Gluten-Free Egg-in-a-Hole? Jemiko Solo's Got It Going On
Jemiko Solo with gluten-free pizza
Courtesy Senza Gluten
Jemiko Solo, chef and co-owner of Senza Gluten (206 Sullivan Street; 212-475-7775), has a particular point of view about food. As the name of his restaurant ("without gluten" in Italian) suggests, Solo believes "that everyone should be able to go out for dinner with their friends, even if they have allergies."
“I don't have any food allergies myself, but a few of my closest friends have celiac disease. I saw how hard it was for them to order in a restaurant, and they would say, 'Oh, I wish I was eating that lasagna.' Terrible! I would always try to cook Italian food at home for them because otherwise, they never got to eat it. I’ve been working as a chef in New York for seventeen years, and a year ago, with my cousin, I opened Senza Gluten. It’s my dream come true.”
Sleekly designed, with a touch of obligatory scrubbed-wood edginess, Senza Gluten has been settling into the somewhat competitive Sullivan Street restaurant row, cooking up a large menu of reinterpreted Italian classics that are all gluten-free, although lacking for nothing in taste. “It’s been going well, I think,” says Solo. “We’re starting to have regular customers now, and word of mouth has really spread.”
Now to tackle the next great gluten challenge — brunch. Teona Khaindrava, Solo’s business partner, cousin, and front-of-the-house manager, makes it a habit to talk to customers. "[She] asks what they’d like to eat in an ideal world — that’s why we have such a big menu. We start something a customer requests as a special, then other people like it, so we keep it. Well, we heard over and over that people would love to have a fully gluten-free brunch.”
“It took a lot of experimenting in our little kitchen to get the baked goods the way I want them," Solo says. "I tried a lot of different flours, but really started to focus on fava, corn, and rice flours. I’d stay at night, and try out different versions, and eventually, I had enough things that I was really happy with that I was ready to try it.”
The most popular items — surprise — were pancakes, egg-in-a-hole, and traditional French toast. "We had people saying, 'It’s been a decade since I ate French toast!' I made muffins, scones, biscuits, cake, puff pastry for croissants. I was excited to make them, and people were excited to see them.”
Solo's next project will be baking bread. “My next dream is to open a bakery so I can make gluten-free bread. In our kitchen, there just isn’t room to do all these baked goods and make bread too, so I have to buy bread. It’s good, but I want to make it myself. That’s what I love to do — make food for people to enjoy. For everyone to enjoy.”
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