Category Archives: Snacks

The Pickle Guys

An employee scooping up some pickled vegetables at The Pickle Guys

A pickle’s just a pickle, right? Wrong. So wrong. These pickles are special, and I already know I’m not going to be able to do them justice. Here’s to trying, though.

When I started eating at Katz’s—and believe me, I started—I stopped eating pickles. Theirs are beautiful, but I just can’t deny how bad they taste. Their new pickles are basically just unadulterated cucumbers (ick! not for me), and their full-sours are just too sour for human consumption. I know, of course, that there are better pickles out there, but…I don’t know. The ones at Katz’s totally demoralized me, so I’ve been off pickles for a while now.

But whenever I walk over to Kossar’s—home of some of the best bagels ever—I can’t help but gaze longingly at The Pickle Guys, a real-deal Lower East Side institution that sells—can you guess?—pickles, and lots of them. But cucumbers are not the only thing The Pickle Guys brine; they also do olives, tomatoes, pineapples, mangoes, beets, peppers, okra, string beans, garlic, turnips, and a whole bunch of other shit, too. (Plus, come Passover, the employees grab their gas masks and head out to the sidewalk to grind up absurd amounts of horseradish. I don’t know about you, but happen to think that’s pretty badass.)

Part of the menu at The Pickle Guys

After walking by enough times (and after doing some Pickle Guys–related reading), I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer. I’d have to stop by, and soon. Before I could, though, I (of course) had to make sure their food wouldn’t kill me—so I sent them an email, asking whether they might have any nuts on-site. Within a day or two, I had my answer: “No we don’t use any tree nuts. We used to carry Almond Stuffed Olives but that was over 2 years ago.” Sweet. (Sour?…I’ll see myself out.)

Anyway, I stopped by on the first day of Sukkot, which meant the store would be closing at 4pm, rather than the usual 6pm. Despite that—or maybe because of it—there was a line out the door and a moderately large crowd of pickle-suckers beside it. (They were loud. The suckers, I mean. I think they were on one of those godforsaken “food tours.” It was disconcerting, on multiple levels.) Really, though, I didn’t mind the crowding (and neither did Sam, who might just love pickles two or three times as much as he loves me). Nothing was going to come between us and our brined produce.

In we went, then.

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Inside, there is not a single frill in sight. The bulk of the teeny-tiny space is occupied by big, red barrels, each carrying a different sort of pickle. One wall’s exposed brick; the other, painted white, bears a menu, above which a single sentence is printed in all caps: “PLEASE KEEP HANDS OUT OF BARRELS.” Noted. There’s a slight breeze (fan-sourced) and a strong, strong smell of all things pickley. Employees move quickly and take orders via shout, scooping pickles into plastic containers, pausing only to offer samples and to poke fun at customers.

The employees are obviously proud of their product, and the customers all seem to know that something good’s about to come their way, so one seems much to mind all the chaos. (Plus, it’s not all that chaotic. The whole affair actually runs rather smoothly, despite its disorganized appearance. It’s quick, easy, and painless—plus, you walk out with pickles. Good deal.)

Though the line was long, it moved quickly—so quickly, in fact, that by the time our turn came, we hadn’t yet decided what to order. I decided to wing it, which resulted in my ending up with a whole bunch of shit: a new pickle, a full-sour, a half-sour, a quart of three-quarter-sours, some sweet gherkins, some Greek olives, a lot of grape tomatoes, and a particularly overstuffed quart of string beans.

Once we’d paid, Sam and I headed over to a nearby park bench for some sampling (and some photos that apparently couldn’t wait. Sorry. For the extra-lame photos and for how much of Sam’s fingers you’re about to see).

First, we ate our singular pickles, beginning with the mildest. Here, from left to right, is a new pickle, a half-sour, and a full-sour:

Three pickles from The Pickle Guys

Now, I’ve literally never enjoyed a new pickle. I have a rule: “fuck the flavor of cucumber.” But I’m happy to make an exception for these pickles. I think I like them so much because they aren’t just cucumber-y; they’re also just salty enough, just sour enough, just far enough from your average cucumber that they’ve actually been able to win me over. And like the rest of The Pickle Guys’s pickles, these have a snap (and spray!) that’s straight-up absurd. Like, holy shit. I’ve never bit into a pickle so satisfying.

The half-sours and three-quarter-sours are great, too. Naturally, they’re just what you’d expect: a sourer (and sourer yet) version of the new pickle I so loved. I don’t really have a preference between the two—which I’d rather eat probably depends on little more than my mood—so I’ll leave it at this: Both are good. So good.

With regard to the full-sour…well, it was my least favorite of the bunch, but I blame that on the facts that (a) I ate it last, when I was probably a little pickled out; (b) I ate it alone (that is, without the sort of grease-soaked entree such a sour pickle usually balances out; and (c) I spilled some of its (near-overabundant) juice on my pants, which, um, gave me a little bit of a bias, I guess. Still, a great pickle (if you’re into full-sours), and a worthy companion to a deliciously greasy meal.

But we didn’t stop there. (How could we have?!) Below (clockwise, beginning on the upper left) is a pint of string beans, a half-pint of Greek olives, a half-pint of sweet gherkins, and a half-pint of grape tomatoes:

Pickled string beans, Greek olives, grape tomatoes, and

The string beans are nice and snappy, but thinner and more manageable than a regular pickle, were delicious, and the grape tomatoes, which seriously taste like they were fresh from the farmers’ market, are even better. Sam and I liked them so much, in fact, that we ended up re-braving the line to get our hands on an additional pint (which was also when we picked up the pint—yes, pint—of three-quarter-sours).

That was where our fun ended, though. Neither of us much enjoyed the sweet gherkins (too sweet!), nor were we able to find much use for the Greek olives (too salty!), so we ended up giving them away. Honestly, neither product was bad; they just weren’t…to our tastes, though I’m sure they’d be fine in the right hands (or dish).

There are still approximately half a billion Pickle Guys products I want to try: pineapples, bread & butter pickles, tomatoes (both sliced and unsliced), and some other types of olives, to name a few. But it’ll be a while, because at the moment, my fridge is well over its pickle capacity. They keep for a while, though—and I can’t stop eating them—so I’m really not all that worried.

In any case, if I haven’t yet made it clear enough: The Pickle Guys is a lovely, lovely, store, and their pickles are practically unbeatable.

Find The Pickle Guys at 49 Essex Street, between Grand and Hester. They’re strictly kosher, though—so don’t even think of stopping by on the Sabbath.

P.S. Here‘s some awesome pickle-related fiction, which I highly recommend.

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Eleni’s: NYC’s Only Nut-Free Bakery

A wall of nut-free cookies at Eleni's

[Edit: As of the new year—that’s 2017—Eleni’s has closed its Chelsea Market storefront. Everything’s still available through their website, though.]

Eleni’s just might be New York City’s most well-known nut-free establishment. At the very least, it’s the city’s only full-fledged nut-free bakery. And, it’s (to my dismay…) one of the first few Google results for “nut-free New York”—or it was a few months ago, before Google decided to start kissing my ass and showing me (and me alone) my own blog above all else. In any case, Eleni’s is important, so I figured it was about time I write about it.

Boring stuff out of the way first, though. Eleni’s is 100% nut-free, in the most legitimate sense of the term. There are no peanuts or tree nuts allowed in their bakery, and they require allergen statements from all of their vendors, too. They also test periodically for the presence of nuts in both their bakery and their Chelsea Market storefront. (And by the way, all their products are kosher, too.)

img_6613Nut-free chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting from Eleni's

Located within Chelsea Market, Eleni’s is sort of out of the way. On the bright side, though, it’s maybe a 30-second walk from Los Tacos No. 1, which consistently churns out some of the best tacos in this city. That place is seriously delightful, and actually motivates me to deal with the straight-up horrors of Chelsea Market. But I’m here to talk about Eleni’s, so I’d better, um…get to doing that.

Eleni’s sells a pretty wide array of products—cupcakes (traditional and mason-jarred), brownies, popcorn, whoopie pies, chocolate-covered pretzels, and, of course, cookies: hand-iced cookies, soft cookies, crisp cookies, photo-printed cookies, and even colorable cookies. Very obviously, the place is geared toward children—which would be fine by me if its products were good enough to pass the adult (or quasi-adult) taste test. Unfortunately, though, most aren’t.

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Cupcakes and cookies are clearly the bakery’s main focus, so you might expect those, at least, to be good. But they aren’t. The cupcakes, though cute-as-can-be, are ridiculously sweet, and the cookies…well, they’re hit-or-miss. The boxed cookies (i.e. the crisp cookies, which are, I think, the only Eleni’s product sold in grocery stores) are good, but the hand-iced cookies are, again, too sweet (and too expensive). For (what I hope to be) obvious reasons, I’ve never tried the Color Me! cookies, but they seem to be nearly the same as the hand-iced cookies, minus some color. And then there are the soft cookies—good when they’re soft, but rock-hard (and pretty bad) by the end of the day.

Still, the cupcakes (and the super-sweet cookies) are absolutely perfect for children. As a kid, I know I would’ve loved each and every one of Eleni’s cupcakes, should they ever have found their way into my greedy, sticky five-year-old paws. But they didn’t, and now I’m 20, with a palate that’s (only a little) less tolerant of absurd amounts of sugar, so I have a hard time getting through even a single Eleni’s cupcake. Oh well.

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The brownies, though, are another story. They’re rich and chocolatey, without being overly sweet—and all the varieties (chocolate chip, cheesecake, salted caramel, and s’mores) are pretty damn good. Beware, though: they, too, transform into something else by the end of the day, having lost all their moisture (and having become rather icky indeed). If you can manage to snag one early, though, I’d certainly recommend doing so, as it’s not easy to find nut-free brownies as good as these.

I also love, love, love the chocolate-covered pretzels. I don’t have much to say about them—they’re just your average, run-of-the-mill chocolate-covered pretzels, with (fortunately) no frills or added “bonuses”—but I have a special place in my heart for them, given how difficult it is to find nut-free chocolate-covered pretzels. (Seriously. Try looking for safe ones in stores. You won’t find any.) They’re grotesquely overpriced, sure. But they’re safe, and they’re tasty, so I buy them.

Aside from the brownies and the pretzels, though, there isn’t much at Eleni’s that I buy often. I always want a cupcake or two, but I (sort of) know better than to spend any more money on a product I know I don’t like, so usually, I find the self-control to abstain. The same goes for the whoopie pies—I know they’re too sweet, but I always, always want one. As long as I can quickly redirect myself toward the brownies, though, things tend to turn out all right.

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I’ve been pretty mean to Eleni’s, I know. It isn’t my fault their bakers are so heavy on the sugar, obviously—but I do feel bad for hating on the place, given its lovely mission. I mean, come on: it’s a decidedly nut-free bakery. How many of those exist in the entire world, even? New York City has The Donut Pub and Everybody Eats, sure—but the former’s a one-trick pony, and the latter’s gluten-free (and focused almost exclusively on bread, anyway). Eleni’s is, as far as I know, the only nearby business of its kind—so what kind of a person would I be if I weren’t grateful for its existence?

Anyway, I’m (sort of) sorry for trash-talking the place. For those of you who need to steer clear of nuts—which is only, like, 60% of my readership, for reasons that are totally beyond me—I’d say Eleni’s is definitely worth a try. Especially if you’re really into sugar (and especially-especially if you have children).

Find Eleni’s inside of Chelsea Market, which is itself located at 75 9th Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets. (Or, if it’s just the boxed cookies you’re after, check out Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Gourmet Garage, Grace’s Marketplace, or Morton Williams.)

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Cascadian Farm Organic Granola & Granola Bars

Four Cascadian Farm Vanilla Chip granola bars

Allergy-friendly granola bars are pretty tough to find. Quaker Chewy Bars are all right, but most come with “may contain” warnings—and Special K bars, which work for me, grow old after a box or two. Don’t Go Nuts‘s bars aren’t granola, nor are Enjoy Life‘s; MadeGood‘s are tiny and unsatisfying, and 88 Acres‘s are nearly impossible to find. Pickings are slim, I tell you. Slim indeed.

Are nut-free (just nut-free—not gluten-free or dairy-free or taste-free) granola bars really so ludicrous a request? Apparently, yes.

One brand that works for me, though, is Cascadian Farm. At first glance, the company doesn’t look all that allergy-friendly—plenty of their products contain almonds, for example—but it isn’t all that bad, as far as regular (i.e. not allergen-free) companies go.

I spent a few weeks trying (in such vain) trying to get Cascadian Farm to give me a straight answer on whether they label for shared lines, etc. via email before finally giving in and picking up the phone, at which point I found out that they’ll issue “may contain” warnings for the top 8 allergens (plus sesame, sunflower, and mollusks) if there’s any concern whatsoever of cross-contamination.

I pressed further—a lot of companies will say similar things and then go on to not label for shared lines, for example—but everything I was told sounded pretty promising. Corporate answers can be tough to decode, even when they’re coming from an actual human being on the other end of a phone line—but the gist, from what I gathered, was that Cascadian Farm does label for shared lines, shared facilities, and (according to the representative I spoke with) anything other factors that may be cause for concern.

I’m comfortable, then, with any of their products that don’t have a warning printed on the box (or bag). And their bars—well, a lot of them, at least—don’t come bearing any such warnings, so I guess I have to be on board.

Four unwrapped Cascadian Farm Vanilla Chip granola bars

Taste-wise, the bars are nothing special—actually, they’re sort of dull, even as granola bars go—but they’re much, much better than those put out by most decidedly allergen-free companies. My favorite flavor is the Vanilla Chip, made with oats, crisped rice, and white chocolate chips. As a whole, it isn’t particularly flavorful, but the chip-heavy bites really do it for my sweet tooth, which is probably why I find myself coming back to these bars over and over (and over).

Chocolate Chip is very similar, though a little less sweet (duh—it’s the same bar, with the white chocolate swapped out for semisweet) and thus a little less addictive, too. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan, but it isn’t particularly bad. It’s just not as sugary as I’d like it to be (which is probably a good thing, as reluctant as I am to say so).

To tell you the truth, Vanilla and Chocolate Chip are the only varieties I’ve tried. (What can I say? I’m boring—and these bars aren’t cheap. I’m not exactly going to jump at the opportunity to throw an additional $5 at a box of granola bars that may or may not suck.) Cascadian Farm makes a bunch of other chewy bars, though—Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Dark Chocolate Cranberry Trail Mix, Harvest Berry, Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter Chip, and Sweet & Salty Peanut Butter—as well as a few crunchy bars, protein bars, soft-baked squares, and some loose granola, too. All of the above should be safe, too—provided the box in question is without a “may contain” warning of any sort.

Find Cascadian Farm’s products all over the place: at Target, Walmart, Food Emporium (RIP, my dying friend), ShopRite, Whole Foods, Key Food, Morton Williams, Stop & Shop, and probably a whole lot of other stores, too.

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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.)

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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.]

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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 they don’t openly classify themselves as such, and 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.

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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.

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Halfpops

halfpops

Apparently, some people have a thing for the half-popped popcorn that’s usually at the bottom of the bag. And while I’m definitely not one of those people—who are they, and what’s wrong with them?—I have to admit that Halfpops are actually all right.

Allergy information first, though. Halfpops’ exceedingly irritating FAQ clearly states that each and every one of their products is nut- and gluten-free, so that’s that, I suppose. (Seriously, though. Their FAQ is annoying as hell, as is the rest of their website. Why they insist on harping on how portable their snacks are, I have no idea. Halfpops are exactly as portable as regular popcorn—but I digress.)

Online pandering aside, Halfpops do taste okay. (Imagine a softer Corn Nut, and that’s basically a Halfpop.) As of right now, they come in seven flavors: Aged White Cheddar, Angry Kettle Corn, Caramel & Sea Salt, Butter & Sea Salt, Brooklyn Dill Pickle, Black Truffle & Sea Salt, and Chipotle BBQ. My favorite, by far, is the Black Truffle & Sea Salt—in fact, it’s the only one I’ve tried that I actually like. Unlike so many inexpensive “truffled”products, these actually have a noticeable truffle element to them—and a pleasant one, at that. I’m definitely a fan.

The worst flavor I’ve tried is probably the Caramel & Sea Salt. As soon as I opened the bag and got a whiff of those things, I knew they wouldn’t be for me—and they weren’t. “Cloying” is probably the least offensive adjective I can use to describe them—they’re way, way, way too sweet, without anywhere near enough salt to balance out the sugar, and I can say with confidence that I do not like these. Not one bit.

Somewhere toward the middle of the Halfpops spectrum are the Aged White Cheddar—which (to its credit) tastes a whole lot like Smartfood, but without all the popcorn fluff that the folks behind Halfpops insists is so undesirable—and the Butter & Sea Salt, which is a little heavy on the butter flavoring. Brooklyn Dill Pickle is okay, too, if you want to be overwhelmed with vinegar, but I…don’t, so that one’s probably another flavor I’ll have to avoid.

The problem with most of Halfpops’ flavors is simple, though: the seasoning is way too strong. Perhaps if they’d tone it down a smidge, I’d be on board—but for now, I think I’ll stick with the Black Truffle & Sea Salt. (Or, you know, regular popcorn, despite its terribly unportable nature.)

Find Halfpops at Stop & Shop, REI, and ShopRite.

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The Good Bean Chickpea Snacks

The Good Bean chickpea snacks

I can’t say I’ve ever found myself craving a handful of roasted chickpeas, but if I ever did…well, these would do the trick. They’re a little weird, but they aren’t bad—and they’re a whole lot better for you than, like, Funyuns (or whatever it is that you can’t stop shoveling into your mouth).

Two of The Good Bean’s three products—their chickpea snacks and their bean chips—are made in a dedicated nut-free facility. Their fruit & no-nut bars, while themselves nut-free, are made in a facility that does handle both tree nuts and peanuts (though The Good Bean uses Good Manufacturing Practices to reduce the risk of cross-contamination), so they’re perhaps a bit less safe than the chickpea snacks and the bean chips. Still, they’re a viable option for many with nut allergies, and if I could find them, I’d give them a try.

I haven’t come across the bean chips or the fruit & no-nut bars, but I have eaten my fair share of the roasted chickpeas, and as usual, I have some opinions. First off, let me be clear about one thing: These things are extremely dry. Get more than three or four of them in your mouth at once and it’s like trying to revitalize sawdust with your tongue. In small bites, though, they’re manageable—and I actually kind of like them.

The sea salt flavor is the best one I’ve tried. It’s simple and to-the-point, and it’s actually pretty addictive, once you get used to the texture. My least favorite was definitely sweet cinnamon; I couldn’t even get through the portion I used for the photograph above. It’s just so wishy-washy—too sweet to be savory and too savory to be sweet, and not at all pleasant to eat in any quantity. So when the urge hits, I guess I’ll just stick with the sea salt for now. (A lot of the other flavors have proven hard to find, but I think I’m all right with that.)

Anyway, if roasted chickpeas have been calling you—or if my glowing review has won you over—you can find The Good Bean’s products at Stop & Shop, Duane Reade, Zabar’s, and various health food–oriented markets across the city. (Perhaps you’ll even be able to find all the flavors and products I couldn’t. Good luck.)

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A Guide to Tree Nut–Free Peanuts and Peanut Butters

You can spend as much time as you’d like combing through Google results; you won’t find much in the way of information on tree nut–free peanut products. I’ve been complaining about this for a while (and I’ve blogged about it before, no doubt) but I figure it’s probably time to actually do something about the issue.

So…I have. I reached out to approximately half a billion peanut and peanut butter companies, and this post is the result. I’ve only included companies that are reasonably allergy-friendly, so if a brand’s not on this list, I’ve either never come across it or I’ve come across it and found that it’s probably not a viable option for those with nut allergies. (Or! A handful of stick-in-the-mud customer-service representatives have kept me from being able to find out much of anything about a company’s facilities. That happens a lot, actually.)

The products that have made this list are peanuts and peanut butters that probably won’t kill you…if you’re allergic to tree nuts and tree nuts alone, that is. And if you can’t eat peanuts (or if you’re in the mood for a change of pace), scroll down to the bottom of this guide for a section on other nut-free spreads.

(Looking for tree nuts free from cross contamination with other tree nuts?)

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New French Bakery

newfrenchbakery

I wish I could say I’d found a nut-free French bakery, but…I haven’t. What I have found is a nut-free bread company that supplies packaged “take & bake” breads to various supermarkets. So French bakery? Not quite. Useful product, though? Definitely.

New French Bakery doesn’t advertise itself as nut-free, but there’s nothing about tree nuts (or peanuts) on any of the packaging. That doesn’t mean all that much, though, so I sent an email to double-check. Within a day, I received the following reply: “Yes, our facility is tree nut and peanut free.” So that’s that, I suppose.

I’ve categorized New French Bakery as “truly nut-free,” but really, things aren’t so black-and-white. These companies exist on an allergy-friendliness spectrum, and I’d say this one’s probably a bit less nut-free (whatever sense that makes) than a company like Enjoy Life, which requires allergen statements from suppliers, employs batch testing, and is generally defined by its allergy-friendliness. Still, a nut-free facility is a nut-free facility—it’d be silly to expect anything more.

I picked up a bag of the French dinner rolls at Gristedes (the only place I can seem to find these things) and froze them that day, as the packaging recommends. A week or so later, I threw a few into the oven for 12 minutes and ate them with some cheese, and they were all right, but certainly not anything worth getting excited over. Had they not been warm, they would’ve been pretty lame—but warm bread is warm bread, so I couldn’t be all that disappointed.

From what I’ve tried, it seems as though New French Bakery’s bread is, at the very least, a few steps above most of the bread you’ll find at the supermarket—and it’s nut-free, too, which certainly helps its cause. It’ll do in a pinch, and it’ll certainly do if you’re accustomed to being denied bread.

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