Courtesy of a holiday trip to the Philadelphia area, I’m so glad to bring you a few brief restaurant reviews. I am finally becoming somewhat comfortable traveling and eating out despite my food allergies. Frankly, it’s about time! I’m still not all that daring, as being sick when on the road is awful, but the Philadelphia area had a lot to offer. (I’ll admit — I also just brought breakfast: instant gluten-free oatmeal, tea, and an electric kettle. Starting off safe makes each day easier.)
We had three notable stops on this trip, places worth sharing with all of you: the Sweet Freedom bakery in Bryn Mawr, Agno Grill in Philadelphia proper, and Yantze Chinese Gourmet in Lansdale. Sweet Freedom and Agno are dedicated, 100% gluten-free restaurants. But let’s go backwards and save dessert for the last, yes?
Yantze Chinese Gourmet is a very nice Chinese restaurant in a very dull and mostly empty strip mall in Lansdale, a suburb north of Philadelphia, and the above link goes directly to their gluten-free menu. It’s a pretty decent menu with a lot of classic American Chinese restaurant dishes on it, and all lunches come with soup and ice cream. There is a chicken rice soup that is solely on the GF menu, which is what I had, and there is a lemon sorbet option for dessert (I did not try that). The staff seems well-versed in what it means to have a gluten-free menu, and I felt comfortable eating there. I ordered the cashew chicken, a personal favorite, and it may have been one of the nicest versions of that dish I’ve ever had.The chicken was moist, the celery crunchy, the cashews nicely toasted and the sauce was flavorful, but not too thick and there was not too much of it. There are a lot of dishes containing nuts, though, so if that’s one of your allergens, your mileage may vary on this review. No photos from this one — I wasn’t thinking of a review at the time, but it really was good enough to mention. This is upscale Chinese.
Agno Grill in Philly is a Mediterranean “fast casual” kind of restaurant near Rittenhouse Square that I read about in Kaila’s review at GF Life 24/7. Actually, that recommendation is part of the reason I’m writing about more than just the bakery. Knowing that other people with food allergy issues had an experience worth sharing is incredibly helpful and reassuring. Agno Grill was staffed by two knowledgeable women who were able to answer all my questions about ingredients in their food. I only wish I’d remembered to ask what was in the wraps (I didn’t want one, so it didn’t cross my mind!). I ordered the rice bowl, topped with chicken, the roasted carrot mint salad, the tomato cucumber salad (which did not have feta in it, as the photo on the website shows), and some of the pickled beets, with the lemon oregano sauce. My dining companion ordered a wrap with the steak, the same carrot and tomato salads, and the quinoa tabbouleh, with tzatziki sauce. I also had an iced mint tea, which was excellent. The individual flavors of all the vegetable ingredients really stood out in this meal, even the beets (which I keep trying, even though, eh, I don’t love them). This was a great filling lunch, and if this was in my neighborhood, I would be there regularly.
Ah, Sweet Freedom. The Sweet Freedom Bakery’s list of “free”s is long and very much like my own list of allergies, which means it was freeing for me — of everything in the bakery’s two cases, the only thing I could not order because of my own allergies was the banana chocolate chip cupcake. Because of this, I had trouble not ordering everything.The bakery is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, corn-free*, wheat-free, peanut-free, soy-free, casein-free, non-GMO, kosher, and refined sugar-free. I admit, I skipped over the last few, and I had no idea until I was looking at the menu again that the place was refined sugar-free — you won’t notice, I promise. They do use a lot of coconut, so they are not “nut-free,” but this was not an issue for me.
*you can read their corn information here, towards the bottom, but they do source vanilla and leaveners without corn. the xanthan gum is corn-derived. YMMV on that.
My top choice was the samoa cupcake. We also ordered a coconut caramel doughnut and a cinnamon roll. We also ordered cookies to take with us — the double chocolate mint chip (good), oatmeal raisin (amazing), a pumpkin cookie (okay), and a snickerdoodle (good). The cinnamon roll was a bit more of a cake texture than a “normal” cinnamon roll, but it still had the outer “crust” and chewiness of a proper cinnamon roll and the taste was spot on. We took another one of these with us for breakfast. The doughnut was a moist cake doughnut with good crumb and rich flavor. The coconut on top neither added to nor detracted from the doughnut; I wish I’d had a chance to taste another flavor of doughnut. To compare, you know?
The samoa cupcake, though, was truly amazing. The cupcake was a yellow cake with a good crumb and lacking the softness that sometimes undermines gluten-free vegan cakes. The cupcake was filled with a rich chocolate frosting and caramel sauce, topped with a vanilla (I think?) frosting, coconut, and caramel and chocolate drizzles. It was rich and decadent and quite lovely. I would try any other cake from this bakery, happily.
It’s possible that Sweet Freedom is out of your way when you visit Philadelphia. It’s worth the detour.
Ah, I’m so glad to hear about your trip to Philadelphia, and that you liked Agno! I’ll have to look into Yantze Chinese Gourmet, the next time I hit up the Philly area as well. At Sweet Freedom, I eat the doughnut! (It’s one of my few options since I can’t eat tapioca, and I save them up for breakfast as well.) Happy 2015!
Thanks for the original review — not sure I’d have tracked down Agno on my own, but it was definitely worth it.