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May 26, 2011 10:41 AM

Very poor service - pre-cooked food

My husband and I walked into Hominy Grill for lunch on a weekday. The waitress was very slow to attend to us and take our drink orders. Upon taking food orders, I had a couple of questions about menu items. I explained that I have a very mild allergy to black pepper, and that I cannot eat food with black pepper on it. The waitress disappeared into the kitchen to speak with the chef and ask if black pepper was in the fried grouper sandwich I wanted to order. Once again, it took the waitress over 10 minutes to return to us. She waited on two other tables before returning to our table. She proceeded to tell us that the only food I could order in the restaurant was applesauce,cole slaw, or mashed sweet potatoes. We were in the restaurant for over 20 minutes and ended up having to leave because they would not serve me a meal.

I realize this is a peculiar allergy, but keep in mind that the only restriction is that I cannot have pepper sprinkled on my food. I explained that minute amounts from a grill or fryer oil are okay, that I just cannot have pepper added to my food. You would think it would be simple enough to just grill up a piece of fish or chicken without pouring pepper on it. She said that the chicken and all of the vegetables are seasoned with pepper and are pre-cooked. I could not even order a salad. I was blown away that such a well-respected restaurant has so many items pre-cooked and refused to make simple accommodations for a customer. We ended up leaving because I could not order anything to eat for lunch. I am supremely disappointed at their lack of service and attitude. I work nearby and unless they have permanently lost my business.

I have been to many other nice Charleston restaurants and this is the first that has refused to serve me food. Folks, this is the south and and one thing I really like about Charleston is its southern hospitality and grace. The behavior and attitude exhibited by Hominy Grill are contrary to its facade of southern charm. Beware if you have any special needs at all as they are not willing to serve you!

Hominy Grill
207 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403

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  1. The restaurant didn't refuse to serve you food. It offered you "applesauce,cole slaw, or mashed sweet potatoes" within your dietary restrictions. It's really unfair, as well as untrue, to say they are not willing to serve you!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      The items mentioned above are side dishes, not a meal. Additionally, those are hardly the only foods within my dietary restrictions. Not sprinkling pepper on my food is THE ONLY dietary restriction. This is the only restaurant I have ever been to that has refused to make a simple change, such as withholding a seasoning, in order to serve me as a customer. I would have been happy with a simple piece of fish or chicken thrown on the grill. When such a highly esteemed restaurant shows a blatant disregard for customer service, it is quite shocking and disappointing.

      1. re: HDolla

        They're a meal if you're a rabbit. :-) Or someone like me who makes a meal out of sides. What I meant is that the restaurant was truthful with you in naming the only dishes it could serve you that were within the scope of your no-black pepper restriction. Are you saying that something marinated and coated in black pepper is ok, just so long as extra pepper is not sprinkled on it afterwards?

        You said, "I could not order anything to eat for lunch.", "Beware if you have any special needs at all as they are not willing to serve you!", and "this is the first that has refused to serve me food." None of which are true since the non-allergenic dishes were offered to you.

        Maybe you've heard of "sous vide". It's becoming ubiquitous in fine dining establishments to control quality, for better or worse. Particularly useful for chicken breast and seafood to season and cook them at low temperature before service and then finish them off on the grill as needed. I haven't eaten at Hominy Grill but I suspect that's what your server was describing to you. If that's the case, it would not be feasible for the kitchen to leave off a seasoning if all the proteins are prepped in this way.

        Black pepper allergy must be a terrible thing to suffer with. Especially in the South, where it's so embedded in the cuisine. Still, I can hardly fault the restaurant for not wanting to take a risk by serving you something that might have come in contact with your allergen, despite your assurances that a small amount on the grill would be okay. Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society and there are way too many whackos out there who shake down restaurants leading proprietors to be extra cautious.

        Hominy Grill
        207 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I agree with you, Melanie on everything you've said. And what a rare allergy. I don't see how HD can find anything to eat in the south. Wow!

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            what about fish, or shrimp? They should have some fresh seafood that could be cooked without pepper, shouldn't they? And why wouldn't they let her have a salad? And why is all the chicken "pre-cooked"? ick.

            I agree that pepper is in a whole lot of stuff, and I agree about liability too. But I tend to think the restaurant and/or the waitstaff made a decision that the OP wasn't worth the trouble. Although HG has some aspects of a fine dining restaurant, the last time I was there, the waitstaff wouldn't be out of place at Applebees. That kind of casual vibe is prabably what they're going for, but it causes service to suffer.

            1. re: danna

              I would never categorize HG as fine dining. They do an enormous volume at lunch. I can see prepping ahead of time and I know some places partially cook ahead of time, particularly at lunch.

              I know other places, a little more upscale for sure, will fix special plates for my friends who have allergies and/or special preferences. My vegan friend gets special attention and wonderful food at High Cotton.

              1. re: danna

                Again, sous vide is used to partially cook protein in a way that preserves moisture and texture, allows it to be held longer, and can be finished with good results by less experienced line cooks. Here's the photo of the flounder dish I had at Roosters in Charlotte,
       , and from the texture and the internal appearance when I cut into it, I'm sure that it was prepared by sous vide and then seared to order on the grill. Not ick at all. Roosters is not a fine dining establishment either, but the kitchen does have some modernist technique. In fact the main users of sous vide technique were airlines --- what a recommendation --- before starred restaurants started playing around with it. Now it's standard procedure in many kitchens, fine dining or otherwise that care about texture and consistent quality that it affords. It's overuse has been the topic for other threads, as it introduces a sameness to meat texture instead of a more varied striation.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Is that black pepper I see on that flounder? : O

                  In addition to the sous vide thought, it could be that many proteins are marinated in something containing pepper or pepper used in seasoning blends. Many house seasoning blends contain pepper as a large component.

        2. The message may not have been relayed as you stated. The server may have said that you have an allergy to pepper but may not have added the part about mild and it only being when sprinkled on. I would not want to serve anyone something that might be harmful. The chef may have considered all dishes with a dash of pepper or pepper in the flour batter or a teaspoon or so in a sauce. Then again, that may not be the case. I'm just thinking that it's much easier to adapt if it's a preference rather than an allergy. I'd feel horrible if I made someone sick, and I'd be much more conservative in suggesting foods that might perhaps have even a little of the problem item.

          1 Reply
          1. re: CyndiA

            I agree with CyndiA. The server may not have properly communicated your intolerance to the chef. She/he may have said, "guest is allergic to pepper - what dishes can she have that are pepper-free?" Much can be lost in translation/the relay. It maybe would of been helpful to ask to speak with a manager. Although, it sounds like the server was the root problem. Slow and inattentive. But since the OP failed to bring her complaints to mgmt nothing was resolved and OP left and condemned the entire establishment for what very may well have been one bad server.

            Either way, it's a shame and I hate that you were made to feel unworthy. Maybe you could call and speak with mgmt now that you've had a few days to reflect.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. I think we can all agree on two things:

              1. It is too bad that the OP could not get something acceptable to them.

              2. A black pepper allergy in the South ought to be filed under Rows, difficult to hoe.

              1. I really don't see the difference allergy wise if black pepper is in the food prep - which most seasonings including flour mixtures that will be used on the line (where food is prepared) would already have vs being sprinkled on top of food. Once you say 'allergy' to a restaurant all sorts of red flags will go up. Liability is a HUGE issue. You also need to consider that you were in unannounced until ordering, so any variances that could have been made prep wise were discovered too late. I would suggest calling days ahead of time and discussing your dietary restrictions with someone who can assist you and work with the kitchen so they can better accommodate you. To title your post 'pre made food' is a disservice to the restaurant. Many items are probably cooked to order but already prepped and ready 'to fire' when ordered. At that point it is too late to adjust seasonings.