We made plans to have dinner with my cousin, Tricia, before we decided to embark on a gluten- and cow dairy-reduction diet. To accommodate our dietary choices, I sought out local restaurants with gluten-free menu options. I was tickled pink when I found a place not-too-far from here in Ellenville, NY called Aroma Thyme Bistro. Their web site, though hard to navigate, seemed to offer everything I was hoping for: Local foods, naturally wholesome ingredients, vegan and vegetarian options, and gluten-free galore—or so I thought. Their gluten-free online menu claims, “in total 90% of menu works for a gluten free diet.” Sounds perfect! These statements were really promising:
“You have entered a Gluten Free Paradise!
Imagine enjoying Pizza and a Beer?
“Imaging having a option for bread!
“AND MANY MORE GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS!!!
in total 90% of menu works for a gluten free diet”
Now it sounds too good to be true. And it was, unfortunately.
Dustin was looking forward to having a Kobe beef burger. He had one at Burger Bar in Las Vegas and loved it. But we were disappointed to learn that their Kobe beef burgers are only gluten-free if you order it without the bun. Really? We could go to just about any restaurant, including Burger King! So, what were their “options for bread”?
Crispy, paper-thin Cumin Pappadoms.
It came with a vegan bean dip that was WAY too salty. The pappadoms were pretty good, but not a bread substitute. They served Tricia regular bread with salty bean dip. She said the bread would have been better with butter.
Their reviews on Yelp seemed to rave about the Buffalo wings, which were gluten-free, thankfully.
These were absolutely FANTASTIC! Dustin cheated a little and had the blue cheese dressing, I didn’t. We agreed that these may be the best wings we’ve ever had. I also started with a bistro salad with balsamic vinaigrette (gluten-free), which was also fabulous. Very fresh. You could tell the produce was top quality.
Poor Dustin. He was really looking forward to that burger, or at least an assortment of other gluten-free options to choose from. Their menu was small and a good portion—about half–of it was either whole wheat pizza or Kobe beef burgers with no bun. Dustin didn’t want to try the rice crust pizza because he worked in a pizza place that offered GF rice crust pizza when he was a teenager: They crushed up rice cakes for the crust, so that’s all he could imagine it being. After getting over the disappointment of the burger that wouldn’t be and the replacement bread (pappadoms) and the limited menu selections, our faith in their menu was restored after the wings and salad. Maybe we were being hasty. Unfortunately, no. When our entrees came, our dreams of exceptional gluten-free cuisine were crushed. I ordered the Greek pizza with (sheep’s milk) feta cheese, no mozzarella, on rice crust, and this is what it looked like:
It was like a tortilla. A REALLY small taco-size tortilla with the consistency of a cracker!
Each piece was about the size of a Dorito. I kid you not. THAT is the best they can do for gluten-free pizza?! In 1982, maybe. But in this day in age? What the heck?
A simple Google search yields thousands of results for gluten-free pizza crust recipes that look fantastic compared to the tortilla-cracker-crust they served:
It’s like they weren’t even trying. My first thought: Zero effort put into this crust.
It gets worse. Tricia’s whole wheat margherita pizza wasn’t much different! It was just larger:
It said thin crust, but tortilla-thin?! I’ve had tortilla pizzas before, they’re quite tasty, but not what you come to expect from thin crust pizza in a restaurant in the state of NY.
I saved my appetite all day for this meal, so I ate it out of hunger. Cracker pizza.
It was more like an appetizer than an entrée. I admit, the toppings were totally delicious, but the crust… yikes! I know I can do better and I am not a restaurant owner or a chef. I’d be embarrassed to boast about this gluten-free pizza on my menu. Seriously. Dustin said the rice cake pizzas he used to sell actually looked better than that. We were joking that we were surprised they didn’t serve their Kobe beef burgers on tissue paper-thin rice wafers, LOL. It’s not even funny, it’s sad, because it wasn’t cheap food.
Dustin, stumped on what to order, went with the salmon.
I was a little jealous looking at his when I had a silver dollar-sized paper pizza in front of me. He shared a bite of salmon, which was really good. All three of us tried the rice and came to the same conclusion: WAY TOO SALTY! They make no secret that Himalayan salt is one of their prized ingredients, but I think they abuse it. The rice was so salty that it wasn’t edible. And I LOVE salty foods, so that should be an indication of how salty it was. Dustin’s vegetables were my favorite. So good, but if your side veggies are the best part of your meal, your restaurant choice is a flop.
If 90% of their menu works for gluten-free, I think 50% of it resides on their dessert menu.
Debating if we should take our chances on dessert, Dustin was too hungry to pass it up. Three chicken wings and a salmon fillet didn’t quite satisfy his day-long appetite. So: He and I shared the gluten-free brownie soy ala mode (soy ice cream).
Ok, this was GOOD! The brownie was warm and soft, and the soy vanilla ice cream was pretty good, almost like cow milk ice cream. We enjoyed this, can you tell?
We concluded that the Buffalo wings, salad, and dessert were delicious, but everything in between was a major letdown. Dustin and Tricia gave it a 4 out of 10; I gave it a 6, but only because I appreciate their effort to use real and local ingredients, plus my salad was great. Without my salad and the quality ingredients, I would have given it a 4. We really liked the wings and would love to have them again, but that’s about the only menu item I would return for. Dustin is traumatized. He doesn’t like not knowing what he can order on a menu. It would be nice if they had specified on the menu what is gluten-free, like their dessert menu. I generally don’t expect restaurants to do that, as I understand it’s special and has a small demand, but for establishments that advertise that they have an abundance of gluten-free options, they should be more specific and lay it out in a way patrons understand their choices. How much could printing menus possibly cost? You could print them on a home printer and laminate them for a few dollars and give them to people who request a gluten-free menu. Simple, commonsensical solutions, guys. It’s not hard.
Don’t even get me started on businesses—like Aroma Thyme Bistro–that have erratic, hard-to-navigate web sites. As a web designer and blogger, it’s like my worst nightmare, especially knowing how simple it is to make it clear and orderly. Seriously. Small businesses hit me up, I have cost-effective, simple solutions for you.
I’m going to have to do a map of gluten-free Catskill and Hudson Valley NY restaurants, but for now, I have a lot of research to do to find restaurants that meet my expectations, which aren’t even that high if it’s tasty and aesthetically pleasing and reasonably priced!
On the bright side: Spring is back! Yay! A cold front blew in yesterday evening and there’s normal temps in the forecast until at least next Saturday. We had a record high of 97 degrees F yesterday! Without AC, I was not a happy girl. Today, I’m happy. The weather is perfect and I plan to make a gluten-free pizza crust today. I have to erase the taste and texture from last night’s GF pizza flop immediately! I’ll be back later with my recipe. Hopefully it turns out well. But even if it falls apart, I think I’d still enjoy it more than a $10 corn chip-size pizza outside of my kitchen.
Question: Have you ever been disappointed by special dietary needs at a restaurant? On the flip side, have any restaurants gone above and beyond your expectations?
Southeastern New Yorkers: Share your gluten-free experiences with me. Inquiring minds wanna know…