Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Steady as She Goes

Something is missing from Steadfast Beer Co.'s India Pale Ale besides malted barley. Unlike other gluten-free craft beer creators, the backstories of Mark Crisafulli and Jeremy Hosier don't involve gluten intolerance. Instead, the partners in an upstate New York beer store just sought to make the best gluten-free beer they could.

Steadfast's first offering is a sorghum-based pale ale, with a golden hue, a sweet hint of molasses, and crisp, hoppy finish. The beer is 6.8% alcohol by volume - slightly higher than average for American IPAs. Crisafulli and Hosier plan on releasing other styles.

Steadfast takes precautions to ensure that no gluten makes its way into the product. The gluten-free beer is the first batch made after the weekly cleaning cycle at the production facility (the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, Massachusetts), where Steadfast has a dedicated fermentation tank. Every batch is tested for gluten by the Siebel Institute; to date, all test results have been below 6 parts per million, the lowest threshold.

Currently, the pale ale comes in 22-ounce bottles, but this fall will be sold by the four-pack in a 12-ounce version. It's available at restaurants and beer stores throughout upstate New York and will soon be distributed in Colorado. Steadfast is offering an $11.99 sampler of two 22-ounce bottles with free shipping to those over 21 years of age. (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware addresses are eligible.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

News & Notes: July 27, 2012

As readers of my Tuesday post know, I published an open letter to representatives of Aramark Sports & Entertainment (which runs the concessions at Citizens Bank Park) about a disappointing Celiac Awareness Night at last Friday's Phillies game. Aramark has heard our criticism and has apologized for what happened. Their representatives have assured me that they will improve their services and, in particular, the gluten-free menu at the ballpark. My sincere thanks go to the many readers who shared their frustration on Facebook, via Twitter and by email, as there was strength in numbers.

From lemons to lemonade: Aramark plans to have gluten-free pizza available beginning with next week's homestand against the Diamondbacks. Look for the pizza at the Seasons Pizza stand in Ashburn Alley. In addition to the usual fare at the Section 128 South Philadelphia Market stand, gluten-free hot dogs, salads and Redbridge beer are now sold at the Market Express stand at Section 321. Other additions are in the works for this season and beyond, so keep it tuned to this station.

Coatesville gastropub The Whip Tavern (1383 N. Chatham Rd., 610-383-0600) notes gluten-free dishes like bangers and mash and, um, bubble and squeak (Google that, won't you?), as well as more familiar choices such as chicken wings, on its lunch and dinner menus. Other items can be modified to accommodate gluten-free diets. The restaurant's current beer options include New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale and six different hard ciders.

Pure Fare, serving all-gluten-free sandwiches and other healthful items, has opened its second Philadelphia location on South Street West (1609 South St., 267-687-2292). For those in University City, you can find Pure Fare's new food truck on 40th Street between Spruce and Locust streets.

The Metropolitan in North Wales (750 Upper State Rd., 215-361-1603) now offers Udi's hamburger buns, along with many other gluten-free choices. (Thanks to reader Holly S. for the tip.)

Agiato in Manayunk (4359 Main St., 215-482-9700) currently offers gluten-free Fox Tail pale ale from Nevada and six different hard ciders.

Congratulations to the The Little Bakery in Blue Bell (921 Penllyn-Blue Bell Pike, 267-708-0984), winner of Philadelphia magazine's Best of Philly award for "Best Gluten-Free Sweets." The editors singled out the gluten-free bakery for its biscotti and mint iced chocolate brownies.

Beginning Monday, Brûlée Bakery's gluten-free macarons and brownies will be sold at Martindale's Natural Market in Springfield (1172 Baltimore Pike, 610-543-6811).

Whole Foods announced yesterday that it's opening a larger market in Wynnewood, three times the size of the current location. The new store, which doesn't yet have an exact location. is expected to open in 2015.

Traditional Dry will be the first variety of the new gluten-free Commonwealth Ciders line from Kensington's Philadelphia Brewing Company. The cider initially will be available on draft, with bottles to follow this fall.

Today is the last day to save $15 on adult admission to the Delaware Valley's largest gluten-free event, Appetite for Awareness. The all-ages A4A will take place at The Strawbridge Building in Center City Philadelphia on September 23, and there'll be dozens of area restaurants and national and local vendors. It's all you can eat and drink for one price. New restaurant additions include Brio Tuscan Grille, Rouge and The Tomato Bistro. Buy tickets through this link and use promotion code MIKE for the discount, which can be combined with the purchase of student and children's tickets.

Also, individuals and businesses are invited to place ads in the keepsake Appetite for Awareness program book, which will be distributed to attendees at the event. The reservation form and ad specifications are posted at this link.

Two other event notes: Volunteers are needed in advance of and during A4A, and those who commit to four hours or more receive free admission to the event. More information is available through this link. For the artistically inclined, there's a T-shirt design contest for shirts that will be sold at the event, with some cool prizes awarded to the winner. Details about the contest (entries are due by August 15) are here.

Philadelphia Horticultural Society staffer Claire Baker, who writes the So What CAN You Eat? blog, is hosting a discussion about celiac disease and will share gluten-free recipes today from noon to 2 p.m. at the PHS Pop-Up Garden at 1905 Walnut Street. Attendees can bring a brown-bag lunch (or maybe something from nearby Pure Tacos) and come and go as they please.

I'll leave you this week with a clip from NBC10's The Ten Show featuring gluten-free chef Laura Hahn, who blogs at Guilt Free Foodie Cutie. Laura won the show's "Next Local TV Chef" competition and will appear on The Ten Show periodically over the next several months.

Have a great weekend!

- Michael

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Open Letter to Aramark

Many of you were disappointed by the lack of variety and quantity of food at last week's Celiac Awareness Night at the Phillies game, among other issues. On Tuesday, July 24, I posted in this space an open letter to representatives of Aramark Sports & Entertainment about the event. I had a positive conversation with several Aramark representatives the following day and I'm encouraged by their promise to improve the gluten-free concessions this season and in the future. I hope to have more news to share soon.

I also received a written response from Aramark, posted below.
July 26, 2012

We apologize for the less than positive experience you had at Citizens Bank Park last week. We appreciate your feedback and look forward to making the next Celiac Awareness Night a great event for everyone. By taking the time to speak with us on how to improve on the past, present and future, we now have the knowledge and tools necessary to further enhance our everyday gluten free offerings and guest experience.

Supporting our customers with dietary needs and restrictions is important to us and we will do our best to make sure that the 2013 event is memorable for all of the right reasons.

Kevin Tedesco & Jeremy Campbell
Aramark - Citizens Bank Park

Friday, July 20, 2012

News & Notes: July 20, 2012

Burger 21's Sweet Potato and French Fries
(photo courtesy Burger 21)
Florida burger-and-fries chain Burger 21 is planning to open its first Northeast U.S. location in the Delaware Valley. The company announced this week that it has a franchise agreement to open a restaurant in Voorhees in Spring 2013. The restaurants offer a gluten-free menu that includes seven Angus beef burgers served on French Meadow Bakery buns, French fries and sweet potato fries, salads served without croutons, and a variety of floats and shakes. (I hear you calling my name, Bananas Foster!) The exact location is to be determined, but the vacant building at 1170 White Horse Road - the longtime home of a Fuddruckers outpost - seems like a fine spot.

From the owner of Brother's Pizza in Cinnaminson comes the new Nick's Pizza & Pasta on Route 130 South (141C The Shoppes at Cinnaminson, 856-829-0400), where gluten-free pizza and pasta is available. (Thanks to reader Bob H. for the tip.)

The dinner menu at Rittenhouse Square's Meritage Restaurant & Wine Bar (500 S. 20th St., 215-985-1922) notes which items are gluten free.

As noted on its menu, North Wales Italian Bacco (587 Dekalb Pike, 215-699-3361) can prepare gluten-free chicken, salmon and vegetarian entrees.

Three restaurants at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City have gluten-free menus, as I wrote on Tuesday, and others there also can accommodate gluten-free requests.

Meanwhile, Parrotheads may soon be flocking to Atlantic City. The Press of Atlantic City reports that Resorts Casino Hotel will be adding a Margaritaville Cafe along with other Jimmy Buffett-related projects. Most of the restaurant's U.S. locations offer a gluten-free menu that includes burgers and sandwiches (with bread), a brownie dessert and Redbridge beer.

Latin BYOB Casona (563 Haddon Ave., 856-854-5555) is participating in "Farm Fresh" Collingswood Restaurant Week July 22-27. All but one option on the restaurant's special $30 four-course menu (incorporating ingredients from the Collingswood Farmers' Market and the local agricultural region) are gluten free.

Katz Gluten Free's newest product is a chocolate-frosted donut with colored sprinkles (or jimmies, depending on where you're from). All of Katz's products are also dairy and nut free. Orders over $40 include free shipping; otherwise it's a $7.99 flat rate. (I get a small commission if you order through this link.)

Discounted adult admission tickets to Appetite for Awareness, the NFCA's gluten-free culinary event and vendor fair taking place in Philadelphia on September 23, are still available. Use promotion code MIKE at online checkout and save $15 per adult ticket.

For those attending the Phillies celiac awareness night tonight, Aramark will have a large concession stand on the patio at the 200 Level, near the group seats.

Have a great weekend and I hope to see a great turnout at the game tonight!

- Michael

* * *
My new Delaware Dining Guide is available as an e-book download. Featured in The News Journal, the guide provides hyperlinked listings for restaurants, bakeries, markets and attractions throughout the First State, including Wilmington, Newark and the southern resort towns like Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach. Updated editions published within 30 days of initial purchase will be emailed to purchasers free of charge.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gluten-Free Road Trip: Jersey Sure

Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City
My wife and I played the part of empty-nesters the past three weeks, as the boys were at sleepaway camp in the Poconos. Looking for somewhere to relax for a few days, we decided on Atlantic City. We considered booking a couple nights at the brand-new Revel, but considering the premium room prices and the fact that the hotel's private beach is still not finished (and likely won't be until after the summer season), we opted for Harrah's since there were many amenities on site.

We booked a two-night midweek package that included a dining credit for the new Sammy D's casual American restaurant, where we ate after checking in. The restaurants at Harrah's are GREAT-trained through the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and every chef I spoke with at the resort was familiar with gluten-free food preparation. (Dos Caminos, Luke Palladino and The Steakhouse have their own gluten-free menus.) At Sammy D's, I ordered an egg-white omelet and my wife got the chopped salad. Gluten-free bread is available and the kitchen keeps a dedicated toaster on hand.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk
Walking past the Viking Cooking School inside the resort, my wife - the cook in the family - grabbed a calendar and noticed that a Thai class was scheduled for the day of our departure. Given that my kitchen repertoire consists of making breakfast and quesadillas, she convinced me to sign up with her. I could hardly curb my enthusiasm.

We relaxed for a few hours at the adults-only indoor pool, ringed by hot tubs, cabanas and bars. (On weekend nights, the pool area is converted into a dance club of sorts.)

Curious to see the Revel, we drove over there and ate dinner at Mussel Bar, recommended by a friend of my wife. (Stay tuned for my review.) The building is vast, sleek and - judging from the casino floor - largely empty. I did appreciate that the entire building is non-smoking - a claim no other resort in Atlantic City can make.

The Ventnor Beach
The next morning, we drove downbeach to Ventnor, where we enjoyed breakfast at Hannah G's. The gluten-free menu there includes blueberry pancakes and eggs with quinoa, prepared on a separate grill. Walking on the Ventnor boardwalk after our meal brought back fond childhood memories; I pointed out to my wife where my great-aunt kept a house and where my family rented a condo for a few years. We trekked all the way to the Atlantic Club (the original home of the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City) before walking back to Ventnor on the beach.

We returned to Harrah's pool in the afternoon, and had an easier time snagging lounge chairs than the day before.

Filet Mignon and Baked Potato at The Steakhouse
Harrah's arranged a complimentary dinner at The Steakhouse on the second evening of our stay so that my wife and I could sample the gluten-free fare. We were presented with gluten-free menus that featured cocktails, appetizers and entrees. (The kitchen can also modify other choices to accommodate gluten-free diets.)

Our server brought us a basket of warm gluten-free bread and took our martini and appetizer orders. My wife's chopped salad was dressed with a honey vinaigrette, while the three large poached shrimp I ordered was brightened with a spicy cocktail sauce.

We both ordered the same entree - a center-cut 10-ounce filet and a baked potato side. The meat, seared well, was flavorful and tender. None of the steak sauces are gluten free at present, but the chef told us that he's looking to develop one.

Toffee Cheesecake at The Steakhouse
As with the bread, the kitchen will prepare a special gluten-free dessert with advance notice. On this evening, our server brought out a silky toffee cheesecake, which we chased with espressos.

We arranged for a late checkout the following morning so we could attend the Thai cooking class that would double as lunch. The menu included chicken satay, peanut dipping sauce, Thai cucumber salad, Thai beef salad with lettuce cups, and sticky rice. Thai cuisine is easily adapted to be, if not naturally, gluten free. Gluten-free soy sauce can be used in lieu of the wheat version to marinade the steak; otherwise, none of the other  recipes called for gluten-containing ingredients.

Chicken Satay at the Viking Cooking School
Our class of seven was divided into two groups, with my wife and I sharing a prep table with a gentleman from Indiana. We chopped, diced, prepped, squeezed and mixed the various ingredients and, after doing so, I appreciated the amount of time and work it takes to prepare a square meal.

The class, led by two Harrah's chefs, ran a little over an hour, and we enjoyed the fruits of our labor over glasses of Chardonnay. We were even given our very own chef's aprons as souvenirs.

As we checked out of the hotel, my wife remarked that she was impressed with my newfound cooking skills. While the class gave me a shot of confidence, I'm not quite ready to stray from pouring milk into a cereal bowl.

Friday, July 13, 2012

News & Notes: July 13, 2012

Terra, Taffet's Gluten-Free Bakery and Tonya's Gluten Free Kitchen (with those incredible soft pretzels) have joined the roster at Appetite for Awareness on September 23 in Center City Philadelphia. Now through July 27, Gluten Free Philly readers can save $15 off the price of each adult admission by using promotion code MIKE at the ticket ordering page. This discount can be combined with other tickets; for example, two discounted adult tickets and two children's tickets would be $110 (versus the $125 four-ticket family package). The cost of the tickets may also be tax deductible as a charitable donation.

Restaurateur Stephen Starr's German concept in Fishtown, Frankford Hall (1210 Frankford Ave., 215-634-3338), has many gluten-free menu options. They include salads, all sausages, beef and salmon burgers without the roll, and sides such as sauerkraut, red cabbage and German potato salad. Estrella Damm Daura lager and Doc's Apple Cider are available in bottles.

The highly acclaimed Vedge in Washington Square West (1221 Locust St., 215-320-7500) has a gluten-free dinner menu. Vedge chef and co-owner Rich Landau also consulted on the menu at new fast-casual HipCityVeg (127 S. 18th St., 215-278-7605). Gluten-free items there include the Chopped Med Salad, Aruglua Taco Salad, Asian Salad, Curry Tofu on a bed of spinach, and the Bistro Bello on arugula.

Conshohocken tapas restaurant Isabella (382 E. Elm St., 484-532-7470) notes gluten-free items on its lunch and dinner menus. (Thanks to reader Robin F. for the tip.)

The Red Store in Cape May Point (500 Cape Ave., 609-884-5757) is a gourmet market with "a fresh country charm," writes Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan. Most items on the menu there can be made gluten free, including breakfast sandwiches on gluten-free rolls.

Chef Mark Chopko's gluten-free crab cakes again took top honors in Delaware Today's Best of Delaware awards. They're on the menu at the Courtyard Café, inside the Courtyard by Marriott in Newark (400 David Hollowell Dr., 302-737-0900).

You can read about our recent Road Trip to the Rehoboth Beach area in Tuesday's post. All of the restaurants mentioned are also included in my Delaware gluten-free dining guide.

Red Mango will soon be dishing out its certified-gluten-free frozen yogurt in Center City at 1425 Locust Street. The chain just opened its second area location in Wayne (150 E. Lancaster Ave., 484-367-7581).

All but four of the fro-yo flavors at U-Swirl in Jenkintown (817 Old York Rd., 215-572-8100) are gluten free, and the staff will get fresh toppings "from the back" upon request.

Kettle Cuisine is discontinuing its line of gluten-free single-serve frozen soups due to a lack of sales, but the soups will still be in markets until stocks run out.

This week's offer at the Gluten Free Saver deals site is $25 for $40 worth of groceries at GlutenFreely.com. Orders over $75 qualify for free shipping.

The Mansion in Voorhees (3000 Main St., 856-751-1717) is hosting a gluten-free cooking class and dinner on Tuesday, July 24 at 6 p.m. The cost is $29.95 per person exclusive of tax and gratuity. Call for more information and reservations.

Have a great weekend!

- Michael

* * *
My new Delaware Dining Guide is available as an e-book download. Featured in The News Journal, the guide provides hyperlinked listings for restaurants, bakeries, markets and attractions throughout the First State, including Wilmington, Newark and the southern resort towns like Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach. Updated editions published within 30 days of initial purchase will be emailed to purchasers free of charge.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gluten-Free Road Trip: Winning on the Diamond (State)

When I was a kid, youth baseball leagues ran only in the spring; nowadays, they're practically year round for travel teams - and a huge time commitment for the kids on those teams and their parents.  So it was with some trepidation that we let our 8-year-old try out for one of the travel squads in South Jersey last summer. He made the team and, along with a dozen-plus other kids, finished up a successful season last month.

(Photo courtesy of Sports at the Beach)
The highlight of the year was a late May tournament at Sports at the Beach, near the extremely gluten-free-friendly Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Since the team's first game was early on a Saturday afternoon and the trip from home looked to clock in at around three hours, we headed down to Delaware the night before. We stopped for dinner at Cheeseburger in Paradise in Newark, where we all grabbed burgers and fries. The chain added gluten-free buns to the gluten-free menu last year (alas, with a $1 upcharge) and the fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer. It was at the restaurant that we discovered the fantastic Coke Freestyle machine, which can make more than 100 different combinations of soft drinks and flavored syrup shots. (There are a few self-serve machines in the Philadelphia area.)

Since the team entered the tournament late, there weren't too many accommodations left by the time we booked a stay. We opted for the clean and comfortable Atlantis Inn, two blocks from the beach. After we checked in, we joined the crowds strolling on Rehoboth Avenue and went looking for a sweet treat. The Ice Cream Store fit the bill, with more than 70 (70!) flavors - from the traditional vanilla and chocolate to the more outlandish like Booger and Motor Oil. The store doesn't have a gluten-free list, but staffers were willing to pull out containers so that I could look at the ingredient labels. On the other hand, the help at the Candy Kitchen location next door wasn't so accommodating. They kept no list and couldn't be bothered to check on any ingredients.

Saturday morning, we joined another teammate's family for breakfast at the Robin Hood Restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue, where the chef was able to prepare for our older son a mushroom, pepper and onion omelet with a side of potatoes. The young lad apparently wasn't full, because he then picked up a gluten-free chocolate cupcake with vanilla cream cheese frosting from Cake Break around the corner. Owner Debbie Katz always has several gluten-free options on hand.

From there, it was time to play ball in perfect weather. The SATB facility is immense and immaculate - 16 fields spread across 95 acres, all manicured with infield grass. The six-team tournament included teams from New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. Our 8-year-old's troop won both ends of a doubleheader, beating a squad from Maryland 9-7 and one of the Delaware teams 7-4, with our son doing his best Jonathan Papelbon impression in closing out both victories. (He earned an MVP award for his performance in the second game.)

In between games, we grabbed a quick lunch at Grotto Pizza in Lewes, which serves a tasty personal-size gluten-free pie complete with boardwalk-style sauce swirls. (We enjoyed Grotto so much that we stopped at the Milford location on the way home on Sunday for more pizza.)

Back in Rehoboth, many of the teammates and their families met up for dinner at The Greene Turtle on the Boardwalk. Our older son ordered a ribs-and-chicken platter from the gluten-free menu. Tempted to go back to sample more flavors from The Ice Cream Store for dessert, we instead got vanilla custard from the Kohr Brothers stand on the other side of Rehoboth Avenue.

With the two wins, the team earned a bye in the Sunday morning quarterfinals so my wife and younger son slept in while our older one and I went out to breakfast. We walked over to Hobos on Baltimore Avenue, which came highly recommended for gluten-free diners, but it wasn't yet open for brunch. We ended up by happy accident at The Gallery Espresso, where my son devoured an order of gluten-free French toast. Of course, his breakfast wouldn't have been complete without a Cake Break chocolate cake pop.

We reunited in the early afternoon, searching for potential bargains at the Rehoboth-area outlet stores, and broke for lunch at Bethany Blues BBQ in Lewes. (A second location is in Bethany Beach.) Since all of the 'cue sauces are gluten free, my older son relished the beef brisket on a Schar roll we brought from home.

After a slow start, our younger son's team cruised past another Delaware squad in the semis, 14-5, setting up a championship showdown with a rival New Jersey team. Having watched our son's squad get thrashed by the other team in another tournament weeks earlier, we knew this would be a challenge. Indeed, the opposition went up big early on but our kids mounted a late rally. While they lost the finale, 12-7, the boys gave themselves and their families many reasons to be proud of how they played and bonded over the weekend.