Jill Schaefer is a freelance writer who lives in San Francisco. She has specialized in health and wellness communications for more than eight years.
Celiac.com 09/11/2008 - After a two-leg flight and multiple trains, Jeff and I finally stepped off the local Circumvesuviana train in sunny Sorrento, our first destination on the fabled Amalfi Coast. It was hot, or as the Italians say, molto caldo. We’d been traveling for nearly 24 hours straight, and as we lugged our bags along the final stretch of cobbled sidewalks toward Casa Astarita, we both felt exhausted, ravenous and more than a bit disoriented.
Jill: Any nourishment from our 10-hour flight from Chicago to Rome had long since faded. However, American Airlines had made good on its promise to provide Jeff with decent gluten-free meals. The attendant had confirmed his special meal selection at the beginning of the flight, and at both dinner and breakfast he was among the first to be served (much to the envy of the other hungry passengers!).
Jeff: For dinner American served me a gluten-free meal of blackened chicken on a bed of quinoa, with green beans, melon and a gluten-free German chocolate cookie. Now, airline food is never going to win any Michelin stars, but I was grateful that my meal was gluten-free, hot and reasonably palatable.
As we checked into Casa Astarita, the helpful receptionist Marella suggested that we try Bar Syrenuse, a nearby ristorante with gluten-free menu options. Marella even gave us a referral card good for a 10 percent discount. After freshening up, we sauntered a couple blocks to the Piazza Tasso, the main square, where we easily found the cheerful and airy establishment.
Jill: Bar Syrenuse offered a separate gluten-free menu selection. Many of the items, such as the meats and salads, were regular staples on the menu. Jeff had many options to choose from – including gluten-free pasta. I opted for a club sandwich, stuffed with local ham and cheese, and a caffe alla nocciola (hazelnut coffee).
Jeff: The intense heat of the day was just beginning to break, and I wasn’t in a pasta mood at that moment, so I ordered pollo al forno (grilled chicken with balsamic vinegar, parsley and chili flakes) and an insalata verde (green salad). The food was delicious, and sitting on the terrace made for a lovely introduction to Italy. All this for two for under 25 euros. Perfecto!
Day Two: Our stay at Casa Astarita included breakfast, and we’d been assured via email of gluten-free options. The staff did not disappoint and even offered to prepare an omelet if Jeff wished. He ultimately chose from the standard offerings of orange/pineapple yogurt, fresh juices, individually brewed coffee, cheese and corn flakes (which for some might best be avoided) before we began our morning walk.
Jill: During our meanderings through the town and along the cliffs overlooking the spectacular Bay of Naples, we checked out a few potential lunch spots and perused their menus. We decided on a simple outdoor restaurant, Angelina Lauro, near that train station that offered shaded tables and faced a grassy piazza bearing the same name. Jeff had a vegetable and cheese omelet along with fries, which would frequently become his reliable substitute for bread. I had a scrumptious margherita pizza. It was so big that I was able to save half for lunch the next day.
Jeff: After a short nap followed by another evening walk along the Marina Grande, we again headed for Bar Syrenuse – this time, with gluten-free pasta in mind! We decided to share a few dishes and ordered gluten-free penne pasta with tiny tomatoes, grilled seasonal vegetables and an insalata caprese. The pasta was nicely cooked, with a flavorful sauce. Jill commented it tasted so good she’d have never known it was gluten-free. It was then I realized just how good it felt to be in Italy, sitting outside and eating pasta, an almost forgotten favorite, as the sun went down.
The manager of Bar Syrenuse is a personable gentleman named Toni. We were able to pull him aside during a pause in his busy dinner rush and ask a few questions about how the restaurant came to offer gluten-free options. Toni explained that there are so many special diets that it is important to offer many choices to attract the fullest clientele, and noted that a wide range of food options is a reflection of good service, which is good for business. Consequently, Bar Syrenuse offers numerous items that cater to a number of specialty diets.
Day Three: After a torrid afternoon spent traipsing through the ruins at Pompeii, where we’d consumed just a few snacks – gelato, granita and coconut snack bars – we were ready for a proper meal. The day before, we’d spotted several quaint restaurants tucked away in the alleys near our hotel, and so we headed in that direction.
We nestled in at Ristorante Sorrento, a charming establishment with a large awning and phalanx of outdoor tables adorned in crisp white tablecloths. Jeff started with minestrone soup, followed by a main course of fresh local white fish with tomatoes in a white wine sauce and a green salad. I choose lemon risotto with shrimp and an order of pane (bread). Jeff got a little extra protein that night as I quickly passed over the jumbo shrimp to his plate. Their heads, with those little black eyes staring back at me, were more than I could take!
During our stroll back to the hotel, we stopped to purchase a few postcards and sip some cappuccino before settling in for a good night’s rest, before moving on to what would be the absolute gem of our trip, picture-perfect Positano. Check back for our next article featuring our gluten-free gastronomical adventures in this serene oasis by the sea!