Burger King

A Whopper with regular fries and Chicken Fries

Burger King. Yeah—that’s what I’m about to write about. We’ll get through all this corporate capitalization together, though. I promise.

Forget introductions, though. Let’s just dive right in. (This is Burger King, after all. Home of the Whopper. Home of the Whopperito. Home of All Those Weird-Ass “Long” Sandwiches. These are the folks who brought us Mac n’ Cheetos. These are the folks who brought us the Egg-normous Burrito. In the world of Burger King, there’s no attempt at nuance or subtlety. There are no appetizers; there’s no easing you in. There are just Tendercrisps and Tendergrills and Grilled Dogs and fucking Croissan’wiches. Shit’s vulgar. Why should I ease us into this with an intro?)

According to their allergen chart, nothing at Burger King contains tree nuts of any sort. (The Reese’s pie and the Snickers pie do contain peanuts, though—just something to be aware of.) For peace of mind, I avoid the pies, the cookies, and the rather lewd-looking Otis Spunkmeyer Cinnamon Rolls (sorry, but come on!)—but in my experience, everything else has been totally safe. So. There’s that.

Moving on.

Most of the time, I’ll order a Whopper, but if I’m not in the mood for a slab of nasty-ass beef(-ish product), I’ll often go for a Tendercrisp (which is, on a good day, about sixteen times better than a Buttermilk Crispy Chicken). I like the Tendercrisp—the fried chicken is indeed pretty tender (though not all that crisp), and the tomatoes are, for the most part, inoffensive. Plus, there’s mayo. I like mayo.

Third in my hierarchy is the Big Fish: an often-worse Filet-O-Fish, and a monstrosity that I reserve for my hungriest, most desperate days. It’s just Alaskan pollock, breaded and topped with tartar sauce, pickles, and lettuce—and it’ll do the trick in a pinch, I guess. (I do ask them to hold the lettuce, though. That shit tastes like E. coli.)

As sides go, I’m really into Burger King’s mozzarella sticks (which aren’t on their American menu, but which are definitely available at some American Burger Kings). They’re gross, sure…but they’re really creamy, and I can’t deny that I’m a fan. When warm, the Chicken Fries (plain, not Cheeto-dusted) are good, too—they remind me of the long, peppery Burger King chicken nuggets of my childhood—and though they’re a little expensive, I’ll usually spring for them over regular nuggets.

My favorite Burger King offering, though, is definitely the chocolate shake (sorry, the Chocolate Hand Spun Shake, Which Is Totally Hand-Spun, We Swear). Though the chocolate syrup is a little overbearing, the shake, as a whole, is pretty tasty—and its whipped cream topping makes for a good french fry dip, should you run out of ketchup.

Chicken fries and regular fries

Forget favorites, though. What fun is praise, anyway? The folks at Burger King have clearly lost their minds, and I’m now going to take a few minutes out of my day to warn you about the menu items you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, consider ordering. Here we go.

First off, the Whopperito (a “burger-burrito mashup” made from…everything that goes into a Whopper, with some minor adjustments) is fucking disgusting. That goes without saying, I know—but it’s fucking disgusting nonetheless. I like fast food. I like Burger King. I even like Whoppers. But the Whopperito is an obvious, obvious cry for attention, and it’s nasty as hell. (Seriously: that thing makes Taco Bell seem like fine dining. It’s horrifying.)

How do I know? Because I’ve tried it. I know it’s bad because I’ve paid to eat it—because Burger King owns me, my soul, and my wallet, and because I’m powerless in the face of advertising of any sort, it seems. Sure, I ate it ironically—all I’d wanted was to laugh at the thing. And I did. But in that situation, who’s the winner? It certainly wasn’t me, belly full of Whopperito, money lining The Burger King’s pockets. It’s Burger King. The winner’s always Burger King. So much for ironic transcendence.

Also terrible are the Mac n’ Cheetos: another cry for attention whose transparency has done approximately nothing to keep me away. They’re essentially just breaded bits of mac and cheese that have been coated with Cheetos dust, but they’re way, way more than the sum of their parts. They are so much worse than I ever could’ve imagined—it’s insane. (I haven’t yet tried the Cheetos Chicken Fries, and I’m not exactly planning on it. I’ve been burned, I guess.)

Anyway: I’ve been pretty mean, but I do like Burger King, for what it is. Plus, when I remember to use the coupons they offer through their app, I rarely spend more than $15 on a meal for two—a welcome relief, given how much I’m usually roped into spending on food.

Find Burger King all over. (If you’re in the mood for a particularly strange experience, though, consider stopping by the Burger King at 106 Liberty Street. They do table service—and they sell beer.)

Tagged , , , , ,

A La Mode Shoppe

Signage outside A La Mode Shoppe

Ice-cream shops don’t tend to be very allergy-friendly. Too many nutty flavors, too many nutty toppings, ice cream that’s likely cross-contaminated by the time it leaves its production facility, and virtually no practices in place to prevent further cross-contamination in-store—by now, you know the deal. Probably, you stick to store-bought pints. Or perhaps you’ve learned to make your own frozen treats. Whatever the particulars, you likely steer clear of ice cream shops. Fine.

But A La Mode Shoppe is not your average ice-cream shop. Not only is their facility completely nut-free (and egg-free and sesame-free, with a bunch of dairy- and gluten-free options, too)—it also doubles as a children’s boutique, crawling with clothes, toys, and (of course) children. Lots of children.

[Hyphen count, so far: 12. 12!]

A sign at

I’ll admit it: I find the whole boutique-toy-store thing repellent, but that’s just because I’m neither a 4-year-old child nor the parent of one. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with the place. It’s warm and clean and charming, even—and the employees are truly some of the friendliest I’ve ever come across. But A La Mode just isn’t my scene. (I don’t particularly like screaming children, nor do I want to be anywhere near their ice cream–coated fingers. Plus, they always order the cotton candy–flavored shit. I know they’re young, but I blame them anyway.)

Regardless, pretty much anywhere that’s nut-free is, in some sense, very much my scene, so I find myself at A La Mode pretty often.


Sure, 50% of the reason I stop by so often is because the whole place is decidedly nut-free, and I feel this nagging pressure to support it on principle alone. But the rest of the reason is that their ice cream is seriously delicious, and I really do crave it on a regular basis. Chocolate, Sea Salt Caramel, Wired (um, coffee), Strawberry, Pink Sprinkle (that’s vanilla, dyed pink), Blueberry Yogurt, Green Tea…they’re all wonderful, and I always have a hard time choosing what to order.

Sea Salt Caramel is one of the creamiest ice creams I’ve ever had, and Wired, though a little heavy on the coffee flavor, is truly addictive. Blueberry Yogurt, tangy as it is, makes me feel worlds better about no longer being able to eat at Pinkberry (they weren’t always such a nutty business, you know), and Green Tea is great, too, with a strong, bitter flavor that provides a nice relief from A La Mode’s other super-sweet offerings. Even the vanillas—Vanilla Bean and Pink Sprinkle (pictured immediately below)—are worthwhile. (Think Häagen-Dazs, but perhaps a bit softer.)


My only complaint, really, is that the selection’s absurdly inconsistent. I get it—it’s small-batch, and variety’s the spice of life, etc., etc., etc. But the Wired and Sea Salt Caramel are only around, like, 50% of the time, and Blueberry Yogurt—my friend, Blueberry Yogurt—is a bona fide rarity, which sucks indeed. Going to A La Mode is always a crapshoot; fortunately, though, none of the flavors are half bad, so you’ll never really find yourself all that disappointed. (Actually, Partly Cloudy—that’s cotton candy with marshmallows in it, I think—is pretty bad. But if you, a reasoning/reasonable adult, freely choose to eat cotton candy–flavored ice cream…well, you deserve what’ll come to you.)

In all, though, I’d say this place is certainly worth the trip to godforsaken Midtown East. But beware: they close at 8pm, and they aren’t open on Mondays. (Also, they often close to host private events. If you’re planning on going out of your way for their ice cream, consider making sure they’ll be open to the public.)

Find A La Mode Shoppe at 360 East 55th Street, between 1st and 2nd. And if you’re looking for pints, you just might be able to find them at ShopRite or Morton Williams. (A La Mode is just now beginning to make its way into stores. Keep an eye out.)

[That’s 23 hyphens, by the way. Compounds have taken-me-hostage. Send help.]

Tagged , , , ,

S’MAC: 2,594,124 types of mac and cheese

A Mongo-size plate of mac and cheese from S'MAC

I love mac and cheese. I love customizable food. I love restaurants that just happen not to have any nuts in the kitchen. It follows, then, that I should love S’MAC—and I sort of do.

According to S’MAC’s allergen chart, there are no tree nuts on site. (There are, however, peanuts in the peanut butter cookies, but I’m told those are made elsewhere.) I don’t believe the folks at S’MAC do much to ensure all their ingredients are 100% free from cross-contamination, so I’ve categorized them as “technically not nut-free,” but still: as ordinary restaurants go, S’MAC feels pretty low-risk. I trust them, and I’ve never regretted doing so…for allergy related reasons, at least.

See, S’MAC is sort of like the Domino’s of mac and cheese. They’re open late-ish, they deliver, and anything goes when it comes to toppings and mix-ins. There are pre-set options on the menu, but most of S’MAC’s appeal lies the freedom they offer—freedom to get whatever the hell you want cooked into a mass of cheese-covered starch. Like at Domino’s, the draw is not the quality of the final product (nor is it the restaurant’s atmosphere, or the friendliness of its employees). Instead, it’s, um…the fact that they sell mac and cheese. With lots of shit in it, if that’s your thing.

Don’t get me wrong; their food isn’t terrible. There’s nothing horribly wrong with it (aside from its total lack of crispiness and/or crustiness of any sort). It’s better than Kraft, and it’s a lot more fun than Annie’s—but it’s nowhere near as good as what you can (probably) whip up from scratch, given a solid recipe and some decent ingredients. But who can be moved to make mac and cheese from scratch when S’MAC is, like, a 10-minute walk from Union Square? (Lots of people, obviously. Not me, though!)

Mac and cheese from S'MAC

At S’MAC, mac and cheese makes up the vast majority of the menu, and it comes in four sizes: Nosh (small), Major Munch (medium), Mongo (large), and Partay! (larger). A Major Munch is probably a fair size for one hungry person, but a Mongo can easily feed two, should your wallet be thin (and your dining partner agreeable). Pricing makes no sense, though—sometimes, they’ll charge you per mix-in; sometimes, they’ll charge you for bread crumbs; sometimes, you’ll have no idea what they charged you for—so rather than trying to figure out what I’ll be paying, I tend to just choose what I want and then do my best to accept the bill. Such is life.

Mac and cheese from S'MAC

Should you choose to customize your bowl, S’MAC has about a trillion options available. Cheeses include American, blue, brie, mozzarella, cheddar, goat, gruyere, manchego, lite cheddar, muenster, parmesan, pecorino, pepper jack, swiss, and provolone. The mix-ins are parsley, rosemary, basil, cilantro, scallions, olives, mushrooms, roasted garlic, figs, broccoli, salsa, roasted tomatoes, jalapeños, buffalo sauce, spinach with garlic, chicken, hot dogs, andouille sausage, ground beef, tuna, bacon, and something called “garden medley.”

Now, if you’ll let me, I’d like to torture you all with a brief-ish math interlude. I spent a while harassing my dad (unhelpful), my boyfriend (more unhelpful), and a bunch of people on r/mathematics (bingo!) with this one, and I’m ready to share—with permission!—what I’ve learned.

*        *        *

So. There are a lot of possible outcomes at S’MAC. Like, a lot a lot. How many, though? There are 15 cheeses, and you’re to choose up to 2. At minimum, you’ll need 1—assuming you aren’t going with the dairy-free option. There are 22 mix-ins, and you can choose up to 3, though you don’t have to order any. You can choose whether to get bread crumbs, and you can choose what type of macaroni you’d like (regular, multi-grain, or gluten-free). You can also choose to go reduced-lactose (which still allows for cheeses) or dairy-free (which doesn’t, obviously). That’s a lot of decisions.

If you don’t go dairy-free, there are 120 possible cheese outcomes, including those that involve only one cheese. With regard to mix-ins, there are 1,794 possible outcomes, including the choice of no mix-ins, and excluding anything that involves a double mix-in (i.e. scallions, three times). There are only 2 possible outcomes for bread crumbs—some, or none—and 3 for macaroni type. And there are 3 possible outcomes in the realm of dairy, with the dairy-free choice ruling out the option of adding any cheeses. Ergo…

To account for the dairy-inclusive options: 120 * 1,794 * 2 * 3 * 2 = 2,583,360 possible outcomes. And to account for the dairy-free option: 1 *  1,794 * 2 * 3 * 1 = 10,764 possible outcomes. Add those together, and you get 2,594,124 possible S’MAC outcomes. I hope. (For what it’s worth, I figured out approximately none of that on my own. My efforts led me to a figure that was, like, twice the actual answer. No idea why. There’s a reason I’m studying English.)

*        *        *

With all those options, it’s naturally pretty tough to decide what to order. The pre-sets don’t do it for me, so I almost always build my own bowl. Personally, I like to go with some combination of mozzarella, gruyere, and swiss, cheese-wise, and then some scallions and a combination of herbs for my mix-ins. I’ve been known to enjoy a mushroom or two on occasion, too, but most days, though, I just stick with my scallions and herbs. (What can I say? I have a thing for repeating meals.) And in a futile attempt to crisp up the top layer, I always go for “bread crumbs”—which I’m pretty sure are just cornmeal, à la Domino’s.

Mac and cheese from S'MAC

Most days, the final product is decent, but it’s never anything special. (There are exceptions to the whole mostly-decent thing, though. Their goat cheese is pretty bad, for example. And unwelcome figs have a habit of popping up in my otherwise fig-less bowls.) I wish the macaroni were the slightest bit al dente. I wish the “bread crumbs” were bread crumbs, and I wish the cheese on top and around the edges were a little crispier. But when you stick your fork in it, mac and cheese is mac and cheese—and S’MAC’s is quick, easy, and highly customizable. (And, you know, nut-free.)

Find S’MAC at 345 East 12th Street, between 1st and 2nd. (And if you can’t bring yourself to dine under their super-yellow lights, consider going Take & Bake.)

Tagged , , , , , ,

Sushi on Jones

Sushi on Jones

Remember David Bouhadana, the sushi chef who got his restaurant shut down after a spat with the DOH over their rigid, rigid glove rules? Well, Bouhadana lost his job at Sushi Dojo—but he’s back, serving up fresh DOH-agita at his new open-air (read: outdoor as fuck) sushi spot. And yes, his chefs are wearing gloves.

Located in The Bowery Market, Sushi on Jones is not your average sushi spot. Sure, it’s home to a few recognizable motifs—a sushi bar, white-coated chefs, a mostly-classic omakase—but there are only six seats, and with a reservation (which you’ll have made via text), you’ll be in and out in under 40 minutes. Water comes in Poland Spring bottles, green tea comes in cans, and Kid Cudi just might form the soundtrack to your meal (if you can hear whatever their iPod’s playing over the sirens and motorcycle revs of NoHo). Strange dogs on those godforsaken extendo-leashes may sniff at your feet, and pigeons will probably feast upon your fallen ginger. Such is the Sushi on Jones experience.

Suffice it to say, then, that this place is a little offbeat. Unorthodox. Quirky, if you will. Fortunately, though, their sushi’s pretty traditional—which means nothing New-Agey, nothing cream-cheesy, and, of course, nothing nutty. I spent a week or two sporadically poking around online in an attempt to find an email address or (call-able) phone number at which I could direct my nut-related questions, but no such things existed, nor did their iPhone-manner ever respond to my message about allergens. So I resigned myself to just showing up, asking about nuts, and hoping for a promising answer.

Sam and I ended up stopping by one Saturday night around 8pm. Immediately, a woman—she was sort of a waitress, but there isn’t much waiting to do at Sushi on Jones—asked if she could help us. I asked my usual questions (“Any nuts? Shared kitchen? Reason to worry?”), to which she responded with the best answers I could’ve hoped for: no nuts, no shared kitchen, no reason to worry. She even sent the manager out to confirm, and that he did. Lovely.

Now, getting a seat isn’t hard, but it isn’t the easiest thing in the world, either. That night, we couldn’t get a reservation via text—I’d sent a text with a few times that worked for us, but all I received in response was a “sorry not tonight.” Fine. But when I asked in person 15 minutes later, they were happy to give me a reservation within a few minutes of one of times I’d originally asked for. Weird, but whatever. We were just happy to have gotten a spot.

When our time came, we made our way back to Sushi on Jones and were seated within 10 minutes of our arrival. Sam and I were the only two seated at the (two-stool) second counter, which is actually on Great Jones Street, rather than a few feet into the market, where the main counter is. Our little area was dark (really dark, hence the heinous backlit iPhone photos I’ve included with below, and the Google-supplied Grub Street photo at the top of this post—which was taken by Noah Fecks, by the way), but sitting off to the side was nice, if only because we were that much farther away from the loud-ass group of four sitting at the other counter. (They kept yelling—yelling—about “eel sauce.” Their chef looked tired.)

Anyway, as soon as we were seated—and as soon as the waitress had asked us if we had any other dietary restrictions—it was food time. At Sushi on Jones, there’s only one option: the 12-piece omakase ($50), though you can order additional pieces (as well as their signature WagUni—torched wagyu and uni—hand roll) à la carte once you’ve finished. In an attempt to be frugal (yeah, right) Sam and I stuck to the omakase—but by the time we left, we were both pretty damn satisfied.

That night, my favorite pieces were the yellowtail, the uni, the Arctic char, and the WagUni (sushi, not hand roll). The yellowtail was unbelievably flavorful, the uni was sweet and briny, and the Arctic char was pleasantly creamy. All were topped with a soy glaze, and some were topped with bits of pepper or crushed ginger—with the exception of the WagUni, which was topped with truffle salt, and which was probably my favorite bite of the night.

Maybe I’m biased—undercooked wagyu and uni are seriously two of my favorite things in the entire world—but goddamn, that thing was good. The photo I’ve included below does the WagUni absolutely no justice whatsoever, so here’s a better one from The Bowery Market’s official Instagram. (Drool away. I’ll be here.)

My least favorite bites were probably the scallop (not bad, but not for me), the eel (also not bad, also not for me), and the crab (fine, but boring). I was also a little underwhelmed by the medium fatty tuna, which seemed a lot leaner than it should’ve been. (Still, it wasn’t bad—chutoro’s chutoro, after all.) The weaker pieces didn’t bother me much, though. I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much everything about Sushi on Jones, and I’m already plotting my return. If only I could’ve talked myself into shelling out an additional $12 for a WagUni hand roll…

By the way, our sushi chef was wonderful. After we’d finished the omakase, he asked what our favorite piece had been so he could give us another set, on the house. (“I like you guys,” he said. “You’re quiet.” With a smile, he gestured to the sign above the counter: “Less talk, more eat. Mucho arigato.”) We went with the obvious choice—WagUni—and then he offered us another free piece each, at which point we asked him to give us whatever he recommended. A minute later, he presented us with another round of fatty tuna, which was noticeably better than our first serving. So good. Go figure.

By now, it should be clear that I’m a big fan of Sushi on Jones. I love the food, the location, the speed, the ambiance, the overall concept…I could go on. The sushi, while undeniably good, isn’t the city’s best, but it isn’t meant to be—it’s something else entirely, and it’s a whole lot of fun. The whole place is unique-as-can-be, but not in the nasty, off-putting way a lot of Unique™ sushi joints are so. Plus, it’s allergy-friendly. Let’s not forget about that.

…Actually, let’s. Sitting at Sushi on Jones, I don’t feel acutely like a Person With Food Allergies, which is how I feel at a lot of the places I frequent just because they’re safe for me. It’s a cool place, and I’d definitely still stop by if I could eat wherever I wanted. And that, to me, is incredibly exciting.

(Seriously, though: Do yourself a favor and read up on Bouhadana’s glove kerfuffle with the DOH. It’s genuinely interesting—and funny as hell, too—and everyone and their mother has weighed in. Plus, the debate prompted one of my my all-time favorite Anthony Bourdain quotes: “This is not Subway, for fuck’s sake. This is something people have dedicated their lives to. No. You know which team I’m on.”)

Find Sushi on Jones at the entrance to The Bowery Market, which is itself located at 348 Bowery, between Great Jones and 4th.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Better Bites Bakery

A Sun Better Cookie Dō Bite from Better Bites BakeryI don’t think I’m capable of walking into Whole Foods without discovering a new nut-free product. This time, it’s Better Bites Bakery’s Cookie Dō Bites, which are, according to their packaging, vegan, kosher, and they’re made in a dedicated facility that’s free of the top 8 allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans, for those of you keeping score at home).

Their other products—cakes, cake balls, standard cupcakes, and imitation Hostess CupCakes—are top 8–free, too (with the exception of coconut, which is used in a few of their products and which is classified by the FDA as a tree nut), even though they don’t quite look nut-free online. (Better Bites’s website is currently under construction, but if you poke around, you’ll see some photos of baked goods that clearly contain nuts—don’t worry, though. A representative assured me that those photos are, in fact, out of date, hence the site’s being under construction.)

I’ve only ever tried the Cookie Dō Bites—and only the Sunbetter (i.e. sunflower seed butter) ones, at that—but I sort of liked them…for what they are, at least. They come in plain (chocolate chip) and Snickerdoodle varieties, too, but given how much I like sunflower seeds, I had to go with the Sunbetter (and at $10 per small box, getting two was out of the question).

I ate one straight out of the fridge and was pretty disappointed. It was cold (duh), hard, and gritty, with a waxy chocolate coating and a very bland filling. I let the rest sit on the counter for a little while, though, and once they’d warmed up a bit, they were worlds better. The chocolate coating (that’s Enjoy Life chocolate, by the way) lost most of its waxiness, and the filling softened up and actually took on the texture of cookie dough, which was a relief. The SunButter flavor’s strong as hell, for sure—but I like SunButter, so it’s not as if that put me off.

Once they’d spent some time out of the fridge, I actually sort of began to enjoy those Cookie Dō Bites. It’s very rare that I like a product that’s free from so many allergens, so I suppose I have to give Better Bites some props for these. Now, that’s not to say that I’m ready to start eating Cookie Dō Bites on a regular basis—I’m not. They are top 8–free, and their taste (and especially their texture) do reflect that. But for what they are, they’re pretty good. (Except for the macron over the o in ; I want to know who decided the product’s name needed to be stylized that way.)

Anyway, if you’re interested, you can find Better Bites at Whole Foods. I picked my Cookie Dō Bites up at the new one in Williamsburg, but they should be available at the chain’s other locations, too. Beware, though: Better Bites’s pricing is downright absurd—like, $10-for-a-handful-of-cookie-dough absurd.

[Edit: Better Bites’s website is no longer under construction. Go forth. Frolic.]

Tagged , , , , ,

Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen

A plate of fried chicken and cole slaw from Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen

In theory, I love fried chicken, but in practice, it almost always bores the hell out of me. It’s so one-note, so uneventful. And because it leaves so little room for innovation or fun of any sort, I inevitably get tired of the salty grease/greasy salt combo after, like, three bites of drumstick. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t dislike fried chicken. I just have a hard time buying into the hype. Consider me a fried chicken skeptic.

That said, I do eat a lot of the stuff, so I think I’m speaking from an informed-ish place when I say that the fried chicken at Carla Hall’s is damn good. But before I start going on about food, I should probably give a little background on this place.

Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, which opened this past summer, is a Nashville-style fast-casual fried chicken spot (exhale), owned by TV chef Carla Hall and her (business) partner Evan Darnell. Darnell’s daughter has a peanut allergy—which sucks, yeah, but which is also the reason that the kitchen at Carla Hall’s is 100% free of both peanuts and tree nuts. (You know, every cloud… and such.)

To be clear: they don’t actually call themselves nut-free, as a few of their pre-packaged desserts (made off-site) may contain nuts. But as I said, their kitchen is entirely nut-less, so all of their hot food is (theoretically) safe for those with nut allergies. Aside from those pre-packaged desserts, the only menu items not made in-house are the sweet potato rolls and the pullman loaves—which are easily avoided and relatively unimportant, anyway. So by any reasonable standard, Carla Hall’s truly is nut-free. (And if I haven’t already delivered enough good news: their house-made Buttermilk Soft Serve is safe, and they carry Skippers, Mini Twists, and Pretzel Caramel Bark from Vermont Nut Free, too.

Mason jars lining the walls of

By the way: the restaurant itself is adorable. It’s teeny-tiny and forever-crowded, but it’s charming, too, in a kitschy sort of way. The walls are covered with photos, recipes, and Nashville-themed bells and whistles…and, um, an orange Croc that appears to be autographed by Mario Batali. (I can never read the signature, but Batali lives in NYC, and he’s one of Hall’s co-hosts on The Chew. Plus, there’s no one else in the entire universe with such an allegiance to orange Crocs, so. Likely.)

What’s more, the staff is, for the most part, incredibly friendly—usually, they’ll go out of their way to make sure you’re really being taken care of—and most nights, Carla Hall herself graces the dining room, speaking with customers and posing for pictures with the patience and good spirit of an actual saint. (Also, I can’t be sure, but I’m relatively certain that she has supernatural powers. I’ve never seen her leave or enter the room; she sort of just materializes, disappears, and repeats. It’s impressive.)


But what’s really important—especially once you’ve made your way to Red Hook and waited 15 to 20 minutes for your order—is the food, and the food at Carla Hall’s is straight-up delicious. The chicken comes in six heat levels, from Southern (no sauce) to Boomshakalaka (hot enough that the staff feel it necessary to ring a bell and yell “boomshakalaka!” in unison every time someone orders the hottest chicken—and hot enough that I see most Boomshakalaka-eaters go from bravado and machismo to tears and sniffles in, like, two bites), and though I’ve only ever asked for my chicken sauceless, I’m pretty confident in saying that it’s really (really) good.

The skin, always just crispy enough, is satisfying and salty (though not too salty, as the vast majority of fried chicken is), and the meat’s nice and moist, too. There are no funky tastes, chewy bits, or dry patches; it’s just simple, tasty fried chicken, with a few high-quality pickle slices on top. Like all fried chicken, though, it’s very greasy—but that’s not much of a problem, because a side of their Tangy Cole Slaw does a lovely job of cutting through that grease.

The Sweet & Yukon Gold Potato Salad isn’t my favorite—I hate sweet potatoes—but it’s a formidable grease-cutter, too. The rest of the sides (Baked Mac n’ Cheese, Collards n’ Pot Likker, and Candied Yams) probably won’t perform the same duty, but they’re viable (and classic) options nonetheless. Oh, and before I forget to mention this: the cornbread is fantastic, especially when it’s still hot enough to melt the little pat of butter that comes with it. So good—and definitely better than the biscuits, which are usually room-temperature and a bit rubbery.


Of course, there’s dessert, too: Vermont Nut Free chocolates and Buttermilk Soft Serve, as I mentioned above. (The rest, as far as I know, aren’t necessarily nut allergy–safe, but that’s all right. At least there are options for us, right?) The soft serve calls to me me, but I haven’t yet gotten a chance to try it—either they’ve been out of the necessary ingredients, or I’ve ended up finishing my meal past closing time, when the register’s already been cashed out—but I have a feeling I’ll love it. One day.

[Edit: I’ve since tried the soft serve, and it’s absurdly good. It’s a small portion for $5, but I don’t even care, because honestly, it’s incredible. It’s really thick and creamy—much thicker and creamier than most soft serve, fortunately—but its tanginess is what really makes it stand out. It’s like what frozen yogurt would be like if frozen yogurt didn’t always taste so low-fat—in other words: perfect.]

I do have plenty of experience with Vermont Nut Free, though. Their chocolate’s great—way, way better than, say, Hershey’s or Nestlé’s—and there’s a certain sense of pleasure that comes with supporting a nut-free company, too. The Mini Twists (i.e. chocolate-covered pretzels) are usually great, as is the Pretzel Caramel Bark—though I should say that both are noticeably less fresh when purchased at Carla Hall’s than when ordered directly from Vermont Nut Free. Makes sense, but still. The convenience is nice, but the mark-up’s absurd, especially for stale-ish pretzels.

A jar of nut-free Vermont Nut Free Skippers at Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen

In any case, I really, really like Carla Hall’s. This city has so few truly nut-free restaurants, and even fewer that I can recommend without a whole bunch of disclaimers—but Carla Hall’s is totally endorsable, sans caveats, and I’d recommend a visit to anyone in the mood for a good plate of fried chicken, nut-allergic or not.

Find it at 115 Columbia Street, between Kane and Baltic. (Do yourself a favor and drive there. Alternatively, walk from the F or G station on Bergen Street, or figure out how the hell to get on the B61, and take it to the Columbia and Baltic stop, which is, like, 50 paces from Carla Hall’s.)

Tagged , , , , ,

Chipotle Mexican Grill


For around three years of my life, I ate at Chipotle with absurd frequency. Part of the reason why was that it was one of the only safe restaurants I was aware of, and I felt (and still feel) entirely comfortable eating there—but I also just liked the food. A lot. It was my go-to lunch, my go-to after-school “snack,” and my go-to travel food. Once, I spent two weeks in Michigan and ate at Chipotle for almost every single meal, breakfasts included. I’m past that stage now—I’m way less phobic about eating out with my allergy, at least—but I just realized that I’d never written about Chipotle, so I figured I should.

For those with nut allergies, Chipotle’s a pretty safe option. According to this page on their website, there are no (intentional) eggs, mustard, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, shellfish, or fish in any of Chipotle’s food. (Of course, they don’t guarantee that their food is 100% free from trace amounts of any of the above, but a lack of nuts on-site is generally good enough for me.) Plus, if you’re into Food with Integrity, Chipotle has you covered; their meat comes from pasture-raised animals, and they’re very into their commitment to “real” (i.e. farm-sourced, organic, and/or non-GMO) ingredients.

But enough about all that. (Seriously. Enough.) For me—and for most, I assume—Chipotle’s real appeal lies in its unusual mix of ubiquity and food quality. These days, Chipotle is about as common as McDonald’s (not really, though it does often feel that way; McDonald’s has, like, 36,000 locations to Chipotle’s 2,000-ish). But Chipotle’s food is actually pretty good, which is practically unheard of for a chain of its size. It’s omnipresent enough to be dependable, but it won’t leave you feeling sick. And that is why I spent so long eating so much Chipotle.

I should probably explain, then, why I’ve slowed my Chipotle consumption to a measly once a month, if that.


It all started with Chipotle’s 2015 E. coli outbreak—but it’s not what you think. I never got sick from their food, nor did I stop eating there out of fear of falling ill. But after the outbreak (which followed outbreaks of norovirus and Salmonella, and which did a lot to sully Chipotle’s wholesome image), the chain made a bunch of changes in the name of safety.

Among those changes was a shift to the use of central kitchens to allow for frequent ingredient-testing. Cheese now arrives pre-shredded, a bunch of ingredients (tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, peppers, etc.) now arrive pre-chopped, and steak now arrives pre-cooked. Onions don’t arrive pre-chopped, but they’re now blanched before use, along with lemons, limes, jalapeños, and avocados—and all of the above (aside from lemons and limes) are now marinated in citrus juice before they’re used in anything else.

Now, none of those changes have made much of a difference—except for the switch to pre-cooked steak, which is the sole reason I’ve become so disillusioned. Chipotle offers six protein bases: steak, carnitas, chicken, barbacoa, chorizo, and sofritas. I’ve only ever been able to get into the steak, and I’ve always been silently skeptical of anyone who swears by any of the other options. The carnitas are bland, and both they and the barbacoa are mushy as hell. The chicken’s dry, and the chorizo might as well be ground chicken, flavor-wise. Sofritas are vegetarian, and I’m heavy into meat. That’s left me with steak.

I never minded, though. I loved the steak, in all its medium-rare glory. On a good day, it was juicy, soft, and bursting with flavor—never dry, never crusty, and hardly ever overcooked. Now, the steak is cooked sous-vide, cooled, and then shipped to Chipotles everywhere for marinating and further cooking on the grill, and for whatever reason, this process never seems to end well. These days, Chipotle’s steak is almost always dry, tough, and bland. On its best days, it’s just a little overcooked—but usually, it’s inedible.

A steak burrito bowl from Chipotle

Before the outbreak, I had my order down pat: a steak burrito with white rice, fajita vegetables, chili-corn salsa, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce—or a bowl with the same ingredients, with their (free!) honey vinaigrette drizzled on top and a (free!) warm tortilla on the side. But without good steak, my order falls apart. I tried switching to carnitas. I tried switching to chicken. When they introduced chorizo, I tried switching to chorizo—but it just wasn’t happening, so I gave up. Perhaps the steak will improve. Perhaps the grillers will get used to grilling pre-cooked steak, and perhaps it’ll start tasting better.

In the meantime, Chipotle has done a lot to un-tarnish its reputation. They’ve given out free burritos, introduced a summer rewards program (Chiptopia), and released an animated short—but if you ask me (and why would you?), their customer base, fickle as any other, will have no reason to return until the food’s good again. For me, at least, it isn’t about E. coli; it’s about the food, and the food’s demonstrably worse.

But even if the steak never gets better, I’ll probably never get fully clean. Chipotle’s too big, too easy, too dependable for me to remove it from my repertoire. So I guess I’ll just continue to eat their food on occasion, taking every chance I get to talk about my dissatisfaction with their new steak, promising myself, with fresh conviction each time, that this will be my last Chipotle meal, that I won’t be back.

But let’s not kid ourselves.

Tagged , , , , ,

Fancypants Baking Co.

Fancypants chocolate chip cookies

I’m forever bitter that I can’t (well, shouldn’t) eat Tate’s, so I’m forever searching for an allergy-friendly alternative. Store-bought cookies suck, though, and the ones that don’t are almost always made in facilities that handle nuts. (For some reason, nearly every bakery worth its sugar is filled to the brim with nuts. Life’s bad, I tell you. Bad.)

But Fancypants, stupid name aside, is one of those rare bakeries that’s both (a) decent and (b) totally, 100% nut-free. Their cookies taste way too good to be free from cross-contamination, but they most definitely are—and deliberately so, at that. According to their packaging (and website), both their crunch cookies and their hand-decorated cookies are made in a dedicated peanut-and tree nut–free facility. Nice.

I can’t speak to their hand-decorated cookies (I’ve never tried them, and I probably never will, as $4+ is not a price I’m willing to pay for a single frosted sugar cookie), but I can say that their crunch cookies (sorry, their Non-GMO Project Verified Crunch Cookies) are straight-up delicious. They come in a bunch of varieties—chocolate chip, double chocolate, brown sugar oatmeal, vanilla bean, and gingersnap—and so far, every one I’ve tried has been great.

I’m particularly into the brown sugar oatmeal—I’m a sucker for most oatmeal cookies, really—but the chocolate chip (pictured above) is good, too. Both are crisp and buttery, and neither is too sweet, which is a welcome relief in the world of allergy-friendly cookies. (Imagine the polar opposite of Lofthouse‘s gummy-ass sugar cookies; that’s sort of what Fancypants’s crunch cookies are like.)

There isn’t much more to say (a tasty cookie’s a tasty cookie), other than this: It’s not often I find a brand that’s only nut-free, so when I do, I tend to get pretty excited. I’m allergic to nuts, not gluten, dairy, or eggs—so it’s not as if my cookies have to suffer. They just…tend to. But with Fancypants, there’s no suffering involved. That’s why I’m a fan.

Find Fancypants products at Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Fairway, Union Market, Gourmet Garage, and probably a whole bunch of other stores, too.

[By the way: My semester’s officially started, so I’m finding myself with far less time on my hands to find foods and, you know, photograph/write about them. My posts are going to slow accordingly—only by a bit, though. Bear with me.]

Tagged , , , , ,

Sticky’s Finger Joint

Chicken poppers

Something about the name of this place gives me the willies. I think it’s how similar it sounds to “sticky finger joint,” which makes me think of a 5-year-old’s slobbery, paste-covered knuckle. But I digress. Name aside, Sticky’s is a solid restaurant with some solid chicken, and even I wouldn’t be so absurd as to stay away based on the name alone.

Truthfully, the reason I stayed away for so long was because I found it hard to justify going out of my way for a serving of plain old chicken fingers. But once I finally got around to giving their food a try, it was clear that there would be no turning back. Sticky’s is good.

Last semester, when I was looking to collect some new places to grab lunch between classes, I sent an email to Sticky’s with a few questions about their handling of allergens. The response I received was as follows: “All Sticky‘s Finger Joint Locations are completely nut free. So, to answer all of your questions Sticky‘s is safe to eat for anyone with any type of nut allergy!” No details, no direct responses—but you know what? That’s a one-size answer I can get behind.

Now, I can’t categorize Sticky’s as “truly nut-free,” as I haven’t gotten any indication that they require their ingredients to all be free from potential cross-contamination, but I feel 100% comfortable eating there. You may not—and that’s fine—but I’d say the place is worth a look, at the very least.

For such a simple spot, their menu‘s pretty big. Chicken fingers, chicken poppers, and fries all come with a bunch of different combinations of seasonings—and Sticky’s offers 19 homemade sauces, too. My favorite, because I’m boring, is the Sassy BBQ, but there’s no sense in pretending there’s a best or a worst. You’ll just have to figure out your ranking on your own.


As sides go, I’m partial to the Truffle Parm Fries (pictured in both photos above). They’re not all that truffle-y, but they’re certainly covered in parmesan, and the fries themselves are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just as fries should be. (Seriously, they’re perfect. These are some of the best fries you’ll find at this price point—and with about a trillion seasonings to choose from, too.) I also like the Pot Pie Fries, though I could definitely do without the shredded carrots. (Also: “Grandma’s Gravy” bears no resemblance whatsoever to any sort of gravy I’ve ever seen, but it sure is tasty.)

With their chicken, it’s hard to go wrong. Their fingers and poppers are some of the best of their kind—as they should be at any store that specializes in such a simple preparation of chicken. The poppers (also pictured twice above) are particularly good—they’re incredibly moist and tender, with a nice, crispy exterior—and though they’re a little bland, they never fail to please me. (A tip, though: The chicken doesn’t keep or travel well. A 10-minute walk to Washington Square Park—or, God forbid, a bicycle ride to my apartment—turns Sticky’s into a very mediocre meal indeed.)

In all, though, Sticky’s is great spot to grab a quick (and cheap!) lunch, and I highly recommend stopping by, whether or not you’ve been tasked with avoiding nuts. At the very, very least…well, it sure beats McDonald’s.

Sticky’s has three locations: one in Murray Hill (484 Third Ave), one in Greenwich Village (31 West 8th Street), and one in Hell’s Kitchen (598 9th Ave). All three deliver, and their food’s available on most third-party delivery sites, too. Just make sure to get your sauce on the side, because soggy fries—especially those that would otherwise be perfect—are even worse than sticky child-fingers.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Koffee Kup Bakery

A lemon zest donut from Koffee Kup Bakery

A few weeks ago, I was wandering around Staten Island (don’t ask) when I happened upon a Top Tomato, a supermarket chain that…exists, apparently. I spent a few minutes exploring its aisles, underwhelmed as could be—until I spotted a familiar anthropomorphic cruller, one of which I’d often seen photos in a few of the six trillion godforsaken food allergy forums I frequent.

That thick-eyebrowed, boot-donning cruller is the logo for Koffee Kup, an allergy-friendly bakery based in Vermont. According to Koffee Kup’s allergen statement, none of their products contain any tree nuts or peanuts, which means they should be produced in a nut-free environment. To be sure, though, I sent them an email, to which I received the following response: “While we do not have tree nuts in the plant, we have not yet a full nut free policy for the entire building, so we may have some employee in the breakroom or the like with some.”

Standard, really—and good enough for me. Onwards, then.

Koffee Kup’s donuts come in a whole bunch of flavors: buttermilk, jelly, glazed, powdered, apple cider, devil’s food chocolate, bran and honey, lemon zest, orange, plain…and probably a bunch more, too, because a few of the ones I just mentioned aren’t even mentioned on Koffee Kup’s website. The day I came across them, I picked up a box of the lemon zest donuts (sue me—it was that or orange), and to my surprise, they were actually all right.

A box of Koffee Kup's lemon zest donuts

I have poor self-control, so I dug in right then and there—in the parking lot of Top Goddamn Tomato—and for the first third of my first donut, I was in love. They’re cakey, but not dry (in fact, the texture’s near-perfect), and the flavor’s nice and lemony (though a little too reminiscent of a bowl of Fruit Loops). Two bites later, though, all the sugar in that thing must’ve caught up to me, and I couldn’t go on. That’s one sweet donut…and I say that as someone who’s usually into absurd amounts of sugar. Maybe it was the sun, but yeesh. I wanted to throw up.

I’ve never once learned a lesson, though, so 10 minutes later, there I was, eating another stupid-ass lemon zest donut in the oppressive Staten Island heat. Honestly, though, I feel like these donuts would actually be pretty good in the hands of someone more responsible (read: someone who (a) actually maintains control of his or her portion size, (b) keeps a drink on hand, and (c) knows to avoid the ever-cloying lemon zest flavor).

In any case: a few days later, I found a box of Koffee Kup’s devil’s food chocolate donuts at Stop & Shop, and as I suspected, they’re a lot better than the lemon zest version. They’re incredibly sweet, too, but they’re not Fruit Loopy in the slightest, nor did they leave me wanting to vomit—in fact, I genuinely liked them. Score. (I did eat them indoors, though. In my air-conditioned apartment, with water nearby. Important variables, probably—and ones I’ll need to report to the scientific community, no doubt. Bullshit aside, though: these are some tasty store-bought donuts.)

Variables aside, I took the devil’s food donuts as a good sign, and I’m now in the process of tracking down a few of Koffee Kup’s other flavors. If you, too, are interested, consider heading over to Stop & Shop…or Top Tomato, of course. Other than those two, though, I have no idea where to find these donuts. Good luck.

Tagged , , , , ,