It’s been a while, and I have been thinking a lot about American food and my experiences as a gluten free eater. Our trip was a real adventure – we visited 7 States and had a taste of 2 more (well, if you count airports!). Not bad for only a month away. I almost knew what to expect but was constantly surprised anyway.
The biggest impression that I had of American food was sameness – it didn’t matter where we went, you could almost not look at the menu for knowing what you would get. This was slightly frustrating in some ways as it meant that the gluten free options were the same just about everywhere. The staples were some kind of salad, steak and usually some form of Mexican food. I was initially pretty darned excited about this as a lot of Mexican food in New Zealand is expensive. The first few times I had maybe 3 things to choose from (chilli con carne, nachos and usually burritos, or possibly enchiladas). Three is good. Unfortunately the same 3 items appeared on almost all the menus. I asked at a place Lake Tahoe whether they could put their tortilla wrapped salad in the corn tortillas they advertised elsewhere. No. Why not? It was made to order? Well, they were the wrong size. Is that a lack of imagination? Who knows. I think it has to do with the other thing we noticed – food is very cheap. It’s hard to separate the sameness and the cheapness – one is a product of the other.
Years ago my beloved discovered a law of dining out (not quite as important as say the laws of thermodynamics, but we’ll build up to it). It goes like it: Restaurants with good views don’t have good food. Well, fortunately (or unfortunately) the restaurant at Monument Valley is the exception. We were staying at a nearby bed and breakfast and they suggested that we dine before we arrive. We were at the visitors centre anyway so hung around until 5 so we could check out the menu – we expected expense but when in Rome, eh? We were pleasantly surprised to see that not only were prices reasonable, but the food was really good. They had a lot of the standard fare, but also a Navajo section to the menu. We ordered a Navajo tea each, one green chilli bean main and the mutton stew and it was less than US$40 including the tip. The chilli was hot, and the stew amazing. They were so good that we went back again the next night. I tried the taco and I suspect the blue corn tortilla was not gluten free 😦 but it was really good. There were at least 2 other things I could have ordered, mea culpa.
As an aside, we stayed at the Fire Tree Inn and I would never stay anywhere else in the area. We were initially attracted by the fact that you sleep in hogans when there. It was a bed and breakfast and I had bought some gluten free bagels in San Francisco to take with me just in case. That was just as well as the fresh home baked bread was gluten rich, but they did have some gluten free snacks for me to take with us on our back country walking tour. The jams and marmalade were good,the tea perfect and we were in real danger of not making it out the door on time for the good conversation. Wonderful and if you go, say a big hi from me!
Moving along in time we headed over to Pittsburgh where we were staying with friends. We had a lot of awesome home cooked meals there and our wonderful hostess had gone out specially to find me gluten free bread. I had some just before we went to a ball game – and it was just as well. Similar to Sleepinghorses experiences at Eden Park the ball game is not a gluten free friendly place to be. The food highlight from Pittsburgh for me was Klavons Ice Cream shop on the Strand. We had just been to Primanti’s for lunch – it’s a Pittsburgh institution but unfortunately they don’t deviate from their famous sandwiches much beyond giant pickles and chilli fries. I was hungry and so filled up on 2 scoops (almond fudge and moose tracks). Lucky I don’t see a nutrionalist, I am pretty sure that is not a balanced lunch.
There were a couple of typical New York foods which I am no less familiar with having spent a week there- like the New York Pizza and proper bagels. Still, once again our friends were sympathetic and we had some wonderful home cooked meals. The eating out highlight was when my cousin and her husband took us out to the Bridge Cafe. It is tucked under the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge- no view but they claim to be the oldest continually licenced drinking establishment in New York. They had gluten free menu items, a gluten free beer and were really good. The prices were closer to NZ than US (US$20 for a main), but everything seemed to be more expensive in New York.
Too many highlights and too little time. More later (and I promise not that much later!)