You probably remember my Blog post detailing my family's trip to Italy this past summer. It was so fantastic, from a gluten free dining perspective, that I wrote a book about it (Gluten-Free in ITALY : Your Worry-Free and Gluten-Free Travel Guide to Italy), available on Amazon.
But I'm often asked...of all the places we dined in Rome, Florence, and Venice, which was our favorite spot? Who had the best (and safest) gluten free offerings?
In Rome, at least, I'd have to say it was a small chain of restaurants known as Mama Eat and Mama Frites.
It was pure serendipity that we ended up eating at these two restaurants while in Rome. I'd heard about both restaurants and had included them on our list of places to potentially try while in Rome. However, I wasn't sure if it would work out, based on where we planned to be sightseeing each day. As luck would have it, after touring the Vatican for several hours one morning, a nearby gluten-free friendly restaurant where we'd planned to have lunch closed for renovation. We were starving, but we decided to continue with our day's plans and head south to Trastevere, an ancient and picturesque part of the city with cobblestone streets and many restaurants. I knew of several places we could get a gluten free meal there. While wandering around exploring, we literally stumbled upon Mama Eat. It's a small restaurant -- but big on gluten free options! Almost every item on the menu is -- or can be made -- gluten free. They even maintain two separate kitchens to keep their gluten free patrons safe.
We were like kids in a candy store in this restaurant! What to try? There were so many amazing sounding options...things you can't typically get gluten free. I had to opt for the Neapolitan style gluten free pizza, which we hadn't yet found anywhere. It was amazing...I could not believe it was gluten free...thin, tasty crust with just the right chewiness to the crust. I ordered the Capricciosa, with ham, mushrooms, artichokes, and olives. Everything that goes into their pizza and pasta is so fresh and simple, allowing the flavors to come out. In addition to antipasti choices, fresh salads (I had the Caprese), pastas, pizza, and grilled meats and seafood, there were ample gluten free choices for dessert -- including pistachio tiramisu , Nutella crepes, and chocolate lava cake.
Not too far from Mama Eat -- also in Trastevere -- is Mama Eat's more casual concept called Mama Frites. It is modeled around street food or "cuoppi" cone-shaped baskets of fried specialties like fish and chips, chicken tenders, and donut holes drizzled in Nutella. We remembered that they also had a second Mama Frites location near the Vatican, so we decided we'd try it out the next day, since we were planning to go back to the Vatican to climb to the top of St. Peter's dome and spend more time in the Basilica. (Our tour on the first day mainly focused on the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums.)
So, after working up a good appetite climbing lots of stairs that next day, we treated ourselves to another amazing meal...this time at Mama Frites (Borgo Pio, 28, Rome -- just blocks from Vatican City). There are only a handful of tables in the restaurant, because they do a big takeaway business. But since we got there right after they opened for lunch, there was no problem getting a table. Our boys ordered fried baskets (one fish and chips and one chicken tenders), while my husband ordered a pizza at my strong recommendation! (Fortunately, it was just as good as the one I'd ordered the day before at Mama Eat.) I opted for the lasagna, also amazing. Other options on the menu include sandwiches, risotto, and smoothies. The great thing about this restaurant is that everything is gluten free. It is a 100% dedicated gluten free restaurant. We all split a couple orders of the Cuoppo Delizioso for dessert...small balls of fried pizza dough covered with sugar and Nutella, served warm. Ryan, our son with Celiac, said it was the best thing he's ever eaten!
We wished we would have discovered these restaurants even earlier during our stay in Rome -- or had time to go back to each of them again. In addition to the Mama Frites in Trastevere and near the Vatican, plus Mama Eat in Trastevere, there's also a Mama Eat in Naples.
These restaurants are so popular that the owners have fielded many inquiries about franchising the concepts. Let me tell you, the thought crossed my own mind, as I'd love to have one of these restaurants in our own area here in the States! But I think I'll just let it be another incentive for me to go back to Rome someday!
You can learn a bit more about these two restaurant concepts and link to their websites and menus on this page of GlutenFreeTravelSite.
By all means, if you or any of your friends are venturing to Rome (or Naples), be sure to make plans to dine in at least one of their restaurants -- whether you're gluten free or not!