In our Brunch Special posts, we bring you local moms who are leaders in their fields, and ask them how they navigate the food scene in New York City with their kids.

This week’s Brunch Special is courtesy of Ann Cantrell, who is well-known around Brooklyn as the owner of the adorable corner store, Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store, in Boerum Hill. Ann and her husband, Rob Cantrell, are parents to Charlotte (whom they call Coco), who will be turning two in July. Ann has lived in Brooklyn Heights for eight years, so she’s a local with some great insights into where to take kids in the neighbourhood.

We caught up with Ann to talk about eating out at restaurants with Coco, and some of her favorite local places to grab a bite.

Ann Cantrell - Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store
Ann Cantrell, owner of Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store.

Where do you like eating out with Coco?
“We don’t go out to eat a ton,” says Ann, “but our first outing was a good place to phase in to it – we went to the Lobster Shack down at the Dumbo Pier when we had relatives visiting when Coco was a month old”.

Does it get easier to take Coco to restaurants as she gets older?
As Coco gets older, Ann says she finds eating out with her both easier and harder, at the same time. “This weekend we went to Iris Cafe (one of my favorites) but they don’t have high chairs so Coco was sitting on the chair by herself,” says Ann. “I also had her on my lap – she got really squirmy and rolled off! Ouch!”.

Ann Cantrell - Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store
Ann and Coco.

Favourite kid-friendly local hangout?
“We go to Clark’s (a diner on the corner of Clark and Henry in Brooklyn Heights) a lot because they are sooo nice and good to kids,” says Ann. “They’re very helpful, entertaining and patient.”

Fave kid-friendly pizza?
“We eat a ton of pizza in the Cantrell House so we have been to almost every pizza place in NW Brooklyn,” Says Ann. “One of our favorites for an upscale pizza outing is Dellarocco’s on Hicks off of Montague.”

Fave kid-friendly treats?
The Cantrells love their sweets. “One Girl Cookie, Betty’s Bakery, and my husband loves Crumbs because it’s never crowded,” says Ann. “We just went to The Treats Truck in Carroll Gardens for the first time. It gets four thumbs up from me and Coco! More than anything, I liked that there was a place for kids to play.”

What are some of your favorite family eating traditions?
Ann and her family are huge pizza lovers, so her fave family eating ritual is eating out at Monty Q’s for lunch every Saturday. “I like their artichoke slices, but mostly we stick to cheese,” says Annie.

What is your favorite spot for special family occasions?
“If we have friends in town we go to Clarks or Iris for breakfast and then somewhere chill for lunch,” says Ann. The family also cooks a lot at home and love to make big family meals at their apartment.

“My husband makes amazing banana pancakes for yummy brunches, and I love to cook too so we usually have our big, special meals at home,” says Ann. She also finds that eating at home with visiting family makes it easier for Coco too, as Ann finds that she doesn’t eat as much when they’re out (except for pizza!). “We actually had several conversations before Coco was born about taking kids out to eat and we do it for sure,” says Ann, “but we’ll do it a lot more when she is older and can sit and be an active participant in our convos and truly enjoy the experience”.

Number one tip for other parents when eating out with kids?
“Going out to eat is a special occasion so I try to emphasize that to Coco,” says Ann. “I don’t really bring a lot of crazy toys or anything, but instead try to include her in our conversations and keep her entertained that way.” Ann also says that keeping the meals short is key, “and it always helps to start with some Cheddar Bunnies as an appetizer!” she adds. “My friend said wallets work really well for entertaining, we’ll need to try that,” says Ann. “And as I was reading in one of Alexis’ posts too, if all else fails, there’s always the iPhone!”

What’s your must-have item for restaurant outings with Coco?
“One thing I always have with me for outings of all kinds are our Tegu Blocks,” says Ann. “They’re magnetic wooden blocks and Coco is obsessed! They’re fun for adults to play with too. They come in a felt pouch and are easy to pop in your purse, pocket or diaper bag. Several customers asked me for them before we started carrying them (they told me you can keep a toddler occupied for a full meal with them, it’s true!).”

If you’re in Brooklyn, be sure to check out Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store. It’s the perfect place to pick up a unique gift for loved ones – or for yourself!

Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store
365 State St Brooklyn, NY
Mon-Sat, 11am-7pm, Sun 12pm-6pm