One of the first things I did after I received my celiac diagnosis was unsubscribe to a lot of food email lists. My heart was heavy knowing that so many of the foods I loved were now verboten. It stung too deep to see lists of beloved bakeries and the latest flashy New American restaurants that I knew I couldn’t eat in. But after some time, I missed getting updates on what was going on in the food world, so I resubscribed to a few of my favorites. I knew that some of the emails might be a little triggering, but I felt emotionally strong enough to glance through articles about the best pizzas or donuts in every state knowing that I would likely not be able to eat any of them.
Shortly after my diagnosis, like a jilted lover going through the rabbit hole of digging into their ex’s social media profile, I scrolled through all the Instagram feeds of my old loves. Even following my friends’ food adventures was painful. I couldn’t help thinking things like,”You should *really* enjoy that croissant – you never know when it could be your last.” Maybe I was a little overly dramatic about the whole thing, but instead of feeling privy to the inner circle of the food world like I had for years, I felt like an outcast.
I tried to follow some gluten-free social media accounts, but I just couldn’t get into it. As far as I could tell, there were two camps in the GF social media world – those posting anything and everything gluten-free they could find (which included a lot of packaged food), and the other “California-raw-vegan” camp where every post was super colorful and the individuals were either super skinny or terrifyingly muscular, and many of them were eating gluten-free just for overall health without a celiac or other autoimmune diagnosis. I understand the need to document every new thing that you can eat, especially when so much has been taken from you, but I have strong feelings against most of the packaged food targeted to the gluten-free market (more on that in a future post). And sure, I like smoothies and grain bowls just as much as the next girl, but seriously – in the dead of winter in NYC, a smoothie and a salad just isn’t going to cut it. And don’t get me started about the “healthy” gluten-free people who make real celiacs’ lives more complicated when they eat out stressing to restaurant staff that they need gluten-free everything and then order chocolate cake.
Recently, I received an email with a link to a list of 50 New York Foods You Need to Eat Before You Die. I probably should have deleted the email, since I knew that most iconic NYC foods are very un-gluten-free friendly, but I couldn’t help clicking through to see what the Thrillist team deemed the new classics of New York cuisine. I’ll admit it was difficult to scroll through all 50, but in a way I think it was a good exercise. It’s been nearly two years since I received my diagnosis, and I still have good and bad days when it comes to dealing with the complete overhaul of my diet to eliminate anything containing wheat, rye, and barley.
In a way, I’m grateful that I received my celiac diagnosis a little later in life. Being able to eat any and everything for almost 40 years allowed me to build my personal “chef’s database” of tastes, textures, and smells of a vast array of foods – including all my beloved wheaty classics. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be able to experience certain things again (I’ll always hold you in my heart DiFara’s & Peter Pan), and in my heart of hearts, I feel like this disease could be a blessing in disguise by pulling me back in hard to the food world to prove that gluten-free dining doesn’t have to suck, and there is a lot more to eat out there than gluten-free bars, shakes and salads.
So, with all that in mind, I thought I’d tackle some of the New York City food bucket list, gluten-free style.
- Bacon, egg & cheese – I do still miss my bodega BECs. What used to be a morning staple a few times a week when I was in Manhattan, is now relegated to a special occasion breakfast, usually on a weekend. Perhaps a bit controversial due to potential cross-contamination, but I have been lucky so far at Egg Shop to satisfy my egg sandwich cravings.
- Steak – I’ll admit I haven’t been to the steakhouse listed in the Thrillist 50, but I can wholeheartedly recommend American Cut in Tribeca as my new favorite steakhouse in Manhattan. Super pricey, so it’s a special occasion only restaurant. Nothing pains my baker’s heart more than sitting through a bread course with an empty plate, and the American Cut kitchen won me over on my first visit with a gluten free cheddar popover, served right along it’s gluten-filled counterparts for my dining companions. Thank you Marc Forgione for bringing this celiac diner *into* the fold, instead of leaving me lingering on the outskirts.
- Pizza – This is still the hardest NYC category that I’ve had to part with. There’s been more than one occasion after a night of drinking that I’ve seen someone eating a $0.99 slice of pizza in public and instantly seethe with rage. Those cheap slices are definitely not the pinnacle of NYC pizza by any means, but that quintessential greasy, cheesy, fold-able convenient comfort-food may always trigger me. I’ve found a few excellent places for gluten-free pizza in Manhattan. My favorite, no-reservations, certified GF pizzeria is Keste in the West Village. Pie by the Pound is also a decent quick, no-reservations, no-frills kinds of place. A few other good options are Rubirosa in SoHo, and PizzArte in Midtown, but you’ll need to plan ahead and make reservations to satisfy your GF pizza craving. If you find yourself in Brooklyn – there’s also a Keste in Williamsburg, and Lean Crust near Atlantic Terminal sells GF slices.
- Arepas – Luckily, these old favorite stuffed cornmeal cakes are inherently gluten-free, so I can continue to frequent my favorite arepa maker with locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn – Caracas Arepa Bar. I highly recommend getting an addictive cocada to go with your arepas too – one of the *best* coconut milkshakes I’ve had. Calories schmalories. It’s worth it.
- Chicken & Waffles – I haven’t had too many gluten-free chicken and waffle plates in NYC yet, but my favorite so far has been at Friedman’s. This is one of the rare nearly totally gluten-free local restaurant chains that has convenient locations and reliably good food for all. Another surprisingly delicious fried chicken plate (no waffle) can be found in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Yellow Magnolia Cafe.
- Burgers – I’m pretty loyal to Bareburger, which luckily for any GF diner has numerous locations around the city. There’s been many nights that the LES location has saved me after one too many rounds of cocktails. Dedicated fryers = safe gluten free french fries = pure love.
- Brisket – A rare overlap on the Thrillist with my personal one. Hometown Bar-B-Que makes the 2nd best brisket I’ve ever had. So, until Jay decides he wants to open up a BBQ spot, or we eventually find a beach house where we can have a smoker again, I’ll hit Hometown whenever the brisket craving strikes. Also, in a mashup of two of my favorite things – the brisket tacos are divine.
- Pasta – I haven’t been back to Del Posto to try their gluten-free pastas, and now with the Batali #metoo shakedown, I’m not so keen on heading back anytime soon. However, outside of my own kitchen, I’ve had delicious gluten free pasta at Senza Gluten in the West Village. This is their one and only location, and it’s a bit pricey, but I guess that’s the price to pay for a guaranteed safe meal for even the most sensitive celiacs. Important note – they only accept cash and Amex.
- Falafel – I know there’s a strong contingent that’s all about Mamoun’s, but I’m a Taim girl when it comes to falafel. I’m a fan of the red harissa falafel in particular. Nearly everything – including the fries – is gluten free (just avoid the pita). There are two Taim locations in the West Village and in Nolita. There’s also a promising sign on 22nd St. near 6th Ave. for another location – which would be less than a 5 minute walk from my current office.
- Tacos – I loved Alex Stupak’s Empellon empire before my celiac diagnosis, and I continue to love them all today. On the cheaper side, you can head to the LES to Al Pastor, and for a fancier night on the town, the Tacqueria in the West Village, or Empellón in Midtown. Margaritas + fancy tacos + salsa flight = heaven.
- Ice Cream – The closest the Thrillist top 50 got to ice cream was shakes, but when I want ice cream, I prefer it straight up, and if possible in a gluten-free cone. A quintessential NYC classic, for traditional scoopable ice cream I like Ample Hills these days. There are a number of locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and NJ. But when soft-serve is what your ice cream loving heart craves, Big Gay Ice Cream is the place to go. They have two (soon to be three!) downtown locations in Manhattan, and one offshoot in Philly too.
I still haven’t found any gluten-free donuts worth writing about in NYC, nor have I been able to replace any of my old Chinatown haunts for dumplings, dim sum, fried rice, or lo mein. Cheesecake, babka, bagels, and soft pretzels have also eluded me in my NYC gluten free dining experience too. I did just tackle soft pretzels in my own kitchen, and you can be sure that cheesecake, babka, and bagel kitchen experiments won’t be far behind. The perfect loaf of gluten-free sourdough will also continue to be a welcome work-in-progress in my test kitchen. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make a loaf on par with my beloved She Wolf sourdough that I used to buy at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, but I won’t stop experimenting until I get close!
|Hometown Bar-B-Que||BBQ||454 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231|
|Ample Hills||Ice Cream||623 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238|
|Big Gay Ice Cream||Ice Cream||61 Grove St, New York, NY 10014|
|Big Gay Ice Cream||Ice Cream||125 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009|
|Senza Gluten||Gluten Free,Italian||206 Sullivan St, New York, NY 10012|
|Friedman's||Gluten Free,New American||450 10th Ave, New York, NY 10018|
|Friedman's Lunch||Gluten Free,New American||75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011|
|Empellon||Mexican||510 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10022|
|Empellon Taqueria||Mexican||230 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014|
|Empellon Al Pastor||Mexican||132 St Marks Pl, New York, NY, New York, NY 10009|
|Taim||Vegetarian||222 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10014|
|Taim||Vegetarian||45 Spring St, New York, NY 10012|
|American Cut||Steakhouse||363 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013|
|Egg Shop||New American||151 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10012|
|Yellow Magnolia Cafe||New American||990 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225|
|Caracas Arepas Bar||Latin American||91 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009|
|Caracas Arepas Bar - Williamsburg||Latin American||291 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211|
|Keste||Pizza||271 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014|
|Rubirosa||Pizza||235 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012|
|PizzArte||Pizza||69 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019|
|Keste - Williamsburg||Pizza||232 N 12th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211|
|Lean Crust||Pizza||737 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11217|
|Bareburger||Burgers||85 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003|