Image: Me, Netflix

Antoni Porowski, the food expert from Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, is a polarizing figure. While his fellow host Bobby whips up massive renovations, and while Jonathan charmingly “yaasss queens” everyone to death, Antoni has earned the reputation for cooking... well, very little. His Season 1 recipes—guacamole, grilled cheese—left a lot to be desired, and he often straight-up made people cook for him, like when he made one subject’s mother teach him how to make banana bread pudding.

Which is to say, people are still not sure if the man can cook. So when Antoni announced he was opening his first restaurant—a “fast-casual” spot inspired by his Polish heritage that would take over a shuttered West Village diner in New York City, with restaurateurs Eric Marx and Lisle Richards—we knew we had to go review it.

When the three of us—all active Queer Eye fans— arrived, we found a small, minimalist space filled with pothos plants and a soundtrack of the Cars and R.E.M, that was essentially a glorified Dig Inn catering to sweaty Equinox attendees from across the street with breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. We decided to order four dishes: the Thai Chicken Bowl; the TV Dinner with fish sticks (as our sides we chose cauliflower rice and smashed avocado); a collection of vegetables and smears known as the Den Mother; a salad (?) called Vegan Crunchy Creamy; and a nightmarish smoothie called the Big Porowski. (The bill was $79.)

All we can say is: we hope you like cauliflower.


Village Den storefront
Photo: Clover Hope

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Food

Megan: Healthy fast-casual places—your Dig Inn, your Sweetgreen, etc.—have spread like particularly pernicious kudzu, which is nice for me because I like my food in one bowl and a chopped salad is not an existential nightmare, but a nice way to eat what is essentially coleslaw but still feel somewhat virtuous. With this in mind, I thought Antoni’s food would feel healthy-ish but also taste good. I was very wrong.

Every single thing I ate, from the cauliflower rice to the roasted cauliflower to the dry, wrinkled lentils to the strangely sweet spaghetti squash, was devoid of salt. The Baba Ghanoush in the Vegan Crunchy Creamy sustenance bowl was spicy, and had I my druthers, I would’ve licked it off the compostable bowl in which it was served. A pretty but overly sweet beet hummus accompanied the Den Mother, which was also sprinkled with pomegranate seeds for no discernible reason that made any sort of sense. Though I did not really care for either of these items, they deserve mention because they had flavor. Everything surrounding them did not.

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The TV Dinner featured the two most popular items of the evening: a tartar sauce that tasted like it was made from veganaise (but not gross) and chunked avocado, plain, dressed with maybe a lemon squeeze. At one point, I dipped salad greens into the tartar sauce because I wanted to taste something. The fish sticks were dry and coated in a Macadamia nut breading that distracted from the fish (that was fine), and added an unsettling creaminess that does not belong with fish. And while I didn’t mind the softness of the chicken in the Thai Chicken bowl (she was poached), I really struggled with how overwhelmingly and unnecessarily sweet that was. Sweet chicken. Sweet cabbage. Weird rice. “NEEDS ACID,” I scribbled in my notes, shortly after delivering what I think was a very obnoxious lecture about why. I did love the sweet potato because it’s hard to fuck up a sweet potato. Would’ve eaten the whole thing if left alone with our sad assemblage.

Clover: My immediate thought, after the first mouthful, was: Wow this is bland! And then it was one bland dish after another. And then: I need to think of another word for “bland.” I went into this experience blind—having only read bits and pieces of articles about the restaurant’s opening—so I wasn’t aware the cuisine would be predominantly “healthy.” Imagine my disgust! The fish, which was part of the TV dinner special, was tasty. “A slight zest” is what I wrote in my notes. I liked that it was light—perfect for a quick lunch. Megan informed us the fish was coated with Macadamia, so that explained the... nuttiness. But the texture was a tad too chewy. The fish came with a side of avocado, which I kept sticking a fork into because it was the most flavorful option on the platter. I loved the tartar sauce.

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My favorite was the Thai chicken dish, which at least had some flavor to it compared to the other meals and was pleasantly moist, plus saturated with slabs of cabbage. The least appetizing was the spaghetti squash salad (the Den Mother) because 1) it’s not spaghetti. 2) It’s squash??? (I made zucchini spaghetti before that tasted way better and I’m no chef.) Again, I wrote an astute observation in my notes: “Seems like it needs flavor.” It also came with rice and I recall Hazel wondering, “Is this real rice?” (Megan confirmed it was.)

The Den Mother salad; Vegan Crunch and Creamy

Besides the tartar, the only other thing that made me feel good inside, maybe because of the carb content, were the rice puffs and the sweet potato in the vegan dish—a combination that provided a nice, satisfying crunch. The pomegranate was the highlight of the veggie meal for me and I think added a sweet touch. In all, though, almost everything left a slightly too bitter taste in my mouth, like medicinal slush served as nourishment.

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Hazel: The first thing I ate was the Den Mother “salad” (or was it a bowl?) and I hated it. I think I said, “I don’t like this,” three times while trying to eat more of it. The squash noodles included among the lentils and cauliflower were great, but the sweet pomegranate seeds scattered on top threw everything off. I think for me the fish sticks were the best—the Thai peanut chicken bowl over cabbage and rice was too sweet—but even then they were lacking and I was annoyed that the sticks were classified as a “TV dinner” on the menu but did not come in a cute little compartmentalized TV dinner tray! What’s the point! Overall, I thought we chose four, well-rounded dishes, but damn, it was mostly bland.

Thai Chicken; TV Dinner

Drinks

Megan: Smoothies are hard because I despise the taste of banana, but for the blog, I endured two nightmarish smoothie experiences, both of which were, sadly, bad. The chocolate smoothie sample we got as our palate cleanser halfway through the meal claimed to have strawberries and cacao nibs in it, but I’m pretty sure that was a lie. It was pink, chalky, gritty, and tasted of sour yogurt. Our “dessert” was the Big Porowski, a shake of the devil’s fruit, greek yogurt, lime zest, and dates. Tasted bad! A weird Stevia-adjacent sweetness! Where were the dates! I want answers.

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Clover: When one of the servers passed out chocolate smoothie samples midway through our meal, I got excited. “Yes! A smoothie!” I then quickly regretted my eagerness :( The sample tasted like a shot of asbestos mixed with stale Greek yogurt, the sweetness of which overpowered the rest of the ingredients. I also think there was no need to add lime to the shake, for goodness sake. The full drink we ordered to share was no better and I usually love banana shakes. We didn’t finish it.

The Big Porowski

Hazel: The sample of the fruity chocolate smoothie we were passed was absolutely awful on first sip. We all sort of made bloodshot eye contact at each other when we recognized how terrible it was. I was reminded of cherry cough syrup or Pepto Bismol, because it was so disgustingly chalky, and then was super confused to find out there was no cherry in it and that bananas and strawberries were the culprit. As for our “dessert” smoothie, it was disgustingly thick and smelled like a Bath & Body Works lotion. I think we all agreed that the lime added to the Greek yogurt was actually making it taste curdled. Which, blech.

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Ambiance

Megan: Healthy restaurants have the same blandly interesting, mid-century modern derivative aesthetic: blonde wood; Edison bulbs; plants, uncomfortable seating options usually made of wire. Nothing stood out except for the plants, which were lush and healthy and real. Nothing was noticeable or particularly thrilling. Why didn’t they keep the old diner vibe? Who can say. Also, as the “restaurant” filled up towards the end of our “meal,” I asked Clover if she saw any people of color that weren’t us. She counted two.

Clover: The decor is what I can best describe as a clean diner cafeteria designed for cool gym people. There’s a nice plant trellis thing as a centerpiece near the entrance and the place is modestly spacious—there’s room to move around. But nothing about the design made me ooh or ah, similar to how you wouldn’t walk into a Chipotle and go, “I love what they did with the place...” The eaters were mostly young people dressed in athleisure. (The smartest thing is its location diagonal to an Equinox.) By around 7:30 p.m., Antoni’s (which should be the name of it!) was buzzing, but I couldn’t tell if people were happy eating the food or if they just needed a protein meal to finish off the day. This was probably around the time Hazel asked, “Do they serve alcohol here?”

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Hazel: It was sort of boring? It felt like every other white-walled, vaguely healthy restaurant I can think of. Definitely Instagram-friendly. I did ask everyone to touch the plants on our way out to see if they were real or fake (our brief investigation discovered they were indeed real.)

A display with beautiful pots

How Antoni is this restaurant (scale of 1 to 10)

Megan: Well, not to be rude, but very. The food—sustenance mush! The atmosphere—pretty but ultimately empty! Though Antoni is not my favorite, I am sure he has a personality other than wearing that A Little Life shirt and teaching men to make margaritas. Where was the personality? If I’m very rude, it’s a 1, but if I’m generous, it’s a 6? Hard to say.

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Clover: Even though the meals he makes on Queer Eye aren’t groundbreaking (I feel like it’s more about teaching people practicality), I expected more from a person who seems to value food, palates, and the joys of avocado. I wanted more of his personality in the place. I know it’s silly, but why not lean into the avocado joke and have a whole mini-menu full of avocado options?

Hazel: Honestly, I can’t tell if the restaurant being so bland and anonymous in its recipes and literal tastes is a sign that this is totally Antoni’s restaurant or not his at all. On the show he tends to make a lot of cheesy, carb-y dishes, pastas and queso fundido, etc, but that might be because he’s catering to straight dudes and dad types. Still, his Instagram as well tends to feature a lot of meat in the beef and pork variety, but very little of that was on the menu here. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had little to nothing to do with the Village Den options, just slapped his name on the menu, but I don’t have a strong enough sense of Antoni to know for sure if these are recipes he actually likes. I’ll give it a 5?

The plant trellis decor

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General Impressions

Megan: I was hoping we’d sit down and have a meal between friends and coworkers and instead, we did not. A real restaurant would’ve been nice, seeing as how we spent about what we might have in a nice restaurant. It was a peek into a grim future where all health food has the consistency and flavor of dinner for a very bougie baby. Unfortunate.

Clover: I pictured something fun and fancy in association with Antoni. The place is certainly for cool people, but not for people who like food. Instead, it felt like I was eating food in the year 3010, a future where all good food is banned and eating is much less about pleasure and only about building a perfect robot body. (I guess that could just be the year 2018...) Food is to be savored, not merely consumed, and this spot is more concerned with the latter—merely functional—so it’s mostly designed to give post-workout fiends a place to hobnob.

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Hazel: I was totally expecting it to be a sit-down restaurant with full table service and it was not. I was also expecting more of a quirky take on diner food given the hype in the press over Antoni using the old Village Den diner space. At the very least, I figured it would be a photogenic place that skewed healthy but had options for everyone in the vein of a Jack’s Wife Freda, where you could go and get a big healthy salad but also a french dip, you know? I just didn’t expect it to be this casual.

What we actually ate afterwards because Jesus Christ we were still hungry:

Megan: My stomach felt... unsettled, partially from the amount of raw cauliflower I had consumed and maybe also because I was hungry. When I got home, my sister was making some sort of delicious pork chop situation; she fed me a bite. I ate an edible because it was the night before my birthday and disappeared into my room. An hour later, I had some of her leftovers, which we both acknowledged were too salty, but honestly, I was just grateful for flavor.

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Clover: I went to the Popeyes near my apartment and got boneless spicy chicken and corn on the cob. I thoroughly enjoyed the taste of salt.

Hazel: Two greasy slices of Two Boots pizza down the block, “The Bird” and “Bayou Beast,” a large Pepsi. Highly recommend if you’re in the area!