Gluten-Free in the North End: Nebo

90 North Washington Street | Boston, MA 02114
617.723.6326
http://www.neborestaurant.com

Before this weekend, the only time I’ve ever had gluten-free pasta in a restaurant was in Italy, of all places. In the rolling hills of Tuscany, the little restaurant my wine tour stopped at for lunch served gluten-free bread and pasta. It was wonderful. Since I sadly had to come home, I have rarely had the opportunity to order pasta in restaurants. This past weekend was St. Anthony’s Feast in the North End of Boston, so a few friends and I headed to Boston’s Italian neighborhood for some food, friends and fun.

Per usual, and especially in the case of Italian food, I had to be a little high-maintenance about the evening. Not just any Italian restaurant was going to do for this Guru. A quick Google search for gluten-free restaurants in the North End referenced Nebo many times. I had heard a lot about it so I was excited to check it out. Upon arriving, we realized it was right across from the feast, which was just perfect.

I think it’s pretty clear from this blog that I consider my specialty gluten-free pizza. But as we sat down in the corner booth right by the door at Nebo, the ambiance started getting me in the mood for some pasta. I opened my menu and realized right away that I had forgotten to ask for a gluten-free menu. I didn’t see anything about gluten-free food and momentarily got nervous we’d come to the wrong spot. I went to ask and my fears were allayed — I was promptly handed a gluten-free menu with Nebo chicly written on the side. Now I was really confused… This couldn’t be the gluten-free menu! It was just as full as the regular menu. A side by side comparison with my friend revealed that, yes, in fact, this was the gluten-free menu and yes, there were many options!

Ordering was a lengthy process. First we had some questions, which our waiter obliged, though not without calling my roommate “little one” (uhhh…). Then there was the great task of choosing what to get. With so many different pizza, pasta and drink options, I was quite overwhelmed. I ruled out gluten-free pizza relatively quickly — it was a hot night and I didn’t want to have greasy pizza sitting in my stomach (unnncomfortable) and there was the option of having someone serve me gluten-free pasta! When in Rome, they do say.

Then there was the task of deciding between pasta dishes. The Amatriciana dish combined protein, veggies, spiciness and red sauce, so in the end it won out. My roommate had a similarly difficult time choosing what to get from the slightly larger regular menu, and settled on the Ricotta Gnocchi. Two glasses of the Turlo for the two of us and our orders were set. My friend opted for a salad and a mango Cosmopolitan (yum!).

Our order was timely. The first thing I noticed about my gluten-free pasta was that it was that it was rotini-style. Oh man, way to make me look like I belong at the kids’ table! I was hoping for a sophisticated pasta dish, perhaps linguini or even some shells, but no, my plate was filled with little curly-q’s. Fine. I took my first bite, feeling perhaps a bit juvenile, but nonetheless, hopeful. I first noticed how hot it was and set it back down to cool. Then I began my meal. The sauce was good, though not very spicy, as were the bits of pancetta (which is a kind of Italian bacon, but lean) and the pasta was stiff, in the chewy way that undercooked gluten-free pastas can be. Bummer.

Determined to give my dish a fair shot, I continued to eat and, what do you know, it was so hot that it cooked itself more and after a few bites it became a wonderful texture, especially for gluten-free pasta. It wasn’t mushy at all, and held together very well. Despite its goofy looks and stiffness at first, it was quite good. Should I have gone with the gluten-free pizza? Most definitely. The gluten-free pasta was good, but it wasn’t great, and it wasn’t anything I couldn’t make easily (and for much less!) at home.

My friend enjoyed her salad, but my roommate was unenthused with her gnocchi. She said it was very plain and didn’t come close to finishing it. She too wished she had ordered pizza.

Nebo was a bust and overpriced for the lackluster meals we received, but it was a lovely dinner out that turned into a lovely night spent in the packed streets of the North End enjoying St. Anthony’s Feast. I suppose I should have stuck to my usual and gotten the gluten-free pizza, and perhaps the experience would have been better.

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Mrs. Leeper’s Gluten-Free Corn Spaghetti

http://mrsleepers.com

My sister refuses to eat gluten-free spaghetti. She reasons that it is never going to taste like the real thing, so why should she settle for some weird tasting knock-off? On the one hand, I can understand that. We grew up watching our mom eat totally horrible gluten-free pasta for the majority of our lives. However, now that we can’t eat gluten either, I’ve found that gluten-free pastas have come a long, long way. There are many more options, many more brands, and these gluten-free pastas inch ever closer to tasting like the Italian staple (Bionaturae’s spaghetti is very good!).

She may have her thing, but my sister comes over every Wednesday evening for trivia with our college friends, and I make us dinner before we head out for victory. This past week I did not have patience for her anti-gluten-free spaghetti ‘tude. Instead, I laid down the law. We were having spaghetti for dinner and she was going to eat it and like it. I had one portion of Mrs. Leeper’s Gluten-Free Corn Spaghetti left and gave it to her, knowing it would remedy her of her negative pasta thoughts (I settled for Tinkyada shells).

I was able to convince her on account of the fact that she simply would not get dinner if she didn’t eat it and by adding in the nutritional benefits of this being corn pasta versus any other kind of pasta. Pasta made from a vegetable – it seems genius! I’m actually not sure if this pasta is any more nutritious than the glutenus pasta my roommates eat, but I’m a fan of adding anything made of vegetables to my diet. Luckily, I convinced my sister to eat it, and she liked it!

It’s no wonder. I really enjoy Mrs. Leeper’s Gluten-Free Corn Spaghetti. It cooks well and doesn’t get mushy or gummy like other gluten-free, rice-based pastas that I’ve tried. The texture passed my sister’s test and this gluten-free pasta also cooks quickly. Lately, it’s been my staple and luckily it’s often on special at my local Shaw’s, which is how I came upon it in the first place. I would definitely recommend this bright yellow pasta!

Stone Hearth Gluten-Free Pizza

1782 Massachusetts Ave. | Cambridge, MA | 617.492.1111
http://www.stonehearthpizza.com

Stone Hearth Pizza Co. Gluten Free Pizza

Mother’s Day lunch was an easy choice this year. My mother is also gluten-free and loves pizza, so a little spot called Stone Hearth Pizza Co. was just perfect. Nestled in a collection of store fronts on Mass Ave in Cambridge, this restaurant is cozy and conscious as well.  Striving to use organic, locally sourced ingredients, they offer a full menu of favorites — salads, soups, pasta and pizza, all of which are offered in gluten-free varieties.

This gluten-free pizza is the real deal. Offered in a “regular” size (six slices), this is a cheesy, delicious gluten-free pizza. The crust is made from rice flour and it is so delicious! It has a bit of a fluffy texture that isn’t too grainy. Its texture doesn’t compete with the sauce and cheese; unlike most gluten-free pizzas, it works with the other ingredients to make a cohesive, delicious meal. We couldn’t help but eat most of the pizza, despite each ordering our own!

Stone Hearth’s Gluten Free Classic Pizza is absolutely among the best gluten-free pizza I’ve tried. Perhaps they wouldn’t consider this a compliment, but it is a high one in my book: it reminds me of Bertucci’s pizza! I’m more a fan of greasier bar-style pizza so BZ’s still takes the cake, however, Stone Hearth’s is a close contender. You can taste the freshness and quality of the ingredients and the crust is phenomenal. Needless to say, my mother enjoyed her Mother’s Day meal!

Bionaturae Gluten-Free Spaghetti

http://www.bionaturae.com

Bionaturae Gluten Free Spaghetti

With moving has come a new grocery store with which I must familiarize myself. The good old dinner standby, pasta, was at the top of my grocery list upon my first adventure to the Shaw’s in my neighborhood. I found the organic section, Wild Harvest, quickly and began my search for a gluten-free variety of the Italian favorite. Sheesh! It must be the area I live in, but the gluten-free pasta was expensive! My favorite is Tinkyada, however, when I saw cute packaging and a lower price tag, I figured I’d branch out and try a new kind (and have something new to blog about!).  And so it was: I picked up a pack of Bionaturae Gluten Free Spaghetti and headed on my merry way.

Bionaturae is an organic company based out of Italy. After a year of research and experimentation in the homeland of pasta working to achieve something like the real thing, they launched their gluten-free line. I appreciate being able to eat pasta from Italy. I also appreciate that this pasta is good! I would absolutely put it on par with Tinkyada, plus a few extra points for authenticity. The website proclaims “The first ‘no rinse’ gluten-free pasta,” and it’s true! There was no need, and it was ready to eat as soon as it had been cooked and strained.

Short of eating gluten-free past in Italy (Yes, they serve gluten-free pasta in Italy. Yes, it’s awesome.), Bionaturae is as good as it gets when eating Italian. Gluten-free pasta can be tricky, but Bionaturae is a brand you can trust.

Annie’s Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar

http://www.annies.com

Annie's Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar

I’m not really sure why I bought Annie’s Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar. When you have an option as delicious and easy to make as Amy’s Rice Mac and Cheese, why would you choose mac and cheese akin to Kraft? I suppose it’s the bang for my buck, two servings in each box, and the fact that I don’t have to microwave it to make it. The memories of delicious late-night Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar my first semester of college, before the allergy set in, might have influenced me, too.

Annie’s pasta is great, though the water always bubbles over when I cook it. The cheese sauce however, is less than stellar. I made it according to the directions but it was really watery. I liked it much better reheated the next day. Annie’s great for next day leftovers. Every once in a while when I’m in the mood for mac and cheese, I pick up a box of Annie’s, and I get a decent, quick meal. It’s nothing too special, but it will satisfy any mac and cheese cravings you may have.