Big Daddy’s is a lovely place. Honestly, it’s a terrible place—but it’s lovely, too. Bright, loud, busy as hell, and absurdly kitschy…if that’s your scene, you’ll be in love.
Alternatively, if you’re like me, and you don’t feel at home under super-bright lighting or with jukebox classics constantly threatening to overwhelm your conversation, but you do have a nut allergy—well, you’ll be grateful to be able to eat at a diner, at the very least.
I’ve heard over and over that Big Daddy’s is nut-free, but they don’t categorize themselves as such on their website, so I wanted to make sure. I’ve spoken to servers and they’re always confident: no nuts on the menu, nor in the kitchen. Still, I wanted to know—are they truly nut-free, in the they-vet-their-vendors-and-I-can-eat-a-slice-of-pie sense, or do they just happen not to have any (intentional) nuts on the menu?
In an attempt to get some real answers, I called Big Daddy’s and spoke with a very understanding representative. She asked me to forward her a list of my questions so she could double-check on the answers, as she didn’t want to risk misleading me. Fair enough. Half an hour later, I had the following reply in my inbox:
Hey! So everything that is made in house in guaranteed to be completely nut free. However, with some of our cakes and breads that we order (of course there are no nuts in the food itself) there is no guarantee that there is no cross contamination. I don’t know exactly which [menu items] are and aren’t [guaranteed nut-free]. Our menu is really big and I would just be guessing on a lot of the things. That’s more of a question for the kitchen and unfortunately there is no way of contacting them. If you had a few specific questions I could find out but theyre too busy to go over the whole menu with me and tell me what is what.
She also forwarded me an email from the director of operations:
Off premise bake goods are not guaranteed but no in house nuts. I wouldn’t eat 7 grain bread or off premise cakes.
Of course, I’m sure you’d be able to speak to a server (or even a member of the kitchen staff) about just what’s made in house and what isn’t, should you ever have a question about a specific dish. In my experience, the employees at Big Daddy’s tend to be pretty understanding—but you may have to push a little harder than usual to get your server to double-check on anything, since they’re so used to telling those with allergies that everything’s 100% nut-free.
Anyway, because their in-house food is guaranteed nut-free (and because servers will readily assure you the restaurant is totally nut-free), I’ve categorized Big Daddy’s as truly nut-free. Despite all of the above, it seems to be a pretty safe place to eat—especially if you avoid the muffins, cakes, and certain breads, which isn’t all that hard to do. (And if your allergies are particularly sensitive, to the point that you’re uncomfortable eating commercial ice cream that’s been run on shared lines, you’d be wise to avoid their shakes, too.)
[Note: Since writing this post, it’s come to my attention that Big Daddy’s is even less nut-free than I’d thought. Their Triple Chocolate Disco Shake (chocolate ice cream, Frangelico, crème de cacao) does explicitly contain a nut product (hazelnut liqueur), which doesn’t bode well for Big Daddy’s. In my eyes, it’s not the liqueur itself that’s the problem, but the ignorance the liqueur betrays. How has it managed to slip under the nut-free radar—as in, why does nobody ever think to mention it—and what else might have done the same?]
As a rule, the food is on par with your average diner’s. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it good, but it isn’t terrible, either. I usually order the Mr. French Dip (pictured above) or the Original Big Mac Daddy—both with tater tots. The Mr. French Dip is somehow both too bland and too salty, but what can I say? I have a soft spot for baguettes—including mediocre ones. The Big Mac Daddy is (you guessed it) a burger with Big Mac sauce. Not bad, on a good day. The mozzarella sticks (sorry, the Really Really Good Mozz Styx) are decent, and I’ve been known to order the Monty Hall, What a Deal! (turkey, ham, and swiss on white bread—fried) on occasion, even though I always end up regretting that decision.
And yes, the menu is filled with dish names like those above. Ordering is always embarrassing. But if you can get past the kitschy menu and the even kitschier atmosphere, Big Daddy’s is fair place to eat. On occasion. If you’re really craving diner food.
(One thing I can endorse without disclaimers or reservations, though: the malted milkshakes. I like the vanilla Plain Jane, but if you can get them to malt the Cookie Monster—vanilla with Oreos—well, that’s my official recommendation. I’m sure the ice cream’s made on shared lines, though, so…maybe one reservation.)
There are three locations in NYC: one in Gramercy Park, one on the Upper East Side, and one on the Upper West Side. I’ve been a bit harsh, but I do think they’re worth a try.