When Jackie McEwan was diagnosed with celiac disease nearly a decade ago, dietary options were only just popping up on menus across the city and eating gluten-free wasn’t yet trendy.
“I had to figure out what gluten was, what foods I could eat, what foods I had to avoid and the nuances in between,” she recalls. “It was incredibly overwhelming.”
The 30-year-old runs a popular Instagram page, @GlutenFree.FollowMe, and blog, glutenfreefollowme.com, detailing the ins and outs of gluten-free eating in New York City and beyond. The website, which breaks down dining options per city, dietary restriction and craving, was exactly what McEwan says she was missing when shifting her way through this major lifestyle change.
“I did a ton of research and learned how to maneuver being gluten free at restaurants and in my own kitchen,” she says.
In 2014, McEwan decided it was time to share her growing, pieced-together list of coffee shops, bakeries and lunch spots in Manhattan that offered menu alterations that fit her diet by snapping photos of her meals for Instagram.
“I was getting so many questions,” she says, in response to her Instagram account that now has more than 100,000 followers. “People I had never met were asking me for more tips on gluten free friendly eateries, products and recipes and I was more than happy to continue to make those discoveries.”
More than 3,000 photos of pastries drizzled with chocolate and tarts topped with fruit line her feed, making the restricted diet seem attainable even for those with the sweetest of sweet tooths.
“I want people to know that being gluten free is not as hard as you think,” she says, that being a diet of flavorless, limited options.
Rising in popularity around the time McEwan started her blog, the diet quickly became a popular food trend rather than solely a medical recommendation for those suffering from celiac — a sensitivity to the substance commonly found in cereal grains like wheat and oats. Several health professionals have since come forward to recommend against dining the diet without a medical need.
But McEwan says the diet isn’t likely to go away soon.
“I’m thankful that the gluten-free diet has become fairly mainstream because people are more educated about dietary restrictions,” she says. “The restaurant scene has become more sensitive to people who follow the diet. Some restaurants even have menus that indicate which items are gluten free, and this definitely wasn’t the case seven years ago.”
After chasing gluten-free spots around midtown for six years, McEwan left her job in finance and uprooted to Los Angeles with her husband where she currently resides.
Having reviewed nearly 60 eateries characterized as 100 percent gluten free across the country, McEwan suggests NYC is one of the more accommodating areas for such diners.
Below, McEwan shares her five favorites for gluten-free eating in New York City.
Senza Gluten Café & Bakery
171 Sullivan St., Greenwich Village; senzaglutennyc.com
Treating yourself comes easy at this Italian restaurant where the entire menu is catered to those non-gluten eaters. Promising “all the flavor, without gluten” on its website, the spot serves lunch (soups, salads), dinner (antipasti, lasagna, etc.) and brunch (quiche, French toast). The bakery counter is a plus.
“So many amazing baked goods, and chef Jemiko [Solo] is constantly creating new ones! And you need to get the cheese bread with feta, mozzarella and Gorgonzola cheese, egg yolk and butter,” McEwan suggests.
Erin McKenna’s Bakery
248 Broome St., Lower East Side; erinmckennasbakery.com
“Not only is everything gluten-free, it’s also completely vegan! The doughnuts and cupcake tops are my go-to choices but you can’t go wrong with anything here,” McEwan says.
78 Fifth Ave., Union Square; hukitchen.com
The “Hu” here refers to “getting back to human,” aka living a healthier lifestyle. Hu Kitchen does so by offering paleo options in the form of juices, smoothies, organic coffees, wines, plant-based puddings and vegetable bowls.
“Almost everything is grain-free and paleo which I really appreciate. Their market vegetables and desserts are my favorite!” she says.
The Little Beet Table
333 Park Avenue South, Flatiron; thelittlebeettable.com/new-york
Craving a hamburger? Tacos? Nachos? It’s possible at The Little Beet Table. The spot swaps the grains for veggies and gluten-free breads to satisfy your taste buds.
“Their menu is seasonal, and I love their veggie dishes. I recommend getting a bunch of things and sharing it all,” McEwan says.
1133 Broadway, NoMad and Midtown East; indaynyc.com
“I always get a make-your-own-bowl and have cauliflower rice as the base with lots of veggies — so fresh and good! Also get the avo-cocoa for dessert,” she says.