Category Archives: Bagels

Nut-Free Chicago: A Travel “Guide”

Last month, I spent a week and a half in Chicago, where I did just about everything I do in NYC. I wandered aimlessly. I people watched. I browsed clothes I couldn’t afford. I watched way too many late-night Cops reruns. And to my surprise, I dined out a whole hell of a lot. Last time I ventured to Chicago, I subsisted on literally nothing but McDonald’s, Subway, pretzels, Cup Noodles, and water. But that was pre-blog. Now, I’m a practiced diner-outer, and I have a much harder time settling for such a repetitive and high-trash diet. It’s probably a good thing.

But before I got there, I didn’t expect to find all that much in the way of safe restaurants. It took me months to compile even the very beginnings of the NYC-specific list that’s now my pride and joy (half-serious about the whole pride-and-joy thing), so I didn’t expect to get all that much done Chicago-wise in the 10 days I’d have there. I figured I’d bark up a bunch of wrong trees, find maybe a restaurant or two, then resign myself to a week of fast food and Airbnb-home-cooking—but I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Chicago’s not at all a difficult city to eat in, and with the help of a list compiled by the No Nuts Moms Group of Chicago, I ended up with plenty of options.

So here they are—all the non-chain restaurants I ate at, and some I called, but couldn’t make it to—in brief-ish (yeah, right), because we’ve all got things to do. And please, pardon the iPhone photos. I didn’t bring my camera.

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Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys

Three everything bagels from Kossar's Bagels & Bialys

I have a huge thing for bagels, and I’ve spent a lot of time scouring this city for some that happen to be allergy-friendly. I’ve found a few, but none that are quite what I’m looking for when I’m craving a classic NYC bagel…that is, with the exception of those you’ll find at Kossar’s. These—these—are precisely the bagels of my dreams.

Before eating at Kossar’s, I spent a few days emailing back and forth with Evan Giniger, who has owned the store since 2013. Rather than trying to summarize, I’ll just paste the relevant bits below. (I’ve taken the liberty of splicing some emails together, but otherwise, what follows is exactly what I received.)

We do not use any nuts in the production of anything we make at the store. We do use seeds though, which you say below are fine.

Some of the packaged products like babka and cookies are made in an outside facility that does use nuts in other products.   While anything we sell does not have any nuts in them and all come in wrapped, we do sometimes sample them in the store, meaning technically would be possible for cross contamination to have occurred outside our store.

We do sell peanut butter and Nutella spreads in the store at the counter and it is possible that a knife might come in contact with one of those.

All of our spreads are prepared in house in a kitchen area that would also prepare things with sesame seeds, Nutella, and things like that.  I can not say for sure that there is no cross contamination and again if you are very sensitive or concerned at all I would avoid them.  We only have one set of knives we use for everything.

So my two answers are no, we do not use nuts in any of our products, but if you are highly allergic, I would advise that you do not take any risks and refrain from eating at our location.

So Kossar’s isn’t the most clear-cut of cases. But Giniger is refreshingly honest and allergy-aware—and the bagels themselves seem to be pretty low-risk, as they don’t (well, shouldn’t) come into contact with any nuts at any point in their production. So I am comfortable eating at Kossar’s…with some limitations. I’m not too bothered by the potential in-store samplings, but I am bothered by the nutty spreads. (The above emails mention only Nutella, but Kossar’s has almond butter, too.) So given the whole one-set-of-knives thing, I avoid not only the spreads, but the fish, etc., too.

Bialys at Kossar's Bagels & Bialys

That leaves only two options for the nut-allergic stubborn person/bagel-craver who wishes to eat at Kossar’s: unadulterated bagels and unadulterated bialys—which is sort of unfortunate, given how much other awesome shit they sell. But it’s fine, really, because their bagels, even plain, are seriously some of this city’s best. Finally, I’ve found them: nut-free bagels that don’t suck. (Take that, Thomas. Also, fuck you.)

A Kossar’s bagel is fluffy, dense, and chewy, just as a bagel should be. It doesn’t need toasting, nor does it need accoutrements (though they’re a welcome addition, no doubt). Inexplicably, it’ll be warm or warm-ish around 4 times out of 5, clock-hour be damned. The everything bagels are perfectly seasoned, with just enough salt to make them interesting—but I don’t mind an undressed plain bagel every now and then, either. (Not if it’s as good as those at Kossar’s, at least. If you think I’m going to eat an undressed plain bagel from Baz, you’ve got another think coming.)

A Kossar's everything bagel with scallion cream cheese from Baz Bagel

When I get bored of undressed Kossar’s bagels, I’ll usually pick up some cream cheese (scallion, from nearby Baz) and dip my bagel(s) into it, like the baboon I really am. (Process pictured immediately above—except it usually takes place while on the move.)  And when I’m in the mood to pretend I don’t have food allergies, I’ll usually pick up some cream cheese and some lox, then take everything home and assemble it to my liking. Sure, it’d be nice to be able to let the folks at Kossar’s do all that for me—but it’s not so bad to have to do it on my own. (Nothing can upset me, really, when there are good bagels coming my way.)

By the way (and this should be more than a “by the way,” but whatever), the bialys, pictured in baskets above, are great, too. The onion ones are my favorite, but the others are good, too—and whichever I end up with, I like to take them home and toast them, patience permitting. They’re just so doughy, almost like an extra-thick, extra-chewy pizza crust. Honestly, they’re right around as good as the bagels. (And that’s a high compliment. Trust me.)

Anyway, I’m absolutely in love with Kossar’s, even though I can’t eat, like, 98% of the things they sell. The bagels are easily good enough to keep me coming back, despite the fact that there literally isn’t a train that’ll take me from my neighborhood to anywhere near Kossar’s. It’s a 30-minute walk—but there’s nothing that can keep me away.

Find Kossar’s at 367 Grand Street, between Essex and Clinton.

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Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing

The #3 specialty combo from Frankel's Delicatessen

[Edit: As of late 2017, Baz Bagel—the bakery that makes the bagels used at Frankel’s—no longer has a nut-free kitchen. The gluten-free bagels at Baz are now made with almond flour, and since they’re made in the same kitchen (and on the same equipment) as the regular bagels, I’m no longer on board. So that…slims the pickings at Frankel’s quite a bit, doesn’t it?]

My dad is notoriously terrible at handling my allergies. He’s convinced he can determine with a glance whether a pastry contains nuts, and he has a habit of insisting that restaurants are nut-free based on nothing more than his own intuition. It’d be one thing if he had some sort of inexplicably high success rate with these things, but he doesn’t, so I’ve learned to ignore his suggestions—or at least to be sure to thoroughly vet them myself.

That said, he was onto something when he suggested Frankel’s, a Greenpoint delicatessen that opened this past spring. The folks at Frankel’s—the Frankel brothers, rather—don’t cook with nuts, meaning there are no nuts or nut products in their kitchen. Their pastries are supplied by Green’s and their bagels by Baz; plus, they sell Utz and Zapp’s chips, which are both made in a nut-free facility. Knowing all that, one might start to get the idea that Frankel’s is intentionally nut-free—but it isn’t, as far as I know. [Edit: Actually, it is. See the edit below.]

Their rye bread (supplied by Rockland Bakerydoes come with a “may contain” warning, but the matter isn’t so simple. I’ve actually been told by Rockland’s Food Safety Manager that the rye is made in a nut-free facility—but I can’t be sure, as the information I’ve gotten from Rockland has been inconsistent, to say the least. Katz’s Delicatessen uses Rockland’s rye, too—so rather than re-spieling, I’ll just direct you to the first few paragraphs of my post on Katz’s.

I’ve eaten Rockland’s rye at Katz’s and at Frankel’s countless times without issue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should follow my lead. Use your own discretion, obviously—and if you aren’t comfortable with Frankel’s rye, the good news is that it’s easy enough to avoid, as you can order pretty much anything you want on a bagel. (As bread goes, Frankel’s also offers rolls and challah, but both are supplied by Amy’s Bread, which is not an allergy-friendly company, so I’ll just stick to recommending the bagels—and maybe the rye, depending on whom at Rockland you trust).

And while I’m ironing out allergen information, I should probably mention that Frankel’s gets their fish from Acme Smoked Fish (who don’t use have any nuts in their New York facility), and that they get some of their meats from a nearby warehouse that they don’t seem to want to name. It doesn’t seem as though they do all that much in house, which costs them a few points on the allergy-friendliness scale—but really, whaddya gonna do? I’ve eaten at Frankel’s without issue quite a few times now, and I feel it’s worth a post, at the very least. Your standards may differ, and that’s fine. This is my blog, after all.

[Edit: A week or two after publishing this post, I received an email from someone who identified herself as a part of the Frankel’s team, saying that Frankel’s is, indeed, intentionally nut-free. Evidently, their executive chef, Ashley Berman, is allergic to peanuts—and while she isn’t allergic to tree nuts, the folks at Frankel’s evidently do their best to maintain an environment that’s 100% nut-free. (Apparently, Berman has worked with Amy’s Bread for years, and she’s comfortable with their handling of allergens. When it comes to breads, though, peanuts are certainly much easier to avoid than tree nuts—so do with that information what you will.) Good news nonetheless, though. I had a feeling something was up!]

Pastrami, egg, and cheese on a plain bagel from Frankel's Delicatessen

You know, for a Food Allergy Blogger™, I have an unusual amount of hatred for blogging about food allergies. Spelling out allergen information isn’t any fun; I much prefer eating and/or talking—writing—about eating. Onto the fun part, then.

The menu at Frankel’s is small and simple, but that doesn’t make it any easier to decide on what to order. I’m not the biggest fan of Baz’s bagels—I wrote some nice things about them back in June, but I’ve since come out of my bagel-deprived stupor and realized that theirs are rather underwhelming, to say the least—but the idea of a Frankel’s bagel sandwich had me drooling nonetheless. (Perhaps a Baz bagel would fare better out of Baz’s hands. That was my hope, at least.) Why stop at bagels, though? Frankel’s has all the classic sandwiches—pastrami, corned beef, Reubens, roast turkey, salami, chopped liver, and brisket—as well as breakfast sandwiches, hot dogs, and latkes. How was I ever supposed to make up my mind?

The first time I went, I ordered a #2 specialty combo (Nova lox, Nova spread, and salmon roe on a bagel), and to be honest, I wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t bad, but it was no different than anything I could’ve gotten at Baz, which isn’t exactly a compliment. The lox was fine, but the salmon roe wasn’t the best, nor was there very much of it—and the sandwich was made with regular cream cheese rather than Nova spread. Oops.

There was no way in hell I was giving up that quickly, though. Far sooner than I’d like to admit, I returned to Frankel’s with Sam in tow, and that time, I was able to sample a little more widely. We split two sandwiches: the #3 specialty combo (Irish organic salmon, whitefish salad, capers, onion, tomato), and the pastrami, egg, and cheese.

Now, the #3 (pictured at the top of this post) was good, but it didn’t exactly leave me wishing for another. Perhaps it would’ve, though, if the ever-important bagel itself had been good, because the whitefish salad was perfect, the onion was cut into super-thin slices that actually made sense in the context of the sandwich (for some reason, this is rare), and the tomato was fresh and flavorful. The bagel itself really left me wanting, though. Baz’s aren’t the slightest bit fluffy, and for some reason, they never taste all that fresh. It’s a shame, because the #3 was otherwise solid.

The pastrami, egg, and cheese (pictured second above, in Sam’s clutches) is another story, though. That thing never fails to make my day, no matter how many times I order it. The egg—which is actually good on its own, unlike that you’ll find in your average bodega sandwich—is absolutely smothered with melted cheese, and the pastrami is peppery, fatty, and tender as can be. The sandwich as a whole is the very definition of “melt in your mouth,” and its contents are so good that they actually manage to make up for that boring-ass Baz bagel. Seriously: Forget about bacon. Pastrami is definitely the superior meat.

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The pastrami, egg, and cheese may be my favorite Frankel’s offering—if we aren’t counting their specials, that is. If we are, though, I might have to go with the heirloom tomato ordeal I had a few weeks ago (immediately above, in an iPhone photo, as I was without my camera that day). It was simple—an open-face bagel topped with tomato, basil, chives, olive oil, and just enough cream cheese—but it was surprisingly tasty.

The tomato, thick cut and actually flavorful, was one of those magnificent treasure-tomatoes you’ll only find at the farmers’ market, and the olive oil, while nothing special in itself, brought the whole creation together wonderfully. God, it was good. I wish it weren’t just a special—but I also don’t, because out-of-season tomatoes suck. (Take note, Baz.)

But don’t get me wrong: I like their simpler sandwiches, too—they just don’t excite me as much as the ones I mentioned above. The brisket (pictured below—on rye, though it usually comes on Amy’s challah) is actually made in house with Grandma Frankel’s recipe in mind, and it’s really goddamn tasty, if a bit too sweet. Plus, the bread comes griddled, which originally went a very long way in winning me over. And though the sandwich as a whole is a little one-note, it certainly makes for a satisfying meal.

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The pastrami and corned beef—while certainly nowhere near as good as anything you’ll find at Katz’s—are decent, too, though I’m not sure I’d order either again. On its own, the pastrami’s on the bland side. What flavor it does have is a bit too hot-doggy for me, but it’s thick-cut, fatty, and, um…present in large quantities, so there’s only so much complaining I can do. The corned beef’s a little worse, though; it just comes off as a fattier version of ham, without anywhere near enough of that signature corned beef tang. Oh well.

Anyway, Frankel’s is a neat little place…despite the fact that they don’t seem to do much of anything. I only wish it were more accessible by train. (The G’s your best bet, though it’s certainly possible to walk over from the L—until it stops running, that is.) Find it at 631 Manhattan Avenue, between Bedford and Nassau.

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Baz Bagel & Restaurant: An absolute godsend

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[Edit: As of October, 2017—or maybe earlier, I have no idea—Baz has started to offer gluten-free bagels made with almond flour. As all the equipment’s shared, I’m no longer comfortable (in the slightest) with Baz, so I’ve gone ahead and taken them off my list. I’ll leave the post up as a record, but if you’re allergic to almonds, I can’t any longer recommend you go to Baz.]

It’s no secret that I love bagels. I have an entire category dedicated to bagels on this blog, and I think I’ve made it clear that I’ll do almost anything for a good one. But safe bagels are really, really tough to find. Bagels themselves almost never contain nuts, sure—but try finding a bagel store that doesn’t do pastries and/or nut-based spreads, too. (Alternatively, don’t bother. I’ve spent hours and hours trying, and it’s pretty much impossible.)

Now, Baz does sell pastries—though you won’t find them on their online menu—but they aren’t made in house, so I’ve been assured that cross-contamination is essentially a non-issue. (I’m not sure—and neither was the woman I spoke with—whether any of the pastries Baz sells actually contain nuts. All she said was that she couldn’t quite guarantee that they were safe, as she didn’t have much information about their baker’s facility. Fair enough.)

Pastries aside, though, I was told via email that “the only thing with tree nuts is almond milk for the coffee. Otherwise, all clear!” To me, this isn’t a huge deal, as almond milk is pretty self-contained. Still, comfort is subjective—so if you’re considering eating at Baz, please be sure to do your own research and only proceed if you feel comfortable doing so.

In any case, felt comfortable enough with the information I’d collected on Baz. (Plus, with food like theirs, how could I resist?) So early last Sunday morning, I made my way over to Grand Street to get myself a long-awaited bagel. For my first Baz experience, I kept it simple: an everything bagel with Nova lox and plain cream cheese—and it certainly satisfied my craving. The bagel itself was fine (not the world’s best, but fine), and the lox was…well, it was lox. Delicious.

An everything bagel with lox, scallion cream cheese, and chives from Baz Bagel

I’ve been back a few times since—I wasn’t kidding about loving bagels—and so far, everything I’ve tried has been wonderful. My two favorites are probably the Mooch (Scottish salmon, sable, cream cheese, tomato, onion, and chives) and the BAZ (Nova, scallion cream cheese, tomato, and onion). If I had to choose, though, I’d probably go with the Mooch, because a) sable’s awesome, b) I prefer the Scottish salmon to the Nova, and c) the chives make a huge difference. I do have one complaint concerning these two sandwiches, though: The tomato sucks. Tomatoes are out of season right now, though—so maybe that’ll improve. [Edit from the future: There was no improvement.]

I’m also a huge fan of the wasabi tobiko cream cheese (even though I generally don’t like the flavor of wasabi). The flavor isn’t too harsh, and the tobiko itself adds a great texture to the bagel-and-cream-cheese combo. The whitefish salad’s good, too (if a bit sweet), and the Nova and chive cream cheese is Nova-heavy and pretty much perfect. Honestly, nearly every spread or spread-like thing I’ve tried at Baz has been decent or better (but maybe that’s just because I know better than to go for some of their stupider offerings—I’m looking at you, blueberry cream cheese).

You can also dine in, if you’re so inclined—though I wouldn’t quite recommend doing so, as the service is (in my experience) painfully slow, and they tend to bring out a complimentary dessert toward the end of the meal, which isn’t ideal for those who are concerned about allergens. No big deal, though; Baz does counter service, too—and they’ll deliver to you (for free!) if you live between Worth and 10th Streets on the north-south axis and 6th Avenue and Essex Street on the east-west axis. (For the rest of us, I suppose there’s always Postmates and Amazon Prime Now.)

Is Baz perfect? No. Cheap? Not at all. Are their bagels the city’s best? Definitely not. But are they the safest bagel place I’ve been able to find in a few years of searching? Well, they certainly seem to be. And hey, their food is pretty damn good. So if you’re as into bagels as I am—or even if you aren’t—I’d certainly say Baz is worth a try. I, for one, am very ready to become a regular.

Anyway, if Baz’s handling of allergens seems like it’d meet your standards, you can find them and their bagels at 181 Grand Street, between Baxter and Mulberry. Beware, though: They get pretty busy around lunchtime, and they close at 4pm.

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Bagel Town: nut-free bagels (or so they say)

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Another trek—this time, to Long Island. And boy, was it an adventure.

Nut-free bagels are really tough to find. Good nut-free bagels are, as far as I know, impossible to find—that is, unless you’re willing to make your way to West Hempstead, where you’ll find Bagel Town: a nut-free, sesame-free, dairy-free, kosher bakery.

To my surprise, Bagel Town isn’t all that hard to reach from the city. My boyfriend and I took the LIRR to Hempstead, walked for 30 seconds, and got on a bus straight to Bagel Town. 40 minutes on the train, 15 on the bus—not too bad, really. Especially for a good bagel. Right?

I got an everything bagel with lox and dairy-free cream cheese, and it was surprisingly good. It was no Donut Pub bagel—that’s for sure. And it definitely blew the artisan bagels at Trader Joe’s out of the water. No complaints, really. (Actually, one complaint: dairy-free cream cheese. Not my thing.)

As I tend to when I’m eating somewhere so far from home, I ordered way too much: a cake pop, a rainbow cookie (one of those tricolor layer cake whatsits—not sure why they get to be called “cookies”), and two more bagels for the road (one everything, one plain).

I also got what I was told was a chocolate croissant (but which was neither chocolate nor croissant). I didn’t eat much of it, but that was just because each bite felt like a theft from my future self who’d undoubtedly want to reheat the thing at home. (It was an acute feeling. I’m not kidding. I wish I were.) Regardless, it was really tasty—even cold.

The cake pop was decent (honestly, it’s the only one I’ve ever had, so I have nothing to compare it to) and the untoasted bagels (which I couldn’t stop myself from picking at) were good, too. Things were going well, and I found myself wishing Bagel Town were nearby so I could stop by for breakfast—you know, like a normal person.

Now, the first words on their website are “nut-free,” and the same words are printed in big-ass font on their awning. There are signs inside that say the same, too. They seemed confident—and so was I. Until I bit into that rainbow cookie.

I spit it out (not because I knew I was allergic, but because it tasted like cough medicine), and immediately my mouth began to itch. I don’t need to describe the reaction—if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably had a few—but suffice it to say it was wholly unpleasant.

Originally, I thought my reaction was probably to some sort of fruit in the jelly (I’ve had mild reactions to some unknown type of fruit once or twice before), but it didn’t feel like a fruit reaction, nor have I ever ended up with a lip the size of your typical NYC bagel because I’d eaten a goddamn berry.

[Edit: Since writing this, I’ve gone to the allergist, and it would appear that I am not allergic to any fruits. Instead, it seems like I have oral allergy syndrome—but OAS reactions generally aren’t systemic (and this reaction was), so I think I can safely say that whatever it was I reacted to wasn’t a fruit.]

When I got home, I did some Googling, and sure enough, I couldn’t find a single recipe for rainbow cookies that didn’t call for almond paste or extract. Huh. I can’t say for sure that there were almonds in the cookie—perhaps there was some sort of cross-contamination at play, or perhaps it was some sort of almond substitute that caused my reaction—but it certainly seems like there were.

I’ve still gone ahead and categorized Bagel Town as truly nut-free, because that’s how they categorize themselves. I’m not sure I trust them, given the cookie—but they’re still ostensibly a nut-free establishment. One that I don’t quite recommend.

Although there is a pharmacy next door.

…The things I do for bagels.

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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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The Donut Pub

A cannoli cream croissant donut from The Donut Pub

It’s extremely rare that I can eat at a bakery, so when I first heard about The Donut Pub, it seemed too good to be true. A nut-free donut shop? With sandwiches? And bagels?! No way.

Way.

According to the FAQ on The Donut Pub’s website, they are the real goddamn deal:

Q. Are you a Nut Free Establishment?
A. WE ARE NUT AWARE. Our on-site bakery does not use nuts, and we have been assured by our suppliers that they deliver nut-free ingredients as specified by their labels. Although we do not allow customers to bring outside food into the Pub, we cannot assure customers a nut-free environment. Thus we call the Donut Pub “Nut Aware.” Note that we supply donuts to the Food Allergy Initiative luncheon.

So no, they don’t call themselves “nut-free.” But by their definitions, “nut-aware” is probably even better. They are, for all intents and purposes, nut-free; they don’t use nuts and they do vet their suppliers. But they’re so careful and so allergy-conscious that they don’t want to make any outright guarantees, which is, to me, a very good sign. No business can guarantee that a nut will never cross the threshold—The Donut Pub’s just decided to be honest about that. So in my eyes, this place is about as safe as it gets.

A

It’s a cute little place, with one long marble countertop and a bunch of stools. The employees are friendly, and they won’t get annoyed when you, too, inevitably feel the need to ask all the questions they’ve been answering on loop all day: “What’s in that one? Oh, and that one? How about that one over there?”

The donuts are pretty tasty, too. They aren’t absolutely incredible, but if you catch the right donut at the right time of day, The Donut Pub can be really, really good. The stock is pretty inconsistent, but it’s always a good day when I walk in and spot whatever it was I was looking for. My favorites, by a long shot, are the cannoli cream croissant donuts and the French crullers, both pictured in the photos above—although my official recommendation would probably be the (plain) glazed croissant donut.

Unfortunately, their bagels aren’t the ones of my dreams. Still, nut-free bagels are notoriously hard to come by, so I’ll often settle for theirs in a pinch. As long as you don’t have your heart set on a fluffy, chewy New York City bagel, one of theirs will do the trick. Beware, though: Their menu advertises scallion cream cheese, but they’re always, always, always “out” of it.

In any case, The Donut Pub is a lovely place. It’s one of my favorites, and I’d certainly still stop by if I didn’t have a nut allergy. In case you aren’t yet convinced, here’s a bonus photo of a tray of croissant donuts, fresh out of the oven at around midnight on a Saturday night:

A tray of croissant donuts at The Donut Pub

See for yourself: 203 West 14th Street, near the corner of 7th Avenue. Worth a try, at the very least.

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