New York, New York: Gluten-Free, Allergy-Friendly Travel Adventures, Part II

Vox Pop cafe, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

I just got back from a long weekend in New York City. I was traveling to see my Lyme doctor, do a bit of siteseeing, and catch up with a handful of friends who live in the city. I had the pleasure of staying with Kim of Wallet-Friendly Wellness and her sister Steph. We had a wonderful time together talking about food, health, and catching up on general girl talk.  Staying with Kim and Steph was such a blessing, and I felt lucky to be be welcomed into their wonderful home with open arms.  

Most of my time in New York was spent in Brooklyn, and it truly stole my heart. Oh Brooklyn, how you charmed me with your beautiful restaurants, quirky boutiques, socially conscious coffee shops, awesome co-ops, beautiful parks, and wide assortment of hip young urban people.  It is much more calm and feels much more authentic than Manhattan - it was a relief to only go downtown on one day, and hang out in the slower-paced environs of Brooklyn most of the time.  I only ventured into downtown for my doctors appointment, which went very well. My doctor is pleased with my progress - hooray! - and things are looking good thus far. I am so thankful. Between spending time with such amazing women, having a great appointment, catching up with other New York-dwelling friends, and having lots of time to explore the city by myself on foot (my favorite thing about traveling).  And thankfully, I felt well enough to explore, which made me very, very happy.

New York is such a vibrant, amazing city. It is beautiful, ugly, energizing, exhausting, frustrating, and inspiring all at once. The diversity of people is incredible; I could ride the tubway all day long and never tire of just observing the people around me (I'm a recreational anthropologist).  Although I have now been to New York twice, I haven't yet set foot in a theater, museum, tourist attraction, landmark, or very many shops. Yes, I those things are great and I will go eventually.  But right now I am finding endless satisfaction in the richness of the neighborhoods and people that make New York New York. I love walking the streets and taking in the sites, sounds, and smells of wherever I am traveling, and New York is perfect for this kind of thing.  Where else can you walk down a single street and encounter a Jamaican restaurant serving ital food next to an Italian trattoria across the street from a Columbian cafe, a Caribbean market, and a Chinese take-out place, while hip hop blares from a boom box on the shoulder of a young African American man standing on the corner? And let's not forget two schoolbuses of Hassidic Jewish children playing in the park, followed shortly thereafter by a spontaneous discussion and photo exchange with a friendly Brazilian tourist named André and an amazing meal at a raw, vegan restaurant. 

New York, I love you.

I wanted to share a few images from my trip, as well as my experiences navigating the gluten-free and allergy-friendly food world of New York. I hope you enjoy!


Carousel at Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

Park Slope neighborhood, Brooklyn

razor wire along Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

Downtown Manhattan

Army General Plaza, Brooklyn

Hibiscus flower along 7th Ave in Park Slope, BrooklynBryant Park, Manhattan

Traveling with Food

When I travel, I don't mess around. I always bring food with me. Here is a brief rundown of my food carrying method for air travel.

My airplane food travel plan is all centered around a small plastic box which fits perfectly inside one half of my small suitcase. I jam that box full of basic dry goods that are easy to prepare and simple to carry.  If I have access to a kitchen at my destination, I bring quinoa or millet, and quick cooking lentil or mung beans. If I am in a hotel and only have access to the dreaded microwave or hot water from the coffee machine, I bring instant GF oatmeal or quinoa flakes, split pea soup mix.  I always bring along natural canned tuna and olive oil packed sardines as a quality source of protein, as well as raw pumpkin seeds or cashews.  Sometimes I will bring a LaraBar (the cashew cookie is only dates and cashews), a homemade energy bar, or sheets of nori or small bags of other dry seaweed. I might bring a jar or two filled with homemade granola or protein powder. And I always bring a small baby food jar filed with miso, which keeps at room temperature for a week or two, and is a great way to help support digestion during travel.  Combined with hot water and some dry wakame, it is a nourishing and easy light snack - just get a cup of hot water from the hotel lobby or the gas station and you're good to go.

For fresh produce, I generally bring along something that will hold stable at room temperature, like celery sticks, baby carrots, jicama, etc. I usually bring these in my carry on for a little snack in the airport or on the plane. I have been known to bring produce in my suitcase when it is allowed - this time, I actually stuffed freshly picked lettuce, kale, collards, and herbs, as well as a green pepper, in my suitcase, checked it, and put it in the fridge immediately upon arriving in New York! It was still in great shape. Why not? Money saving, homegrown, and a great gift to my lovely hostesses.

I also bring some kind of watertight, non-leaking container (like a Mason jar or SnapLock containers) and my own silverware and napkin. Then I can easily pack brown bag lunches on the go.  I never fly without packing at least one meal and some kind of snack, because getting stuck without safe food at an airport is awful (I was reminded of this on my return trip).

Reusable bamboo silverware set from To Go Ware, and a cloth napkin, necessary objects when traveling.

What I Cooked

While I New York, we cooked a lot around the apartment - let's be real, I was dropping major dollar on my doctor appointment and didn't have the cash to eat out for every meal. But what I made was totally great.

I ate breakfast at home, either leftovers or some kind of oatmeal or something. One morning I had a particularly decadent breakfast of GF oatmeal with a scoop of Coconut Bliss vanilla ice cream, a handful of homemade granola, some cashews, and sliced strawberries. Amazing, energizing, and totally affordable.

gluten-free oatmeal with a scoop of vanilla Coconut Bliss ice cream, strawberries, cashews, and a little homemade granola. why not? i was on vacation.

I also packed a few brown bag lunches. On the day of my appointment in Manhattan, I packed an easy lunch of homemade red lentil "hummus", raw veggies, a brown rice tortilla, and raw cashews. It packed easily in my bag, was totally affordable, and allowed me to have a relaxing picnic in Central Park instead of navigating my way to a restaurant through the touristy chaos of downtown. 

my picnic setup in Central Park - affordable, delicious, and totally allergy-friendly. Red lentil "hummus", raw veggies and collard leaves, GF tortilla, raw cashews.

On Friday night I went with my lovely hostesses and their friends to a barbeque, and we made a bunch of great food to take along. The cake and layered fruit dessert were off limits to all of us, but I threw together a quick brown rice couscous salad. I bought a box of brown rice couscous at the corner market, and was thrilled to have found it - I can't get it in Minneapolis yet. I mixed the couscous with cucumber, red onion, arugula, thyme, purple curly basil, lemon juice and zest, and olive oil, and it was rockin'. We packed up our food and walked a few blocks over the party, where we found a full feast! One of the hosts made incredible burgers and were grilling veggies, and we also had a wide selection of other tasty allergy-friendly treats, like carrots, brown rice crackers, and hummus.

lovely ladies with lovely food

some of the offerings at the backyard barbeque - gluten-free rice crackers, carrots, hummus, and my brown rice couscous salad included!

Saturday I made lunch for all of us, a summer pasta with zucchini, summer squash, garlic, spinach, capers, olive oil, tuna, and a creamy lemony sauce.  It made a ton, so on Sunday I threw together the leftover pasta with the leftover couscous salad, a little lettuce, and brought it to the airport with me for a quick lunch before my flight.  It was delicious, and much better than anything I would have purchased at LaGuardia.

airport lunch - leftover brown rice couscous salad and pasta salad with vegetables


Since eating out is part of the excitement of traveling, and New York is teaming with amazing food, I did treat myself. I was only there long enough to hit up a couple of places, but enjoyed what I did experience. Here is a list of some of the places I ate as well as others that are on my list for next time!  Keep in mind this is just an itty, bitty sliver of all the great allergy-friendly food that NY has to offer. :)

Sun in Bloom, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Opened by a friend of a friend in January, this restaurant features gluten-free, raw, and vegan foods for eat-in and take-out.   

Sun in Bloom, 460 Bergen St, Brooklyn NY

Rockin' Raw Wrap with homemade sauerkraut - awesome!

Nourishing Nibbles, Park Slope, Brooklyn

I stopped in to check out the menu, was impressed, and then intended to eat there later, and just didn't have time! But it is totally on my list for the next trip. They have many smoothies, vegan and gluten-free desserts, and delicious-looking salads and sandwiches (ditch the bun for GF). My gluten-free friends love it, and I can't wait to eat their some other time!  Check out their menu online - I love the gratitude theme on the menu!

The V-Spot, Park Slope, Brooklyn

A vegan latin cuisine restaurant boasting a huge menu. I wanted to eat there, but again, didn't have time. Their menu looks like it would be easily navigable for gluten-free, vegan, and other allergy-friendly options.  It was voted NYC's best vegan restaurant, so it has to be good!   

Mimi's Hummus, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn 

I did not have time to eat there, but my friends love it! Their hummus is made with pure, wholesome ingredients, they are happy to disclose ingredients and work around allergies, and they allow you to bring your own gluten-free bread, crackers, or vegetables to use for dipping.  It has lots of GF, vegan, and other allergy-friendly options, but there is gluten in the kitchen (pita bread, etc).

The Farm on Adderley, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

This place looked awesome. Everything is locally sourced and much of it is organic, their menus are seasonal and unpretentious, and look reasonably easy to navigate, even for an allergy-ridden foodie like myself. Check out their amazing summer menu (click on image for a larger image)!

Phoebe's Cafe, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

A vegetarian cafe with a simple menu, Phoebe's features a nice menu. My hummus was pretty good, and my salad was decent, although the greens tasted a little old and my salad came with sugar-laden dried cranberries instead of raisins, as the menu had led me to believe. It was the best option in the neighborhood, and while it was decent, I don't know that I'd eat there again.  But if you need an affordable vegetarian, allergy-friendly, or healthy meal, this place is a good option.  They even had a big sign up about their awareness of food allergies, so I felt safe.

Grocers & Farm Markets

It seems that the organic market is alive and well in NYC - many independent corner stores are converting to natural and organic products, food co-ops abound, and Whole Foods and Trader Joe's stores are located all over the place. For fresh food, there are farmers markets all over the city on every day of the week! Here are a few of the places I stopped on my explorations; if you find yourself in the Ditmas Park, Flatbush, or Park Slope neighborhoods of Brooklyn, be sure to check these stores out.

Flatbush Food Co-op, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

Around since the 1970s, the Flatbush Food Co-op is the first thing you see when you get off the Cortelyou Train stop. It has a deli, lots of fresh organic produce, an impressive bulk section, and a wide variety of dry and refrigerated goods. Their selection of specialty items is great, and the staff were all very friendly. Prices were very reasonable, and I found lots of great stuff that I can't find even in Minneapolis, land of food c-ops. They are currently hiring, by the way, if you feel like moving to Brooklyn and need a job (I thought about it for a hot second).

Natural Frontier Market, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

A great natural grocer in the heart of Ditmas Park, located on Cortelyou a few blocks down from the Flatbush Food Co-op. They have a wide variety of specialty foods for gluten-free, vegan, and raw diets, have fresh organic produce, and a small deli. I was really impressed with their selections and their prices, and went back every day to fuel my kombucha habit.  I was happy to find that they carried GT's Kombucha, despite the whole shortage due to the current issue with labeling, and that it was only $2.99/bottle, compared to the $3.99/bottle price tag at a different market I went to.

the cute little market on the corner of Cortelyou Rd and Westminster Rd across from Cinco de Mayo and Mimi's Hummus, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

I can't remember what this place is called. But this charming corner market and deli just turned organic and it very proud of it. While I was there, they were redoing their instore display stands, and the owner told me that if I every wanted or needed anything, he'd order it for me. They do not have fresh produce, but carry a nice variety of sliced-to-order deli meats, dry goods, and refrigerated goods, and many gluten-free items. They even have brown rice couscous!  The prices are very reasonable.  It is amazing how much stuff they pack into such a small little corner store.

Market, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

This charming, little foods market is located next to Mimi's Hummus.  Despite the store's petite size, it boasts a wide variety of gourmet, import, and specialty foods. You'll find everything from goat's milk caramel and cheeses, high-quality packaged meats and nuts, gluten-free crackers and cookies, pomegranate molasses, locally-made soy-free chocolate, as well as artisan breads and bakery items for the gluten-eating among us.  If Alana fromThe Roux is working the register, tell her I sent you.  Then ask her about "faux-colate" truffles and "faux-colate" sauce.

Slope Natural Foods, Park Slope, Brooklyn

A little corner store, they have a ton of natural foods items, including boatloads of kombucha, which made my day. I was parched on my walk, wanted the bubbly fermented goodness, and this place delivered.  This place still had lots of GT's Kombucha on the shelf, as well as a local brand I'd never heard of. It was pricy - $3.99/bottle - but worth it to me.

Park Slope Food Co-op

If you walk by the Park Slope Food Co-op and think you can just stroll in for a beverage or snack, think again. If you try, you'll be stopped by one of those yellow vested workers. I know because it happened to me.  This place is for members only.  Apparently, all members work, and everything is at cost, so you can get good food for CHEAP. Pretty awesome.

Cortelyou Greenmarket

This great little farmers market in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn is open on Sunday mornings. Conveniently located on Cortelyou, it is just a mere block from the Cortelyou stop on the B and Q trains. It is small, but has a nice variety of locally produced vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, cheese, and mushrooms. 

Cortelyou Greenmarket, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

Cortelyou Greenmarket, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

locally grown apricots at the Cortelyou Greenmarket, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

Agretti, an Italian green, at the Cortelyou Greenmarket in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

Airport Food

Let's be honest, airport food is rough. That is why it is always best to BYOF - bring your own food. Here is my experience at two of the airports on my journey.

LaGuardia, New York, New York

LaGuardia is not a great airport to spend time in, let's be honest. Their restaurant selections are limited, and the vibe their is not so great. However, many of the food carts in LGA feature gluten-free energy bars, Terra Chips, fruit, vegetable platters, healthy trail mixes, organic options, and salads. Although they are wickedly overpriced, but do provide options if you really need something!

Mitchell Airport, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I ended up with a 6 hour unexpected layover in Milwaukee, and unfortunately, didn't have my normal stash of emergency food in my purse. I was forced to make do with what I could find, which wasn't much. Milwaukee doesn't have many options for the allergy-ridden, vegan/vegetarian, or gluten-intolerant (if you want cheese, however, there is a lot of that). Most restaurants are focused around pasta, burgers, or fried things, or only offer rather dismal options like Cobb Salads or Ceasar Salads, and most of the food carts in the terminals only have wraps, sandwiches, and packaged chips.

Whatever you do, don't go to Chile's Too.  Deciding it was the lesser of all the evils, I went their for dinner. The service wasn't all that great (the food took nearly 30 minutes, and this is not slow food), they put corn in their rice, the vegetable sides come covered in cheese even when you ask for no butter (seriously?), and the menu is limited and overpriced for the quality of the food. Although my salmon filet was grilled quite nicely, my broccoli was overcooked, I didn't touch the corn rice, and the whole meal cost me nearly $20 - which is more than I spent on any of my meals in New York.

The Marketplace, located in the food court commons area, does offer some trail mixes and raw nuts, as well as gluten-free brown rice bars, crackers, chips, and other energy snack bars, which impressed me.  Out of desperation after a less than satisfying dinner, I was driven by hunger and boredom to purchase a $7 bag of Terra chips and a rather sugary brown rice marshmallow treat. Thankfully, A French Meadow just opened in the airport on July 12 (I missed it by one lousy day!). The French Meadow a wonderful Minneapolis-based restaurant and bakery that offers organic, whole foods soups, salads, sandwiches, and other entrees, as well as a wide variety of breads and pastries (you may see their packaged breads, gluten-free brownie and cookie doughs, and other baked goods in the freezer section of your local natural grocer). The Minneapolis-St Paul airport's extension of the French Meadow offers great salads and other whole foods options that are allergy-friendly, so hopefully the Milwaukee airport will have the same thing.  If you end up in the Milwaukee airport, head over to the French Meadow.

the closest thing to safe food at the Milwaukee airport - not in my usual diet plan, but desperate times call for desperate measures

Need to Call for a Car in New York?

Instead of navigating the train and bus with my luggage on my return trip (a 1 1/2 hour journey with lots of stairs and turnstiles), I called for a car.  I know it sounds posh, but after getting stuck in a turnstile with my suitcase on the way to Brooklyn and nearly dying walking up the stairs with all my stuff, it sounded like a great idea. At the suggestion of Kim and Steph, I used California Car Service, which runs 24 hours a day. So easy!

I was sent an amazing driver named Juan, a 20-year veteran Brooklynite originally from El Salvador. For a mere $30, I got door-to-door service from my lodgings in south Brooklyn to my terminal at LaGuardia in a comfortable, air conditioned car with a beaded rosary hanging from the rear-view mirror and bumpin' Latin music on the radio.  It saved me well over an hour in travel time, I didn't have drag my luggage through the hot and crowded subway, and my new friend Juan provided lively conversation. After wishing me a "bien viejo", he told me I needed to come back to New York soon so we could chat more.  I'm totally going to ask for him the next time I'm in New York and need a car. It was worth every penny!

Final Thoughts

My biggest suggestions about traveling NYC are as follows: get a Subway map, buy a Metrocard, wear quality comfortable shoes, and throw on some confidence and bravery. People are friendly, so if you get lost, just ask a question with a smile and someone will help you. If you need to find a bathroom, go to Starbucks - they are everywhere, almost always have a clean bathroom, and generally are so busy that you can sneak in and use the facilities unnoticed without purchasing anything (I know, I know).  Do research in advance to find restaurants where you can eat, and hit up a natural market when you arrive to purchase basic provisions. Then throw a snack in your backpack or purse, carry a bottle of water, grab your camera, and hit the pavement!

I hope you check out any of these places if you travel to New York, and that the photos provided a bit of a vicarious vacation. For more photos from this trip, check out my album on Flickr.  If you want more gluten-free, allergy-friendly New York City dining and travel suggestions, check out my post from my last trip to New York.  

I'll leave you with a handful of additional photos from my explorations around the city.

Her shirt said "Dream Come True". It couldn't have been more perfect. Bryant Park, Manhattan.

the old Kings theater, Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

We all love the World Cup. Chalk drawing in General Army Plaza, Brooklyn.

Guitar lesson in Bryant Park, Manhattan

in the window of a Mexican pasteleria on Cortelyou Road, Ditmas Park neighorhood, Brooklyn

brooms at a corner store on Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

Coco Chanel and Diane von Furstenburg, my friends' lovely city dogs