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We're working with Citi and No Kid Hungry for their Dine & Do Good program, which aims to raise up to $2 million to fight childhood hunger in America. That’s enough for 20 million meals for kids in need. Enroll your Citi® card, and every time you spend $5 or more dining out, Citi will donate $1 to No Kid Hungry.
Want to do even more? When you dine out and share a photo of your meal with us using the tag #f52grams from 8/3 to 8/10, you’ll enter our Instagram contest.** We’ll re-gram the winner and donate $1,000 to NKH in the name of the food photographer who made doing good look best.
All month, we'll be sharing stories about eating at restaurants; today, lifestyle blogger Joanna Goddard reflects back on how her childhood inspires the way she dines with her family.
Joanna Goddard started her lifestyle blog A Cup of Jo in 2007 as a weekend hobby. After a few years, it became big enough for her to commit to it as her day job—and now it's a mainstay in the food and lifestyle blogosphere, with over 5.5 million monthly page views. I’ll admit it: I’m an avid reader. Its lists and advice are inspirational, and attainable, noting our shared Brooklyn neighborhood’s quaintness in the context of the larger, bustling metropolis that is New York City. We walk the same streets and have similar sensibilities about life, but what motherhood brings to Goddard’s dining dynamic drastically separates her experience of the city from my own.
That said, we’re not too unalike. While I don’t drink coffee every morning, I do often wake up to her blog. Recently, we sat down for a chat in her stark and sunlit workspace only a few blocks from my apartment—and found common threads through trends, both old and new, in restaurants here and abroad, resonating across eras, age, and aspirations.
Surrounded by New York City’s numerous global food influences, is your household cuisine reflective of your heritage?
My last name, Goddard, has two “d's in the middle, which is English (one “d” is French). I never eat English food outside of England—we go every other summer and then it’s all pastries and scones with clotted cream. My grandfather makes a giant shepherd’s pie, which holds a soft spot in my heart. You don’t see much of that sort of thing in New York. There are fish & chips places; Sunken Hundred is Welsh; The Spotted Pig is kind of British; and Myers of Keswick is a traditional English grocery store where my family used to go and get candy when we lived in the West Village.
Chicken Divan and Domino’s
My children are so spoiled with the variety of foods they eat. Growing up, my family didn’t go out to eat much more than once a year for some really important thing, or on prom night. I didn’t eat sushi until college. I’m from the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, where the Midwestern joke is that the vegetarian option was a tuna sandwich. My mom made chicken divan casserole, with chicken, cream of broccoli, and water chestnuts, or we’d order Domino’s for pizza, a local chain. I didn’t have that many styles of food to choose from. Now, my children are three and seven and they’ve had multiple versions of everything. The other day, I asked them what they wanted for dinner, and my older one said “Falafel!” and my younger one said “Sushi!” and I’m like, “You are so spoiled!” They’re just so flexible and happy with everything.
How has living in Brooklyn changed your eating habits?
We don’t go out for quesadillas and burgers, but we eat them all the time at home. I work at night a lot of the time, and my husband Alex is the family cook. When he makes burgers he’s really specific about getting good meat at a butcher like Staubitz, a local place. The problem with burgers, other than Shake Shack, is when you order out, they’re so big. I want a small squishy burger, that’s how we make them at home. And I would be so happy not to see another quesadilla again, but it’s just our thing right now. We had this routine of watching Better Call Saul and eating quesadillas at night, there’s something sort of comforting about it.
Going Out for Pasta in a Hurricane
Alex and I are trying to push ourselves to go to other places, but we have a pretty tight rotation of fallback date nightspots. In our neighborhood, Buttermilk Channel is definitely Numero Uno. If we had to pick a restaurant that reflects our current life, it’s this. It’s relaxed, a little older, and it fits us really well. It’s cozy, and I can always get the pasta, which has some kind of crunchy seeds on it, many different textures, and then the biggest amount of soft cheese, either some ricotta or mascarpone. It’s on a quiet street corner, but it’s bumping on a Tuesday night at 9 PM; we really like the feel of it. We ride bikes to Fort Defiance in Red Hook and go to Frankies Spuntino 457 for Italian. At La Vara, we sit in the garden; the fried artichokes are ridiculous, and the fried eggplant with honey and cheese, and the paella are, too! Typically paella’s done with rice, but here they use tiny little pasta (fideos), with calamari and other seafood mixed in.
We go to Lilia in Williamsburg pretty frequently, too. We lucked out with that one, though. It’s impossible to get a reservation there, but one of the co-owners is this guy Sean, who was our old neighbor in the West Village. We were at his house during Hurricane Sandy. We ran across the street and he made pasta and negronis, and his downstairs neighbor was Missy Robbins [chef at Lilia], and she came on up to join us. We were all hanging out, like you’re forced to do during a hurricane, and that was the night Sean and Missy were like “We should do a restaurant together!” We were there for the birth of Lilia, so now we can always get a table. And there are often these agnolotti that burst in your mouth! Simple, straightforward, perfect. We just went to Italy for summer vacation—all the greatest hits, Rome, Tuscany, Venice, and the lakes. Alex joked when we were at Lilia before we left: “This is the best food we’re going to have for the next few weeks”.
Do you travel for food? If so, have you seen any of these trends find their way back to NYC?
The one dish I remember loving the most while abroad, that I have yet to see here, we had on our honeymoon in Positano, Italy. There’s this little restaurant, Il Ritrovo, up in the hills and at the beginning of the meal they served grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves. It was so insane! Someone make that here! Please!
I went to work in Paris in January, and I asked readers, “What’s the one place everyone raves about in Paris?” So many people said to go to L'As du Fallafel. I was like, “Falafel? You guys, that’s crazy, I’m in Paris.” And then I went. It was the best bite of anything we had that trip, I was freaking out. Apparently Hundred Acres [in SoHo] did that same kind of falafel sandwich for a pop-up one weekend. I wish they’d bring it back.
Every year, we go to Austin to see friends that moved from New York—that’s our food city. There were three places we went the last time that we really loved. We always go to Elizabeth Street Café for Vietnamese; it’s such a quirky, lovely space with a menu of bánh mí sandwiches, phở soup, and bún noodles. There’s also this delicious Mexican place, Fresa's Chicken al Carbon, where we get rice, bean, veggie, and grilled meat bowls, which are great for kids and adults. This place has a beautiful wooden playground, and the kids just run and run and run. They’ll come back to the table all sweaty, eat part of their bowl, and then go run around some more. It makes for such a nice night because it gives us time to talk like adults. Then there’s this old plantation, a giant white house called Mattie’s at Green Pastures. It’s this mansion with different rooms all with different vibes. You can sit inside or on the wraparound porch—and there are peacocks walking around. It’s really nuts! They’re literally in the trees! The food is pretty good, but that’s not the point, it’s such an awesome ambiance and the cocktails are great.
Pigs, Crabs and Cornhole
Because we live where we live, in Brooklyn, my kids are really good at two things. One is that they don’t go in the street. They can run down any sidewalk, while parents from out of town are like, “Oh my god, they’re going to run into the middle of the street!” But for my children, it’s like there’s an invisible wall. They’re really good at that. And they’re really good at sitting in a restaurant. They can go for a long meal, quietly, without a scream, because they’ve just grown up like that.
Happily, there are also so many more restaurants in Brooklyn with big run-around spaces, like Pig Beach in our neighborhood, Brooklyn Crab in Red Hook, and Habana Outpost in Fort Greene. So it’s not just “oh, we have to get a quick burger or gloppy pizza,” because now we have the option of delicious food in places that are super fun. Pig Beach has cornhole (watch out for errant bean bags!), a Michigan throwback game, and Brooklyn Crab has mini golf. (Unfortunately, they’re weather bearing, and only open during the summer.)
Have you seen any food trends return from a different era, or sustain the test of time?
Tater tots are back on menus with a variety of dipping sauces. They’re such an amazing gateway to teach your children to taste different flavors/cuisines. Tater tots are sneaky vehicles; my kids will actually eat bagna cauda that way. It’s pretty flavorful and salty from the anchovies, but they love it, especially if they have something to dip in it.
Pizza will always be a part of our lives. Lucali’s pizza is so good, and every mom in the neighborhood has such a secret crush on Mark Iacono, the owner/pizzaiolo. There was rumor in the neighborhood that he got in a knife fight over a girl… if that’s not street cred, what is?! Our special order is pepperoni and green peppers, and mushroom and onion. That’s two whole pies, not two halves, and we eat it all!
Any exciting drink trends you’re seeing?
I actually don’t drink cocktails—all day long I drink water and all night long, when I go out, I’ll drink white wine. But I have noticed that the spritz is freaking everywhere. We had people over a few weeks ago, and almost everyone arrived with these giant red bottles of Aperol. Those and negronis are ubiquitous; Alex thinks Lilia has great ones, I Sodi in the West Village has a list (of negronis), they make 10 different kinds! We don’t drink like we used to; when we go out with friends, I’ve even noticed many a mocktail and how non-alcoholic drinks have gotten better. People are concentrating on a lot more shrubs and house-made juices. There are also session drinks, like session beers, so you don’t have to party with all parts alcohol (e.g. negroni, martini).
What makes for a good-looking restaurant?
Fortune Telling Fish
Elsa just opened on Atlantic Avenue and its garden feels like you’re in Paris, with café lights and these little funny-shaped white and black chairs; it’s so beautiful. Sometimes if the restaurant is not classically pretty, it can just feel really good, like The Mermaid Inn in the East Village. That yellow light is always the right tenor, a lovely kind of buzz. And they do this cool thing where they don’t present you with a dessert menu, instead they bring a tiny chocolate pudding in a little espresso cup, and a fortune telling fish, one of those plastic red fish toys you put in your hand and it lays flat or curls up, depending on your fortune.
One my favorite all time restaurants is Café Cluny in the West Village, where I went on my first date with Alex. It’s such an old reliable paparazzi place, you always see a celebrity there, Christy Turlington, Issac Mizrahi in the back, Julianne Moore will be like, “Ooh, I’m so sorry I bumped your bag,” and it’s on the prettiest street corner in New York City. I have a really soft spot in my heart for it. If you go on your first date somewhere, how could you not love it forever?
Tell me about your favorite fine dining restaurant experiences lately, what impressed you most about them?
With or Without
“Do you mean Jean-Georges or Eleven Madison Park?” For me, at this moment, fine dining versus casual is really with kids or without I really want to go to Maialino, because Alice Gao, a friend on Instagram (@alice_gao) took the most beautiful pictures of her food there. Alex has been trying to get us reservations at Le Coucou, it looks stunning in photos.
In Atlanta, my husband and I went to Kimball House, which had the best oysters; they felt like you were jumping into the ocean. Our waiter there gave us a good tip about oysters. He brought out this giant platter with hot sauces, lemons and mignonettes, and I asked “what would you recommend putting on them?” He said, “honestly, you’re getting the most delicious oysters, just eat the oyster without anything on it first.” Usually I’m stacking it up with all the toppings, but having them solo it felt like you were swimming in the cold Atlantic and you just happen to drink its salty water, so refreshing.
What’s not to love about dining in NYC these days?
Things Don't Last Forever
That things won’t last forever. I actually felt heartbroken when Ino, this little sliver of a panino bar, closed. It was the end of an era, and I feel like I grew up there in my twenties: going on dates, meeting friends, I went there by myself one time. It felt like you just came into yourself in that place, the most charming tiny gem. That’s the tough thing about New York, a restaurant closes and you can get your heart broken.
Thankfully there are new constants. For the best chocolate chip cookie, we go to Poppy’s, which is only open on the weekends from 9 AM to 3 PM. They serve frittatas and lemon bread, but it’s that cookie I keep going back for.
We're working with Citi and No Kid Hungry for their Dine & Do Good program, which aims to raise up to $2 million to fight childhood hunger in America by donating $1 to No Kid Hungry every time a Citi cardmember spends at least $5 dining out with their Citi credit card. Dining out to support Dine & Do Good? Share a photo of your meal with us on Instagram from 8/3 to 8/10 by using the tag #f52grams.