Six years ago, I discovered my gluten allergy and the frustration that goes along with dining out without gluten. I’d ask a waitress if certain menu items contained gluten and she’d reply, “Contain what?”—which would make me terrified to eat anything that went through the kitchen. The restaurants that could define gluten would sometimes give me a list of what not to order: “Well, you can order this without any of the sides or sauce!” Alas, the subsequent tasteless slab of chicken left me wishing I had cooked that night instead.
The good news is, these days are ending in Philly. With gluten-free diets becoming more commonplace, many local restaurants are not only aware of what gluten is, they’re adding items to their menus that are specially made gluten-free. What follows is a list of super-star dishes highlighting eateries that do more than serve its gluten-free patrons sauce-less menu items; these gluten-free eats don’t skimp on tastiness. No longer do we gluten-free diners have to feel left out in a city where cheesesteaks, pretzels, and oversize pizza slices reign!
Before you continue reading I should warn you: Some of these dishes may not be the “healthiest,” but when you’ve been stomaching dry, crumbly interpretations of bread for awhile, it’s okay to indulge in moderation, right? And remember folks, gluten-free eating is no weight-loss regimen. Heck, I could be eating nothing but French fries and Hershey bars and still be gluten-free.
Fuel Stacker Panini
Fuel, 1225 Walnut Street, 215-922-3835
This panini (and all paninis at Fuel) can be served on gluten-free bread. Fuel chefs developed the bread recipe themselves after finding that different GF breads on the market would crumble under the panini press. The Fuel Stacker features housemade mozzarella and pesto with portabella mushrooms, eggplant, zuchini, squash and tomatoes. It’s veggies, it’s filling, it’s gluten free and it’s a panini—a rarity in the gluten-free world.
Fish ‘n Chips
The Bards Irish Restaurant, 2013 Walnut Street, 215-569-9585
The Bards uses Bard’s gluten-free beer and rice flour to make the batter for its gluten-free rendering of this classic dish. Served with French fries, it’s egg-free and dairy-free, too!
Schar Brand Fusilli
Giorgio on Pine, 1328 Pine Street, 215-545-6265
People on gluten-free diets are usually trained to steer clear of Italian restaurants, but they’re welcome with open arms at Giorgio on Pine. This dish takes Schar-brand fusilli (definitely one of the better GF pastas out there) and combines it with prosciutto, peas and mushrooms in an a tomato-cream sauce. If peas aren’t your style, many other gluten-free dishes appear on Giorgio on Pine’s menu, too.
Square 1682, 121 South 17th Street, 215-563-5008
I’ve had to turn down many a paella after finding out that the recipe involves wheat flour as some sort of thickener (bummer). This one is safe and has shrimp, mussels, Spanish chorizo and saffron.
The Tomato Bistro, 102 Rector Street, Manayunk, 215-483-2233, ext. 2
Yes, you read that correctly: Fig pizza. The Tomato Bistro asked its customers, via suggestion box, if they’d like a gluten-free pizza and received a huge response—thus, its gluten-free pizza dough was born. This pie has fig-pesto sauce with pears, Gorgonzola, bacon, caramelized onions and mozzarella cheese. Of course, you can order other pizzas at the Tomato Bistro on a gluten-free crust, but with this guy on the menu, you may not want to.
Paesano’s Philly Style, 1017 South Ninth. Street, 215-440-0371, and 152 West Girard Avenue, 267-886-9556
So this one isn’t, say, a “healthy” pick, but if you’ve been eating gluten-free and you’re craving a sandwich—yes, an actual sandwich, not the crumby, store-bought GF-bread-and-peanut-butter kind—then we’ll let it slide. The Paesano sandwich has beef brisket, horseradish mayo, roasted tomato and two fried eggs atop homemade gluten-free bread from Toté bakery.
Creamy Coconut Quinoa
Alma de Cuba, 1623 Walnut Street, 215-988-1799
This quinoa dish is the hero of Alma de Cuba’s gluten-free menu, served with seasonal vegetables, sweet corn powder and chayote squash salad. To complete the gluten-free dining experience, the restaurant offers a gluten-free appetizer bread. It’s called pan de bono and is baked in-house from yucca flour, queso fresco and tapioca starch. Ah finally, a place where gluten-free eaters don’t have to sit quietly with their hands folded over their plates when the bread basket comes out.
Sazon, 941 Spring Garden Street, 215-736-2500
Arepas are Venezuelan corn patties with various fillings, and Sazon has an excellent selection of them—all gluten-free! The arepa pernil is filled with pulled pork marinated in orange juice and wine with grilled onions and olives.
Apple Spice Teff Muffins
Toté, 1029 South Ninth Street, 215-551-5511
Great for breakfast, a snack or dessert, these muffins are nutritious, with iron-packed teff, as well as gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free and dairy-free. Begs the question what the heck is in them? (Not that we care—they’re delicious.)
Hey, Philly GF-ers: What are your favorite gluten-free eats at Philly restaurants? Let us know in the comments!