Buffalo’s best gluten-free grub (Part 2)

As a member of the Buffalo community and the “Celiac Club” (not a real club), I have spent a lot of time scoping out the best places to visit when looking for some gluten-free grub.

That being said, I’ve put together a simple guide to my favorite gluten-free-friendly eateries in Buffalo:

  • Thai Orchid: This little eatery is my favorite place to go when I’ve got a hankering for chicken satay, pad thai, or vegetable curry. They are very knowledgeable of the gluten-free diet and go above and beyond to alter or modify their menu offerings to accommodate food allergies.
  • Betty’s: Betty’s has quickly become one of my favorite places to frequent for weekend brunches and weekday lunches. The restaurant has a great vibe; it’s colorful and comfortable. Their specials menu changes daily and is filled with a variety of options for everyone. Even better is that they have top-notch gluten-free buns (they reportedly use Brian’s) which they are happy to serve any of their burgers or sandwiches on.top spots1
  • Globe Market: Globe has become my staple sandwich place. Globe has fresh, high quality ingredients which they use for all of their menu offerings. The sandwiches are delicious and creative; even better is that they provide diners with the option of having their sammie served on Udi’s bread (which is my personal favorite when it comes to GF bread brands).
  • Grover’s: Everyone in Buffalo knows that Grover’s is the best burger joint in the city; not only does the place have history, but it has dynamite gluten-free buns on which your 6 pound burger is served. Worth noting is that Grover’s doesn’t take reservations, nor do they accept credit cards; so if you’re planning a visit to Grover’s, make sure you have cash and an extra hour to spare.
  • Merge: This is one of my favorite hidden gems in the city. Merge has high-quality, fresh, healthy food which is all made in-house. Their menu is extremely accommodating to gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian dieters. Even more is that their prices are reasonable, especially considering the quality of the food. The service is both speedy and friendly and they have great live music and decor.
    Merge's caprese pizza

    Merge’s caprese pizza

  • The Pancake House: The pancake house is another Buffalo classic. They have great breakfast options and gluten-free pancakes. The only downside is that they don’t take reservations. If you’re looking for a hearty weekend breakfast or brunch they won’t disappoint, but expect to wait for at least 30 minutes.
  • Seabar: If you know me, you know that sushi is my favorite food. Ever since my first visit five years ago, Seabar has been my favorite sushi place in the city. The rolls are creative, the menu is eclectic and the staff is extremely friendly. If you haven’t yet, go try the Beef On Weck roll… now.
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Buffalo chef gets spot in Women’s Culinary Leadership program

After reading an article in Buffalo.com about alexandra Hare, a buffalo-based baker who has been awarded a spot in the Women in Culinary Leadership program, I knew I wanted to speak with her.

According to the article, “Administered by the James Beard Foundation, the Women in Culinary Leadership program is an effort to help women “break through the culinary world’s ‘glass ceiling,’” a press release said. Hare will spend six months working in both the kitchen and dining room at Nico Osteria in Chicago, one of the city’s best Italian seafood specialists.” 

I had the chance to speak to Hare over the phone a few days after she arrived in Chicago.

Q: Alex thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. How’s Chicago?

Alex HareA: It’s so nice! I’m actually in a park now, enjoying the sun and soaking it all in, since I got here a few days before the program starts.

Q: That’s so nice! I’ve always wanted to go – especially this time of year. Have you been before?

A: It’s not my first time, but this will be the longest period of time I’ve ever been in Chicago. Right before graduating from college, I was able to save up and spend time here for Lollapalooza, but that kind of trip is more focused on the event than getting to see the experience the city itself.

I remember thinking that it’s such a beautiful city, and that I wanted to come back here. Even when I first moved from New York City back to Buffalo, I remember thinking that Chicago could be a next step, so it’s funny that it ended up happening this way.

Q: That’s great. Timing is everything. So, tell me a little about the program. How many people are in it? How long is it? What are you most looking forward to? 

A: Well, it actually starts tomorrow at 8:30 a.m! My particular program is six months in length, and I will be based at Nico Osteria, one of the One Off Hospitality Group’s restaurants, learning essentially everything there is to know about running a restaurant and how all of the pieces fit together, back and front of house, and everything in between.

There are seven other grantees in the overall Women in Culinary Leadership program and we are spread out among eight different mentors.

Nico OsteriaIncluding myself, there are four of us in Chicago, and then one in Seattle, one in New York City, one in Boston and one in Louisville, Kentucky.

We’re all on independent tracks. Some programs focus on back-of-house, some focus on front-of-house operations and some, like mine, cover both.

Q: That’s really interesting. What are you more interested in: front or back-of-house?

A: Most of my experience is in back-of-house, so I am looking forward to further honing those skills but I also am just as excited to expose myself to the rest of the experience, because cooking is just one step of the dance.

I’m eager to see how all of the pieces come together, how everything adds up to make seat one at table five, to make that guest’s experience a happy, memorable one.

Q: That’s great.

A: I feel like for me personally, to have success in this industry, I need to see how everything works together. I need to know how to provide the diners, our guests, with an amazing experience and doing everything I can to ensure that before they even walk through the door.

Alex interview3Q: I definitely agree. So, let’s back pedal a bit. How old were you when you started baking?

A: As soon as I could help my mom make cookie dough, which really meant as soon as I could grab a spatula to lick the bowl…that was my foray into food.

I adored my Easy-Bake oven and remember “baking” with my sister with that goofy little light bulb. At the same time though, it wasn’t just about sneaking cookie dough when my mom wasn’t looking.

I love making people happy, making people smile, and I learned early on that cookies and cakes and all sorts of sweets are a good way to do just that. They’re not the one way, but definitely a good one.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that bringing it all together was something that I was interested in.

My brother was diagnosed with Celiac disease way back in 1999 or 2000, well before any of the amazing developments happening now. So, between wanting to help more with the holiday baking, and seeing my mom fighting to figure out how to make gluten-free food for him.

I wanted to be able to help her out, and to make special things for him, so that he could share in family experiences. I knew I had to learn the pastry structure and understand the rules of baking so I could play around to make something for my brother.

Q: That’s so sweet. I can relate to that frustration — seeing how hard it was for my sister, and how heartbreaking it was for my mother, to see how terrible the gluten-free food available was at that time. I can’t image how it was for your brother since he was diagnosed a few years before my sister!

A: It was really bad!

Q: I can only imagine. So, where did you go to school for your training? 

alex momo cakeA: I went to the French Culinary Institute, now named the International Culinary Center in New York City.

Q: I read in the buffalo.com article that while in New York, you worked at Momofuku Milk Bar as a pastry cook?

A: I started at Milk Bar as an intern and after graduation they offered me a job as a pastry cook. Ultimately, in under a year, I was lucky to move up to being a head baker.

Q: That’s amazing!

A: It was incredibly exciting.

Q: How does that experience compare to the ones you’ve had in Buffalo at Merge and Bourbon and Butter?

A: Milk Bar was the first real bakery job that I had. It was intense. At that point, there were five different locations in the city and we were also doing a number of special orders from all over.

I think that if you can survive Momofuku Milk Bar during Christmas season, you can survive anything. The experience taught me how to manage my time, as well as how to execute recipes on a large-scale, ensuring accuracy from day 1.

Those skills translated really well to working at Bourbon and Butter. My time management skills and prioritization really were built, and honed, at Milk Bar.

Alex interview2Q: What made you decide to leave New York City and come back to Buffalo? 

A: Ultimately, the cost of student loans. Well, that plus the cost of New York City meant that I couldn’t really enjoy the city at all.

I realized that if I couldn’t enjoy the city, if it was just stressful and I was worrying about being able to just pay the bills, why am I in New York?

It was heartbreaking to leave, and I do hope to get back, but ultimately the cost of living was just too darn high!

Q: I definitely can vouch for that, growing up near the area. So, what exactly is your role at Merge?

A: I was their baker. Additionally, towards the end of my tenure there, I was able to develop some recipes with Eliza, which was really exciting. At Bourbon and Butter I worked both prep shifts and dinner service, but at Merge it was just prep.

Q: What was your trick to making the flat breads so good, and still fluffy, at Merge? 

A: This may sound silly, but I just listen to the dough! You have to watch it carefully, and once it all comes together, you’re done. It’s a big “look, listen and feel” experience.

Q: It’s delicious. Consistently. It’s really something special.

Merge's caprese pizza

Merge’s caprese pizza

A: Thank you, that means a lot.One of the most important things to me about my role at Merge was that it really did bring everything/everyone together.

One night my parents, my brother and I all went there for dinner, and now we all eat radically different, but everyone found something they really wanted. We were sharing off each others plates like it was no big deal.

Hitting the mark like that, and even having a tiny part of the behind-the-scenes action, it was inexpressibly awesome.

Q: That’s so nice to hear. Are you gluten-free too, or just your brother?

A: Just my brother is, but there is some level of sensitivity in my family, because a few years after my brother, my cousin was diagnosed.

So, just like with your family, my brother learned the ropes and we were all able to pass on the knowledge and tips to my cousin.

Q: For sure. Well, your cousin is lucky! So, do you enjoy baking gluten-free more than you enjoy ‘regular’ baking? 

A: That’s so hard! I love them both the same…but for different reasons. With gluten-free baking, I feel like there have been great strides, yes… but like being able to tinker with the formula still.

To be able to really look at a recipe and analyze which ingredients do what, how I can recreate that annoying little protein, is flour even necessary in a recipe, etc…

I feel more like a wizard when I’m improvising and baking gluten-free than when I’m just following a recipe. It’s a very exciting feeling.

I also feel like I keep stumbling on amazing recipes that are naturally gluten-free and you don’t have to change or modify anything. It tastes delicious and oh, by the way, it’s gluten-free!

Q: Totally! So, did you make the desserts at Merge too? What’s the one you enjoyed making the most? What’s the one you enjoy eating the most? 

A: Yes I did. Part of the production I was responsible for was the gluten-free flat bread, and the rest was the dessert menu itself.

alex interview1I made the vegan Lemon Tart with the gluten-free almond crust, the Beet Lava Cake and worked on the Mayan Spicy Granola that was paired with the vegan Chocolate Mousse that had previously been on the menu.

Q: Yum. Which one did you enjoy making the most?

A: I am torn between the Lemon Almond Tart and the Beet Lava Cake because I love making lemon curd and I would always you know, take a little extra. For quality control. I mean, someone has to do it right? (Laughs)

So, I loved that but I also loved the Beet Lava Cake because you’d never know there were beets in there! It was a little Harry Houdini magic trick of “aha, you didn’t know but it’s also healthy!”

Q: (Giggles) Looking ahead, do you plan on coming back to Buffalo after you finish this program?

A: I know that I will be in Chicago until late October, that’s when the program ends. I definitely have roots in Buffalo, but I have no idea what the future brings.

I think I’m just going to ride with that, it’s very exciting. The most important thing for me to take away from this experience is everything I possibly can. I can’t pick one thing that I’m most excited to learn. I’m excited for the whole nine yards.

While only the future will tell, I have a feeling that this won’t be my last chat with chef Alexandra Hare.

Her down-to-earth demeanor paired with her skill set and smarts is sure to land her an incredible opportunity when she finishes this prestigious program.

You can keep up with Alex on Twitter!

[Photo Credits: Hare headshot courtesy of Buffalo.com; Momofuku Milk Bar Cake courtesy of www.sogoodblog.com.]

Buffalo’s best gluten-free grub

Going out to eat can be stressful and overwhelming for gluten-free newbies unsure of which local restaurants are knowledgeable and accommodating of gluten-free eaters.

“When I first transitioned to the gluten-free diet, I didn’t go out to eat because I was nervous. It was overwhelming,” remarked Yelp Elite member Bethany Mazur.

“Once I became knowledgeable, I started going to places that I was a regular at…places that I knew I could trust the chef,” Mazur added.

Thanks to the increased awareness and popularity of the gluten-free diet, dining out with Celiac has become much easier in recent years.

top spots9Similarly, thanks to resources like Yelp and Urbanspoon, finding gluten-free friendly eateries is a quick and seamless process.

“I use Yelp a lot, especially when traveling,” Mazur shared. “It’s a great way to get to know what options are around that suit my diet.”

Even better is that such resources contain personal ratings and reviews which, for the gluten-free community, are extremely valuable considering the bond that exists among those with Celiac.

The Celiac community is one of the most tight-knit, supportive groups of people I have ever known and I think that can be attributed to a few factors:

  • Scarcity: despite the fact that gluten-free products are taking up more shelf space by the day, there is a scarcity of quality products in the market, resulting in excitement when finding good gluten-free alternatives.
  • Low awareness: the lack of knowledge about Celiac results in a large number of sufferers taking on the role of ambassadors to spread awareness.
  • Expense: the high cost of gluten-free products means that it’s not easy to sample new brands or restaurants without breaking the bank.

For example, I recently found my new favorite brand of gluten-free bread, Canyon Bakehouse, and while definitely worth it for its quality, it cost $7.19 for one loaf!

top spots10That’s not exactly easy to squeeze into the budget for a young professional who has to juggle rent, bills and student loans on top of the everyday essentials such as toilet paper, detergent and chocolate.

The difficulty in finding and budgeting for gluten-free alternatives, the scarcity of high quality products in the market and the lack of awareness of the disease all result in the immense value of personal recommendations in the Celiac community.

Similarly, the level of knowledge that a restaurant has about Celiac disease is a big factor in shaping the comfort that gluten-free eaters have when going out to eat.

“I’m always skeptical of a restaurant when I receive puzzled looks after asking if a menu item has wheat or flour… I’m more comfortable eating at places that I know are knowledgeable of the gluten-free diet,” said Mazur.

Despite having different tastes and preferences, there is no doubt that you’d be more willing to splurge on a $7 loaf of bread, or visit a new restaurant, that was recommended by a friend rather than a commercial or a blog post written by a stranger.

Since my diagnosis a few years ago, I have made it my mission to scope out the most gluten-free friendly eateries in the Queen City.

I’ve decided to highlight my favorite spots to frequent for some quality gluten-free alternatives to help my fellow Buffalonians more easily adopt the gluten-free lifestyle without wasting precious time and money on sub-par products and places.

Break’n Eggs Creperie:

This quaint little Williamsville eatery has been making waves since opening 18 months ago. As one of the only establishments serving up crepes (both regular and buckwheat), Break’n Eggs has carved out its niche.

top spots8During my last visit (for brunch) to Break’n Eggs, I ended up devouring not one, but two buckwheat crepes.

I started with the Breakfast Crepe, ($11.50) which includes two eggs, cheese and meat. I opted for my eggs scrambled, my cheese cheddared, and sausage. I also decided to add spinach and caramelized onions to the crepe, resulting in a crepe the size of my face.

Hearty, delicious and filling, the breakfast crepe didn’t leave me with much room for more but I decided to throw caution to the wind and order a dessert crepe. (I figured it was a good way to work on growing that extra layer of insulation to survive this brutal winter.)

I opted for the Dulce De Leche Crepe ($7.75) which, according to the waitress, is the best sweet crepe on the menu. It consisted of cinnamon coated apples, candied walnuts, caramel sauce and resulted in pure happiness.

top spots7Both crepes were served warm and were melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

While they don’t take reservations (possibly due to their small space), Break’n Eggs is a brunch must that is definitely worth the twenty minutes you might spend waiting for a table.

The servers are very friendly, and the wide selection of crepe options makes for an overwhelmingly enjoyable dining experience, which is guaranteed to satisfy your sweet (or savory) tooth.

Just Pizza:

With 10 locations around the city, Just Pizza is a great choice if you’re looking for a gluten-free pizza to grab on the go.

Like most other restaurants offering a gluten-free pizza option, Just Pizza uses a frozen crust. However, unlike most other restaurants, Just Pizza does a great job at making its gluten-free pizzas stand out with an expansive list of toppings.

Similarly, the gluten-free pizza crust (which comes from US Foods) is surprisingly doughy and hearty when considering the fact that it comes frozen and is quite thin.

top spots6While the list of specialty pizzas can be slightly overwhelming (including over 30 different varieties,) I’ve found that you can’t go wrong with any of Just Pizza’s specialty white pizzas.

Due to the thinness of the gluten-free crust, I have found that white pizzas are a better choice when ordering gluten-free rather than red-sauced pizzas.

I’m a big fan of Just Pizza’s Bruschetta, Spinach Pesto, and Roasted Garlic pizzas but my all time favorite is the Basilico White ($14), which has a herb crust and includes fresh sweet basil, chopped tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and caramelized onions.

Brick Oven Bistro & Deli:

I’ve got to commend Brick Oven Bistro for its “Gluten-Free Good Neighbor” status. This hidden gem offers a trio of gluten-free delicacies: sandwiches, pizza and pasta, which is hard to come by.

What’s the catch, you might ask? The tremendous trio isn’t all served at the same time.

top spots5The gluten-free sandwiches are only offered during lunch hours and are made using bread from a local gluten-free bakery, Bon Bon’s.

The gluten-free pasta offered (usually RP’s fettuccine) is only available during dinner hours.

Just like Just Pizza, Brick Oven Bistro gets its gluten-free pizza dough from US Foods. Brick Oven Bistro’s gluten-free pizza is the one g-f option that is available all day long, and with good reason. According to the staff, the pizzas are the most popular gluten-free option on the menu.

My favorite pizza on the menu is the gluten-free Vegetarian Pizza ($14), which comes with herb ricotta, tomato relish, arugula & mozzarella. The herb ricotta and tomato relish work perfectly together and seem to take the place of a red sauce, keeping the crust sturdy.

The result is a flavorful but not overly filling pizza which is the perfect size for one ‘hangry’ individual.

Globe Market:

With locations on Main Street, Hertel and Elmwood, Globe Market is one of the more popular and well-known places to go for a quality soup, sandwich, salad or any combination of the three.

top spots4Considering my favorite lunch food is a sandwich, it’s understandable that Globe would be my No.1 lunch spot in Buffalo since it not only offers gluten-free sandwiches, but soups and salads too.

Globe’s staff is knowledgeable of the gluten-free diet, so employees will be quick to chime in on whether the soup or salad you desire is gluten-free. Globe makes its gluten-free sandwiches using Udi’s bread, which is one of my favorite brands.

Despite the wide selection of specialty sandwiches, I almost always end up ordering the Chipotle Turkey or Spicy Italian.

The Chipotle Turkey sandwich ($8.25) comes with roasted turkey, provolone, tomato, mesclun greens and the best condiment to ever pass my lips, chipotle bacon mayo.

top spots3The Spicy Italian sandwich ($8.25) consists of cappicola, salami, pepper jack cheese, tomato, lettuce, pesto and mayo, making it the perfect choice for meat lovers.

(*Note: Globe has two types of balsamic dressing, one of which contains gluten, so if you get the Caprese Sandwich or salad be sure to request the gluten-free balsamic.)

Merge:

As you can see from my previous restaurant profile, I’m a big fan of Merge.

Merge has one of the most gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian friendly menus in the city from start to finish.

Merge's caprese pizza

While I could rave about the restaurant’s dessert options for days, the single best item (and the most popular gluten-free item) on its menu is the Caprese Pizza.

The Caprese Pizza ($10) comes with tomatoes, red onion, basil, pesto and fresh mozzarella with a balsamic reduction drizzled on top. While the combination of flavors is delicious, the best part of the dish is the pizza crust itself.

Merge is the only restaurant I know of that makes their own gluten-free pizza dough fresh in-house resulting in a crust that is both moist and doughy.

Betty’s:

Last but not least, my favorite meal, brunch. When I think of brunch, I immediately think of Betty’s.

I became a regular at Betty’s shortly after my first visit years ago when I developed an infatuation with its specialty omelets and gluten-free buns. Betty’s has been my go-to brunch spot ever since.

top spots2In addition to catering to gluten-free diners by serving up the best buns in the city, Betty’s caters to the vegan and vegetarian diners as well.

All of Betty’s menus (breakfast, lunch, dinner, Saturday Blunch and Sunday brunch) boast an abundance of options for varying palates and diets.

I was surprised to learn that Betty’s dinner menu is the most gluten-free friendly, with six of the seven entrees listed as gluten-free.

While you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, my favorite items at Betty’s are the specialty omelets (around $9.00), the Charbroiled Turkey Burger ($9.75) and the Cuban ($9.75). (Basically, anything that comes with a bun.)

Betty’s uses Brian’s Best buns for its gluten-free bun offering.

Brian’s Best Buns are the closest thing to gluten-based bread I have found in Buffalo. The rolls are moist, airy and fluffy, three characteristics which are hard to find in gluten-free bread.

top spots1Brian’s currently doesn’t sell to individual or retail stores, meaning that in order to get your gluten-free best-bun fix, you’ve got to visit Betty’s.

(Or Anderson’s for a gluten-free roast beef sandwich or Pizza Plant for a burger.)

——————————————————

There is no doubt that Buffalo is becoming increasingly knowledgeable and accommodating of the gluten-free diet.

The restaurants above are my personal favorites but there are a number of resources available to visit for further assistance on navigating Buffalo’s restaurants as a gluten-free eater.

I find Yelp and Urbanspoon to be the two best resources, as they focus more on local restaurants than chains. Two other resources worth checking are the WNYGFDSG and Find Me Gluten Free.

Regardless of what resource you use, I can guarantee that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the level of awareness and accommodation of the gluten-free diet among local eateries.

Please comment below sharing your favorite restaurant which you think has earned its place as a Gluten-Free Good Neighbor.

[Canyon Bakehouse loaf of bread photo courtesy of Canyon Bakehouse.]

Merge

The knowledge and awareness of Celiac has come a long way over the past five years.

When I was diagnosed with Celiac in 2009, the availability of gluten-free products had already made tremendous strides compared to when my sister was diagnosed with the disease five years prior.

Merge sistersHaving both a sister and a mother with Celiac made it easier for me to adopt a gluten-free diet.

In cities like Buffalo, known for being slow to adopt the latest trends, finding good gluten-free food that is easily available can be challenging.

Because of scarcity, I have grown to appreciate any Buffalo restaurant that is knowledgeable and accommodating of the gluten-free diet.

One of Buffalo’s forward-thinking restaurants, Merge, 439 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, has done an incredible job at providing gluten-free dieters with an expansive list of menu offerings.

Merge was founded in January 2009 by sisters Sarah and Eliza Schneider, who shared a lifelong dream of opening a restaurant together featuring vegetarian and other progressive food options.

“Offering gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options seemed to fit in well with all of the other elements we were introducing to the Buffalo food scene,” said Sarah Schneider.

For gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian diners, browsing Merge’s menu makes you feel like a kid in a candy store. Of the 35 items on the menu (including soups, salads, appetizers, raw dishes, sides and entrees), only seven dishes contain gluten.

“We try to be creative in offering gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options that you couldn’t make at home or find anywhere else,” said Sarah.

Merge's caprese pizza

Merge’s caprese pizza

Merge’s extensive and creative list of menu offerings certainly separates it from other restaurants in Buffalo.

The Schneider sisters have not only succeeded in creating an eclectic menu, but they have transformed Merge into more than just a restaurant. It’s a place you want to spend time at.

“Merge is a hip, New York sort of environment,” Sarah remarked, and she isn’t the only one who thinks so. Local blogger Krystal Sondel echoes the sentiment and even felt inspired to write about it on her “Lovin’ On Buffalo” blog.

Dining at Merge is an experience which goes beyond the positive atmosphere and the quality of the food.

The wait staff is extremely friendly and very knowledgeable of how specific menu items can be altered to accommodate dietary restrictions.

Similarly, the decor at Merge is colorful and bright. A quick glance around makes you feel as though you have stepped foot into an art gallery. The walls are covered with art produced by local artists which is available for sale and rotated on a monthly basis.

To top it off, live music starts at 7 every night they are open—5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11:30 a.m to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday—which creates a positive vibe and relaxing atmosphere.

The ambiance at Merge is just one of the factors which has enabled the owners to create a loyal customer base—my latest visit on July 16 was my fourth and certainly won’t be my last.

We started off with the Caprese pizza, which can be made with or without gluten. The pizza comes with tomatoes, red onion, basil, pesto and fresh mozzarella with a balsamic reduction drizzled on top.

The gluten-free pizza dough is baked fresh in-house resulting in a mouth-watering, perfectly baked pizza which is big enough for one to eat as an entrée or ideal for a group to share as a snack. The crust is both doughy and moist which is rare, as gluten-free pizza is typically thin and dry.

“Honestly, I prefer the gluten-free pizza over the regular one,” remarked Jimi, one of the waiters. The Caprese pizza happens to be the most popular gluten-free menu offering—and for good reason.

ginger coconut stirfry

ginger coconut stir fry

When asked to divulge the secret of her success in mastering the art of gluten-free pizza crust, Sarah remarked, “We have hired a series of fantastic bakers throughout the years who have improved the recipe over time. We have grown organically to incorporate new twists on recipe items because each chef brings their own knowledge, expertise and creativity to the dishes.”

In addition to the Caprese pizza, Sarah remarked that the most popular gluten-free items on the menu are the pasta dishes and the ginger coconut stir-fry.

I ordered the ginger coconut stir-fry for my entrée and I can honestly say that it was one of the most delectable entrees I have ever eaten in Buffalo. It is especially perfect if you’re looking for a light yet flavorful summer dish.

The entrée includes toasted nori, broccoli, red peppers, carrots, red onion, ginger coconut sauce and organic soba noodles. The noodles were fat, soft and closely mimicked the taste and texture of udon noodles. They served as an ideal complement to the mix of fresh, crunchy vegetables.

What truly made the dish was the ginger-coconut sauce. The hint of ginger helped bring out the subtly sweet coconut flavor.

In addition to the Caprese pizza and the ginger coconut stir-fry, I tasted the beet salad and the maple bourbon chicken, which were both extremely tasty due to the high quality of the ingredients and the creativity behind each of the dishes.

beet salad

beet salad

The beet salad was light, fresh and colorful. The salad comprised fresh greens, roasted beets, strawberries, pickled red onion, sunflower seeds and sprouts with a white balsamic vinaigrette.

The beets were thinly sliced, fresh, sweet and roasted to create a soft yet still crunchy texture. The sunflower seeds, sprouts and goat cheese (optional), while seemingly simple, created a harmonious mix of flavors and textures.

“We incorporated a half-acre hobby farm in 2012 where we grow our own herbs, peppers and other vegetables. Sustainability is one of our biggest values,” said Sarah.

In addition to sustainability, the Schneider sisters feel strongly about using local, seasonal fruits and vegetables which are incorporated heavily into the menu.

“We offer organic chicken and wild fish. Although we do specialize in gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian items, we feel strongly about providing options that everyone can enjoy,” Sarah remarked.

Case in point: the maple bourbon chicken entrée.

maple bourbon chicken

maple bourbon chicken

The braised organic chicken leg is served with rosemary roasted potatoes, bourbon-soaked peaches and sautéed kale. I’m not typically a fan of mixing sweet and savory, but Merge won me over with this dish. It is rich and filling.

The chicken was juicy with a hint of maple, and the skin had a crisp texture to it. The potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and absorbed more of the maple flavor than the chicken, giving them a hint of sweetness.

The kale was bright and tasted like fresh, crisp spinach. The maple bourbon sauce tied the entrée together and was good enough to lick off the plate, which I almost considered doing.

Although we were completely stuffed and satisfied, we had to order dessert because Merge offers a gluten-free cobbler which I’m fairly certain was made with me in mind.

Not only is the cobbler the only gluten-free version I have yet to find, but it is the ultimate dessert if you’re looking for a relatively healthy way to satisfy your sweet-tooth.

cobbler

cobbler

The dessert is served warm with a variety of fresh seasonal fruits and is topped with two small scoops of vanilla bean ice cream with a warm salted caramel sauce drizzled on top. It melts in your mouth with every bite.

Of all the Buffalo restaurants I’ve tried, Merge offers the most eclectic and creative menu from start to finish for gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian dieters.

“Merge is unlike other restaurants because of our variety and versatile menu items. We accommodate the individual’s preferences. I don’t know many other restaurants that can be so versatile and cater to different nutritional needs,” said Sarah.

The dishes are innovative and the food is exceptional.

The use of fresh, local ingredients and the focus on local musicians and artists clearly demonstrates that Merge is a community-centric restaurant which aims to please the patrons of our Queen City.