MEGAN BADGER / WIRE PHOTO
Owner and chef John Vallario of Grandma’s Grotto in Horsham has created a gluten free menu with 78 dishes and makes more than 30 gluten-free bakery items.
By Megan Badger
Wire Managing Editor
John Vallario has been in the restaurant business his whole life.
But it wasn’t until three years ago that he found his niche.
Vallario and his wife, Desiree, own Grandma’s Grotto, an Italian eatery and bakery in Horsham. The pair left their native New York City six years ago and relocated to Warrington. When they opened their restaurant on busy Easton Road, they had no idea it would adapt to reach such a specific clientele.
What started out as a family-owned Italian restaurant has evolved into a gluten-free food haven. Vallario, who is also the chef, says his restaurant offers the largest gluten-free selection in the world. At Grandma’s Grotto, those on restricted diets or Celiac patients can indulge in deep-fried delicacies, pastas, breads and sweets — items that are usually off limits.
Those with Celiac disease, a digestive disorder that can develop at any point in life, react negatively to gluten, a protein that is found in foods containing wheat, barley or rye, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The disease cannot be cured but can be managed with dietary restrictions, which usually require the patient to cut out such items as bread, pasta and cookies.
“One customer came in who was a friend of the family and she happened to be gluten free, and she brought her own bag of pasta and asked if we did anything gluten free,” Vallario explained. “We didn’t know anything about that, so we did more research. Then more [gluten-free] customers came in and we took some online classes on food safety.”
And the rest is history.
Today, Grandma’s Grotto is Gluten-free Resource Education and Awareness Training (GREAT) certified and has a complete gluten-free menu featuring 78 items from appetizers to desserts. Vallario also makes a wide variety of gluten-free bakery items, including biscotti, cannolis, cookies and cakes, and regularly comes up with new gluten-free recipes.
“People come from pretty far for the cakes and stuff,” Vallario said. “People will come in and spend $300 on cookies and stuff just to stock up.”
Vallario follows his GREAT training and takes every precaution to ensure his kitchen is safe and to separate standard items and gluten-free items. He has also created his own gluten-free flour mix that is used in all recipes. The most popular items on the menu are chicken fingers and french fries, he said, because not many places have deep fryers that are gluten-free certified.
“In the kitchen we use all one flour, so the whole kitchen is gluten free,” Vallario said. “In a separate area we do breads for the hoagies, and the pastas are in two different boiling waters all the time. We have separate deep fryers so there’s no cross contaminating and we use gluten-free flour as the flour for the regular pizza so nothing gets mixed up.”
Vallario caters to his loyal customers in every way possible by offering take out and making his gluten-free products available at the restaurant and online. When people started asking if he offered his gluten-free menu items frozen, he made it happen. At the restaurant you can purchase frozen pizzas, entrees, waffles and cakes along with pastas, bread and cake mix, and desserts. He also ships his famous cannolis to several restaurants in New Jersey and New York.
“I don’t know that anyone does what we do,” Vallario said. “Some franchises offer gluten-free choices, but some of those restaurants will do a chicken parm and it will be grilled instead of fried. Everything here is how it would be in any Italian restaurant.
“We try to give people what they’re used to,” he continued. “At least twice each month we’ll have a person actually cry, because you can’t walk into a gluten free bakery and see this amount of stuff. It’s very rewarding.”
Grandma’s Grotto is located at 968 Easton Rd. in Horsham and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. For more information about Grandma’s Grotto or to order gluten-free items online, visit www.grandmasgrotto.com.