Gluten-Free By The Sea
Dining Gluten-Free in America’s East Coast Beach Towns
Since I was a child, I’ve been visiting Ocean City, Maryland, and my husband and I have continued the tradition by taking our own kids there each summer. It’s a popular beach town full of attractions like mini golf, amusement parks, movie theaters, water slides, go-karts, and a boardwalk spanning over 30 blocks. Our favorite dining spot in recent years is The Cafe on 26, located about a 20-minute drive north in Ocean View, Delaware. Almost everything on the menu, with the exception of the bread, can be made gluten-free. Another place to stop, just a few miles away, is the Good Earth Market & Organic Farm, which stocks many gluten-free groceries and houses a casual and entirely gluten-free café called the Birch Tree Cafe.
In Ocean City itself, you can find gluten-free options on the menu at The Greene Turtle , a popular regional chain with a lively bar. On a rainy day – or when you’ve simply had enough sun – you can head to the Tanger Outlets on Route 50 in West Ocean City and then refuel at either the Outback Steakhouse or Carrabba’s Italian Grill nearby.
If you don’t want the crowds of Ocean City, you may want to stay in the quieter and family-friendly enclaves of Bethany Beach or Rehoboth Beach, Delaware . The dining scene in Rehoboth affords some nice options. Popular choices include the Big Fish Grill , which has gluten-free menus for both lunch and dinner; The Cultured Pearl Restaurant & Sushi Bar , with gluten-free notations on the regular menu; and Hobos Restaurant & Bar , whose chef is more than happy to work with diners with dietary restrictions.
If venturing to the unspoiled seashore of Chincoteague, Virginia , where you might see the famous wild ponies, check out That Mexican Place , Captain Zack’s Seafood , Woody’s Beach BBQ , and even Ledo Pizza , a large chain with delicious gluten-free pizza. The fact that there are so many choices for gluten-free dining in an area considered protected national seashore is impressive!
Located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay is Virginia Beach . Like Ocean City, it’s a bustling town with a 3-mile boardwalk and numerous family diversions, including the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center . You’ll want to check out Tupelo Honey Cafe , a regional chain whose focus is on southern food, made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients (with all gluten-free items noted on the menu). Favorites include shrimp and grits, pan-seared jumbo sea scallops, and char-grilled beef tenderloin. Other restaurants happy to work with gluten-free diners include Thirty 7 North Restaurant and Bar , Pasta e Pani , The Imperial Palace , Taste Unlimited , and a perennial favorite of our family’s, regional chain Burtons Grill . Other gluten-free friendly chains include California Pizza Kitchen and P.F. Chang’s . If you’re looking for a quiet place to stay, check out the Country Villa Inn B&B and Day Spa . It’s been noted for its customized breakfasts for those who are gluten-free.
If renting a large home with extended family or friends is more your thing, the Outer Banks of North Carolina might be the perfect place for you. When we visited nine years ago, there were very few restaurants at all, much less any that went out of their way to cater to gluten free diners. But that was fine – our kids were young and with our big group, our intention was to do most of our cooking ourselves. Now, however, I hear that there are more dining options, including The Lifesaving Station Restaurant in the Sanderling Resort in Duck . This venue gets high marks, especially for its breakfast. Though the items notated as gluten-free on its menus are somewhat limited, they can modify many other offerings to be gluten-free. The fun thing about some towns in the Outer Banks, like Corolla , is that you’re allowed to drive on the beach. This was a fun novelty for the kids – and us adults, too. Be sure to also visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills and Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head , where you’ll find the largest sand dunes on the East Coast!
Venturing even further south to Hilton Head Island , one of South Carolina’s top beach spots, you’ll enjoy numerous golf courses and tennis, as well as the beach. Choices for gluten-free dining are plenty and fit any mood. There’s ELA’s Blu Water Grille for fine dining on the marina, Munchies for casual dining, and WiseGuys steakhouse with an extensive gluten-free menu of signature entrees and small plates. Other favorites include Marleys Island Seafood Grille , It’s Greek to Me , 1960s-inspired Frankie Bones Restaurant & Lounge, and popular chain Bonefish Grill . The Jazz Corner is an award-winning jazz club that boasts a gluten-free menu.
Last summer, we had the pleasure of visiting Cape May, New Jersey for the first time. It’s a very quaint town with Victorian-style homes and B&Bs dotting the residential streets. You’ll also find many apartments and condos for rent. The atmosphere is less frantic than some other beach towns, yet there’s still plenty to do. We rode bikes on the path along the beach and also ventured to the nearby pedestrian shopping area lined with ice cream stores, restaurants, and shops. One great find for gluten-free diners is called The Mad Batter Restaurant and Bar . They have an extensive glutenfree menu that even includes pasta dishes, pizza, and a to-die-for chocolate lava cake. Other spots of note include Tisha’s Fine Dining , The Red Store , SeaSalt Restaurant in the Ocean Club Hotel, Bella Vida Cafe , Empanada Mama’s , and Uncle Bill’s Pancake House for gluten-free pancakes. Be sure to pay a visit to the historic and beautiful Congress Hall , a great resort to stop for a drink (or splurge on a stay!).
If you live in the New York City area, the place to go is an area of beach towns known as The Hamptons . Mary’s Marvelous , with locations in both East Hampton and Amagansett , is a popular spot, due to the plethora of gluten-free options on its breakfast menu: a quinoa breakfast bake, arepas, bagels, frittatas, and egg sandwiches. If you’ve always dreamed of finding a gluten-free version of a lobster roll, look no further than The Lobster Roll , also in Amagansett. Fresh Hamptons in Bridgehampton , opened by acclaimed chef Todd Jacobs, is another good choice, with all gluten free, dairy-free, and vegan items marked on the menu. The focus here is on fresh, organic fare like their pumpkin soup topped with Greek yogurt and pumpkin seeds and their organic Long Island duck with tart cherry sauce. Even their fried calamari is gluten-free! If you find yourself in Sag Harbor or Montauk , head to BuddhaBerry for your choice of frozen yogurt (almost all flavors are gluten-free) and even gluten-free waffles or crepes.
New England also has its share of charming beach towns. The yachts, harbor, and Gilded Age mansions make Newport , Rhode Island particularly picturesque. A good match for gluten free travelers is the Inn Bliss Bed & Breakfast, a small and charming inn that’s walkable to downtown and known for catering to guests following special diets. Another “must visit” place is Eva Ruth’s Specialty Bakery – a completely gluten-free bakery offering sandwiches, breads, cookies, brownies, muffins, cakes, and cupcakes. (They also have some dairy-free, sugar-free, and vegan items.)
For a special evening, try 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar & Grille . This sophisticated restaurant, which serves quality steaks, chops, and seafood, also has a raw bar and a wraparound deck with views of Newport Harbor . Sardella’s Italian Restaurant receives lots of accolades for their food and ambiance. Owners Kevin and Patrick Fitzgerald are serious about gluten-free. Talk to them about your options, which include gluten-free pasta and pizza. If dining at The Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar , you’ll love their gluten-free menu, which includes crab cakes, sandwiches on gluten-free bread, steaks, and seafood. Save room for their “Take Five Pie” dessert, a combination of caramel, chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter, and gluten-free pretzels.
More casual venues include Diego’s , with a gluten-free menu of Mexican specialties, and The Wharf Pub & Raw Bar , offering live music on most nights. Their gluten-free menu is made up of American favorites like shrimp and grits, and gluten-free beer and ciders are offered.
Another summer destination in New England is Cape Cod , with dining options aplenty! A personal favorite is Not Your Average Joe’s , with a location in Hyannis . This mid-sized chain is known for its original take on classic favorites and has an impressive gluten-free menu. (I recommend starting with the deviled eggs, followed by the sage pecan salmon.) Other favorites in Hyannis are Sam Diego’s , a Mexican restaurant that follows strict protocol for orders from their gluten-free menu, and British Beer Company , serving English pub-style favorites and gluten-free pizza. Green Lotus Cafe is a vegan establishment that also has many fresh gluten-free choices. Bistrot de Soleil is a French inspired restaurant with too many mouthwatering gluten free items to choose from! For breakfast, head to the The Optimist Café in nearby Yarmouth Port for choices like gluten-free eggs benedict or French toast. Not too far away in South Yarmouth is Idgy’s Gluten-Free Restaurant , a dedicated gluten-free bakery and café full of all the treats you miss, including paninis. On the northwestern corner of the Cape in the historic town of Sandwich is another gorgeous place to dine and stay. The Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa offers 48 guest rooms and fireplace suites, a beautiful lobby, a full-service spa, and award-winning dining. Best of all, this restaurant offers many lunch and dinner menu items made with gluten-free ingredients.
If heading as far north as Maine , you may want to stay at the luxurious and newly renovated Inn at English Meadows in Kennebunk . Gluten free guests rave about their gourmet three-course breakfasts, with different homemade gluten-free offerings every day. In nearby Ogunquit , you’ll find Roost Cafe and Bistro , offering a great gluten-free menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and La Pizzeria for pizza (try the Lobster White Pizza).
No matter where you vacation, cook a few meals in and save a night for gluten-free pizza on the beach, but by all means, treat yourself and your family to a few nights out!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Broussard publishes glutenfreetravelsite.com and the free DINE GLUTEN FREE mobile app. Both contain thousands of GF dining and travel reviews from around the world. Karen is also the publisher of the Gluten Free Travel Blog and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.