Essene Market at 719 S. 4th Street served me a really terrific vegetarian and GF meal a couple of months ago. I'd go there all the time if it were closer to my office. http://www.essenemarket.com/. Enjoy lunch at the cafe and deli in the back -- the person at the cash register was very helpful identifying any gluteny challenges, AND she got the chef to come visit with me and to confirm everything she'd already told me -- then browse and shop at the store on your way out.
I realized I'd never posted about MiLah at 218 S. 16th Street in Center City Philadelphia. Excellent tasting, interesting food. Good GF awareness. Good value. My only complaints: 1) the never-ending new-agey music on their website; 2) they tend to close the kitchen 15 to 20 minutes before their posted closing times. So, mute the speakers on your computer when you visit the website: http://www.milahvegetarian.com/. And go early.
I had lunch with a friend at Day by Day at 2101 Sansom Street in Center City Philadelphia last week. Pre-celiac diagnosis, I had enjoyed Day by Day's interesting lunch and catering menus. While most of their sandwiches are meat-centric, they always have an interesting vegetarian option or two, either on the regular menu or among their daily specials. So I was surprised that they seemed so ill-equiped to serve a glluten-free vegetarian.
When we arrived, I told the woman seating us about my needs and asked for a gluten-free menu. She said that they didn't have one, and something to the effect of "I hope you like salad." Fortunately I DO like salad, but she gave me the distinct impression that the restaurant owner and kitchen staff hadn't given the topic much thought. I had decided on a house salad when our server mentioned the quinoa salad on the specials board, which I had overlooked. That sounded good and the waitress confirmed that none of the contents of the salad had gluten, so I ordered it. After a 10 minute wait, our server came to the table again to let me know that the quinoa was packaged in a facility that also handles wheat. I don't know how sensitive I am REALLY to gluten, and I don't know REALLY how contaminated grains processed in the same facility are, and I REALLY wanted something more interesting than their house salad. I went ahead and got the quinoa salad. It was tasty, but there was enough doubt about it to make it completely enjoyable. And it was a little on the pricy side as my lunches go. $10 for the
Given that it would be very easy for Day by Day to attend to gluten-free diners, the question is, why don't they?
Springfield Diner. Nearby. Shiny. Land of gluten. And meat. Not a huge bargain. First choice for breakfast for the almost-10 set. The waitress was nice enough when I asked if they had a GF menu -- didn't laugh out loud or anything. Corley and I agreed that it was the least I could do to give them the chance to demonstrate their GF friendliness. I had a cup of fruit for $3.95, and a hot tea. And a very nice time with my son.
Despite all its charms, I can't recommend it for a rich GF dining experience. No surprise there.
I ate out a second time for lunch this week, this time on my boss's dime for a work lunch. I reviewed the menu and called Mission Grill (19th and Arch, Center City Philadelphia) the afternoon before to discuss GF and vegetarian options. The chirpy young woman on the phone gave me short answers. Yes, I'd have no trouble finding gluten-free and vegertarian options. No, all of their tortillas are corn tortillas. No, the corn tortillas never occupy the same counter space as their pitas. She did not do any of the things that reassure me: a) indicate an awareness of gluten sensitivity and b) note that care is taken to prevent cross-contamination. She gave me little to work with and no confidence in them to meet my needs. If it had been up to me, we would have gone elsewhere. It wasn't.
All that said, the menu did have quite a few vegan and apparently GF options. I talked to the server, letting him know that I needed a GF dining experience and asking him to wave me off of anything in the danger zone. Right off the bat he mentioned that their corn tortillas were 100% corn flour and he seemed a bit more committed to my positive experience than the chirpy girl was, so I felt a little better. My boss ordered chips and guac for the table, and I ordered the vegetarian tacos with grilled portabella mushrooms, zucchini and yellow squash. It comes open faced with rice and beans on the side. It was pretty good -- better with guacamole added -- but not terribly Mexican. If I go again, I might get this, or if I'm not with my boss and a bunch of colleagues, I might ask more questions about the southwest chili and cornbread. Or I might consider the black bean hummus served with corn tortilla chips instead of pita. It's nice to have a couple of options.
I'd eaten at Mission Grill a couple of times before the celiac diagnosis, but I find it to be a bit too expensive and pretentiously hip to think of it first when looking for a dining experience. Plus, the equally-hip-but-funner El Rey is only a couple of blocks away, makes it known that they are adept at doing GF, and are generally less expensive and serve bigger portions. Of course, the only vegetable on the menu is cactus, I always leave there feeling a bit too full and gross, so Mission Grill might end up being a better option, especially if someone else is paying. And, I still don't have 100% confidence that Mission Grill does GF with any intention, which opens the door to worrying about cross-contamination.
So, if you are a GF risk-taker, and want a tragically hip and kind of expensive lunch experience, Mission Grill is for you. Otherwise, Check out El Rey at 2013 Chestnut Street. Try the huevos rancheros. (Note: dinner at el Rey is not an experience I'd recommend. Stick to lunch.)