By Kendria Smith
Once again, you’re sitting at a restaurant picked by a well-meaning friend/coworker/significant other, and you’re eyeing the menu with overwhelming intensity. You’ve already eliminated the pasta, pizza, burger and fried mahi-mahi tacos—basically anything that could taste good or have any semblance of flavor, as feasible options. No, this isn’t a new fad diet, it’s called Celiac disease, and those suffering from this allergy to the gluten found in wheat know the challenges of cutting wheat out of their diet. But a new wave of awareness has hit New York City and brought with it a much needed infusion of gluten-free cuisine.
Just a few years ago, the search for gluten-free flours, pastas and cereals might have sent you on a wild goose chase around the city. Your best bet for finding the best selection of food was a trip to a specialty health food store. Now, your neighborhood mega markets such as Food Emporium, Trader Joe’s and D’Agostino are stocking up on a variety of these items and labeling them on shelves throughout the aisles. Fairway Market goes as far as providing a dedicated gluten-free section to make shopping quick and more convenient. Fresh Direct gives you the option of over a hundred products shipped straight to your door. Whole Foods, with its bright signage and freezer chockfull gluten-free products including some of it’s own brand of items, takes the wheatless cake.
Most New Yorkers take their brunching very seriously, which is why you can’t let a little wheat stand in the way of a great meal. At Peters Restaurant, you can enjoy many gluten-free favorites like fluffy pancakes, waffles, and French toast, egg dishes and a list of hearty salads with gluten-free dressings. Candle Café, which specializes in vegan cuisine, has an impressive menu consisting of the three most popular dishes lauded by patrons of any dietary regimen. The Spring Rolls, stuffed with pickled cabbage, avocado, apple, cucumber, tempeh bacon and served with a spicy peanut sauce, is a top-notch appetizer. The jury is still out on which entrée I loved more. The Aztec Salad with mixed greens, red onion, jicama, black beans, and quinoa, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and served with cumin vinaigrette could sustain me year-round. Although, during these long winter months, the Paradise Casserole with layers of black bean, sweet potato, and millet over steamed greens served with country gravy, is my go-to comfort meal.
Yet, the food that I’ve been told that the “wheatless” miss the most is pizza. So, after researching and tasting, Mozzarelli’s, with its light, airy crust, is my pick for the best gluten-free pie. They make their dough on the premises in a gluten-free certified kitchen and sell over 100 pies a day, along with pastas, wraps, pizza dough and an extensive selection of desserts.
Speaking of sweets, you can satisfy your confectionary cravings at a number of bakeries throughout the city. In the same facility, Mozzarelli’s makes a brand of 13 different flavors of gluten-free cookies called My Dad’s Cookies, which are a hit during the holidays. Sprinkles Cupcakes, the west coast wunderkind new to the New York scene, is located in Midtown and sells an irresistibly moist gluten-free red velvet cupcake. It is made of five different kinds of flour, including tapioca, potato starch, and garbanzo bean, and topped with cream cheese frosting perfection! And you’ll love the wide selection of treats at Babycakes in the Lower East Side. This bakery offers everything from cookies to pies and brownies to donuts. With so many options gluten will never stand in the way between you and the desserts you deserve.
You’re sporting your favorite team’s gear and the gang’s all there at the local pub before the big game. You eye the myriad of drink specials written on a chalk board behind the bar, and as your buddies fill up on half-price Bud you’re wielding the courage to ask the hot bartender for an ice cold….hard cider?! Eh, there must be a better alternative. Thankfully, bars in NYC are starting to wise up and offer gluten-free beers. I found Harlem Tavern carrying Bard’s Gold, which is a lager made of a cereal grain called sorghum. The Village Pourhouse boasts a very comprehensive beer menu including Green’s Amber Ale and the popular Red Bridge. Johnny Foxes in my neighborhood of the Upper East Side, keeps a fridge well stocked with pilsner lager-style St. Peter’s Sorghum Beer. They also carry a variety of gluten-free bar fare upon request to sustain you from tip-off straight through overtime.
We’ve definitely come a long way from the days of substituting protein shakes for meals and attempting to turn side salads into entrees. And as the number of gluten-free friendly eateries continues to grow, it is much easier to find tasty alternatives to the foods you once enjoyed. So you can finally shop, eat, drink, and be merry.