New York City was recently named the most gluten-free friendly city in the country. I admit, such a declaration left me a little heartbroken.
I miss New York. I miss every person, every cab, every jewelry stand. I miss the 200 year old buildings and the great glass structures that sweep up to the sky. I miss the museums, the bridges, and the food. Dear god, I miss the food. Among its amazing gluten-filled establishments, NYC is home to S'mac, Slice, and the Rissottoria - just a few of the many restaurants that aren't just GF friendly, but GF focused. Even if the City weren't home to the Columbia Celiac Disease Center, New York would still top the list of ultimate places to lead your gluten-free life.
That said, I wonder if those who bestowed such an honor on New York have ever been to Canton, Ohio.
With it's quaint, country architecture and it's throngs of local businesses referencing the steel and rubber industries that once thrived in this part of the country, Canton is very much your typical town in the heartland. Flat and family oriented, it's is one of those places that are postcard perfect examples of Ohio - for further proof, look only to the fact that Canton is the home of The Football Hall of Fame. And while it may not have prada knock offs or punk rock roots, Canton, Ohio happens to have something New York City does not: gluten free heaven...otherwise known as The Raisin Rack.
Sure it may look like any other health food specialty store, but as the shelves and shelves of vitamins and other familiar organic products give way to the designated gluten-free section, something absolutely magical happens, and you realize you're standing in the shadow of gluten-free greatness. Home to 3,500 gluten-free products, the Raisin Rack really is the place for gluten-free shopping. Need further proof? Ohioans don't just love the Raisin Rack, in fact, this gluten-free oasis regularly gets consumership from Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and even California! Take that, New York.
But what really makes - and keeps - this place special is a lovely lady named Denise. A nurse diagnosed with Celiac Disease roughly eight years ago, Denise doesn't just work at the RaisinRack, she doesn't just order, personally test and approve all of the products sold, or keep a watchful eye on what sells and what doesn't (if it doesn't sell well in 3 months, the product is tossed, to make room for something better suited to the celiac communities' tastes and taste buds), she also regularly holds office hours at the store Monday thru Friday, personally counseling the newly diagnosed on their celiac lifestyle and helping them with their first (of many, I'm sure) gluten free shopping trips at the Raisin Rack.
Denise came to meet me armed with a packet celiac disease information ranging from a basic blue print of the condition and it's statistics in the general population to coupons for the store, to a free copy of a new, beautiful gluten free magazine called Delight. Did I mention that Denise is also the founder of the Canton-Alliance Celiac Support Group (they meet the first Saturday of the month)? Unlike the ones in the Cleveland/Akron area, Denise's group isassociated with the Gluten Intolerance Group, which is a great organization I happened to be somewhatfamiliar with, as they did a lot of the work in organizing such fantastic gluten-free information in New York City.
While it may not have The Met, Central Park, or CBGBs, Canton, Ohio may just be on it's way to becoming a destination onto itself. (For those culture starved celiacs looking for a little art to go along with the gluten free NY style bagels or angel food cake the Raisin Rack offers, be sure to check out the Canton Cultural Center for the Arts and its ABSOLUTELY ASTONISHING exhibit of Itchiku Kubota's Kimono's as Art. It's breath taking, really.)
If weren't enough, let's not forget all of the celiac friendly events the Raisin Rack regularly hosts. Still upcoming events in March alone include workshops on celiac disease held at 1pm on Saturday the 21st and 28th on the topics of shopping and label reading, and dinning out at celiac-friendly restaurants, respectively. (Preregistration is required, please call 1-330-996-1515.) In addition, March 28th will also be home to an exciting gluten free donut hole sampling. I mean, gluten-free donut holes, do I really need to say more?
Easily accessible from the highway, home to approximately 30 gluten-free friendly restaurants (just ask Denise, she's got a list in her head!), and with perhaps the greatest gluten-free grocery store this side of the Atlantic (that, by the way, offers rewards points when you shop, resulting in gift certificates for you) that carries fresh breads, pies, and cookies from Kathy's Creation's Bakery in Alliance, Ohio AND has a number of KOSHER gluten-free selections (yes, they actually carry many Shabati Gourmet products throughout their in six over-stuffed freezer cases), it is fairly safe to say that if New York City is the number one city for gluten-free living, Canton, Ohio ranks as a pretty close runner up.
We also don't have to tote our groceries back home by riding packed, smelly subways, which is always a plus.