How is it February already? I don’t know where January went, but I can tell you it was filled with some interesting gluten-free stories. Because these news items don’t fit into my regular posts, I love to do a roundup every so often. Here’s what caught my attention recently:
“20 Surprising Foods That Contain Gluten.” I’m always grateful when a mainstream magazine like Health deals with this subject. This article by registered dietitian Johna Burdeos covers plenty of territory that gluten-intolerant people already know (everyone reading this is aware that soy sauce contains wheat, right?), and some that you may not (couscous is frequently mistaken for rice, but it’s made from wheat).
“Best Gluten-Free Meal Delivery Services of 2024.” I’m a New Yorker so I’m veryfamiliar with the concept of ordering takeout, but I have to admit that I’ve never used a meal-delivery service. For anyone who does, this article by Tori Martinet in U.S. News & World Report should be an interesting read, complete with information about pricing, plus pros and cons for each service.
I’ve mentioned before that my nieces have celiac disease, so whenever I see them, we have a gluten-free extravaganza. I don’t mean that we spend all our time eating — on my latest visit, they took me to their favorite rock-climbing gym! — but treats are definitely on the agenda. While I usually bring cupcakes from Erin McKenna’s bakery in New York, that doesn’t mean we don’t explore the options in Massachusetts, where they live. On my most recent visit, that meant discovering Jennifer Lee’s together…
There are so many different reasons to fall in love with a place. I’m not a sun-and-sand type, so I didn’t expect Miami Beach to work its charms on me. Generally speaking, if I visit a sunny, sandy spot, it’s because there are ancient temples or ruins nearby. But Miami Beach lured me in with eye-catching Art Deco architecture and truly fabulous gluten-free food.
Before I talk about the food, let me say a word about the architecture. The Miami Beach Architectural District is located in South Beach, and it’s chock-full of glamorous buildings that were constructed during the 1930s and early 1940s. (Sadly, a hurricane in the 1920s destroyed a lot of real estate, which allowed the rebuild to take place.) The local style is known as Streamline Moderne, which was inspired by aerodynamic design with its long, sinuous lines. It’s a style that was inherently optimistic, blended with a belief that life would get better.
The temptation in Miami Beach is to head straight for the beach, but it’s worth taking the time to stroll along Ocean Drive and the surrounding streets. Most of the Art Deco buildings are well preserved and highly photogenic.
And then there’s the food. So much great gluten-free food! A few of my favorites from the trip…
Everyone who eats gluten-free has something they miss about their pre-diagnosis diet. For me, what I miss most is being able to freely share and sample all the dishes on the table. One of the great pleasures of going out to dinner used to be tasting things I hadn’t ordered. Growing up in Toronto, there were neighborhoods like Greektown on the Danforth and Chinatown on Spadina where dishes were mostly designed for sharing. For years, that was my default mode when dining out.
But it’s different when you have celiac disease, or when you’re managing a food allergy or intolerance. While I’m grateful for all of the restaurants that are expanding their range to accommodate people on special diets, it’s unusual for me to go out with a group and be able to share much of what’s on the table. There’s normally food I can’t eat and a risk of cross-contamination from utensils used in more than one dish.
This is a long way of explaining why one dinner I had last week brought me no end of joy. My husband and I had family visiting from out of town, and there were eight of us going out to dinner together. We needed a place that could accommodate both gluten-free and vegetarian, and we ended up at a restaurant that we’d never dined at before—even though we’ve eaten food from it many times.
Happy New Year! While I don’t normally make resolutions, I like to take stock of how things are going at certain times of the year, and this is one of them. That’s also true of springtime (to me, it’s part of spring cleaning) and September (the back-to-school timing always feels like a great push to start new projects). But ringing in the new year is a natural time to consider where we’ve been and where we’re going.
The Gluten-Free Guidebook is all about dining out and travel, but to do that successfully takes a certain mindset, particularly when you need to follow a special diet. Part of the trouble is that following any diet never sounds like fun. It sounds like work, or even sacrifice. One of the most important adjustments I ever made after my celiac diagnosis was that I stopped thinking about the things I couldn’t have and embraced the things I could. It’s a subtle switch, but it makes all the difference in the world. Everyone has limits (whether they know it or not), and discovering what yours are is a blessing.
In that vein, here are some ideas to reflect on as we start a new year…
It’s that time of year again when we all get to slow down a little and take stock of the past twelve months. Personally, I enjoy the Best Of lists that crop up in December, because they remind me about places I was too busy to check out earlier, and because I love comparing notes about the things I loved.
For me, 2023 was a great ride — and also an incredibly busy one. A personal andprofessional highlight has been bringing the Gluten-Free Guidebook back to life on Substack. I started this project in 2008 on WordPress and it thrived until the pandemic hit and travel ground to a halt. It’s been thrilling to reconnect with people who’ve been reading the blog for years and to connect with a whole new audience. Here’s to traveling together into the new year and beyond! Remember, I love to hear about your travel experiences just as much as I enjoy sharing mine.
Now for some of my favorite places from the past year…
I visited Stockholm before the pandemic and fell in love with the city. Everywhere I went, people were familiar with celiac disease, aware of potential cross-contamination issues, and willing to help. It was the most relaxed I’ve felt traveling anywhere since I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2004. I didn’t use any Swedish translation cards because everyone I met spoke at least some English, and the Swedish terms for gluten-free — glutenfri, glutenfritt, utan gluten — were everywhere I went.
It’s also a breathtakingly beautiful city. Sweden’s capital is blessed with great museums, glorious palaces, and gorgeous architecture. There are parks and public art installations all over. Even the subway system serves as a kind of roving art gallery. The fact that Stockholm is spread across a series of islands gives it a physical beauty that is simply thrilling.
Do I plan to go back? Absolutely. I’m still kicking myself for missing the ABBA Museum. I decided to check on the places where I ate while I was there. Not all of them are still in business, but these ones are and I recommend them highly…
I love the holidays. To me, there’s nothing like spending time with family and friends, and this season lets me reconnect with both. But that’s not to say I enjoy holiday travel. In fact, I hate it. Why? Well, last year, bad weather turned my hourlong flight from New York to Toronto into an eight-hour extravaganza at LaGuardia Airport. (And by “extravaganza,” I do mean hellscape.) While it’s arguably the most wonderful time of the year in terms of get-togethers, moving from Point A to Point B is often a nightmarish slog through overcrowded airports, train stations, and bus terminals… and that’s before you factor in freak storms.
It’s almost enough to make a body want to stay home. Almost… but not quite! Since I never learn my lesson about avoiding holiday travel, I’ve come up with some survival strategies, especially since travel is always that much harder when you have celiac disease and can’t wander into just any kiosk at a transit hub to refuel.
No one likes losing their favorite restaurant, but it’s even more difficult when you’ve got a food allergy or intolerance. Let’s be honest, it’s not like you can go just anywhere to eat, so the loss hits harder. That was how I felt about Bistango, an Italian trattoria in Kips Bay, on the east side of Manhattan. Its last day of business was March 16, 2020, when the pandemic forced all New York City restaurants to close. Sadly, it never reopened.
For years, Bistango was my go-to spot for a great gluten-free meal: I’d visit with a gang of fellow writers during Thrillerfest (an annual conference for crime writers), and at least once a month with visiting friends in tow. It was a favorite spot for my parents, my nieces, and my husband and me when we wanted a quiet night out. It was perfect for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and no occasion at all. I remember eating there a week after Hurricane Sandy hit; my husband and I had no food in our fridge, and we were thrilled to find out Bistango had just reopened that day. It turned out that the restaurant had a very short menu that night, yet the warm welcome and attention to gluten-free dining was the same as ever.
But this isn’t a post to mourn the loss of Bistango, it’s to celebrate the one that’s still around. In 2014, the restaurant’s charming manager and host, Anthony, worked on the opening of a sister restaurant at the Kimberly Hotel on East 50th Street, a short walk from Grand Central Terminal. The hotel restaurant was both new and familiar: it has an extensive menu of gluten-free flatbread pizzas — something the original never had — as well as offering a satisfying menu of pastas and main courses, all of which can be prepared gluten-free. Some restaurants now offer gluten-free penne, but it’s rare to find gluten-free ravioli. Literally everything on Bistango’s menu can be prepared gluten-free, from the chicken parmesan to the grilled red snapper.
There’s more: all of the desserts are gluten-free, from the chocolate lava cake with salted caramel gelato to the mascarpone cheesecake with blueberry compote. (Recently there’s been a pistachio cannoli on the menu that I’ve been obsessed with. The menu changes with some frequency, though.)
The tagline on Bistango’s website is, “One always feels at home when gathered with friends and family at Bistango.” For me, that’s definitely been true. I’ve been there lately with groups of visiting friends, my literary agent, and a childhood friend and her eight-year-old daughter, and Bistango has made everyone feel at home. (My husband chose it as the spot to celebrate his birthday.) While gluten-free dining is their specialty, they’re also careful with other food allergies, and vegan options are available. I’ll always miss the original location, but Bistango at the Kimberly has earned its own special place in my heart.
It’s Thanksgiving Week in the US, which means that I’ll be on the road again — though there won’t be much gluten-free dining research involved, since I’ll be visiting with family and friends. Because people are heading in different directions over the next few weeks, it seemed like the perfect time to share some recent news stories with recommendations for where to dine gluten-free in various US cities.