Category Archives: Truly nut-free

Baked Cravings

An assortment of cupcakes from Baked Cravings

I don’t like cupcakes, and I don’t know a single post-pubescent with a palate who does. As baked goods, they’re fatally flawed: there’s the dry, crumbly cake that’s no good on its own, but that ceases to even register when eaten with frosting—and then there’s the frosting itself, always present in an obnoxious dollop, always blunt and harsh and critically oversweet, never even a third as good as it looks.

Only bad cupcakes are like that, you might say. And you’d be right. But the vast majority of cupcakes are bad. Yes, I’m sure there are a number of NYC bakeries that have subtle, balanced, pleasant cupcakes to offer, but not to me, nor anyone else who avoids cross-contamination with nuts. At most bakeries—and at virtually all of the good ones—the chance of cross-contamination is just too high. And the few, few, few nut-free bakeries that do exist seem to have devoted all their attention to the whole nut-free thing, and not nearly enough to the whole, uh, what-are-we-actually-baking-and-what-does-it-taste-like-and-will-anyone-but-a-six-year-old-actually-enjoy-it thing.

So I don’t eat cupcakes. Or crave them, really. On occasion, I’ll think back to the cupcakes of my childhood—my pre-careful days, when I’d eat anything handed to me—with nostalgia. But I can count on that nostalgia’s tendency to evaporate the second I bite into one of those jarringly sweet cupcakes of my current life. Wherever they’re from, they all produce in me the same Series of Unfortunate Effects: tooth pain, then moderate annoyance, followed by reluctant admission that cupcakes are probably just one of those things that’s incredible in childhood, but perpetually underwhelming thereafter—like Six Flags, or Christmas.

A tray of cranberry-orange

Now that I’ve effectively stuck my tongue out at Big Cupcake—dedicated readers will probably know where I’m going with this, as I only have about six or seven blog-post formulas, and Hate-Treatise-as-Introduction tends to lead into a post filled with effusive praise—I’ll allow myself to get into what I’m really here to get into, which is, of course, Baked Cravings, a cupcake spot that opened its doors last month, up on the corner of 105th and Lex. (Like 106 and Park, but different.)

Really, this place is exceptional. It has so many qualities of note, and I’m itching to list them all. First and foremost, though, is its nut-free status. Each and every product sold at Baked Cravings—mostly cupcakes, for now—is truly, truly, truly nut-free. Here’s the bakery’s nut-free statement, reproduced in its entirety:

As fathers, Craig and Rui understand the severity of nut allergies. To create desserts accessible for children to enjoy in schools, Baked Cravings have dedicated themselves to build and maintain a nut-free facility. Using only the highest quality ingredients sourced from nut-free vendors, following strict packing processes and conducting regular tests to provide pastries for children to enjoy and parents to trust.

Bang.

(Nut-free facility, nut-free vendors, regular testing for the presence of allergens—there literally isn’t anything else I’d dream of asking for, so I felt a standalone “Bang.” was the most appropriate response. Seriously, though: This is model-worthy protocol, and I’m impressed.)

A close-up of a tray of cupcakes from Baked Cravings

But ignore, for a moment, everything but flavor. (And I do say this with the understanding that ignoring is not something we nut-allergic often get to do. Allergy-friendliness is the most important variable; anything else comes second, if it comes up at all—and I say this as self-appointed Queen of Making Excuses for Shitty Restaurants That Happen to be Able to Feed Me Safely.)

Ignore how cute the cupcakes are. Ignore that they’re reasonably priced, and ignore that they’re made with reasonable (i.e. “real”) ingredients. Ignore that the place is two blocks from the train. Ignore that the guys who run it are probably the nicest (and coolest) people I’ve met in my blog-related adventures—and ignore, too, that they’re obviously passionate about what they’re doing. Ignore the nut-free facility. Ignore the vendor-vetting. Ignore the allergen-testing. Ignore everything but taste of the goddamn cupcakes—the only thing that really matters (because we’re ignoring our allergies here, remember?)—and you’ll still be immensely pleased with Baked Cravings.

I am, at least. And I hate cupcakes. (See? Formulaic as Enfamil.)

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I first stopped by last week, after a (wonderful) lunch at Taco Mix. Stuffed with al pastor, and feeling as we do about cupcakes, neither Sam nor I was all that excited about all the sugar in store for us. But I have this silly blog to run, and Sam’s stomach might be an actual bottomless pit, so we soldiered on.

We didn’t regret it. We sampled seven cupcakes (red velvet, red velvet–strawberry, carrot, vanilla, chocolate, peach, and cranberry-orange), and we both loved nearly every single thing about every single one. The cakes were all absurdly moist—great on their own, even—and the frostings, though sweet, yes, are nowhere near as overbearing as, say, the ones you’ll find at Eleni’s. In fact, none of these frostings are unpleasant in the slightest: compared to most, they’re gentle and delicate, and instead of overpowering the cakes, they do a lovely job of enhancing them.

Red velvet was the first I went for, followed by red velvet–strawberry (standard red velvet, but with strawberry icing). The former, a classic, is just right: fairly chocolatey, with a sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting that’s surprisingly well-balanced. And the latter’s strawberry frosting tastes much more like strawberry + frosting than icky, artificial-tasting strawberry frosting. It’s light and subtle and so, so creamy—far creamier than it is sweet, which I assure you is a very, very good thing.

A peach cupcake from Baked Cravings

Peach, immediately above, is refreshingly real-fruity, too. Its cinnamon- and nutmeg-heavy cake is a little too pumpkin-spicy for me, but I absolutely love its frosting, which is made with bits of honest-to-goodness peach—and I feel the same about carrot, which has never been my favorite sort of cake, but which is topped with a sharp, tangy (cream cheese?) frosting that I can’t stop sticking my fingers in.

To my surprise, both the plain-olds—chocolate with chocolate frosting, and vanilla with vanilla frosting—are remarkably good, too. Faced with options like red velvet and peach, you’d think chocolate or vanilla would amount to throwaways. Not these, though. Chocolate’s deep, rich, and mousse-like, and vanilla…well, forgive me, but I’m going to go ahead and describe this one as the ideal type of the not-too-sweet vanilla cupcake I’ve been chasing since childhood. It’s just what I’ve been looking for in each and every nasty, cloying, piece-of-shit vanilla-flavored confection I’ve subjected myself to over the course of the last decade or so—the 21-year-old’s equivalent of the highlight of the 6-year-old’s day.

Finally, there’s cranberry-orange (pictured second above), the weirdest Baked Cravings offering, and probably my favorite, too. The cake, perhaps the least sweet of the bunch, makes me think “muffin” well before I think “cupcake,” but that’s not a complaint in the slightest. And though the cake isn’t identifiably orangey, it is dotted with chewy bits of cranberry—much more to my taste, anyway. On top, there’s marshmallow frosting, which sounds terrible, but which is actually delicious. It’s sweeter than the other frostings, but it’s not too sweet, and its added thickness makes its added sweetness worthwhile (and then some).

A tray of cupcakes from Baked Cravings

But I’ve gone on too long—half because I’m so excited about these cupcakes, and half because I decided I really couldn’t winnow out any more of these photos. I’ll wrap it up, though. For the greater good.

I’ll end, then, with this: We nut-allergic are usually confined to the bottom tier of the baked-goods world. Sometimes, we’ll find a company that lets us get in on something tolerable, and we’ll get excited. We’ll tell our friends and family, we’ll post the product to a Facebook group, we might even write a blog post about it—knowing full well it’s slop, but grateful for that slop nonetheless. (We’re expert bad-food apologists, after all.) Sometimes, though—very nearly never, actually—we’ll find a company that lets us try some of the good stuff. Not the good-for-a-nut-free-product stuff, but the real-deal good stuff.

That’s Baked Cravings. Baked Cravings, whose cupcakes actually manage to rival all that gourmet danger-food I so loved to eat as a child. That’s a huge compliment, and a two-fold one, too: I mean both that these cupcakes rival those high-end, nutty-bakery cupcakes I was comfortable eating as a less-careful child, and that these cupcakes actually manage to live up to the impossible cupcake-ideal I (and most children) formed in childhood. I can’t say the same about any other nut-free bakery’s, nor any store-bought brand’s. Truly, these are special.

Find Baked Cravings at 1673 Lexington Avenue, on the corner of 105th Street. For now, it’s mostly cupcakes—but I’m told there’s lots more in the works. So go forth. Please. These guys deserve the attention.

P.S. Eleni who?

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SkinnyPop

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I can’t say I have a hard time finding nut allergy–friendly popcorn. As I’ve recently explained, I’m decidedly not of the call-every-company-about-every-product school, and most bagged popcorns I’ve found are indeed advisory label–free. Given all that, I’ve never had much trouble finding popcorn I’m comfortable with. Which means there’s no apparent reason, then, for me to be posting about SkinnyPop. I haven’t found anything unusual, nor anything game-changing—but this stuff is made in a nut-free facility, and I happen to be addicted to it, so. Here we go.

Before I get into anything else—and believe me, I have a lot of stupid shit to get into—I should probably go through allergens, etc. So: All of SkinnyPop’s products (popped popcorn, microwave popcorn, and popcorn cakes) are free from nuts, peanuts, dairy, soy, egg, and gluten. It’s all vegan, non-GMO (big whoop…), and kosher, and it’s free from preservatives, etc., too. SkinnyPop’s marketing really tries to play it off as healthy—it’s called SkinnyPop, after all—but as you probably already know if you’ve spent any time on this blog, that has approximately nothing to do with why I’m writing about this stuff.

Anyway. It’s taken me right around 20 years of life on this planet to realize that I hate most bagged popcorns: if it isn’t too “buttery,” it’s usually way too salty, and if it’s neither, it’s almost always way too bland. I know, I know: Get off your doughy ass and pop your own goddamn popcorn, you opinionated sluggard. I know! But popcorn is, to me, exclusively a no-effort snack. If I wanted to spend 10 minutes over the stove, I’d fry an egg or make some pasta. But I don’t. When I’m in a popcorn mood, I want to go straight from the cabinet to the most-sunken corner of my couch, and then I want to immediately start shoveling that popcorn, handful by handful, into the frightening chasm that is my open mouth.

SkinnyPop's ingredients

And you know what? SkinnyPop’s original just happens to be the perfect popcorn for such shoveling. There’s no squicky “butter” flavor, nor is there an overabundance of salt. In fact, SkinnyPop’s net moderate saltiness is probably my favorite thing about it. Most pieces are (just a little) under-salted, but every few handfuls, you’ll find a perfect piece or two. Now, if every piece were so “perfect” (read: salty as fuck), a handful or two of SkinnyPop would be overwhelming. But the “rarity” of the salty bits makes those salty bits cherish-worthy, and that‘s what keeps me shoveling this stuff into my mouth: I can’t help but chase the salt.

Here, because I’m an intellectual who’s read approximately 40% of the Nicomachean Ethics (and who’s just declared a minor in philosophy—please clap), I’m compelled to go into a whole hokey-jokey thing about how SkinnyPop, with its modest saltiness that rests precisely at the mean between the relevant extremes of under- and over-salt, teaches a popcorn-related sort of temperance. (After all, you really don’t need to be excessive when you’ve got SkinnyPop showing off the perks of moderation. I’d know—I’ve tried adding salt…)

When I eat this stuff, I feel like I’m honing in on virtue. And I enjoy it—it being both the lack of over-salt and the performing of the virtuous act—so thoroughly that I’ve no choice but to conclude that I must really be virtuous. Right? (Yada yada yada. This whole Aristotle thing was actually how I was planning on opening this post, so consider yourself lucky that I’ve downgraded it to a self-conscious interlude.)

Thing is, the whole virtuous-act thing is totally negated by the fact that this popcorn is particularly suited for binge-eating, precisely because of its fixture at the mean between the relevant extremes. I can’t plow through a bag of salt-corn or keep myself chewing on the bland stuff; I need SkinnyPop’s consistent inconsistency to rope me in and keep me shoveling. And while I don’t want to want to binge-eat, I certainly do want a popcorn that compels me to. And as I sit here—on that most-sunken couch cushion, where else?—trying not to pick too much at popcorn I’m supposed to be photographing, I can say with confidence that SkinnyPop does just that.

Find it just about everywhere: Duane Reade, Walgreens, CVS, 7-Eleven, Whole Foods, Food Emporium, Gristedes, D’Agostino, Key Food, Fairway, Target…I’ll stop.

[I realize, of course, that I’ve spent this whole post on just one of a total of fourteen SkinnyPop products. That’s because I’m somewhat of a popcorn purist, so I’ve never actually tried any of SkinnyPop’s more-colorful offerings. As for the popcorn cakes…they’re fine, I guess, if you’re into that sort of thing. They’re too similar to rice cakes for my liking, but there’s nothing wrong with them, really.]

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SunButter

A Jar of Natural Crunch SunButter

I know what you’re thinking: “What’re you doing blogging about SunButter? It’s a peanut butter substitute, and you’re only allergic to tree nuts!” But you, who were almost certainly not thinking the above, can rest assured that I’m well aware of my ability to eat peanut butter. I’ve chosen to post about SunButter because it’s both (a) decidedly tree nut–free, too—and thus well within the scope of this blog—and (b) damn good, to the extent that I often freely choose to use it instead of its more-allergenic cousin.

Before we move on, though, let’s go back—to the school cafeteria that served me the majority of my age-3 to age-14 lunches. Toward the beginning of my time at that school, nuts weren’t banned. There’d be the occasional offering of nut-containing macaroons or baklava, and there was always peanut butter around, too. Eventually, the administration instituted a few peanut tables (at which you were required to sit if you wanted to eat peanuts), but that rule didn’t last long. By the time I was 7 or 8, they’d outlawed all nuts—but I never really thought of that change in terms of myself or my own allergies, really, given that there were never all that many tree nuts in their cooking to begin with. The only real day-to-day difference was the glaring absence of peanut butter.

But I liked peanut butter, so I was as annoyed as any of the nut-unallergic kids. (My grade had one other nut-allergic kid, whom I’d always look to—across the room, as we didn’t really know each other—for reassurance before I’d be willing to bite into my own serving of the school-birthday food in question. I don’t think he ever did find out that he was my food-allergy guinea pig. Oh well.) And my school’s introduction of SunButter did approximately nothing to make me feel better. In fact, I hated it. We all hated it. It tasted funny—like it’d been left out in the sun, we 2nd-Grade experts at observational comedy declared. And our school had us all scooping the stuff out of a big ol’ communal tub, too, which really didn’t help.

The reason it sucked, though, was because it was peanut butter we unallergic were after. SunButter isn’t made from peanuts; it’s made from sunflower seeds, and it tastes like it’s made from sunflower seeds. I don’t know what it’s like for people who’ve never eaten peanut butter (or for people who haven’t had peanut butter in years), but I do know this: If you have a decent sense of what peanut butter tastes like, and you’re expecting SunButter to taste the same, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s approximately the same—the texture’s essentially identical, and the flavor is rather similar—but the difference is noticeable enough to produce that dreaded effect of off-ness that you’ll get from nearly every single allergen(s)-replaced product out there.

So because of that—because I was a little repulsed by SunButter as it comes across when it’s meant to pass for peanut butter—I’ve spent the better part of the last decade staying far, far away from the stuff. Last year, though, when I gave Free2b’s sun cups a try, I was forced to reconsider. I absolutely loved the sunflower-seed butter they’d used—and it tastes just like the SunButter I used to hate. Something had to give.

The deal, I think, was that I’d recently grown to appreciate sunflower seeds, so when I bit into that sunflower-butter cup, it was a sunflower-y flavor I was hoping for. I wasn’t expecting peanut butter, nor was I expecting a seamless substitute; I was expecting ground-up sunflower seeds, and that expectation made all the difference. And sure enough, when I (for science) closed my eyes and forced myself to expect a Reese’s Cup, the Free2b cup turned unpleasant.

I guess what I’m trying to say, then, is that if you treat SunButter like a specialty item—if you go into it expecting something decidedly different from peanut butter, that is—then 10 times out of 10, it’ll taste great. You have to want all the differences, though. Compared to peanut butter, SunButter is earthier, sourer. Deeper, more nuanced. And ever-so-slightly funky, too. Truly, it tastes just like sunflower seeds—and once you’ve come to terms with that (ultimately delightful) fact, this stuff really starts to rival peanut butter.

A SunButter-and-jelly sandwich

I like it fine on its own, and it’s good on bananas, too, but in my always-humble opinion, SunButter performs best in an SB&J (that’s a SunButter-and-jelly sandwich—keep up). The sandwich, like (well, because of) the SunButter itself, won’t taste right if it’s specifically peanut butter you’re after, but again: If you expect somewhat of a riff on a PB&J—and if you’ve really, truly gotten yourself ready to accept the sunflower seed as your Lord and Savior—then you’ll be handsomely rewarded with what I’m going to have to insist is an objectively superior sandwich. (Sorry. Can’t explain why. It’s just better.)

Anyway. SunButter comes in all your standard peanut-butter varieties—natural, creamy, crunchy, organic, and no sugar added—and each and every one is entirely free from peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, dairy, egg, sesame, and soy. I like the crunchy best (though it only comes “natural,” and so it does separate), but all are fine, really—provided you, like me, have turned yourself over to the Almighty Sunflower.

Find SunButter at Whole Foods, Best Market, Target, Walmart, Fairway, or Foodtown. Grab a coupon, though, because this stuff is expensive.

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Sweet Middles

Three crème brulée Sweet Middles

I find a lot of decidedly nut-free nonsense in the bowels of this city’s low-end supermarkets. Lofthouse cookies, Everyday Favorites (i.e. Maplehurstcupcakes, box after box of shitty (nut-free) donuts…there’s no shortage. I hardly ever buy any of it, because I’m well aware that all of it is sub-par and way, way, way too sugary—but every once in a while, I “forget” all about that and let myself be marketed to.That’s how I end up with something like a box of Sweet Middles on my kitchen counter. Waiting to be sampled. Waiting to be photographed. Waiting to be written about. Waiting. Waiting.

…Well, now I’m here.

Most of Our Specialty‘s products—cakes, flatbreads, pizzas—aren’t made in a nut- and peanut-free environment, but Sweet Middles are, lucky us. There’s no allergen information to get into, really: just a little nut- and peanut-free logo on each box. And for better or for worse, that’s all it takes to get me to pull out my wallet. So now, I’m the proud owner of my very own box of crème brulée Sweet Middles.

The back of a box of crème brulée Sweet Middles

And what is there to say, really? They’re exactly what they look like: ridiculously over-sweet (and overpriced) supermarket “cookies” that I would’ve been guaranteed to love at age 9 or 10, but that sort of just hurt my teeth and make me feel bad about myself at 20. They’re basically just semi-hardened globs of super-sugary icing wedged between sets of soft-baked cookie-ish things. I haven’t been able to detect any crème brulée flavor (nor any flavor beyond that of pure sugar, really), but it’s possible that it’s there, I guess. (And it’s possible, too, that the other flavors are better…but I’m inclined to doubt.)

Honestly, though—and I’m so, so ashamed of this—I don’t quite hate them. While they’re, yes, so sweet that I haven’t been able to bring myself to take even a single full-sized bite, there’s definitely something that’s keeping me coming back for additional nibbles. And after a few days of on-and-off wrestling with these stupid things, I’ve figured out what it is: their striking similarity to the Mrs. Fields cookies of my pre–careful eating childhood. (As a kid, I was obsessed with both the Mrs. Fields cookie-and-icing sandwiches and the Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites that you’ll find at, like, every single mall on the planet. But neither of those vendors is allergy-friendly in the slightest, so I’ve since decided to abstain.)

With a lot of water—and I mean a lot—I can even get through a whole serving (that’s one cookie, I think). Slowly, slowly, slowly, I will make my way through this $6 box of shame. And then I’ll be free. To never, ever, ever buy a box of Sweet Middles ever, ever again. But then, I’ve learned this before. A million times, at least. So really, between you and me, I’m not feeling all that hopeful about the whole well-at-least-I’ll-learn-from-this thing. Oh well.

Find these half-delicious, half-painful cookie monsters at Key Food, Gristedes, D’Agostino, or Fairway. (Actually: 2% delicious, 18% genuinely painful, and 80% just plain bad.)

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Taquitoria

Three classic pork taquitos from Taquitoria

[Edit: Taquitoria is no longer in business. Blame the rent.]

One of the first places I ever went on my own as a kid—well, other than school—was the 7-Eleven a few blocks from my childhood apartment. Not one for variation, I’d buy the same thing every time: one (1) pre-paid RuneScape membership card, one (1) bag of Rips, and three (3) gross little taquitos. Admittedly, those taquitos always tasted exactly like they’d just come off a hot-dog warmer at some godforsaken gas-station convenience store—and they had, of course—but I didn’t care. That was just…what I did.

Maybe that’s why I hate taquitos so much. I mean, if I’d grown up on 7-Eleven hot dogs, I’d probably hate hot dogs, too. There are good hot dogs out there, though—I’m already well-aware of that. But good taquitos? I’m not so sure. I wasn’t sure pre-Taquitoria, and I’m certainly not sure post-Taquitoria. At the very least, though, these taquitos are worlds better than 7-Eleven’s—though this place doesn’t sell RuneScape membership. Definitely a downside. (Listen: I’ve quit, okay?)

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I found out about this place a long time ago—almost a year ago, actually, right around when I first started this blog—and back then, I was pretty excited about it. Why? Because—as if single-item-menu restaurants weren’t themselves enough of a boon for those with food allergies—Taquitoria’s menu proudly declares the restaurant nut-free (and gluten-free, and soy-free, and shellfish-free, too).

Now, for me to categorize a restaurant as “truly nut-free,” that restaurant must either (a) openly identify itself as nut-free, or (b) attempt to use only ingredients that are free from cross-contamination—and as I said, Taquitoria meets the first criterion, so I’ve gone ahead and categorized them as “truly nut-free.” Still, they do not require allergen statements from their vendors, so there is, I suppose, a chance that some of their ingredients may have come from facilities that do handle nuts.

…Then again, that’s true of almost every single restaurant ever, and there’s a chance of a nut trace in pretty much every dish on the planet, regardless of whether there are any nuts present in the kitchen it was made in. (If you’re eating in a restaurant, it’s just not feasible to insist on its being confirmed for you that every single ingredient in every dish you order is free from all possible nut traces. Think about it: flours, sauces, seasonings…it’s unlikely that everything will have come from a nut-free facility.)

Eating out is always going to involve some degree of uncertainty. It’s a risk–reward thing. And I happen to believe that Taquitoria’s about as safe as these sorts of places come. Let’s move on.

Some artwork on display at the back of Taquitoria

Despite all the good things I’d read about Taquitoria, and despite my initial excitement at its being nut-free, it took me a while to get myself over to Ludlow Street. My excitement, I think, was purely theoretical. And it wasn’t exactly easy for me to work up a motivated craving for taquitos and taquitos alone. A year later, I’ve still only been by twice—but I’ve ordered from them a handful of times, and I’ve tried pretty much everything on the teeny-tiny menu, too. Finally, I’m ready to blog.

And you know, I’m ready to be honest, too. So here goes: I don’t like much of anything about this place. Everything about it—its “graffitied” walls, its oldish-but-not-old-school hip-hop music, its been-done dueling Biggie and Tupac tip jars, its gimmicky single-concept menu, and even its ever-so-Chill™ business hours—screams “I’m not like a regular restaurant. I’m a cool restaurant.” And it drives me fucking bonkers. Admittedly, that’s a little weird; classic Kanye, gimmicky food, and late-night hours are all usually right up my alley. But when Taquitoria does cool, it just…doesn’t strike me as cool. Think of a fedora (or is it a trilby? I can never tell): it’s cool when Justin Timberlake rocks one, but some random (less-cool) dude? Not so much.

Between Timberlake and the random trilby-sporting guy guy, the difference is…well, a whole lot of things. But between Taquitoria and any of its less-eye-roll-inducing kin? The difference is just the quality of the food. I don’t think Taquitoria would have any trouble pulling off its attempt at cool if the taquitos were good. And don’t get me wrong—they’re all right. (They’re certainly the best taquitos I’ve ever had. But they’re also the only taquitos I’ve ever had that didn’t come out of either a 7-Eleven or a José Olé box.) They’re nice and crispy, with some formidable fillings—all three meats (chicken, pork, beef) are wonderfully juicy—but the toppings they come with are just so ridiculously underwhelming that they’ve soured me on the whole restaurant.

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As for those toppings, there are three pre-set options—Classic (“guac sauce,” shredded lettuce, cotija—which is the style option pictured throughout this post), Cheesy (nacho cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapeño relish), and Chronic (a combination of Classic and Cheesy)—and not one of them is good. Where do I start? The guac sauce is watery and lame, and the shredded lettuce is McDonald’s-tier. The nacho cheese is inexcusable (I firmly believe that nacho cheese has no place in this world), and the jalapeño relish might as well not be there. Oh, and there’s never enough sour cream on them—and the red sauce  is totally useless.

In short, these taquitos leave a whole lot to be desired. They’re okay, but they’re definitely not good.

And anyway, how hard could it really be to improve these toppings? As long as they’re covered with some respectable sauce, cheese, and veggies—and as long as they’re properly fried, which these are—bland-ish taquitos would be a non-issue. But covered with this nonsense, any taquito would fall flat. And there’s no excuse for these toppings, either. There are so many appropriate options out there: a better avocado salsa, a reasonable amount of crema, some pico de gallo, a little onion and cilantro, even just a little lime…but no. The folks at Taquitoria have chosen to limit themselves to the likes of nacho cheese and shredded iceberg. Great. Thanks, guys.

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As if it even matters, the sides are lame, too. The rice & beans—which are topped with tortilla chips (???)—are boring, even for rice and beans. And the chips & salsa are mediocre, too. The Chronic Fries—waffle, crinkle, and shoestring fries, mixed together and topped with all the nonsense I shit-talked above—somehow manage to be at once both boring and overzealous, and the same applies to the “nachos,” too.

Are you getting my point yet…? Anything topped with Taquitoria’s signature slew of accoutrements is going to suck, whether or not you decide to drown the creation in hot sauce. And for what it’s worth—probably nothing—this isn’t a matter of my having highfalutin tastes. I eat at McDonald’s at least twice a week, and if there were a Burger King nearby, I’d be there even more. I have a perverse love for KFC’s mashed potatoes. I sprinkle a little MSG on all my frozen meals, and I dump at least four pounds of French’s atop all my Hamburger Helper.

It may come as a bit of a surprise, then, given how critical I am of a lot of the restaurants I write about—but at my core, I have no standards. And Taquitoria still manages to let me down, not because their food is intolerable, but because it’s marketed as something it isn’t: notably better than the likes of mass-produced fast food. And maybe it is, but not by much. So I’m sorry, I guess, but I’m not a fan. The guys behind the counter are nice, though. I’ll give them that.

Find Taquitoria at 168 Ludlow Street, between Stanton and Houston.

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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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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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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

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

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

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

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

Mason jars lining the walls of

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

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

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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 (really) good.

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

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

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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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