I had the pleasure of meeting with Randy McNamara, VP of Operations, and Michael Gitten from Heartland Brewery on Tuesday, August 10th. I also met with the general manager, John Kekalos, during our meeting. The Heartland Brewery on 41st Street and 8th Avenue has just launched their new gluten-free menu and it is now available to all diners at this location.
From the moment I sat down with Mr. McNamara and saw the GFRAP manual in his hand, I knew Heartland Brewery was taking this gluten-free menu planning very seriously. Heartland Brewery has clearly done a lot of research and understands that gluten-free menus go beyond the ingredients but also careful preparation. The three of us went through the entire gluten-free menu and discussed ingredients, preparation, and education of his staff. The gluten-free menu has been available to patrons for about 2 weeks and the GFRAP certification is in the works. The head chef at the 41st Street location is going to speak to the GFRAP dietitian in the next week or two to review the final menu. This is standard process for gluten-free certification through GFRAP.
Mr. McNamara pointed out that although the gluten-free menu does not yet include the french fries, they are fried in a dedicated gluten-free fryer. In order to be 100% sure that the fries are truly gluten-free, he wants to build a divider between the gluten-free fryer and the non-gluten-free fryer. It is this kind of attention to detail that really shows that a restaurant understands the gluten-free food preparation process.
Another way Heartland Brewery intends to avoid cross-contamination in their kitchen is to use special red bowls for all gluten-free preparation. These red bowls will be dedicated for gluten-free food and will not be used for any preparation other than gluten-free foods.
The gluten-free menu includes some of my personal favorites including nachos, BBQ ribs and sweet potato fries. The only thing I felt that was missing from the gluten-free menu were dessert options. Unfortunately, I think this is often the case with many restaurants that put together a gluten-free menu. Mr. McNamara apologized for this oversight and took down some ideas for gluten-free desserts for their menu. Stay tuned for gluten-free dessert options soon!
Another nice touch of the gluten-free menu incorporated into the regular menu. I noticed this new trend at a few restaurants around town. It is very nice to feel "normal" when ordering from the same menu as the rest of your dining party. The gluten-free menu items are clearly marked with an asterisk. On the bottom of each menu it clearly states "*GLUTEN FREE. Heartland Brewery regards allergy and dietary concerns very seriously. We want our Guests to dine with us with confidence. If you have an allergy or dietary concern, please ask to speak with a manager." As mentioned earlier, all staff will be trained in gluten-free meals but for complete reassurance the management staff is always available.
The gluten-free drinking options at Heartland Brewery now include Woodchuck Cider and RedBridge Beer. In the future, Heartland Brewery might consider brewing and bottling their own gluten-free beer but nothing is planned at this time. I think it would be great for a local brewery to offer a home-brewed gluten-free option.
For the time being, the gluten-free menu is only being served at the Heartland Brewery on 41st Street on 8th Ave which is conveniently located outside of the Port Authority Terminal. This location is in the heart of midtown and this new gluten-free menu is a much-needed dining option in an otherwise lacking neighborhood.
Heartland Brewery on 41st Street and 8th Avenue should have their full GFRAP certification in the next few months but their gluten-free lunch and dinner menus are available immediately. Additionally, the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup group will hopefully host a future event at this Heartland's location to welcome the gluten-free menu to New York City. I plan to announce this event as well as certification here on Gluten-Free Fun as soon as I have more details.
625 8th Ave. at 41st St.
(outside the Port Authority)