Food Magicians

My favorite spots in NYC

So, you have someone special in your life. A best friend, a crush, a partner, whatever. They share your passion for food and you’re always looking for new restaurants and tasty experiences to share with them. Here are some of my favorites.

Chosen Food Family: Savoring Greenwich Village’s Joseph Leonard

I first moved to New York City in undergrad. I wasn’t the best high school student (to put it mildly), so I’d spent my first two years at a community college near my small Florida town of Dunnellon to shore up my transcript and save some money. But in the fall of 2016, I started at my dream school in my dream program in my dream city.

Those first two years in NYC were not spent in any kind of adventurous food euphoria. Like most college students, I was working my way through school and broke as hell. As a result, I have no thrilling restaurant discoveries to share with you from that time. After graduating class of ’18, I spent a summer working for a theatrical summer camp in upstate New York and then moved home to Florida for eight months to spend time with my grandma before she passed. March 9th, 2019, the second time I moved up to NYC, is when my and our journey through hole-in-the-wall NYC food truly begins.

8 months ago as I sit here typing, I moved up to Brooklyn to start my life as a College Educated Adult in New York. I was and a barista, a stage manager (what my degree is in) and a writer. I also had a little more flexibility in my wallet to actually go further than the grocery store ramen aisle to explore what I knew was the vibrant and innovative food ecosystem around me.

Joseph Leonard was not the first restaurant I discovered in NYC that’s stuck with me, but it is by leaps and bounds, by far, by miles, no contest, by a landslide, hands down my absolute favorite.

The chalkboard outside was perfect for Halloween. Many witches stopped to take pictures. I even took a few for them.
Joseph Leonard is in Greenwich village, which was a magical place for me as a young, queer person from the rural south. It’s across the street from Stonewall, nestled at the end of long bank of brownstones. It’s white paint job and climbing vines invite you in. The first time I ate there, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I was nowhere near peak Joseph Leonard time. Still, the bartender there and every Joseph Leonard bartender I’ve met since, was friendly and helpful and indulged my requests for weird mocktails without a blink of an eye. We won’t dwell on the first time too long, because I have a whole Joseph Leonard love affair to talk about now, six months on, but I did have the best burger of my life that afternoon.

I will write a novel about how good Joseph Leonard’s food is later, but what made me want to write at such length about Joseph Leonard in the first place is the people, the family, the safety, the joy. I remember thinking my first evening/night trip to Joseph Leonard that “The queers are here, and they’re happy. They’re home.” Joseph Leonard is very aware of its prime gay location. Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Panic At The Disco, Hayley Kiyoko, King Princess, Queen and the like fill the small space. You might find a pride flag out front. You might meet a lovely genderqueer bartender whose smile and attentive service feels like a hug from a best friend. And if, unlike me and my passing interest in alcohol, you take a gander at the cocktail, wine and beer menu, you’ll find the only drink I partake of constantly at Joseph Leonard, the Brooklyn-brewed Gay Beer.

Gay Beer, made in Brooklyn, is my drink of choice at Joseph Leonard. They also feature an extensive wine list, large selection of cocktails and local beer.
It’s like, it’s frothy, it has just the edge of a bitter bite. If Stella Artois was made by a locally and queer owned brewery with more hops and a killer branding sense, it would be gay beer. Joseph Leonard has an impressive array of wines and liquors to fit your every niche desire, but for basic alcohol bitches like myself, Gay Beer is the answer. It’s pretty dumb, but it also tickles me a little that I grew up surrounded by deep homophobia, dreaming of the day I could move to New York and work in theater and be unflinchingly queer, and now I can sit in Greenwich village at my favorite restaurant bar and sip on a literal Gay Beer. I start off every night at JL with this comforting standby and think of it dearly during particularly stressful work weeks (months).

If I’ve saved up a particularly ambitious budget for the trip, I’ll move on to one of JL’s always exquisite appetizers.

A snack of baked clams
On the particular night in question, I chose the baked clams. JL’s menu changes with the seasons, so it’s hard to get bored or ever run out of new options. The baked clams were new to me. Full disclaimer, I’m a seafood junkie. If you don’t swing that way, I can absolutely vouch for how taste bud tingly the fried green tomato appetizer is, or the Mortadella snack option.

But seriously, these baked clams. Served on the half-shell on a bed of rock salt(yes, I did put a hunk in my mouth to test), with breadcrumbs and herb butter and a half lemon to squeeze over them with a nifty cover to avoid insidious seeds, these clams were bright and savory and a texture delight. Do not skip the lemon squeeze even if you aren’t typically a lemon person. The extra layer of brightness over the savory butter and clam is an essential ingredient in the experience. I made a rule for myself after my first couple of Joseph Leonard meals to not gobble no matter how much I wanted to. Each bite deserves its own special window of time to be savored. It’s well worth the effort.

And of course, sit and enjoy another gay beer and a round of conversation with the staff and your seat mates before you move on to the main course. The food is not the only part of JL that’s best enjoyed slow and easy.

The next course? The aforementioned best burger of my life. It still holds the title.

The Burger
If you go to the Joseph Leonard website, they describe their food as “seasonal American food”. On the evening I took these pictures, I was enjoying my meal at the bar and a couple stopped in for a quick couple of drinks. They were eventually persuaded by opportunity and appetite to eat a bit, but before that, as they mused aloud about what style of food JL might serve, I offered this description.

It’s American food, but with unexpected and innovative twists in flavor, texture, preparation or all three. For example, on the menu, the burger is the burger, but the meat is so perfectly cooked, the sauce is so complementary in flavor, the English muffin such a perfect textural partner, the bacon so tender, and everything soaks up together so well that I’ve yet to find its equal. I would not describe JL’s food as simple, typical, traditional American fare. It’s certainly not French, which is what the couple had settled on as they glanced around them at the decor, the general vibe.

I would also like to add, that I don’t know what cursed potato JL’s fries are made from. French fries should not be a big deal. They’re just French fries. JL’s French fries are a big deal and I could eat a million of them and I don’t understand and it frustrates me. Eat the burger. Get it medium rare. Eat the fries. Attempt to resist the urge to order another serving of them. Take the pickle or leave it. I’m sad I’m writing this from a tour stop in Rochester and can’t join you.

Joseph Leonard only ever has three dessert options at once and they change constantly. I had a white chocolate mousse with strawberry gelee, summer berries and pistachio tuile this past summer that I still wistfully daydream about. On this outing I opted for simpler, rich salted caramel pudding with whipped cream and cookie crumbles. Take small bites, not because bigger ones are too overwhelmingly rich, but because a tiny amount is still full of flavor and this dessert may be simple, but you’ll want to make it last. Have a cappuccino with it.

Salted caramel pudding
Joseph Leonard runs slightly higher in price, with a burger running at $23 and the rest of my meal running at $12 for clams and $9 for the pudding, but when I tell you I save up for Joseph Leonard specially and I have never once regretted it, I am being completely and enthusiastically serious. Plus, they keep their full menu up to date on their website,, so you can really go in with a plan. Tell Sean that Abbey sent you, and welcome to your new food family.

As I settled the check, one of my bartenders poured a shot each for herself, her fellow bartender and I, and we all toasted to each other and the community around us.

P.S. It was halloween the night I ate this meal and the wait was an hour for a bar seat for me. Never let this discourage you if you face a similar situation. I took a seat outside in the provided chairs and enjoyed the neighborhood views. Sean asked if I’d like a drink, brought me a Gay Beer and kept me updated. The wait for Joseph Leonard is always, always worth it. Always.

Full article on website

French Louie

This tiny brunch place is full of natural light, wood accents, cozy seating a egg wizardry. I’m serious. These people know how to transform an everyday breakfast staple into an otherworldly taste experience. Bring your best friend here. Especially if you want them to be more than your best friend. It’s pricey, which means they’ll know you saved up to share something special with them.

Best Brunch in Brooklyn

Sweet Chick

One of my dearest friends, Andi Ojeda, recently dragged me to this fried chicken and waffle brunch paradise before we went to see the new BTS tour doc. One of the most devastating culinary casualties, in my eyes, of my move to NYC is that asking for sweet tea is weird here. In my small Florida town, sweet tea is almost as necessary as oxygen. Not only does Sweet Chick have perfectly fried chicken and fluffy waffles AND sweet tea, they have different kinds of butter, jam, two different selections of gravy for your biscuits and gravy and some cool as heck stickers. My deprived southern heart sang. According to Andi, it was very funny.

You Can’t Take the South Out of the Girl

Joseph Leonard

If I could only go to one New York restaurant ever again, it would be this one. I wouldn’t even have to think a about it for long. My favorite restaurant staff I’ve ever encountered, mind-blowing comfort food (and some more on the sophisticated side if you’re trying to impress someone), a new special every night, gay beer, an impressive cocktail and wine selection, kick ass music and an atmosphere of home. They’ll treat you like family and it’ll be hard not to return every single time you have even a little bit of wiggle room in your budget.

Your New Home Bar

Recreating your favorite flavors at home isn’t always ... pretty

Ugly, but delicious!

Sure, there’s a nearly endless and entirely overwhelming tapestry of extraordinary restaurants to explore in New York. For most of us, though, unless we want to live in a closet, practical matters dictate that most of our meals are made at home. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on the fun and pleasure of good food, even if the presentation isn’t as polished.

Mushroom Carbonara

I find Bon Appetit’s test kitchen videos incredibly soothing, especially Molly’s, so quite a few of my cooking attempts start because I watched the BA team make something delicious. This was one of the first videos I followed along with. It was also the first time I photographed food in this apartment, which taught me two things: natural light is always better and straight overhead is the most boring angle ever.

Molly, Of Course

Sick Toast

My go-to meal when I’m sick and, therefore, lazy.

- two small avocados
- crumbled feta cheese
- honey brown mustard
- salt & pepper
- garlic
-two over easy eggs
- a piece of toasted sourdough
- rice wine vinegar, if you have it
Smash everything except the sourdough and eggs together in a bowl, put the mixture on top of the toasted sourdough, then put the two eggs on top of all that, enjoy