit with the staff behind the counter who very patiently and confidently walked me through their procedures for making their ice cream flavors and famous cones. They answered each one of my questions without even a hint of irritability and were more than happy to go out of their way for us. After verifying the cones were indeed safe for him to consume (there is even a clear window where you can watch them make the cones), they graciously selected a clean scooper and retrieved ice cream from a brand new unopened tub in the back freezer. I can’t tell you how impressed with the young man who helped us here. Needless to say, we visited the creamery a few times that week and chocolate chip was our hands-down favorite! (On a semi-related note, I found the staff here much more willing to help and knowledgeable about food allergies than their Baskin-Robbins counterpart in Texas.)
While the boys took a day trip to go golfing, my mother-in-law (MIL), daughter, and I visited the most fabulous home decor shops in Intercourse, PA. And let’s face it, you can only shop so long before you need sustenance to refuel and continue that retail therapy! My MIL took me to a quaint little restaurant, Kling House, tucked away inside of an older looking house that has been brilliantly remodeled as a restaurant.
I’ll admit to being skeptical about their ability to cater to my gluten-free needs, so I had planned ahead and stashed a few safe snacks in my purse earlier that morning. As they seated us, I inquired as to if they had any gluten-free options and our waitress promptly offered me a gluten-free menu. That’s right…my very own gluten-free menu. I felt like a princess and couldn’t believe my good fortune. For lunch I dined on this light and savory cranberry chicken salad with a side of chips. It was absolutely delicious…and something I plan to try my hand at replicating at home. It was one of my favorite places we ate during our stay because of the ambiance, the stellar service, and the fabulous gluten-free selection.
When some of the extended family came in for a visit, we dined at the Fireside Tavern (also a hotel).
Our waitress was very patient with my explanation of our food allergies and visited at length with the chef to make sure we could eat safely. The restaurant already puts asterisks next to the items on their regular menu that are inherently or can be made gluten-free. I ordered a crab cake for probably the first time in five years and wasn’t disappointed. What a treat to have a specially made gluten-free crab cake!
As always, Red Robin was another one of our favorite places to dine during our visit to Pennsylvania. We are HUGE fans of Red Robin because of their work with our local FARE Walk and because of their attention and dedication to detail when it comes to food allergies. They have a special binder full of safe menu options for any food allergies that you can request from the wait staff. We’ve eaten here numerous times in Texas, Colorado, and now Pennsylvania and have never, ever been disappointed! We love Red Robin!
Lastly, was a visit to the Citizens Bank Field to see the Phillies play ball.
I’ll say, I did try contacting the park by email a month or two before our trip and received an automated response referring me to the food services page. While I was able to find a fair amount of gluten-free options, I was disappointed not to find much of anything in the way of safe foods for other food allergies. We planned ahead and packed my son a sandwich and chips with which he was perfectly happy. He was far more excited about waving his foam finger around and watching the Philly Phanatic! But, as you can see, I was able to enjoy a gluten-free cheesesteak…my first ever!
The cheesesteak was a little heavy on the bread, but still good. I am thrilled to see a gluten-free food stand at the park and that they are reaching out to accommodate the gluten-free community.
One of our favorite food allergy friendly spots to visit on a day trip was Hershey Park and Chocolate World in Hershey, Pa. To read more about that adventure and the complete low-down on their food allergy procedures, take a look at my previous post.
Have I convinced you to pay Pennsylvania (specifically Hershey and Strasburg) a visit yet? Well, I’ll confess, my goal is less about drumming up tourism than it is about empowering you as vacationers. The motto at our house is, “Food allergies can’t define you, unless you let it.” Truer words were never spoken and this phrase is especially applicable to vacationing too. What fun destinations have you traveled to that proved to be food allergy friendly for you and your family?
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