My friend Claire never draws her curtains at night. Like a true New Yorker, she works such long hours that there’s no need; she’s up before it’s light, and in bed long after it’s dark. From her apartment in Flatiron I could lie in bed and watch the blinking lights of the City, blurred and fragmented slightly by the flurry of falling snow, and listen to the steady rush of traffic roaring, intersection by intersection, through the icy slush of the streets. The same lights blinked to me at dawn, the same dull roar of traffic and yellow taxis honking their way down 5th Avenue. Truly, it is the City that Never Sleeps.
I woke just as she was leaving for work, and crawled out from under my covers to go in search of food. Hoping that the office block across the narrow street could not see as clearly into her building as I could into theirs, I wrapped up warmly and embarked on a foodie adventure across the City, to seek out the best places to eat that were appropriate to picky eaters like myself. Two days in a row I made it only as far as Hu Kitchen, around the corner from the apartment, halted in my tracks by the subzero temperatures and wet sleety snow, driven into me by the icy wind. Slowly, though, I worked/ate my way around and my five favourites are below. The fact that three of them are bakeries, I can only attribute to my sweet tooth.
- Hu Kitchen. This place is the EatClean hashtag in material form, which makes it a must for health nuts or allergy sufferers who want to be able to pick from the entire menu rather than be limited to one or two items as in most other establishments. All their food is unprocessed, healthy, and almost entirely gluten free, dairy free, and grain free. My only problem with it is that there is simply so much choice it will take forever to order; the selection of juices and smoothies alone is impressive. My favourites: The Wrath of Rosenburg smoothie, crack coffee (their version of bulletproof coffee which actually tastes really good) and a paleo chocolate chip cookie.
- Wild. Although pizza is best known as an Italian phenomenon, over the decades New York has developed something of its own unique pizza culture which, though derived from its Italian component, is a totally different animal. The problem is that for allergy sufferers many places are off limits. Wild is an entirely gluten free pizza establishment with a distinctly New York vibe, locally sourced ingredients, and many vegan options too; quite possibly the best gluten free pizza I’ve ever had. My favourite: the Skinny Bitch pizza. Worth ordering simply for the name.
- Jennifer’s Way Bakery. Bagels are another New York classic, and another food that is often inaccessible to gluten free foodies; the few gluten free versions available are usually very substandard and barely worth the effort. Not so here; their selection of muffins, breads, bagels, donuts, cookies and cakes are popular even with gluten eaters. My favourite: the sesame seed Brooklyn bagels – because you really can’t go to NYC and not eat a bagel.
- Erin McKenna’s Bakery. 100% gluten free, vegan, soy free, and non-GMO, and mostly sweetened with unrefined sugar. This tiny pink bakery is a treasure trove for those with dietary requirements. I could have bought everything, but settled on a baked caramel donut and a red velvet cupcake. No one would ever guess that they weren’t the regular gluten, animal-product laden variety.
- Tu-Lus Bakery. Another 100% gluten free place with lots of dairy free or vegan options — one of my favourites simply on account of how friendly the staff were. I also got a free mini cupcake with my snickerdoodle cookie, and free extras always score highly with me. As someone who only discovered snickerdoodles a year or so ago (has anyone ever seen them in the UK? I certainly haven’t) and can’t get enough of them, finding a gluten free and vegan version that tasted as good as the real thing made me very happy. Many products are sweetened with unrefined sugars, too – I couldn’t quite fit in their agave brownie on top of my two cookies and mini cupcake, but the sheer number of people who came in to order it while I was there suggests that I need to make a return visit sometime soon.