Lattes: Olympia, Washington

I've already waxed poetic about my love for lattes, but on this cold April day I thought I should share some of my favorites for the next time you're traveling. So go grab a latte and pull up this post to add to your travel list!

There's the capitol building at the tippity-top!

There's the capitol building at the tippity-top!

I visited Olympia, Washington for work, and although many of my coworkers spent their evenings making the hour-long trek up to Seattle each night, Olympia had the perfect vibe for me. Here was delicious fresh seafood, lots of walking and running areas with excellent scenery (fancy a lap around the pond by the state capitol building, anyone?), and beautiful ports matched up with Mt. Rainer in the distance, all less than five minutes from my hotel and super walkable. Everyone I met was relatively relaxed and friendly, and there was a happy borderline hippy sort of Western Massachusetts atmosphere that made me feel right at home. 

And the lattes! I had worried that the espresso beverages would let me down after some stellar Seattle offerings (surprise), but just the opposite! From my hotel that offers a roaming cafe truck around the city with Victrola coffee, to cafes I dug up on travel sites and others I wandered into after passing by, I had  successful bev after successful bev. Everything was coming up Olympia.

Assuming most of you will not stay at my hotel and do not want to spend the day following around a cafe truck on Twitter, I plan on focusing on the other two shops I found. The first, Burial Grounds, was a perfectly hipster low-key cafe, with lots of big old couches and chairs lining the place, the scent of clove cigarettes lingering, posters from Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a sarcastic and wonderful staff. Note: About a week after I visited, Burial Grounds started to move, so while the location is close and the furniture seems to be the same, you might experience a slightly different place than what I describe. If any of this sounds intimidating (why?!): push through! You are about to review one of the coolest and most eclectic latte menus, and end up with a huge treat: a skull on your latte foam. That's right, no beginner's flower here; a straight up skull at Burial Grounds. I went for the "Fuck That Shit" latte, a very technical term referring to a latte full of honey, cinnamon, and lavender. I imagine there are few things more exciting than working in a place where you get to scream "Fuck Your Shit Latte!" when serving a beverage - being the person to receive it was pretty thrilling itself. Oh yes you want to see it:

If you've decided that more predictable is for you, or you hate skull art in your fancy lattes in a relaxed environment, that's okay. I'll still like you. But I certainly won't invite you out for coffee. The other place I decided I loved was a bit more traditional. I noticed the sign for Batdorf & Bronson's roasters and tours on my way to dinner one night, and remembered reading about the chain's high quality bevs in my initial research. I stopped by the roastery (or roasters? Hmm) on my last day, but tours were done and the place was closed. Huge bummer. Luckily the cafe across the street was still open, so I was able to enjoy a sweet and warming vanilla latte. I KNOW okay, vanilla latte people are the worst. But I really couldn't help myself since the barista recommended it and who am I to turn down a suggestion as a newbie? Also I was really craving the light sweetness vanilla syrup provides and I'm a basic person alright?! This was a super smooth drink that made me want to immediately walk back in and order a second after my first sip. The only problem is that I'm rather caffeine sensitive, and a second medium latte would 100% send me over the deep end in terms of talk-quickly-shaky-hands-I-can't-feel-my-face-when-I'm-with-espresso. So, safety first. 

Also can we talk about this perfect cup color? Ugh why can't you exist in New England?!

Also can we talk about this perfect cup color? Ugh why can't you exist in New England?!

I hope you have a chance to visit this magical place! If you do, let me know about your adventures and caffeine experiences, or any other places in Olympia/beyond I should check out.

Gluten Free Restaurants: Boulder, Colorado

Is it possible to be obsessed with a place you've never been? The more I hear and read about Shine in Boulder, Colorado, the more my mouth waters and I consider booking a flight. One of my first friends with Celiac, the lovely Lauren, recently sent me a message after her adventure with her boyfriend to Colorado, and absolutely raved about her experience at Shine. The kitchen itself is 100% gluten-free, and Lauren mentioned that the only offerings with gluten she noticed were a few of their beers. But there's no need to feel left out, since Shine makes their own gluten free beer!

 Shine was founded by three sisters who decided to open a restaurant serving food for every possible time you could be hungry (brunch, happy hour, late night), all of which is sustainable, gluten- and GMO- free and made in house, from bread to dressings and broth. These are some hardworking ladies, and it certainly sounds like their efforts are paying off. Lauren had the 100% Grass Fed Braised Local Lamb Fettuccine, served with sunchoke (don't ask me what that is) and arugula pesto, delicate squash and mushrooms. She also shared the sweet potato French fries with an "unreal chipotle aioli type sauce" - an endorsement I can definitely get behind! Her friends ordered the burger, bison tacos, and local crispy chicken confit, and reported they all loved their meals and how "all of their food had some sort of spin on it which made it so delicious and different." From my research I'd say this includes the Seasonal Vegetable Stir Fry, with a lemongrass citrus sauce served over cauliflower rice, and Grain Free Ravioli, stuffed with mushrooms, goat cheese and herbs with a brown butter sage sauce and yam butter over greens and sprouted pumpkin seeds. These combinations aren't traditional, but once you read them you start to wonder why no one else has thought to make food like this.

And of course the beer! Shine's on site brewer Mike Kasian crafts five different gluten free beers, from a Pohoda Pilsner to a Down Dog IPA. Lauren tried the sorghum based Ahimsa Gluten Free Ale, similar to an American Amber ale, which received the bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014. I'm super impressed by the variety of beers, and while most are in the normal ABV range, some pack a punch (Trilogy Red clocks in at 9%)! 

Shine also serves a series of healthy elixirs labeled as "Potions," from Fairy Bubbles to Three Laughing Monks, and you can add alcohol to any of them for $4. Lauren and Co. didn't try these, but said others around them did and mentioned how delicious they were. I loved the comfortable vibe of the restaurant (from the reviews and pictures I found and video on the website I watched!) coupled with the whimsical and thoughtful menu. Lauren lauded Shine for their "super eco friendly and organic" commitment and very hippy environment, right up both our alleys. She was very impressed with how knowledgable, friendly, and helpful the staff were. 

After writing all of this and reading so many wonderful things, my stomach is growling and my instinct to grab my keys and head to the airport is stronger than ever; I have to stop and think about dinner. Shine, I cannot wait to visit you one day (hopefully very soon)! A huge thanks to Lauren for your recommendation and review; I love having a safe place that's been vetted and reviewed for my Visit Colorado list!

Gluten Free Restaurants: Seattle

Back at it again with the gluten free dinners! God I had to get that out. I feel equally better and worse for writing it down.

Let's talk travel. Last week I was in Seattle, which I'm sure I'll share lots of stories about in the future, but suffice to say between there and Olympia I'm in love. Incredible views, still as close to the water as I am at home, kind people, strong coffee, and delicious food. There were so many insanely beautiful places to walk and run, which coupled with my food/bev intake for the week really helped to keep me balanced.

Gum walls - not your usual Seattle!

Gum walls - not your usual Seattle!

The night I headed out (damn you redeyes! You let me sleep in my bed but make me suffer before and after), I wanted a place that had real food (i.e. not something delicious/fried or super spicy) before a six hour flight, and I wasn't super impressed with what I found for my terminal at SeaTac online. 

My exhaustive searches for reasonably priced but true homey food in the airport area lead me to Sharps Roasthouse. When I arrived around 6:30 at the large restaurant with a small parking lot shared with a hotel, there was a 45 minute wait for a party of 1-2. I tried my luck on the bar side, where tables for two are essentially wedged together against the windows, and ended up with a few tables with individual men nursing beers and becoming friends to my left, and an older couple to my right. The close quarters meant I was offered my neighbor's menu, and had a good vantage point to spy on everyone else's food/lives.

I settled for the petite version of the Pure Bred Black Angus Prime Rib, which is described as "three week aged custom cut prime rib of beef, with crushed sour cream potatoes, 24 hour scratch demi glaze and homemade cheddar cheese sauce atop fresh broccoli." If that doesn't make you salivate reading I don't know what will. Oh. Maybe this dark picture of it.

Even though I had the "smaller" 1/2 pound portion (the full is 3/4 pound with no bone), everyone around me still managed to ooh and ahh as my plate arrived. This ridiculously perfect medium rare treat cut like nothing you've ever cut before (unless you've tried my short ribs or The Rustler's filet) and absolutely melts in your mouth. The mashed potatoes were creamy (gross word I KNOW) and buttery, and the cheese sauce atop the big piece of steamed broccoli was almost tart - some might decide this is their favorite part, but it was a little too salty for me and I ate a lot of the broccoli plain. Other than the meat itself, my big favorite was the au jus - a little container that I started off by pouring over things like the mashed potatoes, and ended up just dunking each forkful of food into before eating. It was perfection - sweet and savory, with just the amount of salt and happiness to make every bite of prime rib loaded with mashed potatoes even more delicious (which you'd think would be impossible).

My server was friendly and attentive, and service across the restaurant seemed to fare the same. In the bar there are small casks of liquor that serve as a wall between sections, and a huge spinning wheel a la The Price Is Right on the wall that offers different drink deals. A large party two tables to my right announced that they had a diner with Celiac - who hopped right in to yell that she'd been there many times before - and their waitress was friendly and eager to help. Since I'll never pretend to have Celiac out at restaurants, it was valuable to hear this woman talking (for a full five minutes) about how she's always able to have a safe meal and how much she enjoys the food there. Her experience - and the fact that she'd take a big party out there for dinner - made me feel like this is definitely a great place for gluten free diners (with some alterations to their meals, I'm sure, since there isn't a gluten free menu).

As I mentioned above, I can't provide a specific gluten free experience unless I'm with a Celiac diner, so please tell me about your experience at Sharps! Even better, give me some more Celiac-safe restaurant ideas.

Gluten Free Restaurants: Meridian, Mississippi

Today's blizzard-like conditions find me sitting in the airport, waiting to see if I'll make it out to Minnesota or if I'll be lucky enough to drive back home in the 5-8 inches we're expecting and attempt to fly out tomorrow. Trying to think of this as a win-win (even though I didn't too a great job of it in the previous sentence) because it means I either get to make it out of the snow to a slightly less snowy area, or I get to go home and sleep in my own bed for an extra night. 

Since it doesn't sound as comforting when I write it as when I said that in my head, I'm transitioning my focus to Mississippi. Beautiful, hot Meridian Mississippi, where the coldest it went was still winter-warm by my standards. If only we could all have that Mississippi warmth.

Until then, I'm going to have to be comforted by the memory of the best steak I've ever had. Which is to say, I visited on four different trips, and every time I was shocked at the quality of the food. I should preface this with how you get to The Rustler: off one of the main highways, there's an exit that takes you to a Stop sign where single-lane highway traffic is coming at you from both directions. Once it's safe to cross, you'll drive under a bridge and along some side dirt roads until you reach a tiny red house with boarded over windows. If you aren't one of the 8 or so cars that make it onto the gravel in front in time, you'll have to park across the street - an abandoned industrial building. After finding this place on Yelp and TripAdvisor with TONS of great reviews I brought my boss, who noted the 5-7 police cars we passed on the way. I assumed that meant there was a police station nearby, while she assumed...otherwise. And I think she was right - on one of the visits my waitress insisted on seeing me out to my car. 

I never had an issue though, and everyone at the site I was working at insisted it was top-notch celebration food where no one they knew had had an unsavory experience. And once you make it in - if you make it in, and don't chicken out after driving by - you will be rewarded big-time. With a few white Christmas lights strung outside and upside-down colorful wine bottles planted around the small front garden, The Rustler tries from the start to prove it's worth the visit. Once you walk in, prepare for darkness! When your eyes adjust you'll find a bar on the left side, and small wooden-walled dining room with fat cushioned armchairs and thick white tablecloths. Service is impeccable, with servers outlining every possible meal option and ensuring your drinks are full and appetite is satiated. 

After a big ol' loaf of bread (give them the heads up and we can skip this torture, team!) arrives, you'll order a nice big glass of wine - red and white are delicious here - or mixed drink. Each cut of steak comes with a salad and your choice of sides, but I'll narrow those down for you right now. Every single time you w order the salad with their homemade blue cheese dressing and their stuffed mashed potatoes. Usually asparagus is a side option - you'll need this too.

As always SORRY for the bread in the pics in advance!

As always SORRY for the bread in the pics in advance!

Their blue cheese dressing is the stuff of dreams. Children and adults alike will weep when separated from this life-changing version; I've quizzed the chef (who comes out a few times a night to check on diners) on a couple of visits on his secret. He swears it's based on the right local blue cheese and layering instead of just mixing. This ish is good enough to eat plain with a fork, which I may or may not have done shen I had finished my salad. 

And their stuffed potato! A baked potato is cored and mixed with thick bacon bits, chives, sour cream, cheddar and chives, then restored in its proper home and baked with an extra layer of cheddar on top. I would happily get obese on this stuff, so it's probably for the best it's so far away. The asparagus is always thick and filling, beautifully roasted and flavorful.

 

Then we finally get to the steak! I always ordered the petit filet, which with a glass of wine runs you about $45 before tax and tip.  Although this is one of the smallest cuts, it's a huge portion, and paired with the other delicacies I mentioned will leave you ready to pop even if you ate less all day to prep. It is juicy and tender and melt-in-your-mouth slice-like-butter delicious. Just life changing. And compared to steakhouses in my area, a really great deal.


Since The Rustler is a relatively small establishment, everything is made to order and goes through a very small chain from when you place your order to when it hits the chef - really just the waiter/waitress between the two of you. This is such a win when you need to ensure your food is Celiac-safe, although a lot of this food (minus the bread) is already gluten-free. Even though I didn't have any Celiacs with me on my adventures, I believe the attention to detail and attempts to make service as personal as possible makes it a great gluten-free option in the Meridian area. To The Rustler: I miss you so much - please make house calls up North (It's worth a shot)!


Have you been to The Rustler in Meridian, MS? Any other places in Mississippi I need to check out?

Gluten Free Restaurants: Boston

When you're in the mood for Mexican food (and really, when are you not?), you really can't go wrong as a Celiac person/family. With the exception of flour tortillas, which can be replaced easily enough with corn tortillas, there aren't many ingredients including gluten that are part of the standard American-restaurant Mexican fare. Even so, if you're going to make the effort to leave your home and venture out on a cold winter night, you want to make sure that the place you try to eat is actually going to be able to accommodate your allergies.

That's where Papagayo in Boston comes in handy. With a few restaurants in the Boston area, Papagayo offers their own gluten free menu and servers are well versed in what is available for diners with Celiac. The menu itself is pretty extensive, and my friend Lauren went for the fish tacos, which she's had before and is a big fan of. Even with a party of ten, our waiter made sure he paid special attention to Lauren's food, even bringing over gluten free chips after we ordered guacamole, plus plates to make sure Lauren could portion out some guac before it became infected with the kitchen's tortilla chips the rest of us were having that went through the same fryer as food with gluten. Looking at the chips I guessed they're the Trader Joez's blue corn tortilla chips, which Lau agreed with, but it was a thoughtful gesture on Papagayo's end to make sure there was an alternative chip option on hand. Even though the guac was good enough to eat with a fork :)

When our entrees were brought over, our server made sure to reiterate that the fish tacos were gluten free, and they looked just like the ones off the regular menu. Each of the three soft-shell tacos had a piece of seared tilapia with avocado and slaw. It was so hard to get a good picture of them in the dim room, but they looked way better in person I promise! Everyone at the table was satisfied with their food, which is a tall order for a big group. I'm guessing the chips and margaritas we had as we settled in made us pretty relaxed diners.

With low lighting on brick walls, comfortable booths and plenty of color interspersed throughout the large restaurant, Papagayo's South Boston location is the perfect spot for a drink and some salty, savory food. Come mix with the post-work crowd and let one of the attentive servers help you enjoy going out to dinner without the stress of worrying if you'll have a safe gluten free experience!

Gluten Free Airports: Minnesota

Which came first: the airport food or the college food? The world may never know, but I'm okay with that as long as it means that some of the familiar food I'm used to from college is available at airports like Minneapolis-St. Paul. What an unexpected - and welcome! - surprise to find the same retail pizza place, frozen yogurt place, and grab-and-go favorite from college all at MSP. 

Minneapolis-St. Paul is one  of the few airports in the US I actually I enjoy being in, not only because flights are usually on time (something that shouldn't have to be a huge plus at an airport, one would think), but because it has a really nice main drag of shopping and restaurants/retail dining locations that allows you to pretend for a minute that you're at a high-end mall. That there's familiar fare where I know exactly what to order and how it will taste at Famous Famiglia Pizzeria, Freshens, and French Meadow Bakery takes each visit to the next level.

Yes, I did lean on a column creepily to get a good picture, how did you know?

Yes, I did lean on a column creepily to get a good picture, how did you know?

Now, on to the gluten free! At school, French Meadow was an addition about halfway through my college experience, first as a small stand in the campus center concourse, and eventually growing into a bigger store after I graduated. Their top-notch lattes, large variety of pastries, healthy but filling salads and and ready-to-toast sandwiches were on, as the kiddos say, fleek. 

So imagine my surprise when I find BOTH a ridiculously expansive grab and go section and a restaurant with a full bar. Sadly I didn't have time to hit the full restaurant up, but I did have enough time to say hello to an old friend, the salad with salmon.

Although there are a whole bunch of top-notch salads on offer, the French Meadow House Salad with Salmon was always my go-to.  In between classes I could grab this and feel like I was eating a super fancy lunch that I would never go to all the work of making at home. I'd walk away both contentedly full and feeling quite important since I managed to eat healthy while rushing around.

This bad boy is packed down with mixed greens, like really seriously packed. It was probably cheaper at the student price in college to buy one of these instead of going to a supermarket for salad mix for the week (airport prices not so much). Then we have a whole array of shredded carrots, shredded beets, plump cherry tomatoes, and toasted sunflower seeds. On top of all that is a big hunk of salmon, perfectly flaky and very thick, with a side container of their white balsamic vinaigrette. It's hard to explain the taste of the dressing - this small container really packs a lot of punch. I would probably try to explain it as sweet and tangy, with a consistency on the lighter end of a Creamy Italian dressing. The only difference between the MSP salad and college version was that at school, the beets were more finely shredded (same size as the carrots). Otherwise, this was exactly the same treat.

With everything above  - the fresh taste of the salmon with the warmth of the toasted sunflower seeds and sweetness of the beets and other veggies - this is truly a monster of a healthy meal, that hits every sweet, savory, tangy flavor component I can think of. My only qualm here is that I've never been able to finish it - which is remarkable when you think of how many delicious healthy foods in your life you haven't been able to finish (none, right?). It definitely took me a while to pick out what I needed (even now I can hear my mom in the back of my head telling me I don't "need" anything) with all of the hot soups, salads, made-to-order meals and desserts, so if you're anything like me, decide what kind of food mood you're in waaaay before you go near the storefront or else you'll never decide.

While the right side of the location is a full-service restaurant, the left side has plenty of well-lit and comfortable seating for you to hide away from the world and eat in peace. It felt like a much nicer - newer and brighter - version of Panera, and although the location I went to was right in the middle of the main drag after security in the North Terminal, not many people seemed to notice it was there. I really appreciated finding a place to hide in plain sight, where I could pretend to be relaxing after work instead of waiting for a flight. Definitely a big win over the people who bought McDonald's and sat eating it outside their gate.

I loved that a lot of the items - especially in the pasty section - were clearly labeled Gluten Free. I was there rather late at night so there weren't a lot of people working to ask, but I'm curious about the cross-contamination risks and any measures this location may take to make this food as safe as possible for any Celiacs or those with gluten allergies. I'll ask next time, but if you know already keep me in the loop please!

I'm headed back to Minnesota in a few weeks and I'm really looking forward to heading to French Meadow again! Unfortunately, I did discover the answer to my mystery at the beginning of this post: French Meadow Bakery started as a series of restaurants with different names in that area, and has since expanded in the Twin Cities area as well as in a few other airports (like Atlanta - although it's more of a tiny stand of refrigerated items in the walkways of the terminals in my experience). I'm sad that I answered my own chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, but excited to try out the original locations on my next trip! Until then, anyone nearby should definitely stop in and have some French Meadow for me!

Have you tried French Meadow before? Any other gluten free friendly locations in the Twin Cities area or airport I need to check out?

Gluten Free Restaurants: Minneapolis

Welcome to beautiful Minnesota, where 9° could be positive or negative and you mention the Vikings at your own peril! As soon as I landed I headed to the Mall of America. Of course. The parking lot I ended up in was named Indiana and totally marked up in yellow. There are so many parking lots within the garage they are named after states, blasted with color and you can text a number your state to help you remember where to find your car. Oh man. So I was pretty pumped to get inside, but after coming in in one of the most central parts of the mall, I wandered for a bit and found I wasn't blown away. 

I was lucky in that I ended up at the Mall around 2pm on a Monday, so there weren't many people to keep me from seeing everything I wanted - from See's Candy samples (see what I did there) to the amusement parks to a sneak peak of the aquarium on the "negative first" floor. Seriously between the weather and the mall there is a strange negative trend.

For those who haven't visited the Twin Cities (about whom I'd like to have a separate conversation in the future), the mall is basically a giant square, with classic department stores flanking each corner at the points and views into the center amusement park halfway through each side of the square. There were climbing games, a roller coaster, carousel, ferris wheel, a water ride, and all sorts of Dora and Spongebob themed rides. Having no one around made me equally comfortable to snapstory away while also feeling like a pretty obvious tourist for the few people wandering with their kids or significant others.

I mentioned a negative level - that's the aquarium! There are four levels otherwise, but if you go deep deep down you can pet de-barbed stingrays and hang out with other water creatures. I considered it, but it was $18 for an adult ticket and I had a bit of a ride in the snow to my hotel. A lovely employee there did let me look at the different areas for a bit though - the stingrays are really something else.

So, the food!! After stalking restaurant reviews at the mall and comparing their gluten free menus, I had to go with Tucci Benucch. This little Italian place is not that little - I sat on the right hand side of the "patio" and people-watched (or, people-watched while being people-watched since everyone's always so confused by someone eating alone and reading a book/casually staring at them) - there's a pretty big, semi-dark restaurant off to the back that looks really cozy for large groups.

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I wasn't having any of that though, especially when there are happy hour deals to be had on the patio. Although I ordered my main off the gluten free menu, I did accept the bread that came over because 1 I was hungry and 2 why pretend I can't have it? I told the waiter that I was trying the gluten free Fusilli Tomato Cream for my dad, just so he wouldn't worry that someone had brought me bread and I'd already went in on it while ordering a gluten free entree.

And boy was this WORTH IT. Like my taste buds didn't think gluten-full or gluten-free at all. My waiter told me Tucci Benucch makes all their own sauces and soups etc. from scratch, including the mozzarella. This stuff was added in tiny pockets to the fusilli along with slightly crunchy chicken and this insanely delicious tomato cream sauce. With every bite of the pasta and chicken a little piece of mozz would come along, and I would swirl my fork waiting for it to snap and it just wouldn't. It was almost a sport to see when it would finally snap but that baby just kept on going. Super impressive. The sauce itself was sweet with a little spicy warmth that wasn't truly spicy, but kept things interesting. The cream took it too the next level without being overwhelmingly lactose-y. Kind of a gross way to word that, right? My point being it had all the taste elements of a traditional tomato cream sauce without the gross feeling people get after having a meal with cream in it.

And the pasta itself! It was perfectly al dente, with just the little bite you need along with all the normal gluten-full taste, so you don't even notice that it's gluten free. I was so impressed I asked the waiter where it was from, and after checking with the kitchen he said it was Heartland brand. I'd recently read that that's one of the best gluten free pasta brands but that it's a really only found in the Minnesota area, so it's definitely on my list now and I'm sure a product review of trying it at home will follow!

All in all, from the pretty solid gluten free menu to the attention that the staff provided and the incredible quality of the food, I'd highly recommend checking out Tucci Benucch next time you're dragging yourself around the Mall of America. Honestly it might be my only reason to go again!

Have you been to Tucci Benucch? Any other gluten free places in the Minneapolis area I should check out?

 

Gluten Free Restaurants: New York

Not technically on Long Island but close enough that that's the main crowd it attracts, Pop's Seafood Shack & Grill is a pretty amazing summer spot. Although driving up you'll worry that you're going to end up dumped in the water instead of sitting my it, once you make it past the abandoned lots you'll find a huge building with backyard dancing, Adirondack chairs and a huge man-made beach in the back. This place is done up like a boardwalk, where palm trees and colorful lights brighten up a sandy retreat on the water, and even the bathrooms are set up as fake colorful buildings to look like they're part of a destination pier. While visiting a friend studying in Long Island, my friends and I made it out to Pop's around 8 on a Friday. Everyone could tell we were rookies as soon as our party of 10 put in our name for dinner and were told it'd be a two hour wait - our faces showed the early stages of hangriness. 

Luckily we found a spot to stand by the pier to wait it out with drinks since most of the (150?) chairs were taken and packed around fires all over the "beach." We were soon rewarded with the best spots in the house for a surprise late 4th of July fireworks show across the water. Springsteen was blasting, fireworks were glaring across the water, and suddenly I had a newfound affinity for New York. 

In case you were wondering what fireworks are - the circular dots in the top that aren't stars or planes.

In case you were wondering what fireworks are - the circular dots in the top that aren't stars or planes.

Luckily waiting for dinner doesn't seem as long when you have a drink and a bunch of college friends to catch up with, but there were also sedentary "food trucks" set up on the Pop's beach in case anyone was close to food freakout mode. Sooner than we realized, an hour and a half was up and we had a table! 

The list of seafood options was just ridiculous, so while we sat outside under a little awning on long picnic tables we squinted through the dark to spy on what other people were ordering. In the end, two friends and I went in on the 2 1/2 pound Lobster Chunk mussels. These bad boys had a sweet and light "brandied lobster bisque" broth. Even with three of us doing our best, we weren't able to finish these and the sides of tater tots (I'm always psyched when tater tots are on the menu) and fries we ordered. True to their word, there were a solid amount of lobster chunks alongside roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh steamed PEI mussels, and for $10 each this was a real steal.

Buckets of mussels in front of buckets of tater tots - isn't life grand?

Buckets of mussels in front of buckets of tater tots - isn't life grand?

The mussels come with a piece of country bread, but it'd be easy enough to remove that when ordering gluten free. Next time I definitely want a rematch with the mussels, and their raw bar and corn on the cob menus look ridiculous in the best way possible. Because we didn't have anyone with gluten issues in our party, I didn't ask if a separate fryer is available for the fried foods, and as always I don't pretend to have Celiac so I'm not sure how safe the kitchen actually is in terms of a gluten-free experience, but my visit there and the gluten-free options I found were super impressive. If you're looking for a place to lounge around with friends in the NYC area that feels and tastes like summer, I'd definitely start with Pop's. 

Have you been to Pop's? What was your gluten-free experience like, and is there another place you'd recommend I go next time I'm in the Long Island area?

Chipotle Is My Life Part 2

Trying to make the most of this new year! In my case, that means spending lots of time after work at the gym and going out with friends, so not cooking as much as I'd like! I'll make it up to you with a picture of my Chipotle from last night! I always go for the bowl - a burrito but with room for more (and no tortilla, which is the only thing with gluten in the store!). My dad went first in our little line, and after explaining that he has Celiac they offered to clean down the line, which they did very carefully. They then made up his bowl, with certain items fresh from new containers instead of the ones on the line (cheese, lettuce, meat) - anyone know why only certain items are added from new bowls?


I always go for the veggie bowl with a side of their dressing. This means more room for - and free! - guac, with white rice, black beans, lots of their peppers and onions (preferable a little charred), cheese, mild and corn salsa (so sweet and delicious!), and a little lettuce to top it all off. I can't get over how much food they give you - you always leave with a Chipotle belly and yet, you ate something super healthy!


I totally trust Chipotle, and in a sick twisted way I'm sort of happy they had the recent issues in certain stores - shorter line for me!


Happy Friday! Hope you're enjoying the last few hours of the week and preparing for a relaxing weekend! Here's one of my favorite covers from my newfound favorite group to take you into the weekend. 
 

Gluten Free Restaurants: Columbus, Ohio

Growing up, there were only two things that I knew that had to do with Ohio: the "Cleveland rocks! Ohio hio hioooo" ending from the Drew Carey Show theme song and "Ohio Is For Lovers," a bizarre but lovable-when-it-feels-familiar song we used to sing in the car driving around Western Massachusetts freshman year of college. Neither of those made me extremely excited to go to Ohio.

A little Columbus culture at the  Franklin Park Conservatory

A little Columbus culture at the Franklin Park Conservatory


I was pleasantly surprised then by the different food and coffee I was able to find on my adventures in the Columbus area. Delicious Italian food, espresso from a place called "Coffee Craze N Rayz" that also specialized in tanning, and of course, Max & Erma's.


This chain restaurant actually has a whole bunch of locations, from Ohio to Virginia to South Dakota and Missouri, so you have plenty of places to get your lunch or dinner or - my favorite - **happy hour** on. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but we don't have happy hour drink specials at home, so every time I'm in a state with happy hour food and drinks I am PSYCHED. Max & Erma's is a kitschy chain, with old-fashioned "bathtubs" full of ice cream and toppings to make your own sundaes, and daily deals with extras like fresh cookies.

Did you seriously not trust me?

Did you seriously not trust me?

Sorry! Didn't order mine gluten free.

Sorry! Didn't order mine gluten free.


My personal favorite at Max & Erma's is pretty unexpected though - their 3rd Street Salad. This guy has some salad classics - iceberg, tomatoes, red onions - along with some Cobb elements - grilled chicken, bacon and blue cheese and what they call a "Sweet and Tangy dressing." Not sure how else to describe this dressing. It's definitely the above, but is so much more exciting than I think the description alone can manage. This is a super-flavorful salad that will feel like a sweet and savory treat but will totally fill you up and help you walk away feeling like you ate something that is actually good for you. It also comes with almonds, but since I have enough food allergy issues I cut them out.


Max & Erma's has a "Gluten Sensitive" menu, which notes you can order the 3rd Street salad without the croutons and breadsticks for a gluten free option. Although I haven't tried their gluten free buns, I can vouch for the flavor in their burgers, and since they don't have a separate fryer for gluten-free sides, they have a pretty good list of gluten-free sides you can opt in for. I enjoyed my M&E's so much after first trying it in Chillicothe that I had to get it at the Columbus airport again before flying out! Nothing like a healthy start before a lot of flying.

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Just thinking of that salad is making me hungry! And I just had lunch. When has the though of a salad ever made you hungry? Jeez.


As always, I don't pretend I have Celiac at any restaurant, so if you've had a particularly pleasant or disappointing gluten-free experience at a Max & Erma's please fill me in! Any other favorites in Ohio?

Gluten Free Drinks: Lattes

I. Am. Wiped. 

The only thing getting me through the first day back right now is the thought of a big delicious latte. Is that weird - that the thought of caffeine keeping my eyes open is what's currently keeping my eyes open? Whatever it's the truth! 
 

I'm going to go for something local today since I can't make the hours-long drive to my favorite place, but as always it's in my heart. Woodstar Cafe in Northampton Mass. is my be-all-end-all for caffeine. The Valley has a plethora of life-changing (and life-jittering, if you're having enough) coffee shops, which is perfect with the five-colleges worth of students trying to stay up all week/weekend. I didn't fully appreciate it until after I graduated, but god do I miss it now. One of my professors recommended a (now-defunct) local movie store with lots of cheap DVDs and the Woodstar, noting to my friend and I that a girl could get a movie and one of the best espressos outside of Italy for less than $5. Although the movie store is gone, the Woodstar has completely stolen my heart and I visit it as often as I can.

Their iced and hot lattes (with whole milk of course) are consistently some of the most rich and smooth beverages I've ever had. They make every kind of delicious dessert and loads of breakfast and pastry foods too, so no matter what time you drop in there's a bev and a snack that will be perfect for you. The staff yell out orders to others instead of writing or entering them into a computer, and although your heart may fill with fear at your first visit, with time you'll realize your drink will always be perfect. This is a cozy, colorful place with friendly staff, but if you want to leave there's an old bookstore a few steps away, or the entirety of Noho shopping around the corner. Grab a bev and snack, but save room for later! There's too much amazing food in this area to fill up at just one place. 

Gluten Free Restaurants: Meridian, Mississippi

I love me some Mississippi. I've been here for work so many times, and although it was the opportunity for warmth in the winter that originally appealed to me, the incredibly thoughtful people and insanely comforting food have helped  catapult it to one of the top spots on my travel list.

If you see this guy, you've made it to Weidmann's!

If you see this guy, you've made it to Weidmann's!

Wait, you say - did she just tell us that Mississippi is one of her favorite places to travel? Oh, yeah. If you're from up North (or maybe from most places), Mississippi as a travel destination is not really on your list. There aren't big amusement parks like Disney or beaches across the state, and even the capital is pretty low-key, with about 10 terminals in the whole airport (but don't tell anyone there that their airport is small! Seriously). But if you are looking for true Southern hospitality, where anyone you walk by makes eye contact and politely says hello, or holds doors when you're practically a quarter mile away, or calls you endearments that you would straight up murder someone for doing back home - but with such kindness and perfect accents that you know they're just, like good people - look no further than Mississippi. 

And to continue with my first of what I'm sure will be many love letters to Miss Miss, I want to talk about Meridian. This city is about an hour and a half east of the capital, and it is a perfect introduction to the state. After a nice long drive full of...well, grass and huge trees? That's pretty much it. But anyway, after your cruise down the highway you are sure to be hungry, and although Meridian holds a few of my favorite Southern haunts, the first place I'd recommend you go for lunch is Weidmann's

This beautiful old brick building, with a huge sign out front, is one of the fanciest places in the city. I would go there every day for lunch, and between the perfect fried green tomatoes, cheese grits, and lunch specials of paninis (always with fontina - oh my god fontina), soup (gumbo or chowder - drool city), and homemade potato chips (crispy and salty with a dry ranch seasoning that I would honestly murder someone for - please don't tell I said that if you notice I'm arrested one day), they are the place to be any time of the day. 

What I'd recommend for you, my beautiful gluten free friends, is the catfish. These thin but flavorful fillets are fried and served on a salad - go Caesar (minus croutons)! - and will make your mouth water as soon as they're set down. Whether you're sitting at the bar, one of the white tablecloth spots in the dining room, or out on the second floor deck, you'll receive plenty attention from the incredibly kind servers. One one visit, a server insisted on helping a man - who seemed completely competent - carry his lunch bag and tray of two iced teas to the car out front. This might seem normal if you're reading this in the South, but the thoughtfulness and attention to detail - and moreover, true decency wanting to help someone out - made this stand out to me. Plus, every time I left I was offered a to-go cup of more iced tea that was basically McDonald's Super Size.

If you're sitting on the deck or just trying to walk off your food, try to spot all of the painted carousal horses around the city.  One of the biggest selling points of the city is a particular type of carousel house that is only in operation in Meridian, so a public art project was created as a fundraiser for a local children's charity where local artists painted five foot tall horses. These works of art have lasted about 13 years so far, and range from horses in front of local shops and city buildings to ones matching fast food restaurants. I caught about 30 on my last visit, and still missed a few good ones.

Thank you Weidmann's for so many delicious lunches, exciting trivia nights, and relaxing filling dinners. With such wonderful people and amazing food, it's no surprise you've been in business so long.

Anything else you recommend in Meridian, or do you have recommendations for great gluten free options across the big beautiful state of Mississippi? 

Gluten Free Drinks: Kombucha

...Hey guys

...Hey guys

At the beginning of December last year I was on one of my trips to Hawaii, so this year while it's beginning to freeze in New England (although it has been unseasonably warm lately - low 50s!!), I'm reminiscing about floating around Waikiki Beach, driving by the huge - and kind of creepy - Christmas figurines in Honolulu, and Christmas music playing in the open air malls as I wandered about sweating in shorts. I am super jealous of past me.

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Instead of engaging in some twisted form of self-jealousy I am going to share with you one of my favorite take-aways of my time in Hawaii: the nectar of the gods, kombucha. This stuff was so accessible around Hawaii, and if it wasn't such a normal beverage option in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island I doubt I ever would have tried it. The thought of fermented tea is pretty bogus, but when I wandered into Conscious Culture Cafe in Hilo one day after work I became a believer.

 

Conscious Culture Cafe has since merged with Big Island Booch Kombucha, which had an outpost before but was making some booch in the Cafe when I first stopped in. I only stopped in because of the sounds coming through the screen door - cheerful music, lots of happy chatter and the soft clinks of utensils on plates that seems to signal good food is near. The orange room was small with a small wooden bar and a few taps, and a drink sounded perfect after a long day of work. I realized pretty quickly that the taps were not for alcohol though, but the concept of kombucha distracted me from being disappointed. 

I asked all the beginner questions: was it alcoholic, is fermented bad, is it really good for you (answers: not really, not in this case, maybe but not definitely)? Then came by real question: but is it good? Luckily they are big on letting you sample of Big Island Booch, and as many as you'd like! I pretty much sampled the whole list. 

 

I'd describe kombucha as a sweet but tangy alternative to soda, with lots of carbonation and a light fruity flavor. When I first arrived at the cafe they had big silver vats in the back room, each topped with what looked like a canvas tarp as different types of kombucha were made. This stuff is delicious, and every time I visited I purchased a new glass bottle and refilled it at least once a day. The trick to this fresh kombucha is to keep it cool, which is next to impossible going to and from work in Hawaii, where if the temperature itself won't melt you, the humidity certainly will. Basically this means once you get your kombucha in Hawaii, if you can't store it in a fridge you need to chug that puppy. That's not really a problem though since it's so delicious!

About the health benefits: supposedly kombucha is great for your gut and digestion, and helps with mental clarity and an improved mood. My mood was pretty great the whole time - I was in Hawaii! - and I'm not sure I noticed these purported benefits, but I'd be really interested in hearing about any stories of success you have!

Local fruit samples, too!

Local fruit samples, too!

Kombucha is available all over, but usually I can only find it in bottled form and not straight from the tap. So far the only exception I've found is at my local Whole Foods, where there's a small tap recently added to the back of the store. Bottled Kombucha offerings are all over the place though - at a WF in Houston I saw a huge variety of brands and flavors - and if you can find them, tell me your favorite brand and flavor! Since Big Island Booch is only on the islands (for now!) I have to get a bit more creative. I can't say enough good things about Big Island Booch though - if you're ever in Hawaii this is a must, and if you make it to Hilo I seriously insist you stop by the Conscious Culture Cafe to chat with their friendly staff, listen to a music night, or eat a local filling lunch or dinner. They are the BEST.

Have you had an interesting kombucha experience? Want to weigh in on the best brand or flavor?

 

Gluten Free Airports: Chicago O'Hare

Let's get this out of the way from the get-go: Chicago O'Hare is one of the worst airports in the country. If you land on time you're psyched that you might have enough time to meander over to your connecting flight. If that's the case, one of the following will absolutely happen: 

  1. Where you landed is a half hour taxi to the gate.
  2. Your gate is currently being used and you have to wait until it deplanes, is cleaned, boarded, and on the runway before pulling in.
  3. A luggage carrier is blocking your way to the gate and for some secret reason cannot be moved by anyone except one guy who's a 20 minutes walk away eating lunch.
  4. There's a weird sound your plane is making and the pilots don't want to move it to the gate quite yet.

If you make it past these, great! You'll have time for some of the best gluten-free airport food around and actually make it to your flight before you deal with one of the following:

  1. Your flight is immediately delayed.
  2. Your gate has switched to a different terminal a half hour walk ( or 17 minute jog) away 5 minutes before boarding is scheduled to begin.
  3. Your coworker goes in search of a snack before boarding and disappears for 30 minutes with her phone ringing in the boarding area seat she abandoned as you stand with her ticket and bags begging the gate to call her name. Which they won't because apparently that is against policy.
  4. You will board your flight and sit on the runway for two hours.

Regardless of what your O'Hare fate is, or will be, Frontera will manage to make you smile. This is almost like an upscale Mexican Panera - with a bar. You can take these bad boys (sans alcohol) to with you or sit down and hang around. But is anyone ever not in a rush at O'Hare? That's what I thought.

I always go for the Taqueria salad here - romaine and arugula with red onion, radish, avocado slices, cheese and a vinagrette with lime and avocado. It also comes standardly with poblano rajas and carrots, but I usually skip out because I can't manage too much spice or allergens respectively. 

And of course, when ordering a salad from a Mexican place you must get chips and salsa with a side of guac. Frontera's comes with two salsas - smoky chipotle (red) and tomatillo cilantro (green) and their standard guac from the guac bar. Yes. A guacamole bar. I forgo the toppings because their standalone guac is just that good. You can mess with it and add sundried tomatoes or Gunthorp bacon, but I'm happy in the corner with my two salsas and avocado-deliciousness.

Agua frescas are also a must (if you don't have time for a marg that is): tart with a little sweetness, these Mexican beverages on tap are the perfect accompaniment to this quick and salty meal.

As much as I hate O'Hare, I'm always a bit excited when I have to fly through. I know in advance I will have a BIG headache, but at least I'll have some insanely good food.

Have you been to Frontera outside O'Hare? Any other Celiac-friendly places at O'Hare I should check out? As always, I don't have Celiac, so if you've had a different experience somewhere trying to have a safe meal please let me know!

Gluten Free Restaurants: Edmonton, Canada

Oh, Canada!

Until a recent work trip, I'd only ventured north of the border once, to  Montreal on a family vacation years ago. It was my first taste of life outside of the US, and although freezing in the summer it was overall an excellent cultural first course outside of my bubble. The underground shopping, the way that everyone flipped so easily between French and English, and the beautiful old buildings were my first opportunity to branch outside of the little New England world I'm used to.


I hadn't made it back to Canada yet though, and honestly in my mind I only thought about Montreal and Toronto as places to visit. This was my first mistake.


When I said I'd travel to Edmonton, the only point of reference I had was the Oilers, and I'm not a big sports person. I added the rink inside a mall to the list of places I'd like to go, but other than that I approached this visit with very little knowledge. So little that the only other thing I planned in advance was to print maps of the area since my cell wouldn't have service.

And no I wasn't the driver!

And no I wasn't the driver!


I really underestimated Edmonton. The city sits on a hill - I don't even know if you can call it a hill since a city is on it but whatever - which makes it picturesque as you drive up. Especially if you took ONE wrong turn from your map that left you in the middle of who knows where after a day of flying and the sun just set. Thank god it was an easy city to spot, like a beacon saying, "Silly millennial! You don't need GPS to find me!"

 

Once I made my way up I was good to go. The city is super walkable, and I made it to and from work each day and spent the rest of each day wandering. Edmonton has beautiful malls to wander, local shops, and a pretty poppin city hall area with oversized chess to play, a shallow pool with fountains to walk through, and lots of local vendors. 


Dinner is where Edmonton really shines. Before I get to that though I really have to point out that the breakfast I had at the Marriott Courtyard was spot. on. They had a breakfast buffet for about 15USD (not including tip) that included the best bacon and really delicious English-style slow and low cooked scrambled eggs, which I am an absolute sucker for.

Okay, okay back to dinner! 

On the first full day in Edmonton, a friend and I went to Woodwork. This place is on the smaller side but just beautiful. There restaurant has a clean and open efel, with wooden (appropriate) bookcases holding all sorts of liquor bottles. One of my favorite things to do at restaurants is sit at the bar and admire the bottles (really a Belle-style ladder swinging library here), and Woodwork did me one better by including incredible shows by the bartenders as they made their drinks. Each one involved such care, and every bartender worked quickly but with immense attention to every action they took crafting their drink. 

Someone else's looked so good I needed it too!

Someone else's looked so good I needed it too!

 

And the food! Oh man the food. We started with my friend's recommendation of Steak Tartare, which you can't really get at home. This was delicious - rich and flavorful and perfectly offset with the crunchy salty chips on top. Once we'd blended the egg in we enjoyed these tiny bites of heaven.

 

My second course here was a combination of healthy and artery-clogging. On the healthy end I ordered their Brassica salad, which was a bed of kale with radish, slices, a poached farm egg, Gouda, pickled onion and this grilled cauliflower that was just delish. This was a sweet dish in a way that would not quit. To offset this surprisingly saccharine main (okay really just cause I love fries), I'd ordered a side of fries to split. They were salty and fresh, with just the right amount of crisp. And there is nothing like some sides to dip your fries in. I am 100% about that life.


Between the drinks with beautiful garnishes lit on fire, the appetizers-you-can't-order-at-home, and the neverending food that hit every spot, I would call Woodwork a big hit. As always, I would love to hear your feedback about Woodwork's ability to provide safe gluten-free food, and any other Celiac-friendly places in Edmonton I missed!

Gluten Free Restaurants: Houston

On a weekend between work trips, my sister met me in Houston for a long weekend together. We had to pick a location between my two site visits, but there are a lot of options between Georgia and Edmonton, Canada. We were pretty sold on Houston though for one obvious reason: Beyoncé.  Bey is a big fan of her hometown and we are big fans of Bey, so we had to pay homage and explore this beautiful city. It was also the first visit to each of us to Texas (not including airport sits), so we figured we'd start off with Bey's unofficial recommendation.

And did we ever. For three days we basked in the sun (and what I think might be the world's best Whole Foods - they had a bar!), joked around in beautiful museums, and - most importantly - ate a lot of insanely delicious food.

One of the food categories we were most excited about was the Tex Mex, and we were not disappointed. After a morning wandering the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston we realized we were starving and did a quick google search to find the top Tex Mex restaurants in the area that were an easy drive away. I'm a big enough foodie that I usually cross-check whatever comes up on my search with reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor, and the combination of the two has always steered me the right way.

As soon as we pulled into the Ninfa's on Navigation lot we knew we picked a good one - the lot was packed at 2pm and so was the lobby. This worried us a bit because we definitely get a little hangry, but we were shocked when we were seated within ten minutes! 

The service here was spectacular - immediate offers of drinks and friendly recommendations from our server, chips and salsa that magically appeared in front of us, and plenty of drop-ins to make sure we had everything we needed.

And did we ever.

In addition to our thick, hot, salty chips and ridiculously delicious salsas, we had this divine  (seriously, I had to whip out the word divine like a real hardo to accurately describe it) guacamole. This guac came on it's own plate - like a full size serving plate - alongside extra pico de gallo and onions to mix in. 

When you first walk in to Ninfa's you're greeted by employees making fresh corn tortillas to accompany your meal. With that kind of intro you really have to get something with those gluten free bad boys (although you'd obviously want to check with their staff about any sort of cross-contamination first). My sister and I split the skirt steak fajitas, which came garnished with peppers and onions with sides of rice and beans. Plenty of grilled jalapenos for the daring, too! Alongside some Navigation Margaritas we were in absolute heaven. The steak, peppers and onions had the perfect char, with plenty of flavor in the steak and thick corn tortillas to hold everything together. Each element was perfect on its own, but even more amazing together.

This was one of those meals that is so good your table stops talking. There is nothing like being so excited about your food that you forget where you are and who you're with, and this is one of those places. The food was so good that even after I was stuffed to the brim I kept picking at pieces of steak and bits of rice and beans, adding some guac to my fork to complete each mini-bite.

As always, I don't have Celiac and don't think it's fair I pretend I do to review the gluten-free service (and this was pre-Celiac discovery for my family), so please check with Ninfa's to learn about what they can do to help make sure your experience is safe! And let me know if you have any feedback after heading there or if there are any great gluten free places in Houston we should take the family to next time!

Gluten Free Restaurants: Hawai'i

 

I have been lucky enough to travel to Hawaii for work a few times. Now, in many ways this is just incredible. How many people get to go to Hawaii, and for free! It's a place I honestly never thought I'd go and I'm still so grateful for the opportunity to experience warm weather (and the humidity!) in the winter, slow down on "island time," and experience the wonderful culture and hospitality of the less-touristy areas of the Big Island.

But I will say there's a big difference between honeymooning in Hawaii and traveling there alone for work. I knew people at the site where I was working, and one of my sister's best friends lives out there, but there is nothing stranger than spending most of your flights and time outside with newlyweds. Like, every flight. And on every tour or next to you in every restaurant as you chow down while people-watching (really couple-watching here) or reading a book. The weirdest part was chatting up couples my age with absolute rocks on their fingers who had recently bought homes.  I was feeling a little jealous that they were at this point in their lives, having found a life partner and who they were ready to share their lives and this insanely beautiful place with, but I could also tell they were a little jealous of me. Traveling by myself, for free, and getting to make my own plan for the day and leave a few things til my next visit since this wasn't a one time trip. That really helped me appreciate my experience, and feel happy for these cute little couples starting their own adventure.

So. On to the food! I enjoyed so much delicious Hawaiian cuisine so there will be a lot of posts, but I had to start with some epic Japanese food. I was pretty much obsessed with Kanpai in Hilo, on the Big Island, during my visits. One trip I went two nights in a row. 

The best part about Hawaii - well, one of them - was the insanely fresh fish. Restaurants are able to utilize the best local catches from that morning, and boy can you tell the difference. I'm not usually a sushi person (except for Philly rolls), but I went overboard on my trips.

 

It was always worth it at Kanpai. I've had their Ahi Roll, Spicy Ahi Roll (which is like way way spicy), smoked salmon roll, ramen, and miso soup.

 

God their miso soup. Most Japanese places taught me that this is sort of a throwaway, a little salty broth with some scallions to keep you from freaking out from hunger.

Kanpai helped me realize just how amazing it can be. This was full of tofu and green onions, with little bubbles of heat that seemed to continually rise up. It was flavorful, so delicious that I ordered it every time I went. Just ridiculous.

 

 

 

 

Ramen looks beautiful upon delivery and tastes just as good. The big red bowl was spicy though - something I would highly recommend for all you heat-seekers but that was a little overwhelming for my bland palate.

All of their sushi was painfully good. Usually I'd get too excited by the menu and over-order. The staff is thoughtful and attentive. On one of my last visits, I ordered the Ahi Roll and chatted with the waitress about the Spicy Ahi roll and how, although delicious, it was wayy to spicy for my Irish/Polish self. When my roll came later it was accidentally the Spicy one, which the waitress had noticed as she brought it over. I said I thought I could manage, but she insisted the kitchen (which is right in front of you if you sit at a stool) would remake it. After attempting a piece and chugging half my water I agreed with her, and she packaged that roll for me for later or to give to someone else. The sushi chefs were so nice, and when I was finishing up they insisted - like seriously insisted - that they let me make them another roll to go. When I politely protested they told me that the fish was so fresh they use it daily, and it would be wasted if I didn't take some home since they'd get new fish the next day.

I think part of their offer stemmed from the mishap earlier (that really didn't bother me), part from the fact that I was eating alone with my book (actually one of my favorite things - I don't have to talk; I can focus on my food!), but mostly I think they are just a group of very thoughtful people.

Every aspect of this small restaurant is carefully executed, and every staff member I interacted with was friendly and considerate. Based on my experience I would be willing to bet that this group would go out of their way to make a gluten-free meal totally separate from everything else that someone with Celiac would not only feel safe eating, but love.

Final note: do NOT miss out on their sake cocktails.

Gluten Free Restaurants: NYC

As part of my job, I travel across the country (sometimes outside of it too). This means I get to meet all sorts of interesting people, fail at attempting lots of local accents, and -most importantly - eat. A lot.

I have always taken pictures of my food because I'm a weirdo who likes to explain what she ate to other people, or visit the picture later when I'm trying to remember what I ordered or trying to inspire myself to make an easy version for dinner.

In these Gluten Free Restaurants segments I'm going to showcase gluten free meals you can enjoy across the country. A disclaimer from the start: I do not have Celiac and I do not travel for work with my Celiac family (that would be strange). It would be super inappropriate of me to claim I have Celiac just to review the experience, so I'll only write about the experience for Celiacs if I'm with someone who truly has it. Ergo I don't have specifics on how well the kitchen is prepared to manage Celiacs or what the true range of options are, but this is just a starting point. Even if you don't eat here, maybe you'll try out your own related recipe: if you do please share!

Alrighty then. There are loads of cities I could have started with, but NYC felt right. Mostly because this Mexican restaurant was just ridiculously good. Añejo is situated in Hell's Kitchen, and on a beautiful summer's day I sat on what may be the best people-watching corner with a marg.

What you see before you are: decimated nachos, which were insanely good, and a pork belly tostada (corn tortillas make this g-free!). This bad boy was like a Mexican style pizza in the best of ways - big pieces of a sweet caramelized pork belly with refried beans, pickled onions, radish slices and what the menu characterizes as a "burnt cilantro crema" that I can only describe as "nom."

Of course we stopped in at happy hour, which is my FAVE part of traveling as my state does not have drink specials at happy hour (so it's more like "pleased hour" or "okay hour"), so I had a few delicious margs. I enjoyed the Añejo, which was sweet and tangy in equal measureKnowing that we'd be meandering back to the hotel (walking and ferry's distance away) made it that much easier to relax with a bev and eat as much guac as I wanted. Which is a lot. 

How could you not have a lot of guac when it looked like that though? That is the classic guacamole I love, with no tomato business. Just fresh avocados, limes, sea salt and maybe some onions. Not enough to detract from that perfect color though. Ugh.

I sat outside, where the wicker chairs looked great but felt very uncomfortable, but who really cares when they're stuffing their faces in warm weather? The inside of the restaurant was dark and welcoming, with lots of long, thick wooden tables and smaller spaces squeezed in comfortably together, but as long as it's nice out I'd recommend grabbing some street space.

All in all, a delicious experience!


Chipotle Is My Life

So.

Last time we talked in this section I did a little rant about saving up to eat out and trying new things, blah blah blah.

But I think we can all agree that the exception to our rule is Chipotle. And amen for that!

So anyway now that we're all hyped about Chipotle, here's a little restaurant review:

To catch our recent g-free readers or just general Chipotle fans up to speed, the only product Chipotle warns gluten-free customers about are their flour tortillas. That's pretty great for a huge restaurant. If you were a big burrito fan: 1 I'm sorry 2 but not that sorry because you are going to really enjoy the burrito bowl option. Not only is it all the things you love (minus gluten), but you get to be like me and be super picky about every bite! No longer will you eat a bite of burrito, hoping there's an even amount of your selections in each bite. No! Now you make your own forkfuls. And the dressing! The dressing is a MUST. And the guacamole. That sweet perfect guacamole. I'll try to recreate it with their pico de gallo in a future recipe but let's be honest: you cannot outdo their consistently amazing guacamole.

Just drooling a bit, no big.

Now, when my dad went in and said he had Celiac, the staff clearly had their procedure down pat. They wiped everything down and started fresh for him. As someone who has been very concerned (with good reason) that there could be cross-contamination, this level of awareness by the staff was a huge relief for the rest of us. I had told my dad before that with my food allergies I always felt like I got bigger servings - of things like ice cream - because people felt bad for me. That may be true at some places, but you can't really tell at Chipotle since everyone's servings are enormous. Yasss indeed.

You stay beautiful Chipotle.