My mother-in-law called me the week before we moved to Cincinnati asking if we could get together for dinner over the weekend to celebrate my birthday early. Not a problem. “Think about where you want to go,” she said. “Cheesecake Factory,” I replied without hesitation.
The Cheesecake Factory was a special place for me since childhood. Visits to my grandparents in Tustin as a child and even into adulthood meant Granny, Auntie Boogie, and I would be taking a day trip to Beverly Hills. We’d walk up and down Beverly Drive and Rodeo Drive, taking our time to go through the stores and boutiques. It was a fun day to “shop” without really shopping. We’d have a picnic lunch in a nearby park and then have dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.
Since one opened in Louisville, it’s where we’ve celebrated several of my birthdays. I’d rather have cheesecake over cake any day. Plus, I knew they have a gluten-free cheesecake. After all, what is a birthday celebration without a little indulgence? When our server came by and I told her about needing help to make sure my choices would be gluten-free she went off to find out and surprisingly returned with an allergen guide. A pretty detailed guide, too. It was just like the menu, only under each dish it had a chart of allergens and if a particular allergen was in the dish, it’s color filled the box in the chart. I was impressed since they do not have this information on the website. I went with the Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken. Flavorful and tender.
When we were having leftovers boxed up the server brought the menus back for dessert. This was my moment of glory. The one I had waited 3 days for. As I was opening my mouth, she quickly informed me that their gluten-free cheesecake wasn’t gluten-free because of something they are dusting it with. My heart sank and I bit back tears. I was angry and upset, wanting to shout while crying, “What the hell were you guys thinking?” I knew that would be unproductive so I kept my mouth shut. Whatever they dust it with isn’t done in-house anyway. It’s done in the bakery that it’s shipped in from. It was so disappointing that a restaurant I’ve frequented (in various cities) throughout my life would do something like that. The server did mention that they are in the process of changing what they are dusting the cheesecake with to make sure it is truly gluten-free. What was even more disappointing is the cheesecake is still listed in the allergen guide as gluten-free. I took these feelings home with me and unleashed them in a long comment that I submitted on their website. What is more disappointing is that it is nearly 20 days later and I have not heard from them at all.
My husband had me decide where to go for my birthday this past Sunday. Since we are still new to the area, we don’t know a lot of the restaurants. We know a few that we keep going back to, but mostly places we can go to in shorts and a t-shirt. I wanted to go to a place where we were expected to dress up a bit. Cincinnati has a Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. My husband fell in love with Pappadeaux when he was flying down to Atlanta frequently for business. His clients took him at least once a trip for dinner. We also keep driving by Eddie Merlot’s and saying, “We need to try that sometime.”
I looked allergen information up on their websites but couldn’t find them, so I emailed them both. I heard back from both in well under 24 hours. Pappadeaux didn’t give me any information at all other than telling me to let my server know about having gluten intolerance. I was a bit put off since contacting them was a way to make sure I knew what I could have before stepping foot through their door, as well as save their staff some time. Not long after that email, I received one from Eddie Merlot’s manager. The manager. Not only did he tell me what my options were on their menu, he assured me everything is made from scratch. BINGO!
We arrived early for our reservations and we were seated right away. Our server was very accommodating and pleasant when I informed him of having gluten intolerance. 5 minutes after we spoke with our server, the manager came by to make sure our server explained my options and that he was taking care of my dietary needs. He let us know that corporate is in the process of creating a menu to show gluten-free options because they are recognizing that gluten-free diets are becoming more normal for many customers. It wasn’t the last time we saw the manager, either. He came by several more times throughout our meal. Not only that, our server was attentive and checked on us constantly despite him getting busy with more customers being seated around us.
The attentiveness from our server and the manager could be attributed to the fact that Eddie Merlot’s is like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. You’re paying premium prices for the food and the service. However, in all the times we’ve eaten at Ruth’s Chris, we’ve never had service that exemplary.
The food was pretty amazing, too. I enjoyed it even more than Ruth’s Chris. The Shrimp Cocktail was amazing. The shrimp was tender and the sauce was understated. Most places have too much bite in their sauce, which makes me want to stop eating. However, theirs had just enough bite to make you want more. My ribeye was like butter, despite the lack of it on the ribeye when it was cooked. Juicy and easy to chew. No, I didn’t eat all of it. I ate about half of it. The rest was my lunch the next day.
We ordered the Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic, Sautéed Spinach, and Brussel Sprouts as our sides. The potatoes were simple with just enough garlic to keep you shoveling down. I mean, eating more daintily. Yeah, that’s what I meant. The sautéed spinach was the best I’ve ever had, including my own. My husband figured they sautéed it with chicken broth and wine. He thought red, but when I was eating the leftovers the wine flavor came out more and it tasted more like a white to me. The Brussel sprouts were pretty souped up with bacon and parmesan cheese. You put bacon on anything and it automatically makes it taste ten times more heavenly.
Because it was my birthday, my dessert was complimentary. FINALLY! Dessert! No replay of the dessert disaster at The Cheesecake Factory. However, our server informed me that the only gluten-free dessert is their creme brulee. Lucky me I don’t dislike creme brulee. I love cracking that carmelized sugar on the top for the first time. That little crunch sound is almost like stepping on dried leaves in the Fall. However, the sugar quotient it sickeningly sweet for me. Most places have small ones so I can manage the sweetness through the entire dessert. Eddie Merlot’s creme brulee is about twice the size and lighter in density than most. The lightness was a great counterbalance to the sugar. The mint and blueberries helped cut the sugary taste, too.
I ordered a decaf with dessert. A bit of habit. I like having coffee with my dessert. Especially in a restaurant. Normally, I wouldn’t share the coffee part, but along with the rest of the food, it was impressive. The aroma was mellow and inviting. I intended to drink it black. You know how you usually get cream and sugar/assorted sweeteners with the coffee? Well this came with an array of options for the coffee along with the usual. Fresh whipped cream, raw sugar cubes, cinnamon stick and dark chocolate shavings. I’m a sucker for dark chocolate and I couldn’t help myself. I love cinnamon, too. If I can find a way to use it in my food or drinks, I add it in. I used the dark chocolate, cinnamon stick, and the fresh whipped cream. It’s not often I get fresh whipped cream and to not use it felt like a waste. Yes, that was my rationalization. It was my birthday! That was my other rationalization. It’s not like I eat like this daily or even monthly.
I was thrilled with everything. My husband really only enjoyed one of the Trio of Medallions and said he wished there was an option to have a filet mignon prepared just one of the ways. He didn’t completely hate it since he ate every last bit of it. He wasn’t keen on dessert though. He chose the red velvet cake. It was several layers tall, but didn’t have enough frosting to counter all that cake. He also said he could tell it was refrigerated. While I was in the bathroom, he had a conversation with our server who asked how everything was. When my husband told him about the cake, he said, “Oh we can’t have that.” and took the cake off the bill.
While one celebration was overshadowed by a dessert debacle, another celebration was highlighted by one spectacular experience after another. Eddie Merlot’s is not a place we’ll be going every week or every month, but it is definitely a place to go to celebrate.