06 June 2010

(Accidental) Gluten-Free Restaurant Review: Charley's Eating and Drinking Saloon

As those who know me can attest, one of my absolute favorite things to do is go out to eat. I have spent exorbitant amounts of money on food and wine at some of Boston's best restaurants. The ephemeral experience of enjoying a perfectly seasoned and executed dish is worth every penny to me. I am almost certainly accompanied by some of my favorite people on these occasions which make the occurrence even better.

When I lost my job, I obviously had to change my habits. Add a huge life-altering diet change to the mix and it's virtually impossible for me to enter a food service establishment without my heart sinking. Words can't even begin to express how my heart and stomach ache for a piece of warm bread with olive oil, a hearty sandwich, juicy cheeseburger on a grilled bun or big bowl of pasta prepared in professional kitchen. The few times I have been to a restaurant in the past few weeks have simply not been memorable, except for the sad feeling I tried to keep from my dining companions. You can bet that one of the first things I will do when I am gainfully employed again is dine at Sel de la Terre, Hungry Mother, Craigie on Main or one of my other favorite Boston restaurants to celebrate (let's not even get into all the new restaurants I have yet to grace with my presence).

I am not abstaining from one of my favorite pastimes all together. Last Friday evening I had plans with my dear friend Joy, who coincidentally was also recently diagnosed with gluten intolerance, as well as lactose intolerance. As you can imagine, finding a place for both of us to eat with both our dietary restrictions plus trying not to spend a fortune was quite a challenge. We met in Kenmore Square on an absolutely gorgeous early summer Boston evening and proceeded to walk up Commonwealth Avenue toward Back Bay. Our mission was to find an outdoor table for drinks and appetizers and we knew it would be quite a challenge. With no luck on Boylston Street we looped around onto Newbury Street. We spotted a couple empty two-tops on the patio at Charley's Eating and Drinking Saloon at the corner of Newbury and Gloucester. We immediately inquired about the menu and were flabbergasted (yes, that is the correct word) to find that they have gluten-free pasta, pizza and other options on their menu.

Not soon after we ordered our drinks (a very potent rum runner for me and a glass of sangria for Joy) the manager of the restaurant, Jake, stopped by to introduce himself and discuss the gluten-free menu with us. I was truly shocked by their wonderful hospitality and willingness to accommodate us. Several restaurants in Back Bay Restaurant Group were my customers at my last job and although they are quality establishments, I honestly did not expect that level of service from them. To feel welcome and dietetically safe at a restaurant was something Joy and I had both been struggling with, so this was quite refreshing and unexpected.

Charley's has a scratch kitchen so they were easily able to accommodate our ingredient restrictions as well as our menu modification requests. Joy and I decided to share a margherita pizza on gluten-free crust, but Joy's half did not have cheese and we also had chicken as another topping so we could get some protein (we're both big runners and Joy is also training for a sprint triathlon). It was certainly not the best pizza I have ever eaten, but considering I have not eaten restaurant pizza in weeks, it more than passed the test. The crust was a good combination of soft yet crispy which I have not yet been able to master in my own gluten-free homemade pizza. It definitely had the gluten-free flour taste I am becoming accustomed to, but I think anyone would overall enjoy a slice.

The manager came over again to be certain we were satisfied with our meals, and we stayed for over two hours chatting. Our server, Steve, was also very friendly and attentive. Overall my accidental gluten-free dining experience at Charley's was terrific. Joy and I have definitely found our new summer spot -- if we are ever lucky enough to snag an al fresco table again!

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