Confessions of a Gluten-Free Drama Queen

Nomming the elusive wheat-free slice
By Caitlin Hufnagle

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I am a glutard. I hate gluten. It hates me. As such, it is incredibly difficult to dine out—particularly so at pizza restaurants. This is because it is in the general nature of pizza to contain gluten, my sworn enemy, and as a result I have hungered for exotic breeds of gluten-free pizza. This dream of mine was partially realized during a recent journey to the Lower East Side, when I ventured to pizza restaurant Pala.

Located on Allen Street off of East Houston, the place was hard to find. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I was on the wrong side of the street, but I would rather attribute it to the lack of flashing neon signs. It looked swanky, and inside were many “snazzy” Manhattanites dining. We went in and had to wait for 15 minutes for a table. As we waited, we also took deep breaths hoping to fill our pulmonary alveoli with pungent pizza filled air. Unfortunately, we were met with the toxic odor of an unknown recent renovation. Hopefully it was not detrimental to our health, although due to the potency, I remain highly uncertain.

A trendy looking, slightly over-enthusiastic waiter finally took us to our seats. His hair had an intriguing half wave, half curl style on one side of his head—I wondered about the amount of hair gel it required. After delivering a menu of over-priced (though thoroughly appetizing) pizzas, he returned to take our order. We were hoping to spend as little as possible, and after attempting to order one gluten free eggplant-mozzarella pizza (which he deemed personal sized) and one appetizer between the four of us, we were (rightfully so) persuaded to order more. We upped the pizza order to two. However, our waiter seemed to judge our state of frugality and continually encouraged us to order more food. After making it clear that this was all we intended to order, he left, but we could still feel the scorn of his judgment.

After we engaged in a good dose of people watching, the appetizer arrived. Though it had not been previously made expressly clear to us that the appetizer was intended for one person, we soon realized the truth. It consisted of two gluten free breaded balls of oozing cheesy (together with some other unintelligible material) goodness bathed in marinara sauce. We stabbed at the cheese balls, and our collective feeding off of this small bowl was somewhat reminiscent of a pride of lions ripping up the carcass of their most recent kill. These spheres were heavenly. I would eat them everyday if I could.

Feeling inadequate and criticized, we looked to the array of decorative dried herbs on our table. In silent retaliation to our peculiarly coiffed waiter’s “fears” that we would still be hungry after our meal, we decided to indulge in eating some of them. They initially tasted quite good, though they were not quite as satisfying as the cheese balls. However, the taste subsequently morphed into an unpleasant flavor that even the table water could not banish from my mouth.

We then proceeded to the main course. I, being a glutard, have always searched for the holy grail of pizzas. Now, I believe my crusade is over. The cheese and sauce were in perfect proportion, and did not fall from the pizza dough as I lifted it carefully into my salivating mouth. The crust was both crisp and doughy at the same time. In addition, the eggplant topping was tender and exquisite. I placed some of the decorative herb on my pizza which the waiter had begrudgingly announced to us was oregano (and that if we were so inclined to eat it, we could) and found that this was a mistake. I did not do it again.

After we were finished, our waiter again tried to persuade us to purchase more pizza, to which we replied that we were not interested. He cleared our plates, asking twice, in the most patronizing way, if we wanted dessert. He brought our check, and seemed honestly surprised that we paid with a credit card, I think because he expected a “dine and dash.” After paying, we left, mostly satisfied with our dining endeavor.

All in all, Pala was a good experience. The food was top quality, and not totally extortionate in price, just out of our spending limitations for that particular day. Smell: questionable. The staff seemed pleasant enough, though obviously aware and displeased with the college demographic, particularly those who were not willing or able to invest over $100. The service was a tad slow and too funkily coiffed, but that was made up for by the satisfaction the pizza provided.

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