Category Archives: Sweets

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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Sensational Sweets

An assortment of Chippers from Sensational Sweets

Despite my nut allergy, I’ve always felt pretty satisfied with the chocolate at my disposal. There are so many nut-free brands—Vermont Nut Free, PASCHA Chocolate, Dean’s Sweets, Videri Chocolate Factory—and there are tons of regular (i.e. not allergen-free) brands that work for me, too. So it’s not as if I spend much time scouring the Internet for more safe chocolate. (In fact, I intentionally abstain from any such scouring, precisely because I have way more than enough chocolate in my life.)

How did I find Sensational Sweets, then? Well…I didn’t. Sensational Sweets found me—but I’m actually really glad they did. A few weeks ago, one of their employees sent me a message, and—medium-length story short—I now have a box of samples sitting on my coffee table. (Yes, free samples, though I did pay for shipping. Of course, I’ll still be giving my honest opinion—and only my honest opinion.)

Allergen information first, though. Fortunately, at Sensational Sweets (and at Creative Cookie, which is owned by the same folks) there really isn’t much to go over. Their entire facility is nut-free and kosher-certified, and they have some gluten-free products, too. (Here‘s their catalog, which has the words “nut-free” all over it. And here‘s Creative Cookie’s.)

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Onto the products themselves, though. They offer a whole bunch of different stuff, all made to order: Chippers (tiny pieces of white chocolate bark), fudge bites, chocolate-drizzled popcorn, chocolate-covered Oreos, chocolate “pizzas,” chocolate-covered pretzels, Tropical Fruit Crunch (trail mix, but pretzel-based), and Pollylops (chocolate on a stick, basically). And over at Creative Cookie, there are fortune cookies, microwave cakes, microwave fudge, and, um, chip dips. (Don’t ask.)

Out of all those, they sent me some popcorn, a mini-pizza, some fudge bites, a microwavable cake mix, and a whole bunch of Chippers. And to my (admittedly mild) amusement, pretty much nothing was as I expected it to be.

The first thing I tried was the drizzled popcorn (pictured immediately above—as if you don’t know which of the photos in this post is the one of popcorn). Honestly, I’d expected it to be really boring; it’s just chocolate-drizzled popcorn—how good could it be? But for real, this stuff isn’t the slightest bit boring. Somehow, each piece is perfectly sweet, salty, and buttery. None of the flavors ever overwhelm the others, and none of the ingredients taste stale, which isn’t something I get to say anywhere near often enough. Definitely a product I would (and probably soon will) pay for.

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Next came the mini-pizza (rather, the Pizza Patty with Pizzazz—pictured immediately above), another product for which my expectations were totally, totally misguided. I don’t know what I’d imagined. Something bad, no doubt. I guess I expected it to be too sweet, too hard, or too busy, flavor-wise, but it just isn’t any of the above. The chocolate itself—sweet, but not absurdly so—is high-quality, and the texture of the popcorn works surprisingly well with the rest of the “pizza.”

To my absolute astonishment, I ended up really loving this thing (as did Sam—I shared, but only begrudgingly). We agreed: More, please. (And I have a feeling we’re going to end up ordering another at some point in the near-ish future—perhaps even a full-sized “pie,” if I can ever manage to get over the shame I’d feel for paying for such an absurd product.)

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Then, there was cakeMicrowavable birthday cake, which comes with everything needed to make it, cookware (and party supplies) included. It takes maybe five minutes to make—well, it took me five minutes, because I didn’t let it cool before icing—and the whole process is ridiculously easy, too. You just add water to the mix, microwave it (in the container it comes in!), “make” the frosting (more water-adding—this time, with an absurdly small and shallow spoon), and then frost the cake. That’s it.

The final product, pictured immediately above, actually isn’t half bad…for a cake that was five minutes ago literally just two types of powder. It’s nothing special (and why should it be?), but it holds its own against your average cake-mix cake, if you ask me. Plus, it takes a fraction of the effort. No pans dirtied—score.

After the cake, I moved on to the fudge bites—they’re nice and fudgy (duh) with super-moist centers—and then it was time for (what I expected to be) the grand finale: the Chippers tasting.

Pictured below are a bunch of teeny-tiny bags of Chippers, each containing a different flavor: salted caramel, lemon, lime, pumpkin, orange, peach-mango, raspberry, blueberry, grape, espresso, peppermint, and pomegranate. (Honestly, if it had been up to me, I never would’ve ordered any sort of fruity bark—but it wasn’t, so fruity bark I ate.)

A bunch of Sensational Sweets Chippers

Now, these…are strange. They’re just fragments of white chocolate peppered with what really, really taste like crushed Dum-Dums (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the candy bits were crushed Dum-Dums, given that Dum-Dums are top 8–free). Some flavors are all right—I particularly liked salted caramel, peach-mango, and blueberry—but plenty suck. (I guess that’s to be expected, though, as I did try every single flavor, including the ones I never, ever would’ve chosen on my own.)

Grape is unmistakably medicinal, and espresso tastes like Dunkin Donuts smells (not a compliment). Lime tastes like Mr. Clean (not sure whether Mr. Clean is nut-free, so the jury’s still out on that one), and peppermint is absurdly artificial, even compared to the other super-artificial flavors. But the chocolate itself is fine—I’m a big fan of white chocolate, which helps—so the fruitless Chippers are definitely tolerable, at the very least. (Salted caramel is my favorite, mostly because it’s the simplest.)

Anyway. I wish I could say I spaced all this chocolate-sampling over the course of a few days, but I didn’t. I ate it all in a single afternoon, then ordered a pizza before sitting down to write this post. The whole thing was genuinely shameful…but overstuffed as I am, I can’t deny that Sensational Sweets makes some damn good chocolate. With the exception of the Chippers, their sweets (well, those that I’ve tried) are indeed sensational, and I strongly recommend them to anyone who’s into (sugar-intensive, but not intolerably sugary) chocolate.

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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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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.

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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.)

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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.]

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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.]

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Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen

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

[Edit: Today, on August 10th, 2017, Carla Hall announced—to my absolute horror—that her Southern Kitchen would be closing for good. It's like a death in the family. I'll miss this place. A lot.]

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 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, if 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 far 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-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.)

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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 goddamn 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 cole slaw does a lovely job of cutting through that grease.

The potato salad isn't my favorite—I hate sweet potatoes—but it's a formidable grease-cutter, too. The rest of the sides (macaroni and cheese, collard greens, 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.

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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.)

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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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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.

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