Authentic looking and tasting gluten-free pasta- Cafe Prima Pasta (North Beach)

So the other week I decided I had been slacking a little bit on finding gluten-free restaurants in Miami. With how I’ve seen gluten-free options improve (somewhat dramatically) in South Florida in my four plus years here I knew there could definitely be some new options out there I had missed or hadn’t tried. So I began to do more Google searches and tried to find some new places. Yelp and Urbanspoon can be helpful, but also sometimes fall a bit short. It’s not always clear if something is labeled gluten-free on there just because it has stuff we can eat (which is a lot of things naturally) or is listed as gluten-free because it has something special like gluten-free bread or pasta or a gluten-free menu. In my search I tended to use Urbanspoon and Yelp to find something categorized as gluten-free, looked at Yelp reviews with gluten-free in them to help narrow things down, and then checked the restaurants’ individual website. From there I was able to add to my list.

One place on that list was just down the street from me! Cafe Pasta Prima is an Italian restaurant I’ve noticed on 71st many times before. It actually looks pretty cool outside with its outdoor seating so I had wanted to visit, but just assumed the menu was limited for me. During my gluten-free search several Yelp reviews mentioned the gluten-free pasta, but unfortunately the menu online didn’t list it specifically. I was willing to trust the Yelp reviews so a friend and I went there for dinner last Monday. Luckily on their in-restaurant menu marked at the bottom was “gluten-free pasta available”!

As soon as I walked in I was pretty excited with the interior decor. It has that old school family Italian restaurant or steakhouse vibe going all throughout it. A little glitzy but cool. There are old framed pictures everywhere and chandeliers and mood lighting. My friend is originally from Chicago and she said it reminded her a lot of restaurants there (and she was similarly impressed by the inside).

I asked the waitress about their gluten-free pasta and she said it was a penne pasta and you can do the different sauces on them. I will say I wish there were a few more pasta sauce options. Their menu doesn’t have an unusually low number of pasta options for an Italian restaurant (especially if they want to do a smaller number really well), but it doesn’t have a ton. Since a number of them were stuffed pastas there are less sauce options to put over gluten-free pasta. However, still a good number to try and it’s way better than nothing of course! I went for penne ciao over gluten-free penne. It came with provolone cheese, black and green olives, and marinara sauce. I mentioned this in a few Chicago posts, but I’ve been really proud of myself recently for not just going for gluten-free fettuccine Alfredo. My tastes are maturing! My friend got the regular version agnolotti rosso (I wish there was a gluten-free version of that…), which was pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a creamy pink sauce.

It kind of took a while for our food to come out. The restaurant was reasonably busy, but it seemed to be taking a little bit longer than it should have (at least compared to other tables). Luckily we got an antipasto plate of meats, cheese, and veggies to tide us over. There also was their bread, which my friend said tasted like seasoned pizza crust (not in a derogatory way). The bread came with some herb butter I tried on a knife that tasted pretty good and rich. Despite the long wait even after our appetizers, I’m going to not focus on that because the gluten-free pasta might take longer than other dishes. There were also two big parties nearby that our waitress was also working with. Additionally it seemed like one of those places that seems like a place for a long, slow, old-school meal (we were just very hungry!).

I was very impressed with the gluten-free penne. This may sound like a small detail, but the ridges on the penne were very defined. A lot of gluten-free penne (which restaurants will get from a box and put their sauce on them) are just the tubes without ridges or the ridges are pretty shallow. These ones were really distinct and just looked like good quality pasta. I also enjoyed the pasta toppings. The marinara sauce was hearty and that and the provolone cheese gave it a rich and authentic taste. The olives were a nice touch too. I got a few bites that had less sauce and the penne itself tasted very good and not super gluten-free.

My friend loved her dish, the agnolotti rosso, with the pasta stuffed spinach and ricotta in the creamy pink sauce. She said the sauce was incredible and wished they could just give her a bunch to go to put on all of her regular pasta at home (and maybe over some other kinds of foods too). She’s come with me on a number of restaurant trips and she said this would go towards the top of her list (and that I know how to pick good restaurants in general!).

The one disclaimer I will give is that my pasta didn’t settle super well with my stomach. I’m pretty positive it was not a gluten-free reaction. That’s a pretty distinct feeling and it effects the rest of your body pretty noticeably. Part of me wonders if it was more me psyching myself out because I had wondered for a bit if the penne was too good to be true (since I was a fan and it looked so great).  It could also have been the cheese since I don’t eat a ton of dairy (and then I maybe perceived the discomfort to be worse because I was mentally overreacting). Like I said it didn’t have the gluten pain I’m used to. Also interestingly two nights later while visiting Portland my mom made a pasta salad. And I kind of had a similar feeling. And we know that for sure was gluten-free pasta and there was no risk of cross-contamination in the cooking. My mom’s pasta salad also had olives and I’m wondering now if those were the culprits that just didn’t settle well. Back with the Cafe Prima Pasta gluten-free pasta the feeling subsided after maybe half an hour, which also makes it super likely it wasn’t gluten. The feeling was not super uncomfortable I more just was wondering what caused it. I wanted to share this as a little heads-up just in case. I think the episode is just a reminder to be vigilant though in asking a lot of questions with your waiter and making them aware of your celiac and double checking everything (even though this was probably not gluten).

Cafe Prima Pasta is an awesome space and has really good gluten-free pasta. I’d recommend a stop if you’re gluten-free or if you’re in the area and looking for Italian. My friend really enjoyed her regular pasta and the space is very cool. A nice place to go for a meal that’s a little bit upscale. I was only able to get a couple pics of the space (and they are a little dark), but hope they give a good impression below!

Cafe Prima Pasta- 414 71st St Miami Beach, FL

www.cafeprimapasta.com

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The complimentary bread (not gluten-free)

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Some of the interior decor of Cafe Prima Pasta

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Cafe Prima Pasta from the outside

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Yes!

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The herb butter that came with the bread

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My friend’s agnolotti rosso

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The antipasto plate we got to start

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The gluten-free penne!

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