Fenton Fire Hall has been open just over two years, and they have quickly become a much loved establishment in Genesee County. Even better, this is a restaurant that takes Celiac Disease and food allergies seriously.
Fenton Fire Hall is the 4th restaurant in the Union Joints chain. Well known for the Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen that has been in business for 20 years, they have branched out into other towns and counties, sharing their dedication to real food and a flair for creativity. They've continued their knack for restoration in Fenton as well, turning an old fire station into a 3 story restaurant and bar that has something for everyone and a gorgeous view of the city.
I was blessed to sit down for a one-on-one with head chef John Wentworth. While John might be relatively new to Union Joint and Fenton, he's not new to cooking. He's been cooking since he was 13, working in his father's hotel, and honing his craft at culinary schools here in the U.S. and in Italy. And while he's been around the country, he follows the same "local" concept as the other Union Joints restaurants. Whenever possible, local products are purchased for their meals and they strive to work with Michigan distributors. The corn tortillas for their Beef Flank taco bar are proudly made in Detroit. They even use local honey procured by an employee who does bee keeping as a hobby!
So let's talk about the gluten free menu. The first thing that I notice, and appreciate, is the printed warning that they used shared fryers, and therefore their fries and other deep fried items are not safe for celiacs. Actually, it says it in three different spots on the menu. While I appreciate a dedicated gf fryer, I also appreciate a company that is honest and forthcoming right off the bat.
While the Fire Hall is most known for their brisket, pulled pork and other proteins, I decided to sample their seasonal chili and their Shaved Brussels Salad. An added note about their meats that are smoked- they do meats separately and wash down grills in between times. So if you have a pork allergy like my husband, they've got your cross contact issues covered!
The seasonal chili right now is their 3 Bean Veggie. Loaded with navy, black and lima beans and a spiced tomato broth, it is well paired with butternut squash and roasted red peppers. The mix of the sweetness of the butternut squash marries well with the smokiness of the broth.
The Shaved Brussels Salad is, in a word, amazing. Caramelized Brussels sprouts are mixed with dates, semi-soft goat cheese and grilled onion. Toasted walnuts are tossed throughout and topped with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette and served warm. While I had the small portion, I could easily make a meal of the large and enjoy every single bite and still want more! Left alone this is a vegetarian dish, but it can also be topped with pork, chicken or salmon.
Their gluten free menu is pretty extensive. They have two gluten free appetizers, ample meats and sides, and sandwiches and burgers that can be served on an Udi's bun. And I have it on good authority that they are working on a gluten free version of their famous macaroni and cheese.
And for dessert they have ice cream. This isn't just any plain ice cream. This is ice cream they hand make with LIQUID NITROGEN. It's made in small 9 gallon batches that can be whipped and completely frozen in 6 minutes. While you can get a scoop of ice cream at the restaurant, you can step outside just a few feet way and go to their ice cream stand, Pumphouse Custard. They usually have a selection of 16 custards at a time, but have a rotating list of 34 flavors throughout the year. It is clearly notated on their menu board which flavors are gluten free, dairy free, and which ones contain nuts. They have designated water wells that hold designated scoops for serving nut containing ice creams, all of which are kept in a separate freezer Seeing this about blew my mind and I had to take a picture!
The flavors are creative and delicious. The strawberry balsalmico had me hesitant, but it may just be the most amazing strawberry ice cream I've ever had. The balsalmic heightens the strawberry favor without getting in the way. The Lemongrass Coconut Milk dairy-free "ice cream" was amazing (and quite possibly my favorite.) It tasted like a luscious custard with a sweet kiss of lemon that doesn't make you pucker.
My final decision and full scoop was their Faygo Rock and Rye Ice Cream topped with Pop Rocks. It doesn't get more Michigan than Faygo, and the pop rocks were a sweet reminder of childhood. Even if Fenton is 3- minutes from our house, I will DEFINITELY be going back to try more of their frozen masterpieces. (Just a note, although it's not gluten free, their carrot cake ice cream is made with a cream cheese frosting base that sounds mesmerizing. These folks are true culinary geniuses!)
Before ending our time together, I asked Chef John Wentworth, "what's the one thing that you want people to know about this restaurant?" He stated the building and it's location. This building has been standing guard over Leroy St since 1938, and training some of the firefighters that are still working in the department today.
Each of the three levels have their own distinct decor, but still tied together with themes throughout. Each level features outdoor seating, while the third floor is all rooftop seating. The second floor has outdoor seating that overlooks Leroy Street and it's small town charm. The 1st floor is a complete bar with 48 taps, most of which are Michigan beers. Chef John says that while the gluten free beers that they offer may change up, they usually have 3-6 gluten free beers available. The outdoor seating outside the bar overlooks the river and community gazebo, and is heated throughout the fall.
I also asked Chef John the following specific question- How is your staff trained in food allergies and food prep so as to prevent cross-contact? Here was his extensive and thorough answer:
"Our servers first verbally let the kitchen know [that there is a guest with a food allergy]. When the server rings in the order, our tickets note that there is an allergy on that guest's meal and what it is. At this point we asses if there is enough information and take steps to prevent cross contamination - clean utensils, cutting board, pans, etc. If more information is needed, one of the chefs will go and speak with the guest to ensure accuracy and let the guest know we are doing everything possible with their safety in mind."
"During opening a new joint, [Chef Aaron] instills the importance of how these allergies are to be taken very seriously. Throughout training, he tests the staff with his own allergies, with orders and questions. He is always testing and instilling the importance of these allergies with the staff in all of our joints."
All in all, I'm reassured that Fenton Fire Hall can accommodate my
gluten free needs as a person with Celiac Disease, and I would feel safe
recommending it to others!
**While I was not compensated for my post, I was not charged for the food that I ate.
All of my opinions are solely my own
Labels: restaurant review