So far, this has been the rainiest month that I can remember. Nearly every day has been awful, wet, and cold, or at the very least dreary. I wouldn’t complain, except for the fact that it’s June.
If memory serves, right about now summer should be gracing us with the last few of it’s more temperate days before ramping up to the uncomfortable heat and infamous humidity of NYC’s July and August. We should be taking long, lazy walks, reading by the river, and drinking coffee on our balcony. Instead, most of my days have been spent rushing around under the half-collapsed flimsy of a $10 Duane Reade umbrella, freezing–still half-wet–in the presently unnecessary air conditioning that has turned my office into an icebox, and rushing home at the end of the day to stir up a big pot of soup.
But I did say nearly every day, which means there has been a handful of clear-skied days to briefly interrupt this sogginess. Yesterday was one of them.
After a long week (two, really) of working insanely late every single night, Chris felt anxious to break the cycle of working, coming home, and crashing. So we grabbed a cab and rode down to the lower east side to Pala, a pizzeria on Allen and Houston with gluten-free options.
We’d been to Pala once before, with a group of Chris’ college friends. They all get together about once a month to catch up and rehash the old days, and myself and one more significant other have become regular attendees. The conversation is usually a round the table, introductory game of what’s-going-on-with-you, which quickly relaxes into inside stories, jokes, and innuendo from the dorm-dwelling days, all of which I smile at politely as it goes right over my head. It’s an interesting dynamic and at times a bit difficult to follow, especially since I don’t really have any similar relationships in my life. I sometimes wonder if the other “add-on” would agree. This aside, it’s nice to see Chris enjoying time with his friends.
There was one thing that stood out for me from this previous visit, though, and it was something that caught me off guard. It was the first time since my G-freedom that anyone had pulled their eyebrows together, pushed their lower lip forward, and turned their head to the side at me. It was the first time I received that “oh you poor thing” sentiment about not being able to eat gluten. I’ve gotten surprise, interest, confusion, and even “dude that sucks,” to which it’s easy to respond, “No, it’s awesome, really.” But pity? This was new.
In thinking about it more, I suppose it’s a pretty common reaction generally speaking, especially among women. I just wasn’t prepared for it. This whole process has been such a positive experience for me. Yes, there have been times when limited options and uncertainty about the safeness of things becomes frustrating, but I used to experience a similar feeling on days when nothing sounded good and I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat. Knowing that I could get my own personal GF pizza this time, instead of having to opt for a salad, was exciting. It was disappointing to have the people around me saying, “Oh yeah, you have to get the gluten-free one….” with that what-a-bummer tone.
So, a brief word of advice to friends, relatives, and acquaintances of the gluten-free: I understand the initial desire to feel sorry, but living GF is a happy thing for us. We all feel better than we ever knew was possible because of this lifestyle. And if there’s GF pizza on the menu, you can bet we’re not feeling bad about it. At all.
And with that, on to the pizza! This time we went to enjoy.
Pala is built into an old garage, finished with rustic brick. Frosted glass hurricanes cast a mellow light from atop the wooden tables, scarred and stained with use. The place has a cool, low-key charm that easily distracts from the loose, rickety feel of the chairs–in fact, they add a charm of their own. And when the weather’s nice, like it was last night, the garage doors go up, creating an aire libre vibe throughout the whole restaurant.
The menu is a confusing list of delicious options. Just when you think one pizza sounds good, another one jumps out and screams, “I’m tasty too!” There are also pasta dishes that are available gluten-free and GF arancini–though this is unfortunately not prepared in a dedicated fryer. After finally deciding that three pies between the two of us would be excessive (one is supposed to serve two people), we settled on two: the parma and the etna.
The pizzas arrive on wooden peels, sized to accomodate your order. Our gluten-free pies slid onto the table on a peel marked to be used specially for GF pizza. This is very important, because gluten can become trapped in the small cracks and crevices of wood and, unless you want to start bleaching your utensils and cutting boards, is nearly impossible to remove. So, if you’re making the change, replace your wooden implements!
The GF pizzas are also set on parchment paper before being placed on the peel. I’m not sure if this is for extra protection from cross-contamination or if this is because they’re a tad on the oily side. But trust me, the oiliness is not to the detriment of this pizza–ask for extra napkins or employ your fork and knife. This pizza is delicious.
Oh my, would you look at that crust? It has air pockets and everything! This is most everything you would expect from a good pizza crust–soft, pliable, slightly crisp around the edges. It falls just short of doughy or chewy, but considering that it is free of the stretchy protein that would usually create those sensations, I’d say it’s pretty darn perfect.
I was also impressed with the diversity and freshness of the toppings. More than half a dozen different cheeses appeared on the menu. Other toppings included pumpkin puree, sauteed spinach, leeks, and an assortment of fresh herbs.
The first of our pizzas that night was topped with Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, cherry tomatoes and basil. It was salty and cheesy and flecked with shocking little landmines of black pepper. The second, well we both love eggplant so we expected it to be good, but we had no idea just how good it would be.
It was covered in eggplant so deeply colored that it tasted like burnt caramel, smoky and smooth and sweet. The mild flavor of the grated ricotta salata had a balancing quality that still allowed the eggplant to draw focus, and those little cherry tomatoes were a delightful, slightly-charred burst of sweetness between your teeth. It was so good.
When the dessert menus were placed in front of us, we briefly considered the flourless chocolate cake before deciding that we were both too stuffed (and to think we’d almost ordered three pies!). It seems that Pala is quickly becoming one of our go-to spots, though, so I’m sure we’ll be back soon to try even more of their tasty GF pizzas and sample their GF desserts.