Barra Rossa Restaurant: Great Philly Eatery

We went to Philadelphia this past Saturday to see the Terracotta Warrior exhibit at the Franklin Institute. It was awesome. I loved every moment. Highly recommend it. Afterwards we went out to dinner in the neighborhood of  TJ Hospital a few blocks to the east of Center City. I thought I was picking a new restaurant but it turns out that Stella Rossa changed their name; due to similarity to another restaurant so we were there a while ago, maybe two years ago. As we got to the front door of Barra Rossa we looked at each other and said “We’ve been here before!”

   barra rossa lights

I remember how great their gf  pizza was so I had another pizza; different toppings; smoked mozzarella, red sauce, prosciutto, and a touch of arugula.  It was very tasty although I couldn’t hardly taste the smoke in the cheese until I ate my leftover slices for lunch. Go figure.  I didn’t think to take a pix until I had eaten some pizza; pardon the casual two slices gobbled down shot!barra rossa pizzaMy glass of California Riesling was very smooth and fruity; perfect!  We shared an appetizer of lump crab, portabella mushrooms and basil oil which was utterly delish.  Someone thought I had eaten more than my fair share!  I also had the arugula and pear salad with candied walnuts. The pears were kinda hard and it was a lot of arugula.

I only chose items marked gf on the menu and made the server aware of my gf needs as a celiac.  Yet once again I got mildly glutened.  Upon reflection. I remembered that  I had that same salad last time.  And the same mild feelings of having eating a tiny bit of gluten. I am strongly feeling that it was a matter of the candied walnuts. I know for myself that buying nuts is very problematic as often the cross contamination issue rears it’s ugly head.  Nuts are often processed on the same equipment as wheat and that is a problem.  Restaurants probably feel that they don’t need to worry about gluten in any food ingredient that normally does not contain gluten. If my issue was less serious this wouldn’t be the problem it is.  Some of us with celiac do react to tiny amounts of gluten from this sort of cross contamination while natural ingredients like nuts or dried fruit are processed.  It’s hard to believe until you experience it but this is a reoccurring problem for many celiacs. So, in this case, I have resolved not to eat nuts or dried fruit while eating out. They are just too problematic.

anjoOne more reflection, pears….they are a favorite fruit of mine but an unripened pear has no place in a salad. Slightly under ripe is okay but hard pear is virtually flavorless and the skin can be bitter.  If your pears are not ripe enough or are over ripe, use a crisp apple instead.  Just unfair to sprinkle hard wedges of pear in a salad. No one can enjoy that.  My guy does not care for pears. My best guess is that he has never had a perfectly ripened pear. Overripe they not have an enjoyable flavor.  We got some small pears at Walmart the other week and they seemed to just rot from the inside out. Ugh! Normally I like to get Anjou pears at Valley Farm Markets in a six pack and let them ripen in a bowl at room temperature. A perfect pear is a delicate, sensory treat of texture and juicy flavor. If you don’t like pears; well then, I think you haven’t had a good one yet.  Keep trying!

I do strongly recommend this restaurant. Their gf pizza is the bomb and that crab appetizer was just amazing. If you are in Philly; this is an excellent choice for a meal.  Just avoid the nuts if you are gluten free and be wary of unripe pears!barra rossa bar


1774 Grille &Tap Fall Menu

Last week I enjoyed a fantastic meal right here in Hellertown at 1774 Grille & Tap Restaurant.  I had been there a few months ago when I enjoyed a wonderful meal of lamb chops. This time I was treated to a special tasting menu starting with some delightful sea scallops on a silky bed of puréed sweet potatoes. Perfectly pan seared and with some tasty risotto as well as a fried sage leaf and a dab of a cranberry puree. I enjoyed a glass of Washington Hills Riesling wine…. Gorgeous wine with gentle hints of fruit and perfectly balanced. 4EEE558E-17DE-48E4-B004-3F68F7DC7CA3

This was followed by a fillet of sea bass with delightfully crisp skin and flaky, perfectly cooked flesh. It was resting in a delicate mushroom broth and decorated with wilted fresh spinach and green pea sprouts. It normally comes with a rice and barley risotto but due to my gf requirements I had to skip that. I cut it open before taking a photo so you could see the interior of the fillet. My wonderful server gave me a little pitcher of mushroom broth to pou on as needed and I did just that.5F4A6B8D-3D42-4793-AE3F-D613DB72684E

I had a tasting portion of duck breast with more of the sweet potato puree. The duck had a yummy honey ginger sauce which did not overpower the duck. There were spears of crisp tender grilled asparagus to complete the dish. My duck was cooked medium, just right. 049F8F1D-60CF-45CD-97D0-2F7507C2B650

I finished this delightful meal with a couple scoops of homemade ice cream, maple and dark chocolate. The almost bitter chocolate was tamed and complemented by the sweet creamy maple custard. Dinner perfection!CCE4B847-4D6A-4064-99EA-F7BD1B546792

1774 Grille & Tap Reboot

Eating out on a Thursday as opposed to a noisy Saturday night can be a very different experience.  I returned to 1774 Grille & Tap in Hellertown, Pennsylvania recently and enjoyed the quiet of the side dining room at the 1774 Grille.  It was nearly deserted when we got there although by the time we left close to eight it was filling up. This lovely small dining room has several windows that look out on birdfeeders and it was just perfect for enjoying a quiet meal. Just outside was a long, narrow herb garden which I am guessing plays a key component in creating their fresh and made to order entrees.

1774 grille 005

We were promptly seated and ordered drinks.  My companion enjoyed his micro brew watermelon beer although he said he didn’t taste much watermelon flavor…maybe a good thing? I had a wonderful glass of Riesling; not the same one as last time but possibly even better. Touches of fruit and an inviting crispness that made me long for a bigger glass!  He was served some warm slices of bread and a plate of dipping olive oil, which I wished I could indulge in…

Our salads arrived promptly; mine was watermelon radish carpaccio with cucumber, pea tendrils, feta cheese and a delicate lemon vinaigrette.  If you never have enjoyed a watermelon radish it is a speckled pink inside and pale green as to the skin. It was sliced very thin. I ate every bite of salad, particularly enjoying the lemony dressing. 1774 grille 001 Josh’s salad was a spinach cobb salad with bacon lardons, hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes and a yummy looking blue cheese dressing.  My friend consumed it with great gusto. I wasn’t sure I could eat the lardons or I would have begged a taste. Among the other salad choices was a wedge salad which a nearby table had ordered and we agreed it looked well worth consuming.  Next time…

cobb salad

My dreamy sounding duck breast was no longer on the menu as this is now the spring/summer choices.  There is a duck leg confit but it was not gluten free so I couldn’t indulge. I went for the lamb chops which came with tri colored roasted tiny potatoes over a pea puree and perfectly sautéed leek on top.  I enjoyed every bite. Not sure when or if I have had better lamb than that evening. It was listed as Australian Lamb rack. Not sure two good sized chops are a rack but that is my quibble (I am still longing for another chop…or two!)

1774 grille 002

Josh had the buttermilk fried chicken which was a substantial looking meal served on a wooden cutting block  Some homemade pickles, slaw and corn fritters accompanied it. His four pieces of dark and light boneless chicken were tender, moist and delicious. The pickled red onions were perfection with the chicken. Those pickle slices disappeared incredibly fast. The corn fritters could have used a bit more corn but were tasty. fried chicken

There still aren’t any gluten free desserts on the menu except sorbet and it was a chilly night so that was a no go. All in all we both enjoyed a delicious meal. The only thing I could have wished was that my radishes had been a touch fresher, they seemed like they had been run through the mandolin slicer much earlier in the day and had lost some of their crispness and juiciness. I am guessing that was a one time error and I might have to try that salad again as it was enjoyable and with freshly sliced radishes it could be fantastic.

This restaurant has several great menu choices and their website says all is created fresh to order. I loved that they had several gluten free choices for me and this writer must confess that nearly a week later I am still dreaming of that lamb. It was so succulent and flavorful. If you love lamb; just do it! Our waiter was very attentive and the service was timed perfectly.  I personally loved the quiet of the side dining room.  But, if you like more bustle and company, the bar is hopping and the big dining room is the place to be seen in town! The staff is still finding their feet on a few small issues but I think the 1774 Grille would be a perfect choice for a celebration dinner.

Dinner Out at 1774 Grille & Tap in Hellertown, PA

The hottest new eatery in the Lehigh Valley is right here in Hellertown, the 1774 Grille & Tap right on Main Street just one block south of the Municipal Building. I couldn’t wait to eat there, the on line menu looked amazing and there was a note that most things could be made gluten free as they are all cooked to order.  Fantastic!

1774 grille

We were about five minutes late for our reservation and were urged to get a drink at the bar while we waited for our table. I had some Riesling that was quite tasty and my guy enjoyed an iced tea.  The place was full of patrons: loud and hopping. It took about ten minutes for our table to be made ready but eventually we were placed by a window underneath a screen that displayed ever changing photographs; mostly old ones of Hellertown in years gone by, kinda fun to guess where and when they were taken.

Our waitress went over a short list of daily specials.  It was tough to hear her in the crowded and noisy main dining room.  Maybe they should put up some drapes to deaden the noise a bit…just a friendly suggestion.  Anyway, I alerted her to my need to eat gluten free and she responded that one of the daily specials was gluten free and that the mahi mahi on the dinner menu was gluten free.  Nothing else.  I was a bit non-plussed as I remember the on line menu saying otherwise.  So, with few options, I went with the mahi mahi and Joe had the halibut special so I could taste it.  I was pleased to find that their gold and red beet salad was gluten free so I had that as my starter. Joe went with their Caesar salad.  We both loved our salads although he was a bit surprised to find the salad greens to be kale. I couldn’t taste it due to the bread croutons but he loved the dressing and enjoyed every bite.  My thinly sliced beets were delightful as was the fresh goat cheese.  The pistachio vinaigrette was very discretely applied but I loved this salad. I have eaten similar salads in expensive big city restaurants and this was just as good as any I have ever enjoyed.

1774 salad

I forgot to take a pix of my gorgeous beet salad and this was the only one I could find for their salads; very pretty.

Our entrees made it out not long after we finished our salads.  Joe’s halibut was a beautiful presentation, laid on top of extremely thin long slices of baby cucumber sprinkled with black sesame seeds with a jalapeño pepper dressing which was so mild I would have ordered it.  Normally I find jalapeno pepper to increase the heat to a point where I am uncomfortable but the heat was quite lightly applied which made me happy and left Joe who loves the heat to be wondering where the fire was. I loved my bite of it; the cucumbers were sliced razor thin and seemed summertime fresh as was the fish. It was delightful with such a great clean taste. I think I need a whole portion of it next time!

1774 mahi

I had a shallow bowl of miso broth with extremely fine rice noodles, lots of delightfully snifty smoked shiitake mushrooms and a large piece of mahi mahi, perfectly cooked and very tasty. The broth was delicate; but I didn’t really taste the ginger the menu mentioned. I think that would have kicked the flavor up one more notch! I shared some with Joe and still was barely able to finish it, leaving me too full for dessert.  The only gluten free offering they had anyway was sorbet or ice cream. We passed on that and got our check.

Note: When I looked at the on- line menu later, that statement about any entrée being made specially gf was not to be found…weird.

I must compliment the restaurant on their wait staff; very friendly and ultra polite.  Plus they were quick to get an ice tea refill and to deal with the check.

The décor is pleasingly antique-ish, the bar cozy and I hope the owners can figure out a way to lower the sound level just a bit.  It was very busy and that definitely adds to the noise level. The joint was jumpin!

I would like to return when they have some other gluten free menu choices for me.  My palate was all ready for either of their deliciously described lamb offerings or the duck breast or maybe the sautéed scallops.  I was so disappointed that none were able to be made gluten free. I contacted the restaurant about that issue and am awaiting an answer.  Maybe they will add some gf entrees for me to try… sure hope so!  NOTE: see my update at the bottom of this post; good news!!

Note: I borrowed a few pictures of the restaurant from the net; I hope they will forgive me. This blog is not a huge commercial enterprise where I can go back to eat the same food again just to get a few great pictures and I wanted to liven up my post with some images of this new dining spot right here in my town.

UPDATE: I wasn’t contacted directly but I am informed that most of the menu can be made gluten free upon request.  That is great news and I plan to go back at some point and enjoy a few things that tickled my fancy on the menu.  My server misinformed me and now I wish I had asked to speak to the manager.  Still, my meal was quite delicious. Their menu will be changing in a few weeks; it was a “winter” menu so I assume it will go to spring? Great; but I hope that the duck breast is still around when I find time to return to sample it.

Bland, Boring, Blaa!

Eating out is a scary maneuver for people with celiac disease.  Just a touch of cross contamination from the food cooked on the grill or pan just before my steak or seafood can make me feel pretty sick. Or a careless chef with flour on their hand gets just a few specks on my plate.  Or gf pasta cooked in the same water as regular pasta. That is all it takes to get glutened. But, I love to try new places so occasionally I brave my fears and dine out.  A few weekends ago we ate at Bravo at the Lehigh Valley Mall.  Their staff was really friendly and welcoming.  The place was hopping on a Saturday night at 6 pm. We had reservations but still waited about ten minutes for a table.  Families were all around us chowing down on good looking pasta.  I was hopeful.

There were no appetizers that were marked gluten free.  Bummer.  But I had an okay chopped salad with a decent dressing, the iceberg lettuce had some lumps of saggy pale lettuce but other than that it was tasty.  After a bit of a wait, our entrees were served. Mine was shrimp scampi with a white wine sauce and rotini gf pasta.  There were tiny squares of pallid tomato on top and a few microscopic flecks of fresh parsley.  The nice waitress piled on the freshly grated cheese, anything to improve the looks of this sad dish was my thought in that moment. Diving in, I couldn’t even taste any garlic. None, nadda. The shrimp were on the small side and pretty much flavorless.  The pasta wasn’t half bad even though I have never seen rotini served hot with an entrée: it is mostly used in pasta salads.  The sauce was mildly enjoyable but totally unmemorable. What the flecks of sad tomato were doing there is anyone’s guess.  Maybe a touch of color?

I see this dish as one of those gold standards that every Italian restaurant should be able to knock out of the park.  I make it myself, mine has fleck of fresh rosemary, lemon zest and bread crumbs (gf of course) and I tend to serve it with steaming hot rice. My guy is always enthusiastic when this is what’s for supper. The scampi at Bravo was nothing like homemade.  It was pale, extremely mild in flavor and as bland as you would never want.  Shrimp scampi should have bold flavors of garlic and butter that announce themselves on the first bite.  soup-003The shrimp should be large and plentiful, firm and full of flavor; they are the star of the dish after all!  Sadly, this dish had nothing going for it other than the pasta was not overcooked.

My guy had a lasagna bolognese which was similarly dull in flavor but fairly edible.  Same rule applied to the Italian wedding soup which was his appetizer. Nothing special.

Dessert was the highlight of our visit; a Crème Brulee which was perfectly constructed with a creamy rich custard and a true hard crack brown sugar crust.  There were some pieces of fresh fruit on top.  Naturally gluten free and quite yummy! I wish I had taken a picture of its perfection!

The gluten free menu choices are very bland looking; this was the most exciting thing on the list as far as I could tell.  We folks with celiac love good food just like anyone else.  We don’t want dull mildly flavored meals that could be fed to a toddler.  I wanted true Italian zing and that was totally lacking in the food I was served.  This nationwide chain should be ashamed of itself. I did call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager, identifying myself as a food blogger. No response was ever given.  If you want bland gluten free; then this is your place. We won’t be going back. Still searching for anything even half as good as Bella’s in Hellertown.

Bella’s Restaurant in Hellertown, PA

The other weekend we had supper at one of my favorite places to eat out at: Bella’s in Hellertown, PA. I have to admit that I was slightly nervous as I had felt a touch glutened after the last time I ate there. But I wanted to give them another chance as I have eaten there safely many times in the past.  So, I reached out to the owners about my sub par dining experience.  We had a little trouble connecting due to our schedules and summer vacations.  Getting smart, I made the reservation in my name instead of Joe’s and that was enough to get the owner at my service!  Before dining, Sue came over and chatted at length with me.  The issue that might have existed last May seems to be addressed and staff is more aware of the need for extra care for celiac patrons.  They use a separate pot for gf pasta and a dedicated strainer for draining gf pasta; both a must. And a bit more care is now taken to keep cooked gf pasta away from other pasta dishes as they are sauced and plated for service.  She was really accommodating and we had a second chat after supper; a wonderful host!


I couldn’t resist my favorite meal there; penne with pink vodka sauce and shrimp.  I have had it a few times and even though I am not generally a fan of pink vodka sauce, I eat it at Bella’s and adore it.  This time Vinnie put finely chopped fresh basil in the sauce and it was a wonderful addition, adding complexity and another layer of great flavor.  Most places, when they have gf choices on the menu, make them so plain and lacking in flavor complexity. I guess they are afraid to use seasoning for fear it will gluten customers who seek totally gf meals.  Fresh herbs and single spices are totally safe.  I particularly recommend McCormick single spices/herbs.  Season just like you do for non gluten free customers.  We celiacs love great flavor just as much as anyone!

pasta at bellas

My pasta looked a bit like this; take off the thick white melted cheese and add shrimp!

I can add that their parmesan house dressing is lovely and safe and the salad was very good; fresh and flavorful.

Joe had an entrée with eggplant and linguine that he seemed to enjoy.  I am longing for the day that Bella’s adds gf linguine to their menu.  Hint hint!

My last suggestion is that they make some gf dessert choices; flourless chocolate cake, homemade sorbet, sherbet or granita, and a good quality vanilla ice cream with fresh fruit come to mind! Just saying that there are some easy tasty meal enders that could be just as inviting to the rest of the client base as they might be to we gf diners.

Thanks for a memorably yummy meal out Bella’s!

Eating Out GF in Boston: Yummy!

Traveling again; in search of great gluten free food…in the Boston area. I ate at Legal Seafood, two different locations, two great meals.  I had mussels in wine sauce followed by a steamed lobster for supper one night.  It came with two gf rolls, warm and tasty…side of brown rice which was a bit drab: I think they left off the seasoning in a probably cautious decision (seasonings can be problematic due to flour in spice blends).  And my second side was sautéed fresh spinach.  Everything was tasty. The gf food arrives at the same time as everyone else’s but via a different waiter who is tasked with making sure you eat safely.  I had a dark chocolate mousse for dessert that was incredibly rich; couldn’t finish it! You should know that the owners of this chain have celiac family members so they really try hard to give you a great and safe gf eating experience.

Legallegal lobster

For lunch a couple days later my sister and I ate at a different Legals as the Thai restaurant we planned to go to was closed. I had some Portuguese seafood chowder full of perfectly cooked white fish, mussels, clams, chorizo sausage and tomato based broth.  It also came with those tasty gf rolls. I had a side of coleslaw, very fresh and crunchy. So nice to feel I can eat food that is safe for me and really tasty.  seafood chowder

There are three Legals in the Phila. and south Jersey area; check out the one at King of Prussia mall:  So you can eat great gf seafood right here in PA.


I also ate at a hipster kinda of Thai/Chinese restaurant in the Back Bay area of Boston: Chang and Myers…  My shredded pea pod salad with green goddess dressing and sunflower seeds was simply amazing.  I had salmon with rice and soy sauce, all gluten free.  Perfectly done salmon.  I could have done with less sauce; not used to much of that salty stuff.  I enjoyed a wonderful baby bok choy stir fry with scallions and fresh ginger.  My only issue was the disjointed service; lots of gaps there….plus my companions’ food and mine were off synch and that took away from the wonderful flavor of my food.  I hadn’t eaten in an oriental restaurant in over three years, since going gluten free so it was a great treat to eat there. Small gf menu but everything I ate was wonderful.  I took no pictures there and couldn’t find any on line of the gf foods I ate.  You will have to trust me on the wonderfulness of my gf foods there.

the cottagecrab and shrimp salad

Ladies luncheon out at The Cottage was as great as ever. I had crab and shrimp salad with hearts of palm and a delicate lemon dressing.  It was refreshing, filling and so fresh and just beautiful to look at.  Hot gf rolls were a very nice touch.  We three ladies shared our traditional flourless chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream.  Not a scrap of that delicious dessert was left on the plate! chocolate tort


Finally, I had a super gf ice cream cone in Lexington at a small ice cream shop; they only charged 25 cents for a gf sugar cone.  Marvelous homemade dark chocolate topped with coffee ice cream.  Mmmmm.


So, if you are heading to the Boston area; there are a lot of great restaurants which have gluten free options.