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Maria Carlino grew up on good Italian home cooking, including lots of pasta. Her parents, Franco and Danica, own La Riviera Trattoria in Clifton. Maria is the manager, and her brother, Antonio, works beside Dad as his sous chef. Then three years ago Maria discovered she had celiac disease.
No matter where you turn these days, everyone knows someone struggling to deal with gluten intolerance, or worse, celiac. This auto-immune disorder causes severe gastro-intestinal distress whenever wheat products are consumed. Usually the diagnosis sends families into crisis as they scramble to revamp their grocery shopping and cooking while keeping everyone healthy and happy around the dinner table. Many celiac patients despair of ever again eating freely in a restaurant.
Pity Carlino, working in a restaurant where much of the menu was suddenly off-limits to her. All she could do was watch people enjoy the pastas she grew up on and could no longer go near.
“Of course, as a chef for over 30 years, my dad was going to want to feed me my favorite pastas and breads,” says Carlino, 33.
Since this was no longer possible the old way, the family started to research gluten-free flours and other gluten-free products. This grew into a mission. Slowly the restaurant built an entire gluten-free menu to serve alongside the regular menu.
“We even have gluten-free beer, vodka and brownies,” Maria says with the enthusiasm of someone who is clearly on a crusade to improve the lives of New Jersey’s gluten-challenged diners.
At the restaurant, when a gluten-free order goes into the computer, a big ‘GF’ pops up in the kitchen, alerting the staff. Since cross-contamination is a major concern, they have implemented a system in which all the gluten-free plates, utensils, pots and pans are washed and stored separately, and there is a designated area for storing and preparing the special dishes.
Carlino herself has travelled to Italy to research and purchase the finest gluten-free products, like pasta made from corn flour, to ensure that nothing is sacrificed in flavor, texture or presentation.
What started as a father’s loving desire to feed his daughter the foods she adores has turned into a network of over 500 La Riviera customers who come regularly to enjoy dishes that anyone would be hard put to distinguish from the old-fashioned. larivieratrattoria.com
Here are a few other restaurants that serve gluten-free foods in addition to regular dishes:
Fine Grind Coffee Bar Café (thefinegrindcoffeebar.com) Little Falls
Mama’s & Café Baci (mamascafebaci.com) Hackettstown
Park & Orchard (parkandorchard.com) East Rutherford
Pasta Pomodoro (pastapomodornj.com) Voorhees
Taste of Asia (tasteofasianj.com) Summit
SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.