Monthly Archives: March 2016

Butterflake Bake Shop

Butterflake's storefront

First things first: Butterflake is not in New York. It’s in Teaneck, New Jersey—about 15 minutes from the George Washington Bridge. But nut-free bakeries are hard to come by, so I decided do a quick post on this one anyway.

And Butterflake truly is nut-free. It says so very clearly on their website, and there’s even a sign behind the counter:

No nuts! Butter flake Bakery is committed to a nut free policy using no nuts or any nut products in the preparation of our baked goods. All attempts are made to secure nut free ingredients. Butterflake Bakery can not certify that all of the ingredients are processed in facilities that do not process nut products.

About as promising as these types of policies come, really. Some places go through the trouble of ensuring their vendors’ facilities are nut-free, too, but the vast majority don’t—which is a bummer, but whaddaya gonna do? Usually, one layer of nut-free-facility-ness is enough to sooth my nerves, so I’m fine with Butterflake. And I particularly like that they openly classified themselves as nut-free, both online and in-store. For some reason—liabilities, perhaps—a lot of similar places don’t.

Butterflake's 7" Shadow Cake

Anyway: Butterflake is a kosher bakery with a pretty wide array of stuff (cookies, cakes, brownies, rugelach, breads, donuts, bialys—the works). It’s tiny and cluttered, and the employees aren’t the friendliest people in the world, but it isn’t an unpleasant place. I mean, it’s filled with nut-free baked goods. How much can I really afford to complain about?

I found it incredibly difficult to choose between all of Butterflake’s options. First—as in, while still on the premises—I had an onion bialy, and it was all right, though certainly a little drier than I would’ve liked. I reheated a second at home, though, and it was worlds better than the first. That’s what I get for eating an untoasted bialy, I suppose.

I also brought home a 7″ Shadow Cake (two layers of vanilla cake and a layer of chocolate cake with both chocolate and vanilla frosting—exhale—pictured above), which was pretty decent, if a bit boring. And knowing I probably wouldn’t get a chance to come back any time soon, I also got a giant chocolate brownie, which was a bit too sweet for me, but which I did my best to take down nonetheless.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever end up back at Butterflake—it’s far away, and their food isn’t so good as to be worth the trouble of finding a ride—but I’m certainly glad I stopped by. There’s something about being able to walk into a bakery and choose anything, even if the products themselves aren’t anything special. (And the food wasn’t bad by any means—especially if you’re really into sugar.)

Find Butterflake at 448 Cedar Lane (again, that’s in Teaneck). They also have an online store, which just might be worth a try.

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Big Daddy’s: no nuts, plenty of kitsch

The Mr. French Dip from Big Daddy's

Big Daddy’s is a lovely place. Honestly, it’s a terrible place—but it’s lovely, too. Bright, loud, busy as hell, and absurdly kitschy…if that’s your scene, you’ll be in love.

Alternatively, if you’re like me, and you don’t feel at home under super-bright lighting or with jukebox classics constantly threatening to overwhelm your conversation, but you do have a nut allergy—well, you’ll be grateful to be able to eat at a diner, at the very least.

I’ve heard over and over that Big Daddy’s is nut-free, but they don’t categorize themselves as such on their website, so I wanted to make sure. I’ve spoken to servers and they’re always confident: no nuts on the menu, nor in the kitchen. Still, I wanted to know—are they truly nut-free, in the they-vet-their-vendors-and-I-can-eat-a-slice-of-pie sense, or do they just happen not to have any (intentional) nuts on the menu?

In an attempt to get some real answers, I called Big Daddy’s and spoke with a very understanding representative. She asked me to forward her a list of my questions so she could double-check on the answers, as she didn’t want to risk misleading me. Fair enough. Half an hour later, I had the following reply in my inbox:

Hey! So everything that is made in house in guaranteed to be completely nut free. However, with some of our cakes and breads that we order (of course there are no nuts in the food itself) there is no guarantee that there is no cross contamination. I don’t know exactly which [menu items] are and aren’t [guaranteed nut-free]. Our menu is really big and I would just be guessing on a lot of the things. That’s more of a question for the kitchen and unfortunately there is no way of contacting them. If you had a few specific questions I could find out but theyre too busy to go over the whole menu with me and tell me what is what.

She also forwarded me an email from the director of operations:

Off premise bake goods are not guaranteed but no in house nuts. I wouldn’t eat 7 grain bread or off premise cakes.

Of course, I’m sure you’d be able to speak to a server (or even a member of the kitchen staff) about just what’s made in house and what isn’t, should you ever have a question about a specific dish. In my experience, the employees at Big Daddy’s tend to be pretty understanding—but you may have to push a little harder than usual to get your server to double-check on anything, since they’re so used to telling those with allergies that everything’s 100% nut-free.

Anyway, because their in-house food is guaranteed nut-free (and because servers will readily assure you the restaurant is totally nut-free), I’ve categorized Big Daddy’s as truly nut-free. Despite all of the above, it seems to be a pretty safe place to eat—especially if you avoid the muffins, cakes, and certain breads, which isn’t all that hard to do. (And if your allergies are particularly sensitive, to the point that you’re uncomfortable eating commercial ice cream that’s been run on shared lines, you’d be wise to avoid their shakes, too.)

[Note: Since writing this post, it’s come to my attention that Big Daddy’s is even less nut-free than I’d thought. Their Triple Chocolate Disco Shake (chocolate ice cream, Frangelico, crème de cacao) does explicitly contain a nut product (hazelnut liqueur), which doesn’t bode well for Big Daddy’s. In my eyes, it’s not the liqueur itself that’s the problem, but the ignorance the liqueur betrays. How has it managed to slip under the nut-free radar—as in, why does nobody ever think to mention it—and what else might have done the same?]

As a rule, the food is on par with your average diner’s. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it good, but it isn’t terrible, either. I usually order the Mr. French Dip (pictured above) or the Original Big Mac Daddy—both with tater tots. The Mr. French Dip is somehow both too bland and too salty, but what can I say? I have a soft spot for baguettes—including mediocre ones. The Big Mac Daddy is (you guessed it) a burger with Big Mac sauce. Not bad, on a good day. The mozzarella sticks (sorry, the Really Really Good Mozz Styx) are decent, and I’ve been known to order the Monty Hall, What a Deal! (turkey, ham, and swiss on white bread—fried) on occasion, even though I always end up regretting that decision.

And yes, the menu is filled with dish names like those above. Ordering is always embarrassing. But if you can get past the kitschy menu and the even kitschier atmosphere, Big Daddy’s is fair place to eat. On occasion. If you’re really craving diner food.

(One thing I can endorse without disclaimers or reservations, though: the malted milkshakes. I like the vanilla Plain Jane, but if you can get them to malt the Cookie Monster—vanilla with Oreos—well, that’s my official recommendation. I’m sure the ice cream’s made on shared lines, though, so…maybe one reservation.)

There are three locations in NYC: one in Gramercy Park, one on the Upper East Side, and one on the Upper West Side. I’ve been a bit harsh, but I do think they’re worth a try.

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Trader Joe’s

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For some reason, I was super late to hop on the Trader Joe’s bandwagon, so I’ll have to make up for that with an absurdly long post. But for real: the place is a game-changer. It’s cheap, convenient, relatively high-quality, and—most importantly!—allergy-conscious.

In case you’ve never been: Trader Joe’s private labels name-brand goods, usually taking out a bunch of the artificial flavorings and preservatives (and lowering the price by a dollar or two) in the process. They do sell some name-brand products, but for the most part, the food they sell is under their private label.

One of the things I love most about them is their approach to allergens and labeling. From their product information page:

As with all health and safety related issues, we take food allergy concerns very seriously. We strive to ensure that all of our Trader Joe’s brand products are labeled with reliable, accurate, and easy to read ingredient statements.

Trader Joe’s strictly adheres to all Federal labeling guidelines. You can be assured that if any of the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy) are present in our private label products, they will be clearly labeled in familiar terms in our ingredient statements [e.g. casein (milk)]. You can also be certain that if “natural flavors” or “spices” contain any components that are allergens or are derived from allergens, they will be listed separately within the ingredient statement.

According to the same page, all of their private label manufacturers follow Good Manufacturing Practices to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Most of those manufacturers also issue voluntary warnings for the allergens that may be present in their products (usually in the form of “may contain” or “shared facility” statements). So while it isn’t the case that each and every Trader Joe’s product is guaranteed to be labeled for potential allergens, it is the case that most are—and if you’re worried, their customer service department (629-599-3700) will be happy to give you specifics, provided you have the product in question on-hand.

But what I really want to talk about is the food itself. There are so many things I like at Trader Joe’s that I can’t possibly list them all, but I’ll mention a few of my allergy-friendly favorites—especially those which are otherwise hard to find without allergen warnings. (Keep in mind that these aren’t products I’ve ever called in to ask about. I—like both allergists I’ve seen—am decidedly in the label-trusting camp. Though advisory labeling isn’t ever mandatory, I’m comfortable going by labels, and I don’t contact companies unless I have some specific cause for concern.)

The freezer section is what first got me hooked on Trader Joe’s. It’s huge, and they have a lot of foods I wouldn’t otherwise be able to eat unless I somehow managed to learn to make them myself (yikes). The frozen meals are actually a little better than you’d expect of a frozen food—nothing shocking, usually, but definitely a step up. Some of my favorites: the Japanese style fried rice; the Mandarin orange chicken; the spicy beef & broccoli; the tarte d’Alsace; and the burrata, proscuitto, & arugula flatbread. (Sorry about the inconsistent links; I’ve linked to Trader Joe’s website when possible, but they don’t have a page for every product.)

They have a lot of dried fruit, too—most of it without any advisory labeling. I don’t actually know of anywhere else to buy safe dried fruit, since it’s almost always processed on equipment that also processes nuts, but a lot of the dried fruit at Trader Joe’s doesn’t seem to be. My favorites are the Turkish apricots and the mandarins, but be warned: the latter are ridiculously sweet.

I love the gluten-free Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies, too. They don’t taste gluten-free—honestly, I really couldn’t tell. They’re crispy, buttery, and a little salty…kind of like what I imagine Tate’s to taste like. You know, if I could eat them. [Edit: A few weeks after I posted this, Trader Joe’s came out with a new cookie of the Crispy Crunchy variety: Ginger Chunk. They’re incredible—buttery and salty with perfectly-distributed chunks of dried ginger. My new favorite store-bought cookies, by a landslide.)

And while we’re on the topic of store-bought desserts, I should probably mention, too, that the Belgian Chocolate Pudding is great—it’s almost too rich, and it tastes like brownie batter—and the rice pudding is worthwhile, too.

Slightly less store-bought, but low-effort nonetheless: the Blondie Bar Baking Mix. I’m not a great baker, so mixes always tempt me, but the ones I’m not allergic to tend to taste way too artificial for me. This one’s different—the ingredients are simple, and the blondies it makes really do taste homemade. I keep one or two of these mixes on-hand at all times.

As for breads, there are two I’ll buy. First, the kettle-boiled bagels, which are better than I’d expected, but not quite as good as I’d hoped. I’m always on the lookout for allergy-friendly bagels, since good ones really do seem to be impossible to come by. But these, which are hand-rolled, kettle-boiled, and baked fresh daily in NYC, are actually all right. They’re worlds above other supermarket brands, at least.

And then there’s the organic French baguette. Unlike the conventional baguette, the organic version has no “may contain” warning—which is basically a miracle, as allergy-friendly baguettes are almost as hard to find as allergy-friendly bagels. The baguette itself is nothing special, but (like the bagels) it’s much, much better than the other store-bought breads I’ve tried.

…Anyway.

I could go on and on (and on) about Trader Joe’s products, but I’ll leave it at this: Go. Check it out for yourself. They have so many interesting products (and their stock changes so often) that no description of mine can possibly suffice. And if you’re uncomfortable with trusting labels, do consider going with a phone in hand—their customer service department really will be happy to clear things up, jargon-free.

Trader Joe’s has a bunch of locations in and around NYC, but my favorite is the one in Brooklyn Heights (at 130 Court St).

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Green’s Bakery: A Babka Monopoly

Green's chocolate babka

I was never much of a fan of babka…until I tried Green’s Bakery. Holy shit.

Green’s is a Brooklyn-based kosher bakery that makes some pretty well-liked babka—and rugelach and hamantaschen and cookies and cakes, etc. On their website, they identify themselves as nut-free, but only on the pages for some products, so I called to clarify, and I was told more than once that they don’t use any nuts in their bakery, and that every product is nut-free. I also sent an email with a few more questions, and received the following reply:

We do not use or have any nuts in our facility…We dont know [if we use any ingredients that may have come into contact with nuts]. We buy our ingredients directly from the manufacturers. We are unsure if they have. We sell them for over 10 years to people with allergies and we have never received any complaints.

Not ideal, but not the end of the world—in my eyes, at least. I’ve gone ahead and categorized Green’s as “truly nut-free,” as a nut-free facility is enough for me, but I felt I should provide this bit of information so you can make your own informed decision.

(If I were to only eat at places that had no nuts in the kitchen and that thoroughly vetted all of their vendors, I’d—well, I’d have very few places to eat. But that’s just me. I’m comfortable pretty much anywhere that calls itself nut-free, that keeps nuts out of its kitchen, and/or that has a lot of experience dealing with the nut-allergic population.)

Green's chocolate rugelach

Onto the food, though: I ordered the chocolate babka and some vanilla rugelach off their website. Then, in a shocking turn of events, I got impatient…and went to Fairway…and bought one of each Green’s product they had in stock (one chocolate babka, one bag of chocolate rugelach). And as if that weren’t enough, I hate half the bag of rugelach on my train ride home. (Patience, apparently, is a virtue I have not exercised enough.)

The babka is incredible, with a nice, chewy texture and huge veins of high-quality chocolate throughout. It’s very moist, and I like it best cut into super-thick slices with a glass (or two!) of milk on the side. The rugelach are great too—they’re just dense enough, and both the vanilla and the chocolate are pleasantly sweet without bordering on overkill. And both the babka and the rugelach taste homemade, which is pretty impressive, given how much of this stuff Green’s churns out each day.

Seriously: Green’s is awesome. And it isn’t just me who thinks so. Check out their Yelp reviews. Or their Amazon reviews. Or this article from Serious Eats, which dubs Green’s babka the best traditional babka in NYC. Seriously. Places like Zabar’s, Dean & Deluca, Katz’s Deli, and Russ & Daughters unwrap this stuff and sell it as their own—usually without crediting Green’s. It’s good. Good enough for Green’s to have come into a babka monopoly.

And by some Jewish miracle, it’s all nut-free.

My mouth is watering. Here’s to hoping I have the patience to keep me away from Fairway until my delivery arrives.

Find Green’s at Fairway, Whole Foods, and apparently, everywhere else. (And, of course, their website, where they also sell all their other products.)

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The Cookie Dough Café

One of The Cookie Dough Café's nut-free cookie dough cups

[Edit: No longer nut-free. Oh well.]

Before you get your hopes up: The Cookie Dough Café isn’t actually a café. But before you get your hopes down: They’re a company that sells edible cookie dough by the pint (or single-serving cup).

Most of their pints, which come in a bunch of different flavors, have a “may contain” warning. But their 4-packs (pictured above—from their website) are, in fact, nut-free (and egg-free, and kosher). Unfortunately, their website doesn’t have much allergen information on it, but I did send them an email, to which I received the following response:

All of our single serve products with the turquoise lidding are manufactured in a nut-free facility.  This is also stated on the packaging.  The pints with the black lids are produced in a separate facility that is NOT nut-free.

The single-serving cups only come in one flavor (chocolate chip), which is a shame, because their naked dough—plain, without chocolate chips—is my favorite. (Somehow, I managed to find a few pints that didn’t have “may contain” warnings on them, even though the others did—so I bought one. Probably a bad idea, but it ended up being fine. Same deal for the cookies & cream dough, which is really, really good.)

Anyway, the cookie dough is pretty decent, though I’m not sure it’s worth the price when you could just as easily make your own eggless dough. Still, I think it’s a cool product, and I do appreciate the fact that I can eat it without, you know, dying.

Find it at Morton Williams, Key Food, and Westside Market, usually somewhere between the cut-and-bake cookie dough and the yogurt.

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