Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Out In Front

By Sara Blank

There are some activities a card-carrying Celiac learns to do without - activities that are staples of twenty-something culture and the benefits of living in a bustling city with lots of food options. Thankfully, though, there are restaurants in Philadelphia willing to go against the grain. With the safe haven of Snap Custom Pizza's Rittenhouse Square location open until 3 a.m. on weekends and the plentiful selection of gluten-free bagels and a dedicated toaster at Schmear It in University City (admittedly I’ve only ever ordered to my bed via UberEats), gluten-free patrons have more morning and late-night comfort food options.

Front Street Cafe's chicken tenders, mac 'n cheese and fried mozzarella
Add to that list Fishtown's Front Street Cafe (1253 N. Front St., 215-515-3073), where the dinner selections exceeded my expectations of what’s available to gluten-free diners. A plentiful number of dishes on the menu are punctuated by a “GF,” including usually elusive offerings such as mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken tenders, crab cakes and - most important to me - fried mozzarella. I couldn’t remember the last time I was able to order my once-favorite appetizer in a restaurant, and Front Street’s crunchy, dippable fried squares did not disappoint.

A friend and I visited Front Street this past Sunday, when we were excited to order dishes that would help soak up the remnants of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. We shared the chicken tenders, mac ‘n’ cheese, fried mozzarella and, for good, green measure, the Harvest Salad. The portions were sizeable, but not overwhelming, and definitely flavorful. If you didn't look closely at the menu, you may not have known that these dishes were not only gluten free, but also vegan, with creamy, stretchy cashew cheese in place of standard cheddar and mozzarella.

The Harvest Salad at Front Street Cafe
Our server told us that items marked “GF” were already gluten free, but that other choices, like sandwiches, could be prepared with gluten-free buns or bread. She also let us know that the kitchen utilized a dedicated fryer and that their dedication to gluten-free options (and other restrictions and allergies in general) was an important point of pride for the restaurant. Front Street’s largest selection of gluten-free food is offered on their dinner menu, but they also have options from breakfast to late at night.

Front Street Cafe feels like many different restaurants glued together, yet it doesn't have an identity crisis. The variety ensures that your experience conforms to any occasion, rather than shaping your evening. For candle-lit romantic dinners, groups of friends meeting to enjoy the abundant selection of cocktails at the bar, or a fun meal before a concert at the Fillmore, Front Street is an excellent gluten-free option. Despite its cavernous space (there's outdoor seating in the summer) and out-of-the-way location, Front Street’s popularity makes it an appealing go-to spot, so be sure to snag a reservation. And don't forget to get two orders of the mozzarella squares just in case one member of your party eats all of them when no one else is looking. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Sara Blank is a 26-year-old agency copywriter living in Center City Philadelphia. She was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at age 18, right when "gluten free" entered the zeitgeist. Follow her on Instagram at @SarBlank

Friday, March 15, 2019

Happy 10th Anniversary!

On March 15, 2009, the Number One pop song in the country was "Gives You Hell" by The All-American Rejects. (Who?) "Race to Witch Mountain" starring The Rock was the top-grossing movie in the U.S. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $1.91. And while you won't find it on a list of historical events, on that date - 10 years ago today - the Gluten Free Philly blog was born.

As many of you know, my idea for the blog was inspired by our older son's diagnosis of Celiac Disease at age 3. When he was 8, I decided to channel all of the knowledge we had accumulated during our gluten-free journey and share it with others who could benefit from it, not only in the Philadelphia area but around the country. Our son is now 18, starting a new chapter of his life this fall in college. While we are melancholy about him leaving the nest soon, we can't wait to see what lies ahead for him. We are so proud of the assertiveness, confidence and independence that he acquired, at least in part, from having Celiac Disease.

Though it's been 10 years now, I still have things to say - so I'm not going anywhere just yet! I love learning about new restaurants and products, posting about it at the blog and on social media, and reading your reactions and feedback. Sure, the Philadelphia area could always use more dedicated gluten-free restaurants, but overall it's a pretty darn good place to be. We are fortunate that there are hundreds of places in the region to eat safely and many fine supermarket and natural-food store options for groceries. We are fortunate that we can go to professional sporting events of all kinds locally and grab a hot dog and a beer. We are fortunate that we have excellent medical facilities here that focus on Celiac Disease.

I thank you for letting me into your lives over the past 10 years. Your emails, messages, comments, tips and suggestions have been invaluable in helping me do what I do and are always welcome.

- Michael

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What's New For Passover 2019

While the Jewish holiday of Passover has not lost its religious meaning, it has in recent years become an unofficial gluten-free holiday. This year, Passover begins the evening of Friday, April 19 and ends the evening of Saturday, April 27. It's a time when many more gluten-free products are available at supermarkets. This grew out of the observance of certain segments of the Jewish population refraining from eating any wheat products during Passover. The packaging of many gluten-free products is expressly labeled as such, while others have a "non-gebrokts" notation. (As always, read the ingredient label before buying and consuming a particular item.)

I've been chronicling new gluten-free Passover items for many years (you can read prior posts here), and this year brings many additions to the Seder table. Locally, many of these products can be found at ShopRite markets, particularly the one on Route 70 in Cherry Hill (Garden State Pavilions) and Wegmans stores.

Kosher food manufacturer Kayco will be introducing new gluten-free products under various brand names (you can find all of Kayco's gluten-free products here.) The best-selling gluten-free matzo brand, Yehuda, returns with Original, Everything, Egg, Onion, Unsalted and Fiber Enriched varieties. Yehuda also has gluten-free matzo meal, cake meal and crackers.

New from Kayco's Gefen brand are soft baked cookies in three varieties (double chocolate chip, chocolate chip, and vanilla with colored sprinkles) and sandwich creme cookies in two versions (vanilla and vanilla & chocolate).

Under its Heaven & Earth label, Kayco is introducing veggie croutons made with plantains.

This year, Manischewitz has refreshed its packaging but continues to produce a variety of gluten-free matzos and cake mixes. For 2019, the company has converted its entire line of biscotti-like mandel bread and egg kichel cookies to be gluten free. Each of the cookies come in three varieties (marble, chocolate chip nut and plain for the mandel cuts; sweet, jumbo and sugar free for the egg kichel).

Manischewitz is also adding a new birthday cake-flavored macaroon flavor this season. A new line of Passover Collection cookies (above) includes Milano-like ladyfinger, almond meltaway, chocolate chip, double chocolate chip and sandwich creme varieties.

Like Manischewitz, Streit's has made its mandel bread and kichel gluten free, but also its soup nuts, or "mandlen."

Lieber Foods is expanding their Passover baked-goods line with several kinds of cookies, including frosted animal crackers and "Aleph-Bet" cookies.

Also check the frozen-food section of your local market for gluten-free Passover pizzas and pizza bagels, blintzes, knishes and other items.

About a week or two before the start of Passover, supermarkets receive their shipments of fresh gluten-free cakes and cookies from New York bakeries such as Oberlander'sLilly's Bake Shoppe and Schick's. Look for sandwich, black-and-white and rainbow cookies, cake rolls, decorative and layer cakes.

If you want to try "Mexican Coke" (made with sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup), Passover Coca-Cola will be available in the Philadelphia area and other regions. Look for bottles with distinctive yellow caps.

Prices of some Passover foods tend to be higher than their non-holiday counterparts, so I suggest buying one of a particular item to see if you like it before stocking up. Keep an eye on Passover sections after the second night of the holiday, when markets tend to cut prices on whatever products are left.

Friday, March 1, 2019

News & Notes: March 1, 2019

Annie's Homegrown has added to its line of organic gluten-free crispy rice bars with a peanut butter variety.

Crepini has introduced a gluten-free ingredient version of its Egg White Thins, a low-carb, high-protein wrap that’s made with about 90% egg whites, flax meal, non-GMO canola oil, salt and pepper. The wraps are sold in Costco stores and about 2,200 Walmart stores nationwide.

Pamela's Products has announced several new gluten-free products that will hit stores this year. The company's line of gluten-free ramen comes in three flavors - Spicy Beef + Veggie, Savory Chicken + Veggie, and Vegan Very Veggie - and will be available in August with a suggested retail price of $3.39 per pack.

New to the pasta meals line are two new Mac N’ Cheese products: Vegan Mac and White Cheddar. These new varieties will be available starting in May with a suggested retail price of $3.79 for a 5 oz. box. The Vegan Mac N’ Cheese will also be available in a family-size 10 oz. box, with a suggested retail price of $5.99.

Pamela’s Grahams will be available in July in a new chocolate chip flavor, with a suggested retail price of $4.99. All of the new products will be available on Amazon.com and at participating retailers.

Saffron Road unveiled their latest gluten-free additions to its globally-inspired frozen entrée product line: Thai-Style Green Curry with Chicken, Coconut Curry Chicken, Vegetable Biryani and Madras Curry with Chicken Meatballs. The new dishes will be available beginning in June for the suggested retail price of $4.99 per package.

Gluten-free snack purveyor From the Ground Up is expanding its product line later this year with cauliflower-based stars, stalks and tortilla chips as well as new butternut squash pretzel sticks and twists.

From Lakefront Brewery, which crafted the very first gluten-free beer granted label approval in the United States, comes another certified gluten-free brew. New Grist Gose-style with lime is 5.1 ABV and is crafted using rice, sorghum, lime and sea salt. It features Zeus and Willamette hops with an IBU rating of 15. Its release date is set for April 15.

Friday, February 15, 2019

News & Notes: February 15, 2019

Trader Joe's has introduced two new gluten-free cereals: Neapolitan Puffs and Cocoa Crunch. The Puffs are made with a blend of bean and rice flours, while the Crunch is made with rice and sorghum.
Snyder's of Hanover's newest snack food addition is a cinnamon brown sugar version of their gluten-free pretzel pieces. We found these at Wegmans in Cherry Hill - they're in the chip and pretzel aisle - and they are amazing! Not too sweet.

Elsie's opens today in Haddon Township (803 White Horse Pike, 856-858-7041), offering gluten-free pickle sandwiches. Guests can build their own breadless sandwiches served on kosher pickles or roll-ups made with cucumbers or pickles instead of wraps.

Reader Bethann S. let me know that M2O Burgers & Salads, in the Queen Village section of Philadelphia (701 S. 5th St., 267-930-8388), has gluten-free burger buns and a dedicated fryer. M2O is opening a location at the former home of Elevation Burger in Wynnewood (50 E. Wynnewood Rd.) later this year.

In Aston, Wolf's Superior Sandwiches (4417 Pennell Rd., 484-480-3181) has gluten-free bread for sandwiches and lists on its website which sandwiches, burgers and tacos are gluten free. (Thanks to reader Mark K.)

Wahlburgers has finally opened its Atlantic City location at the Ocean Resort (500 Boardwalk, 609-783-8868). Gluten-free guests will find burger buns, fries and salad croutons.

Also in A.C., Hayday Coffee (131 S. Tennessee Ave., 609-350-6475) offers sweets from the all-gluten-free bakery Kizbee's Kitchen.

Sadia's Tea & Coffee in Egg Harbor Township (6106 E. Black Horse Pike, 609-277-7455) lists gluten-free options like salads, soups, wraps and sandwiches on its menu.

At Tonic Bar & Grille in Wilmington (111 W. 11th St., 302-777-2040), gluten-free options are noted on the lunch and dinner menus, though there is no dedicated fryer.

Everyone's favorite stand at the Reading Terminal Market, the entirely gluten-free Fox & Sons Fancy Corn Dogs, is hitting the road - literally. The RTM stand isn't going anywhere, but the owners hope to launch a 100% gluten-free food truck this summer that will serve up many of the same fried deliciousness that's is available in Philly.

The Gluten Intolerance Group of Chester County is hosting a meet-up at the all-gluten-free A&M Factory in Malvern (360 Lancaster Ave.) on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. RSVP by calling 484-798-5371 or 610-724-5497.

Have a great weekend!

- Michael

With the updated Gluten Free Philly app for iOS and Android devices, find more than 1,700 area gluten-free-friendly businesses on the go, search by cuisine or neighborhood, make reservations and more!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

'Tis the Sazon

By Sara Blank

With the polar vortex still fresh on the minds of many in the Philadelphia area, I maintain that the only cure for heating up is soul-warming comfort food. For gluten-free diners, look no further than Sazon (941 Spring Garden St., 215-763-2500), in the city's Northern Liberties neighborhood. I discovered that Venezuelan food was mostly gluten free when in Las Vegas last year, so I was excited to indulge in homestyle arepas closer to home. Sazon's menu is nearly entirely gluten free, with a dedicated fryer in the kitchen to boot.

The vegetarian la guacamaya arepas at Sazon
I recently dined at Sazon with two friends, and together we decided to share several dishes. Our eyes were much bigger than our stomachs - and everything sounded delicious - so we ordered a hearty sampling of dishes. We began with the yuca frita and platanos fritos con queso rallado - fried sweet plantains with shredded queso fresco on top. For our entrees, we split two varieties of arepas, or stuffed corn patties: la guacamaya (grilled eggplant, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, spinach and avocado with sun dried tomato basil pesto) and the pabellón (shredded beef, black beans, sweet plantains and queso fresco). Thinking that we had room for another dish, we chose the pabellón vegetariano (grilled tofu, mixed with portobello mushrooms, seasoned with tomatoes salsa, and served with brown rice and black beans and sweet plantains).

Sazon's yuca frita are fried in a dedicated fryer
Every bite we took was flavorful and so different from other cuisines that the region offers. Our server, who also happened to be a co-owner of the restaurant, emphatically explained Sazon’s dedication to gluten-free safety and the tendency for Venezuelan food to be naturally gluten free. Sazon is also BYOB. Including tip, each of us only paid $36, which not only is extremely reasonable for a night out, but also included lots of leftovers. (The restaurant is cash only, so leave your credit cards at home.)

Sazon truly is a mom-and-pop shop, with authenticity, coziness and character that enhance the experience. The restaurant clearly is a labor of love of the married owners, Robert and Judith; they manage to create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere that make guests feel as though they're over at a neighbor’s house for dinner.

The pabellón dish is hearty and flavorful
Even though, with the addition of restaurants such as Puyero Venezuelan Flavor, it can no longer claim to be the only Venezuelan restaurant in the city, Sazon holds its own as a neighborhood favorite and a hidden gem. Tucked away from trendier dining locales in Center City, Sazon offers the flexibility of prime-time seating without the city's bustle.

The most exciting part of dining at Sazon is the seeming paradox of eating fried, filling, comfort food that is safe for those with Celiac Disease and won't have you checking your phone for the number of steps you took that day. During our visit, our only regret was not saving room for the drinking chocolates prepared by the Robert, a.k.a. The Chocolate Alchemist. That alone is enough to prompt a return visit before winter is over.

Sara Blank is a 26-year-old agency copywriter living in Center City Philadelphia. She was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at age 18, right when "gluten free" entered the zeitgeist. Follow her on Instagram at @SarBlank.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

CHOP Celiac Education Day Set for March 31

The Center for Celiac Disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia strives each year to provide children and caregivers with Celiac Disease a one-day, state-of-the-art multidisciplinary education program. Their annual education day centers around the mission of the Celiac team at CHOP to promote community awareness by providing families with evidence-based lectures provided by respected experts within the field. This year, the event will be held on Sunday, March 31 at the Colket Translational Research Building (3501 Civic Center Blvd.) in Philadelphia.

Both the clinical implications of Celiac Disease and the importance of adhering to a gluten-free diet, as well as future therapeutic treatments, will be discussed. Children in attendance are provided the opportunity to attend interactive age-specific lectures and to learn through play with CHOP's child-life specialists.

Registration for this event is free, but is limited to the child with Celiac Disease and one caregiver per family. RSVP online by March 27, 2019. On the day of the event, registration/breakfast begins at 8:15 a.m., and the program begins at 9 a.m. CHOP will offer complimentary gluten-free meals for lunch, and attendees can sample gluten-free products from several vendors.

Complimentary parking is available in the Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care parking garage (3500 Civic Center Blvd.). Bring your parking ticket to the registration desk for validation.

For more information or if you have any questions, please contact the Celiac Center at 215-590-3076 or email Melinda Nichols.

Friday, January 25, 2019

News & Notes: January 25, 2019

Chicken skewers from Nunu in Fishtown are gluten free
Nunu, a Japanese izakaya in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia (1414 Frankford Ave., 215-278-2804), notes gluten-free options on its menu and has a dedicated fryer. Be sure to tell your server that you are ordering gluten free. The bar has sake, wines, cocktails and hard cider.

Cava, a fast-casual, Chipotle-like Mediterranean chain that's corporate siblings with Zoës Kitchen, opened its first area location yesterday in Rittenhouse Square (1713 Chestnut St.). Most menu items are gluten free.

Playa Bowls has another South Jersey outpost with the debut of a store in Cherry Hill (2010 W. Rt. 70, 856-320-2133). Most bowls and smoothies are gluten free and there is gluten-free granola available by request.

Another recent opening in the area is Whole Foods' newest store, this one a long-awaited location in Newtown Square (3737 West Chester Pike, 610-848-7200)

Thanks to reader Beth S., who let me know that Drip Cafe's two Delaware locations have gluten-free options. Both cafes - in Newark (60 N. College Ave., 302-565-4685) and Hockessin (144 Lantana Dr., 302-234-4430) - have dedicated fryers for options like chips, potatoes and polenta. While the menus vary seasonally, many items can be prepared gluten free.

Bright Spot Cafe in Exton (541 Wellington Sq., 484-909-3284) notes gluten-free options on its breakfast and lunch menus and serves gluten-free bread made by Rose's Gluten Free Bakery.

Southampton's allergen-friendly Sweet Megan Bakery has made it big. Its edible, gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough will be sold in single-serve packages at all Wawa Markets beginning the week of Feb. 11.

Posh Pop Bakeshop, the gluten-free bakery in Haddonfield (109 Kings Hwy. E.), abruptly closed last week, with word on its social media accounts that it is relocating as of mid-February. As of this writing, however, there's no information on the new site.

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Celiac Center will be hosting a Pre-Super Bowl party this Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. at the Voorhees Specialty Care Center (1012 Laurel Oak Rd.). Today is the deadline to RSVP; email celiaccenter@email.chop.edu with the number of attendees and children's ages and bring a snack to share.

Have a great weekend!

- Michael

Friday, January 11, 2019

News & Notes: January 11, 2019

With a new year comes new products. Caulipower has launched a frozen, gluten-free cauliflower tortilla line with Original and Grain Free varieties. The Grain Free Cauliflower Tortilla features chickpea flour with 7 grams of protein and only 8 net carbs per tortilla. Both varieties will be available on Amazon and at select retailers this February.

Annie's new gluten-free cookie dough protein bars, with 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, come in two flavors: peanut butter and chocolate peanut butter.

No information is available on Udi's Gluten Free's website, but the company has released brownie and chocolate-flavored mug cake mixes.

Quinn Snacks' new gluten-free peanut butter-filled and dark chocolate peanut butter-filled pretzel nuggets are available exclusively at Whole Foods. They’ll be in all stores by January 29th.

As I mentioned last summer, the Girl Scouts are introducing a new gluten-free cookie for the 2019 season. The chewy caramel chocolate chip cookie is made with semi-sweet chocolate chips, sea salt, caramel and gluten-free oat flour. Not all troops will have them and they are in limited quantities, so ask around early.

Katz Gluten Free has debuted mini muffins - blueberry, chocolate chip and fudge brownie. By ordering any of Katz's gluten-free baked goods through this link, you'll be supporting Gluten Free Philly through a small affiliate commission - thank you!

Del Frisco's Grille (225 S. Broad St., 215-309-1154) opened on the Avenue of the Arts in Center City Philadelphia last month. Lunch, dinner and brunch menus note gluten-free items.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Above and Beyond at Bocconcini

By Sara Blank

Bocconcini, a homestyle eatery just off of Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts (1334 Pine St., 215-545-2482), has embraced what many restaurants ignore, joining its neighbor Giorgio on Pine at the forefront of gluten-free Italian dining in Philadelphia. While other restaurants may add an obligatory gluten-free pasta dish or pizza to their menu without taking precautions to avoid cross contact, Bocconcini is at the other extreme. This makes sense, as the chef-owner of Bocconcini, Crystal Fox, was the one-time chef at Giorgio on Pine, the original gluten-free-before-anyone-else restaurant. In fact, Bocconcini took over the former location of Giorgio Pizza on Pine in 2017.

After settling in during a recent visit, our server's first question was whether we were gluten free. I was dining with two friends - one of whom, like me, maintains a gluten-free diet and another who has no food restrictions. As the server brought out a generous, complimentary plate of gluten-free bread, she helpfully explained that the entire standard menu could be made gluten free.

Our server explained that the seriousness of avoiding cross-contamination was so important that absolutely nothing with gluten was allowed in or near the fryer. Items that went in the fryer, such as meatballs, universally use gluten-free ingredients like breadcrumbs to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination. In unison, my gluten-free friend and I asked, “Why?” wondering if there was Celiac in someone's family or even if the chef herself had an allergy. Refuting these theories, she explained that Fox is passionate about creating a positive and safe experience for everyone who loves gluten-free food.

Bocconcini is ideal for a night on the town regardless of whether one has dietary restrictions. A huge draw for dates or a friends' night out is that Bocconcini is BYOB, which takes the sting out of ordering expensive cocktails and justifies a splurge on pricier menu options or an extra appetizers. Having split two starters and enjoying our own entrées, we walked away paying less than $50 a person - and with leftovers. For appetizers, we enjoyed the fist-sized meatballs smothered in cheese and fried cauliflower served over a fra diavolo sauce. Both dishes were amazing; having meatballs was particularly exciting since most restaurant versions are not gluten free, while the fried cauliflower was surprisingly flavorful - reminiscent of General Tso’s chicken. While the menu offers many delicious-sounding options, my fellow gluten-free diner could not resist ordering penne a la vodka with crab and wilted spinach. Meanwhile, our non-gluten-free companion shared the appetizers but opted for a traditional ravioli dish.

Hopefully, Bocconcini marks a trend in homestyle Italian restaurants creatively exploring options for those with dietary restrictions. In the meantime, grab a couple bottles of wine and stretchable pants for a night out at Bocconcini. You’ll leave healthy, but never hungry

Sara Blank is a 26-year-old agency copywriter living in Center City Philadelphia. She was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at age 18, right when "gluten free" entered the zeitgeist. Follow her on Instagram at @SarBlank.