Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Gluten Free dining tour of NYC - Day One

After waiting two years to get there, I finally made it to the Big Apple for a gluten free eating tour of the city, but I was surprised by how hard it was to pare down the enormous list of safe places for me to eat. So much great food and so little time! I posted a question on the Celiac listserve, asking for New Yorkers' fave places for great gluten free meals (NOT bland meals such as plain fish, rice and steamed veggies) and ordered 'The Gluten-Free Guide to New York'. Not surprisingly, I was inundated with great ideas and tips on where to eat in NYC, as well as where to shop for gluten free food by my listmates, and the NY gluten free guide book was well worth the money. It includes sample menus from many of the places mentioned, and gluten free friendly restaurants for NYC and far beyond. When the month of May arrived (we try to vacation on our wedding anniversary) the time came for us to board the plane and head up to New York. I could hardly wait! This wasn't our first trip to the city so we'd done all the touristy things before - this trip was all about the fabulous gluten free food! Sightseeing would be planned around where we were eating and not the other way around. Oh the strange lives we lead when gluten free.

Since I'm an organizer for the Atlanta Gluten Free Dinner Club, I contacted the same group in NYC prior to the visit and found out they had a pizza party planned for the very day we arrived - how perfect was that? We were to land at 11:30 am, and their party was downtown at 3 pm - sign me up! We did land on time, but since the Five Borough Bike Tour was that very day, and almost every bridge into Manhattan from Laguardia was closed, we had quite the time getting to the UWS (Upper West Side) to our Inn. But finally, after a very long and interesting cab ride, we did make it to Wyman House. Our room wasn't ready yet and while dropping our bags off, we met some ladies checking out that told us to to to the flea market up the street, and the artist fair across from the market. We had the time before our pizza extravaganza and so we headed off to peruse the flea market wares first. Though the offerings were interesting, quite varied (from produce to jewelry to beaded handbags) and well priced, I didn't find anything I could not live without. So we headed across the street to the artist market where I found an etching print that I could not pass up. It was that famous scene at Times Square that I've always know that enormous sign in the middle there? After making my first and only non food purchase of the trip (I was SOOOO good!), I called PizzaBolla - the restaurant hosting the NYC gluten free pizza party - to make sure the event was still on and confirmed our directions.

Upon arrival to the 72nd street subway station, we purchased 7 day Metro Cards that offer unlimited use on the subway and regular buses. At $25 a card for a week, it was the best deal going in NYC. Because it was Sunday afternoon, and we were headed downtown, the subway was refreshingly uncrowded. We took the 1 train down to Chambers St. and walked a few blocks to PizzaBolla. We arrived just after 3 pm and were surprised that we were the first people there for the pizza party...but eventually seven more people showed up and they started making our pizzas. The guy running the place - Jonah - even asked us what kind of pizza we wanted. I asked for the 'white' pizza and others asked for various other types. In the end, I tried three different flavors and the 'white' pizza was my least favorite. Jonah served us a fresh green salad and even baked us chocolate chip cookies! I smelled something burning a bit and it turned out to be the! We had to discard the black edges but the cookie part that wasn't burned was gooey and incredibly delicious!

At PizzaBolla, we sat with a 'real' New Yorker named Debra who gave us some great tips about where to eat - or not - and based on her advice, we changed our dinner reservations for our anniversary on Tuesday. We're so glad we did - thanks Debra! That's her in the photo holding some pizza, and I'm in the hat with Jonah. He was very funny and was eager to please the gluten free set. It was wonderful to feel so welcomed and appreciated as a gluten free patron. Due to the small space we were in, we didn't get to chat much with the other gluten free diners there, but I met Liz (the organizer of the event) and she was quite nice. Oh and I had a Redbridge beer with my pizza since they didn't have Bard's Tale, my favorite domestic gluten free beer. Can you imagine?...gluten free beer, pizza and chocolate chip cookies....priceless! Sure I can have this all at home any time - as long as I want to make it myself. But someone else made all this fabulous food and it was quite tasty with no gluten free texture or taste. If you're in the Financial district of NYC, be sure to stop by PizzaBolla and they have another location as well - I think on the UES (Upper East Side). The downtown location is about a block from the World Trade Center site.

So, we left our pizza party full and happy around 5 pm and my husband said we didn't need to have dinner. I knew in a couple of hours he'd feel differently and sure enough he did. So we headed by foot to Sambuca, an Italian Trattoria on the UWS, less than a mile from our Inn. This place serves 'family style' and they have two sizes of main dishes - regular and large. We ordered a chicken dish in the regular size, same for the salad, with a side of mashed potatoes. When the chicken plate arrived we though there was a mistake - surely this isn't the regular size....except it was. And the mashed potatoes would easily feed six people. Oh well, we couldn't send it back and so we ate what we could and had the extra packed to go. Our little apartment had a full kitchen so could eat it later. I also took their gluten free brownie to go, frozen and without ice cream since there was no way for me to consume it that night. My husband is allergic to dark chocolate so I had to eat the whole huge brownie all by my lonesome. It took me three tries and the last bit wound up at home in Atlanta with ice cream on was THE BEST gluten free brownie I've had to date!

In between our pizza party and our dinner at Sambuca, we visited a rather famous grocery store near our Inn, called Fairway. I knew from my listmates that the gluten free section was upstairs so we headed up there first. Sure enough they had quite a few things we don't have here but they didn't have anywhere near the selection we have at home. I heard the best pickings are in the suburbs and that make sense - the shelf space probably cost less than half of what it does on the UWS of Manhattan.

By far, the best part of this shopping trip was that I saw, and was about two feet away from, an actor whose work I've always enjoyed - John Slattery. His most recent tv role was on 'Desperate Housewives' where he played Gabrielle's husband 'Victor'. He was also Julie's fiance on the show 'Ed', and he did a short stint on 'Sex and the City', where he was Carrie's love interest for about a minute. My husband saw him first and tapped my shoulder. I turned around just in time to see this gorgeous man walk right by me. He looked at me and I'm sure he was afraid I was going to run after him and beg for an autograph because I looked just like I felt - totally starstruck! This guy looks pretty good on camera but this does not compare to how great he looks in person. I just stood there like I didn't know what to do next. Then I noticed John had a kid with him so I respected his privacy and left him alone. He went over to the supplement section and checked to make sure I wasn't following! I smiled and turned to the stairs and he looked relieved. I was SO proud of myself and my husband still can't get over the fact that I was so unlike myself at that moment. If the kid hadn't been there...that privacy thing would have gone out the window and I would have tried to get a photo or autograph or both!

So I guess you could say that I had a pretty good first day in NYC! I felt like a kid in a candy store where everything in the candy store was gluten free. Of course, NYC is in the US so it's not as great as being in many parts of Europe or Australia, but it's about the best place stateside for great gluten free offerings. I went to sleep in our gorgeous room at Wyman House wondering how the next day could be any better.


  1. You made me want to go again!!! Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip.


  2. Debra BravermanFriday, 30 May, 2008

    So glad that you had a wonderful trip and that my recommendations were helpful!
    Debra from New York

  3. Jamie - your post about your recent visit to NYC really helped me plan my trip so thanks very much for that!

    Debra - I'm so glad you found my post since I've been searching high and low for your card to tell you about it. You were a tremendous help to us and we're glad to have shared our first restaurant gluten free pizza with you!...and chocolate chip cookes! That Jonah was a total riot at!


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