Monday, May 25, 2009

Gluten Free Road Trip: A Bite of the Big Apple

Our original plans to visit my brother and his family in Gaithersburg, Maryland over Memorial Day weekend changed late last week when my 11-month-old niece became ill (she's since gotten better). Since we couldn't go there, we chose to head up the New Jersey Turnpike and spend the weekend in New York City, where, incidentally, the Phillies were taking on the Yankees. I went onto StubHub, Craig's List and some other sites on Friday night to see what tickets were still available for Sunday's matchup between the Phillies' Cole Hamels and the Yankees' CC Sabathia. Given the threat of rain in Sunday's forecast, though, I didn't pull the trigger but instead decided to see how the weekend went.

We checked in early Saturday morning at Le Parker Meridien, just south of Central Park and away from the bustle of Times Square. Curiously, we found a line of people waiting outside the front of the hotel when we arrived. We learned that the Phillies players were staying at the hotel, and the fans out front were waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite players or snag autographs. Our kids could not believe that we were going to stay in the same hotel as the team! After checking in, we waited in the lobby as several players made their way out to the bus that would take them to Yankee Stadium for the late afternoon game. We spotted first baseman Ryan Howard coming off the elevator and heading into the lobby. I think the kids were a bit intimidated about asking for an autograph, so they went up to him just to say hello. Ryan was smiling as he gave each of the boys a high-five. I was so completely caught up in the moment that I went into the hotel's business center, logged onto StubHub and bought seats for that afternoon's game in the Bronx.

We were starving, so we headed down the street to Lily's 57, the sister Chinese restaurant of Lilli & Loo (where we've eaten before). Both restaurants have extensive gluten-free menus that include dumplings, barbeque ribs, fried rice and noodle dishes.

After lunch, we headed northbound on the Subway to the stadium to catch the game. The new ballpark was built across the street from the original Yankee Stadium. The new building, while imposing, lacked uniqueness. The teams slammed seven balls out of the park, the last of which Alex Rodriguez hit off of Brad Lidge to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Yankees won the game two batters later, the only loss for the Fightins in the three-game stand. Because of the big lunch, we didn't eat at the ballpark, but the gluten-free items available included Kozy Shack pudding, Cracker Jack and Turkey Hill and Carvel ice creams. Hebrew National hot dogs are also available without buns at many stands.

For dinner, we went back to the hotel and ate at the Burger Joint, literally a hole in the wall that can't seat more than 25 or so customers. The restaurant, which serves only hamburgers, fries and milkshakes, is among New York's City's highest-rated places to get a burger.

The next morning, we met friends uptown at Peter's Gourmet Diner for breakfast. A., our older son, enjoyed gluten-free french toast made with Sterk's bread, along with eggs and hash browns.

After breakfast, we spent a beautiful afternoon visiting relatives and playing Wiffle Ball in a park by Columbia University. From there, we headed to the IMAX theater near Lincoln Center, where we caught the Night at the Museum sequel - the kids loved this one too, but frankly the first one was better!

Following the movie, we considered going for dinner at Risotteria, which is our favorite gluten-free restaurant in Manhattan, but we didn't feel like trekking downtown. Instead, we ended up at Slice, which serves pizza made with organic ingredients. The gluten-free pizza is made with a rice crust and can be topped with any number of ingredients. While A. enjoyed the pizza, he agreed with me that Risotteria's pizza is better.

The morning of our departure, we headed from our hotel around the corner to Jamba Juice for smoothies. From there, we walked down Sixth Avenue and decided to take in the NBC Studio Tour at Rockefeller Center. I'd been wanting to go there for a while but our schedule never seemed to coincide with a tour at the right time. We were able to see the studios used for NBC Nightly News, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and, of course, Saturday Night Live. One of the pages leading the group asked for two volunteers to be "readers," so I raised my hand and was chosen. It turned out that another tourist and I were being picked to read a mock newscast. I had the part of the meteorologist, so I stood in front of a "green screen" and pointed to different sections of the country on a map that I couldn't see. My wife and kids got a good laugh out of it!

After the tour ended, we hit the last two food stops on the trip, both in Greenwich Village. First, we went to Babycakes. The bakery makes delicious cupcakes, cookies and other sweets without refined sugar. We enjoyed gluten-free lemon and chocolate cupcakes in the store, and bought some chocolate chip cookies and agave-sweetened brownies to take home with us. From there, we took a taxi over to S'MAC, which specializes in macaroni and cheese served in a variety of combinations. A. ordered a small "All-American," which combines rice pasta with American and Cheddar cheeses. He opted to get gluten-free breadcrumbs to top off the dish.

We left New York City satisfied that we were able to cover lots of ground in a short amount of time. Given its size, Manhattan's gluten-free options are more spread out than in a city like Philadelphia, but restaurants with celiac-friendly menus can be found in nearly every neighborhood. If you're looking for other New York City restaurants with gluten-free menus, I suggest checking out the website for the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program.
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  1. Besides Babycakes, what are some good places to get gluten-free and dairy-free food in nyc? I have to avoid lactose in addition to gluten. Are any of the ones you listed good for that?

  2. I know that Slice and Pala ( both serve gluten-free pizza with soy or vegan mozzarella that is listed as casein free, but their online menus don't mention whether that cheese also is lactose-free. I would call those places to find out.

  3. Wow! Sounds like a great trip. I'm always so jealous when I hear about all the great GF options in New York City.