Alchemy Cafe – restaurant review

I struggle with how to write this review. If I were writing it purely about the taste of the food, it would be written one way. If I were writing purely about their gluten free-ness, it would be written another way. I will try my best to meld the two.

The ManBeast, myself, and four dining partners were at Alchemy Cafe last weekend as one of our friends was keen to try the fish fry. Being a restaurant in the Willy St neighborhood, and this being Madison, I didn’t think too much about them not being able to handle a gluten free meal for me. So many places I can just walk into here, and they will at minimum know how to answer my questions, once I ask the right ones, and at best, already have a gluten free menu.

So I’m torn on how to write this review. When I asked about gluten free menu options, the waitress gave me a laminated sheet that detailed how EVERYTHING on their menu could be either cross contaminated with gluten, or already contained gluten. This partly tells me that they don’t really understand gluten free dining issues. On the one hand, they were incredibly honest with their gluten free sheet that essentially states that NOTHING can be made gluten free, and that they are horrible with cross contamination (if you have true food allergies, I would highly suggest you avoid this place). I have to give them props for this honesty. On the other hand, a food establishment that isn’t willing to use a clean cutting board and knife to prep my food ranks pretty low on my list. It really isn’t hard to make a bunless burger gluten free, as long as clean prep surfaces and utensils are used (which for their burgers, is where they said gluten would likely be introduced).

Apparently this is indeed asking too much of Alchemy, as I did suffer from a glutening the days following eating there. That said, the burger I did chance eating was actually quite tasty (TinShack Smokehouse Burger). I’m not sure I’ve had bison before, but it was quite tasty, the cheese was a perfect complement to the taste of the burger itself. The whole thing was perfectly done to my liking. While I don’t blame them for my illness, as I knew I was taking a chance eating what they clearly stated would likely be cross contaminated, I’m also slightly appalled that they are that bad at cross contaminating food. I would fear for my life if I ate there with food allergies, and I would also fear for many people if they ever had problems with food borne pathogens.

The atmosphere was incredibly too loud for a meal, and our waitress ended up squeezing 6 of us onto a four top. The general set up of the place is odd and not great at efficient use of space. Add in cold weather in Wisconsin, and every time the front door opened, you could feel a strong waft of cold air. Our waitress was competent, but nothing special, and deserves not extra accolades. She was a bit slow, and less than enthusiastic about making sure we were taken care of. On yelp, I didn’t give them a one star, because my food was tasty, but I cannot in good faith rate a restaurant higher that is that bad at cross contamination. While my food was good, I will never eat at this place again. And due to how loud the place was and how small the bar area is, I’m not even sure I’d want to go there for drinks.


3 Responses

  1. The food borne illnesses would be my worry too. I know it takes time in a busy kitchen to switch out cutting boards and stuff, but you should be doing that already!

    Does gluten stick around on hot grills? For example, will you have a problem if someone toasts a bun on a hot grill?

  2. I don’t normally reply to reviews, but I would like to hopefully clarify some points made in this post- Like gfpumpkins stated, we try to be very honest regarding informing people what they may be exposed to. Our kitchen and prep areas are very small, and because we make most everything from scratch, we have people prepping from 9:30 in the morning until around 8:00 at night. This does require us to reuse the same space throughout the day; however, our cutting boards, containers and coolers are not ‘dirty’ and neither are our untensils. We do switch out and clean all of our cutting boards, containers and utensils. I am very sorry that you experienced gluten related issues after you ate at our establishment. Some more information would have been helpful- did you have fries with your meal, or a salad? Some of the dressings that we make contain gluten, and our fryer is used to fry breaded menu items. Although we do not have gluten free menu choices, we do have a number of people that come into our establishment that are gluten free, and this is the first time anyone has reported an issue. Again, I apologize for the experience, though I do object to the implication that we are not a clean establishment, and that people who eat here are somehow at risk for food born pathogens. The food we serve is fresh- we make and prep everything in small batches almost daily. If you are ever to experience an issue like this again, it is more helpful to discuss your issue with management directly so that they might address the problem.


    Alchemy Cafe

  3. I second your thoughts on Alchemy. I’ve eaten there twice and got glutened on both occasions. The first time was shortly after they opened and I ended up ordering something on the advice of the wait staff as being GF which wasn’t. The second time they actually presented me with the same menu you must have seen and very carefully tried to order something – again unsuccessfully. I haven’t been back. It’s a real shame, because I like the atmosphere of the restaurant and it’s a favorite of a lot of friends, but when I dine with them, I usually request that we go somewhere else

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