Food & Drink

FOOD: A Guide to Gluten-Free Eating in NYC

by Lea Faminiano

Some of you may know, someone of you may not:  I have a gluten allergy.  The moment I figured this out, my heart broke as if I was breaking up with a boyfriend – I literally felt like my world was ending and that I could no longer be me, the girl who could eat (and would eat) everything.  No bread?  No beer?!  I still remember my last gluten-filled meal dearly (a sesame duck-filled pancake and five chicken dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling).

Though I would still love to eat gluten freely, I have to admit that this is kind of a blessing in disguise – I’ve really pushed myself to explore so many different cuisines and dishes that I normally wouldn’t have, had I been stuck in my gluten-filled bubble.  I can still do gluten without dying, but I prefer to stay away as much as possible.

Whether you’re a glutard like me and have an allergy or intolerance, you’re trying to eat healthy, or you just want to try it out, here are a couple places (and tips) for eating gluten-free in NYC that are so good, you won’t even miss the gluten.

O Café – This Brazilian centered coffee shop in the Village serves an array of baked goods and they offer some amazing gluten-free alternatives.  I’m crazy obsessed with their pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and I could eat rolls of these like popcorn if I could afford to.  Their gluten-free brownies are also amazing and I would have to say that I prefer these brownies (actually, all flourless brownies in general) over brownies made with regular flour.

O Café is located at 482 6th Avenue.

GustOrganics – My favorite brunch meal I’ve ever had (a spinach crepe filled with eggs and corn) came from this restaurant.  Though it is a bit pricey, you pay for the quality of the ingredients you get – it was the first certified organic restaurant in NYC, and the world’s first certified restaurant using all organic ingredients.  If you’re trying to eat gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian, it’s all clearly labeled for you on the menu.

GustOrganics is located at 519 Avenue of the Americas, at 14th Street.

Bar Suzette – French food is generally centered around bread (baguettes and pastries!) but you can still have the quintessential crêpes at the Chelsea Market outpost – every crêpe, whether they be savory or sweet, can be made gluten-free (my favorite is Speck!).

Bar Suzette can be found in Chelsea Market at 425 West 15th Street.

Naked Pizza – Pizza was one of the things I was devastated about not being able to just freely pick up from any corner pizzeria – but then I thought about it, and my health is probably way better off without those late-night dollar slices.  Naked Pizza is one of those build-your-own places where you pick your crust, sauce, and toppings – the gluten-free crust only comes in a 12” medium size, which is fine by me, because when I find gluten-free pizza, I want to eat a lot of it.

Naked Pizza has locations at 150 E. 14th Street and 954 3rd Avenue.

S’MacI’ve already raved enough about this place.  Basically, just go and order whatever you want (but make sure you tell them you want it gluten-free).  It will taste just like the gluten version and you’ll be extremely happy.  And you’ll probably gain ten pounds because you’ll go all the time.

S’Mac has locations at 345 East 12th Street and 3 1st Avenue.

Tu-lu’s Gluten Free Bakery – As the name suggests, this cute little bakery in the East Village exclusively serves gluten-free goodies, meaning there is absolutely no risk of gluten contamination and they.  Are.  Delicious.  Brownies, cookies, coffee cake, cupcakes, cake balls, you name it.  I’ve walked across Manhattan just for the cake balls.  You can even have sheet cakes made, and they serve paninis, too (made with sunflower bread)!  Definitely the best gluten-free bakery in the city, even beating out Babycakes.  Tu-lu’s is conveniently located a block away from S’Mac, so you can have a full on gluten-free meal complete with dessert.

Tu-lu’s Gluten Free Bakery is located at 338 East 11th Street.

Hampton Chutney – This SoHo staple serves Indian inspired dosas (basically an Indian crepe) and uttapams (basically an Indian pizza) with ingredients that may not be traditionally Indian, such as roasted tomatoes, arugula, and avocado.  The portions are huge!  These dishes are naturally gluten-free and come with your choice of chutney: cilantro, mango, tomato, peanut, curry, or pumpkin.

Hampton Chutney has locations at 68 Prince Street and 464 Amsterdam Avenue.

Top Hops Beer Shop – I wandered into this LES beer shop on a whim earlier this year and was amazed at the beer selection.  Originally, I was jealous I couldn’t choose anything from the extensive list of craft beers…until I found out they serve pretty much every flavor of Woodpecker Cider and also a good selection of gluten-free beers, two of which I tried that were actually delicious (most gluten-free beer tastes like dead skunks).  I don’t remember the name of the sweet bartender (owner?) who served me, but as he was doing so, he remarked that he didn’t want to leave anyone out from enjoying a cold brew, regardless of their dietary restrictions.  Sounds pretty good to me.

Top Hops Beer Shop is located at 94 Orchard Street.

Some tips to help you in your gluten-free eating escapades:

Call ahead.  I don’t normally do this because I’m more of the “I’ll make do” kind of girl, but it couldn’t hurt.

Ask your waiter.  The majority of NYC restaurant menus tell you to inform your waiter if you have any food allergies.  Do it.  Gluten can sneak its way into many food items and don’t be too shy to ask.  I told my waiter at The Diner in the Meatpacking District that I had gluten allergies – who would have thought that their cheese sauce would have gluten in it?  Good thing I asked, or those nachos would have been bad news!

Bring your own.  I’m a big fan of sushi and I really need my soy sauce to go with it, so when I know I’m going to get Japanese, I bring a small bottle of gluten-free soy sauce with me.  Since Asian places love their soy sauce, you can always try bringing your bottle and asking them if they can use it to make your dish.  You should probably call ahead if you want to do that – it never hurts to try.

Don’t be ashamed!  I have to admit that I was kind of scared to tell people I was gluten-free for a while – I didn’t want to be “that allergy girl”!  But seriously, don’t let people judge you by what you can or can’t eat, because…who wants to hang out with people who do that, anyway?

NYC is so wonderful in that it can cater to anyone regardless of their dietary restrictions – there are many, many more gluten-free establishments in this city for you to try and I have only mentioned a few of them.  Make sure you check these out, and go out and explore to find more!  Just because you can’t eat gluten doesn’t mean you can’t eat everything else!