By • Vic Dolcourt •
Bradley Levy, owner of the Firefly Restaurant in Noe Valley, must be doing something right. The successful fine-dining establishment has been in business for 25 years, satisfying both gluten-free and non-gluten-free diners. I’d heard about Firefly, but I wanted to find out more. Below is our conversation, edited for brevity.
Vic: Twenty-five years is an achievement, Brad. San Francisco is a competitive environment. What makes Firefly tick?
Brad: We focus on our employees and customers. We hire creative people who are interested in making customers happy. We promote from within. Our culinary staff is encouraged to try out ideas, continuously experiment and refine them. Our intent is to keep our menu fresh and original. Our cuisine is not the strange, minimalist or exotic. We don’t follow fads that lead to our menu being the same as everyone else’s. We follow our own compass to make healthy, contemporary comfort food. We are seasonal and serve the best of what our farm and supplier partners offer.
Vic: According to the Celiac Bay Area Yahoo Group Firefly is the go-to place. Is Firefly gluten-free?
Brad: Mostly. Our staff is well trained to be gluten aware. Appetizers and entrees are gluten-free with minor exceptions: gluten-free fried chicken is served with either gluten-free cornbread or an oven-warmed biscuit for which we control the crumbs. Acme bread is served from a dedicated station in the dining room, but we also have gluten-free seeded bread. We’re also sensitive to the fact that some of our diners are vegetarian and some are vegan. Our outstanding pastry chef will make a few desserts with gluten. Sometimes one of the desserts will contain gluten, but often the dessert menu is entirely gluten-free. If we do gluten it is the first thing followed by a cleaning.
Vic: Was Firefly always gluten aware?
Brad: No. My wife Jennifer and I have two daughters who have celiac disease. After Elisha’s diagnosis I became gluten-free-aware and over time transformed the menu. We don’t say that our menu is gluten-free because customers might think we took something delicious out of the food. We won’t serve anything that isn’t delicious. If taking the gluten out of a dish compromises it and I can’t work around it, then the dish is not on our menu. The kitchen is not large, so we focus on the six, seven or eight entrees we do best. For example, our fried chicken is incomparable and gluten-free.
Vic: Social media wasn’t around 25 years ago. Restaurant reviews were in newspapers. Now they are on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. The Firefly reviews are very good. Is social media a good thing?
Brad: Some good, some bad, of course. Social media has led to a sameness and menu dullness where restaurants are chasing trends on sites like Instagram. These lead restaurants to serve the same dish and ignore the creativity of their own staff. We won’t do that.
Brad and I had a wonderful conversation lasting well over an hour, discussing additional topics like when someone brings in a Nima gluten sensor, celebrity chefs, Chef Gordon Ramsay’s reality shows, competitive cooking on TV, emergence of fast casual and other trends in the biz. You can talk to Brad about those topics and more when you visit Firefly in Noe Valley. Brad is very friendly.