New York City has always been known as one of the food capitals of the world. However, many in the gluten-free community have found it difficult and dangerous to navigate. Established menus and clientele make many restaurants leery about attempting to cater to the gluten-free population. And the high traffic in small kitchens make cross-contamination a huge risk at many of the restaurants who have made the attempt. So, is eating gluten-free in New York City a lost cause? Not necessarily. A few New York natives have made it their mission to offer and showcase safe havens.
SENZA GLUTEN is an Italian restaurant located in the heart of Greenwich Village. After dining with gluten-free friends and family and witnessing their difficulties firsthand, Chef Jemiko decided to launch his own entirely gluten-free restaurant last January. Diners need not worry about cross-contamination because everything entering this kitchen is gluten-free. Since Italian food is one of the most difficult foods to replicate sans gluten, he took on the challenge of experimenting in his kitchen until he felt people would not be able to taste test the difference. All the buzz he’s been getting suggests he’s been successful.
Senza Gluten is small and charming. Painted walls with interspersed sections of exposed distressed brick and tiled murals give the restaurant some character. The staff was solicitous and knowledgeable, quick to offer their favorite suggestions and eager to refill water glasses before they were empty. We started with the bruschetta for an appetizer and then continued on to the lasagna and veal Milanese for our entrees. The bruschetta had a nice crispy crunch without lacking flavor like so many other gluten-free breads, and the tomatoes were deliciously ripe. The lasagna was moist and cheesy and the noodles were a perfect texture without being too crunchy or gummy and falling apart like many gluten-free pastas. The veal was also expertly breaded and full of flavor. You would never be able to tell there was any difference in its preparation to make it gluten-free. I think the highlight of my night was the tiramisu. I’m not usually a fan of tiramisu; however, the manager twisted my arm and told me I could not leave without trying it. I’m so glad she did, because this was by far the best tiramisu I’ve ever tasted! For starters, I’d NEVER be able to tell it was made with gluten-free biscuits. And, it was so rich and moist without the coffee flavor being overpowering, as I’d feared. I ended up devouring the entire thing and wishing for more. Overall, I’d say this is a must-visit for any traveler to the city, gluten-free or otherwise.
My next gluten-free discovery was a local food tour entrepreneur, Lynn Mendelsohn. As a gluten-free New York City native, she grew tired of places advertising gluten-free options only for her to arrive home, sick after eating food that had been cross-contaminated. She knew she could not be alone and decided to compile a list of places where she was able to safely eat and to share her knowledge with gluten-free visitors to the city. In two years, Lynn created a professional business out of her NYC Gluten-Free Food Tours. Check her out on vayable.com to book her services so she can guide you around the city for three hours showcasing her favorite gluten-free finds.
Lynn is a walking textbook of gluten-free info. She greeted the tour group with bags of gluten-free goodies and a packet of information about the places we’d be visiting that day. She also kindly included some other recommended finds we wouldn’t have time to enjoy that day. She provided the addresses and cross streets and was even thorough enough to include her favorite options on the menu. I feel this list alone showcases her personality and talent. The one word I’d have to use to describe Lynn is thorough! This woman knows her stuff. Not only is her tour completely worth the three hours of delectable treats you’ll share with her, but by the end of it, she will set you up to safely enjoy your entire stay in New York City.
We started the tour at TU LU’S BAKERY on East 11th Street. We enjoyed some tasty chocolate chip cookies as well as a cheesy jalapeno muffin and a pumpkin loaf. The cookies were delectably soft and melted in your mouth. The pumpkin loaf was also full of flavor and one of my favorite treats of the day. Overall, it was refreshing to see a bakery take a savory spin to their sweet treats.
Our next stop was DF MAVENS on St. Marks Place. DF Mavens is famous for their dairy- and gluten-free ice cream. Not only that, they also have gluten-free ice cream cones! I got a toasted coconut waffle cone and enjoyed some coconut milk peanut butter ice cream along with a scoop of coconut milk bananas foster ice cream. Both were rich, creamy and full of flavor. I think I might have enjoyed their dairy-free alternatives to regular ice cream. My stomach certainly did at least! I felt less full and bloated after enjoying my cone than I usually would. The great news is you can find DF Mavens products at Whole Foods and other local grocers. I know I’ll definitely be seeking them out in the future.
After our treats, we were ready for a break from sweets and stopped for some “real food.” HU KITCHEN on 5th Avenue (across from Parson’s and the New School) is an entirely paleo restaurant. All of their offerings are made with fresh dairy and gluten-free ingredients. The restaurant itself has a light and airy feel with an open loft for seating overhead, and convenient glass pitchers full of water throughout the restaurant for you to refill your glasses and water bottles. Overall, you just get the feel that this is a restaurant that understands the importance of clean eating and health awareness.
We sampled a few of their salads and prepared entrees like their Paleo meatloaf and roasted butternut squash salad. All were delicious and filling. And most importantly, I enjoyed the fact that I had a variety of great offerings to choose from and felt like I was most definitely in safe hands in their preparation.
Feeling quite full at this point, we finished up our day by taking the subway uptown and visiting an entirely gluten-free specialty shop. G-FREE is located on West 85th Street and stocks a variety of gluten-free items that are not your usual run of the mill products you’d see on most supermarket shelves. I immediately zeroed in on a box of gluten-free gnocchi—one kind of pasta I’ve had difficulty finding. We also got a bag of gluten- and dairy-free cheese—it’s to enjoy on the train ride home.
Overall, I enjoyed my gluten-free New York City adventures. I think the most liberating part was knowing I was not playing a game of Russian roulette with my food. The guesswork had been eliminated because I had experts who had already done the scouting, leaving me to just sit back and take a bite out of the Big Apple. I hope you choose to take advantage of these resources as well so you can do the same. Happy Travels!
By Joyana Peters McMahon