Dining Gluten Free in Hershey, PA
Indeed, the Sweetest Place on Earth
Hershey, Pennsylvania has been a frequent stop for our family over the years – both to visit the amusement park in the summer and to attend hockey tournaments with one of our son’s teams during the winter. You’ll find this town offers plenty of exciting diversions to keep you busy and well fed for a long weekend.
We’ve stayed at the Hershey Lodge, where we’ve always had ample gluten-free dining choices for our son. Whether it’s a sandwich on gluten-free bread in the Cocoa Beanery coffee shop, gluten-free chocolate chip pancakes in one of the lodge’s breakfast venues, or a range of dinner options at The Bear’s Den sports bar, you can rest assured that the hotel’s chefs take dietary restrictions seriously. On the bottom of the menu at The Bear’s Den, a statement directs people with dietary restrictions to talk to the chef. Tasty gluten-free choices here include the many entrée salads (some may require minor modifications), nachos, wings, peel-and-eat shrimp, and barbecue chicken.
If you’re looking for a slightly more formal dinner, the Hershey Grill and The Forebay both feature seasonal selections, steaks, and seafood. Their allergen information guides, also available to view online, provide information on the eight most common allergens, including gluten.
The Hotel Hershey, Hershey’s premier property, elevates dining to an even higher level. Like the Hershey Lodge, the Hotel Hershey provides allergen information online for each of its restaurants, so you can view your options in advance. The hotel’s Sunday brunch gets rave reviews from our gluten-free extended family members who always make it a priority when visiting the town for Christmas Candylane.
It’s important to note that there are more gluten-free items available at these two hotels, beyond those noted on their restaurants’ allergen listings. For example, both restaurants have gluten-free bread, hamburger/sandwich rolls, pasta, fries, chicken tenders, pancakes, cookies, and dessert options.
Of course, you needn’t stay at one of the Hershey-owned properties to dine there, but it does make getting a gluten-free meal a bit more convenient. There are plenty of other moderately-priced and value-priced hotel chains in the area.
You’ll find that Hershey is a year-round destination. Even if you visit when the parks are officially closed for the season (November through March), you can still enjoy a trip to the famous Hershey’s Chocolate World, home of a massive candy store selling every type of Hershey candy, as well as all the company’s other brands. There’s even a free ride that takes you through the chocolate making process.
Inside Chocolate World is a food court for casual dining. I inquired about gluten-free options at one of the stalls and was presented with a listing of safe items to order, including soup, loaded baked potatoes, salads, deli meats on gluten-free wraps, chicken skewers, and tuna and chicken salad.
While not all candy made by Hershey and its other brands is gluten-free, the company does provide extensive information on its website (thehersheycompany.com) and its customer service line is available to answer questions (800-468-1714). I was also happy to learn Hershey is beginning to put “Gluten Free” labels on its packaging.
That’s not to say, however, that if a bag of candy doesn’t have the “Gluten Free” label, that it’s not gluten-free. The company is still in the process of getting the gluten-free label on all its gluten-free products, so it’s always best to call or go online to verify. It’s also Hershey’s policy to always list any source of gluten (wheat, rye, barley or malt, and even oats) on the label if those ingredients are present. Therefore, if a label does not specify any of those sources of gluten, it should be safe. It is up to you to determine whether you are comfortable with disclaimers regarding a candy being manufactured in a facility that also processes gluten or other allergens, but this, too, will be clear on packaging.
Visiting Hershey in late spring, summer, or early fall allows you to enjoy Hershey park. The Boardwalk water park area has a wave pool and lazy river that provide welcome relief on hot days. We found it fun to go back and forth between the rides (there are 11 roller coasters!) and our cabana in the water park. While the cabanas are a bit pricey to rent for the day, they give you a place to base yourself and to safely store your belongings.
Many of the food stalls and restaurants in the park have gluten-free options. I recommend looking on Hersheypark’s website (under the dining tab) and printing out a list of its gluten-free offerings and where they can be found. The Outpost, a new and completely gluten-free food stand, is your best bet. Here you can find flatbreads, burgers, cheesesteaks, chicken tenders, and more. Staff at all restaurants in the park are trained to change gloves, use clean utensils, and follow careful protocols when preparing meals for people with dietary restrictions.
To be honest, the highlight of every trip we’ve taken to Hershey has undoubtedly been the Italian restaurant called Piazza Sorrento. Located right across the highway from the Hershey Lodge, in the Briarcrest Square Shopping Village, this establishment has for years been offering one of the most extensive gluten-free menus we’ve ever encountered. Almost everything on its main menu is available gluten-free, including pasta, homemade pizza, subs, and even lasagna. The quality and taste of the restaurant’s meals are top-notch, and gluten-free diners will feel included with every course. You’ll even be able to order gluten-free beer, garlic bread, or my own personal favorite – the prosciutto, mozzarella, and sage bruschetta! Gluten-free desserts include tiramisu, ricotta cake, and panna cotta.
All gluten-free orders are delivered to the table with a small gluten-free label on the plate, which is reassuring because you might otherwise find it hard to believe all these amazing preparations are gluten-free!
If you are looking for even more gluten-free dining options, Lazarro’s Italian Bistro in nearby Palmyra also gets high marks from gluten-free diners for its extensive menu of gluten-free choices, as well as the staff’s awareness of celiac disease and careful attention to preparing gluten-free meals.
When you’ve had enough delicious food (and chocolate!), you can work off the calories by shopping at the nearby Tanger Outlets. If you’re hockey fans, you may want to plan a visit when the Hershey Bears have a home game. The team’s new arena, the Giant Center, is worth seeing, as is the Hersheypark Arena, the area’s older arena where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game – a record that has yet to be broken.
Other attractions in the area include golf courses, the historic Hershey Theatre, ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, Hershey Gardens, Hershey Trolley Works, and the Antique Auto Museum. There’s even the Hersheypark Camping Resort if you prefer that to a traditional hotel.
My last bit of advice – pace yourself when dining in this very sweet town … chocolate surrounds you everywhere!
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 (glutenfreetravelblog.typepad.com) and two e-books available on Amazon: Gluten-Free in London and Gluten-Free in Italy.