345 East 12th Street (between 1st & 2nd Ave.)
Fasten your gluten-free comfort food seat belt, because S’MAC is going to take you for a cheesy ride! I can’t eat there (for now) due to my stupid corn and dairy allergies, but I wanted to get the scoop about their gluten-free options for everyone else. I emailed the owner, Sarita, and her reply seriously impressed me:
From the day we opened (actually, since a few days before we opened), we have had requests for specialty mac & cheese. Dairy-free and Vegan being one, Gluten Free was another, Rennet Free cheeses, etc. Of all these requests, GF was the one we heard the most. We knew we always wanted to extend mac & cheese to more and more people, so we decided upon GF as the best one to start with. Seemed like a simple enough idea at the time. But as we dug deeper we realized that it would be harder than we had first imagined. Restaurant cooking is very different than home cooking and a recipe that might work in your home would not necessarily hold up in a restaurant. The considerations we had were,
1) Gluten is a great emulsifier and helps to bind cheese sauce to pasta. Non-gluten mac & cheeses, especially ones made with starches, tend to have cheese sauce that runs off the pasta. We wanted to make sure that the "goopiness" factor was not lost.
2) Gluten is also a great stabilizer and mac & cheese made with gluten in it will not separate when sitting in your fridge for a few days. This stability was very important to us because people order Take & Bake from us and typically hold them in their fridge for a few days before baking and eating. People also take leftovers home and have to be able to reheat and eat them at least a few days later.
3) Any thickener, stabilizer used in mac & cheese needs to be pretty tasteless and a lot of the alternative flours out there (like bean flours, sorghum, etc.) tend to have very strong flavors of their own, completely masking the cheese flavors.
So you can imagine that it took us a good 6-7 months of playing with ingredients before we got everything we wanted. The successful thickener turned out to be a blend of Sweet Rice and Potato flours. Sweet Rice is blander, starchier and not grainy like its other Rice cousins, and Potato flour tends to be a very gummy flour.
The other big consideration was Cross Contamination. We knew that in our tiny kitchen, with food flying everywhere when a rush hits, there was no way we could, (a) maintain a separate set of sauces and pasta for GF people, and (b) prevent cross contamination. So the next rule we made was that either we serve GF bechamel and GF breadcrumbs to everyone, or give up on the GF idea. A lot of other restaurants will sometimes put GF (or other allergy friendly) items on their menu that taste sub-par, because they know it is not their main business and they are doing it just to appease a certain constituency. We, on the other hand, had to make sure that our GF mac & cheese tasted just as good (or better!) as the regular one because we would be serving it to everyone, not just GF customers. So that took some time too, doing blind taste tests with regular customers and tweaking proportions until we got to a point where neither our own staff nor our regular customers (who had been eating our food for a year and a half) could tell which was which in a blind taste test. When we reached that point we knew that we could now go ahead and put it on the menu.
So we have eliminated All-Purpose flour completely from the restaurant, and everyone gets their mac & cheese with the Sweet Rice & Potato flour base. We have also eliminated Breadcrumbs from the restaurant and everyone gets their mac & cheese with GF Corn Flake crumbs. We went over our pantry with a fine tooth comb and talked to all our suppliers, and so at this point, there are only 4 sources of gluten contamination at S’MAC ….
1) Regular Pasta
2) Multi-grain Pasta
So you can see that it is much easier to control these than breadcrumbs and flour flying around our kitchen. Once that was accomplished, it was just a matter of designating separate pots and utensils for cooking GF and non-GF items, rearranging the kitchen a little bit to ensure things don’t fall into one another, and then training all the staff so they understood what Gluten is and does to people and how to avoid cross-contamination.
It does help that just over 8 months ago I suddenly developed an intolerance to gluten myself, and was unable to eat my own mac & cheese until now :(. That’s the story – sorry for the thesis but it’s hard to condense! Now that GF is on the menu, we will be turning our attention to dairy-free. So rest assured, we will get you to S’MAC one day!
Also — yes we do have a membership with GFRAP and are just waiting on them to link to us now.
There is an additional charge for people ordering "gluten-free" pasta — it is as follows:
Major Munch: $3.00
It looks like S’MAC may change the term "cheesy" into a compliment!
So go get yourself some gluten-free mac n’ cheese!! Be sure to come back here and give us your feedback.
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