All three danger zones were in full force – china cows, glass vases and oversized coffee mugs at toddler level, a reading (requiring, you guessed it, sitting and listening, two skills that my toddler pretends not to have), and a huge open carton of Trader Joe Chocolate Cats, helpfully handed out by another toddler hopped up on sugar.
You’ve probably attended a book reading or signing, at least once. For adults, they’re usually a pretty calm affair. The attendees sit in chairs, quietly, while the author reads a chapter, and then sits behind a desk and signs copies for attendees in a neat line.
A book reading and signing for kids is more like a baby mosh pit than the serene scene described above. Picture 10 toddlers between the ages of 18 months and two years old, in a store filled with pretty, shiny things, and easy access to food. Yes, chaos, and yes, they egg each other on.
When it was time for Alexis to perform the reading, kids and adults all sat on the floor. Well, the adults sat, while the toddlers stood, performed yoga, stuffed their faces with the chocolate cat cookies, and, in my toddler’s case, assisted the author with her reading by helping her turn the pages and open the flaps.
Each spread inside the book features gatefold flaps that unfold to reveal the animal that’s being asked about. (The kids seemed to enjoy the element of surprise of seeing what’s underneath each flap.) My daughter’s favorite spread was the one with the snakes because she likes to make the snake sound (ssssss!). The adults liked the simple, rhyming text and the illustrations.
The book was well received by all adults and most of the toddlers (hey, they’re pretty discerning mini-people). It was a crazy experience, and thankfully nothing was broken, no kids were lost, and everyone slept well after coming down from their massive sugar crash.
Thinking of taking your toddler to a book reading and signing and scared of how they’ll behave? Just do it – it will be a fun and totally hilarious experience that you’ll be laughing over for weeks to come. Just remember to bring your camera, and cash incase they trash more than just your reputation.
After a traumatic trip to the paediatrician for Baby J, Alexis, Cheese, Baby J and I all badly needed a pick-me-up. A quick Google search revealed nearby TriBeCa Treats, so we trundled off to get a sugar hit to power us through the rest of the afternoon.
The interior was surprisingly roomy – plenty of space for multiple large strollers to comfortably fit inside. A long table in the middle gave the shop a communal dining-feel. When we were there, two little girls were happily coloring and reading books at the table. (This would be a great place to bring kids after school to start on homework or to unwind. We will keep this in mind for the future!).
Of course, what we were most interested in, was the treats. TriBeCa Treats sells a wide variety of cupcakes at a (Manhattan) bargain of $2 each, as well as brownies, cookies and more.
A sweet little kiddie table near the counter was a really nice touch, so the kids happily sat at the table eating their treats instead of running around like escapees from the loonie bin.
Towards the front of the store there are a variety of cute greeting cards and lots of accoutrements (paper plates, napkins, gifts) for a party to go with your bakery order.
Last bite: This little gem of a cafe is a great place to stop by for a sugar hit with the kids—or without them.
Highchairs: No. But there is a toddler-sized table for the littles. Stroller storage: Yes. Easy access: No. There are a few steps to get in. Change tables: No. But there is a bathroom behind the counter that patrons can use (you just have to ask). Kids’ menu: No.
94 Reade St (btwn. West Broadway and Church St.)
New York, NY 10013
Phone: (212) 571 0500
Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 12pm-5pm
After passing my two year-versary of living in New York, I’ve noticed some changes in myself. Could it possibly be New York-ness seeping in?
1. All I think about is food. Where the hot new brunch spot is. How to get my hands on the new cronut.
2. If the person in front of me at the subway station takes more than one attempt to swipe their card at the turnstyle, I have to fight the urge to punch them in the back of the head.
3. It seems normal to me to apply for a preschool program for my toddler a year and a half before the start date. And to write an essay as part of the application.
4. I avoid Times Square like the plague. Passing through it requires a stiff drink before hand, or at least a stop off at Magnolia Bakery for a pint of banana pudding.
6. Debating with fellow commuters on the fastest path for lost tourists to get to a given point is a just regular trip on the subway. It’s all good at least it’s not a poop carriage (and that’s a whole different post I won’t be writing about).
7. I can correctly direct people to most major locations, and, in Brooklyn, to the majority of streets/train stations and places of interest around DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and BoCoCa. To the people who I recently told yes, you can walk over the Manhattan Bridge, and confidently pointed them to a vague point in the distance – I’m supremely sorry. Also to the people looking for the A/C line who I directed instead to the F. Again, my bad!
9. If I haven’t had a mani and pedi, I feel underdressed.
10. Brunch now starts at 1:30pm at the earliest. Yes, I’ve finally caved to local convention, aided by a toddler who still takes an epic morning nap.
Signs that I’ll never be a true New Yorker
1. Celebrity sightings still get me in a tizz. I have been known to stalk celebrities (Sorry Mila Kunis!)
2. I can’t tolerate queuing for anything, so there goes any hope of getting a table at any new, hot brunch spots.
3. The peanut butter makes me want to gag. I have my parents send me care packages of Aussie peanut butter, Vegemite and Nurofen.
4. I still eat Vegemite on toast almost every day.
5. I buy British Cadbury chocolate in bulk and eat Nutella by the tablespoon.
6. I’m up at 7am every day (thanks Eloise!) and frustrated that nothing opens till at least 10am.
7. I’ll never sound like one – and I’m ok with that! I love my Australian accent, with the rare exceptions of time when people can’t understand what I’m saying.
8. I still use degrees centigrade, kilograms, meters and grams. I have no plans of converting from the true measurement systems.
9. The colours I love the most are found in Australia – the sky, the ocean, the sand at the beach – I dream about being there again soon!
10. I still call Australia home.
One of our favourite areas of the city is in Chelsea right under the High Line, with Chelsea Markets, the Hudson River Park and Chelsea Piers all a short stroll away. A new eatery to this prime strip of real estate is Willow Road, a New American restaurant and bar offering twists on classic dishes and an extensive cocktail menu (try the Hair of the Dog pick, the Willow Fresca—sparkling wine, fords gin, fresh lemon, peach tincture—$14, for a refreshing zing to wake you right up).
Thanks to the not so reliable service on the subway, we arrived late and somewhat dishevelled. The hostess couldn’t have been friendlier or more charming, letting us sit at the table while we waited for everyone else to arrive. No highchairs, so we sat in a corner booth-type area, and squished the Cheese between us to stop her from escaping. The vibe was a bit party-like, which was surprising for a brunch crowd. A hen’s party wearing candy pink cowboy hats took up one large table (and were amazingly mellow), while upbeat tunes played over the speakers.
We ordered the bread basket to keep Cheese entertained while we waited for everyone to arrive and order—it came literally in a casserole dish, possibly the most bread I’ve even see dished up on a plate. It was fresh and warm, but with no butter, spreads or oil. Upon request we were given a dish of whipped butter, which complemented the bread to perfection.
It seems like Cheese has reached a certain difficult age where dining out is similar to our first few months with her as newborn. As in, one of us would eat while the other walked around rocking the baby. Now, instead of being rocked, our chaos-loving toddler, who refuses to sit still for a minute, needs to be escorted around by one parent, while the other gets a few minutes to shovel in her food. We’d been warned to expect this at her age (22 months), so it’s not a big surprise. It does, however, mean our restaurant choices for the next few months will be a lot less of the sit-down variety, and more of the grab-and-go kind.
We had a few friends with us, so we ordered a good variety of brunch food, including the Crispy Black Kale (with pecorino, chile and garlic), Cast Iron Baked Eggs (with chorizo, charred scallion, parmesan cream, $16), Slow-Cooked Eggs (with steel cut oats, smoked bacon and maple hollandaise, $15), Egg White Omelette (with spring vegetables and charred tomato sauce, $14), Charred Bean Salad (with mustard seed, pepita and smoked paprika, $14) and the star dish of the day, the Brioche French Toast (with banana-apple caramel and whipped sour cream, $15).
The Charred Bean Salad was the dish of choice for our gluten-and dairy-intolerant friend. It was also perfect for both of the vegetarians at the table. A great mix of flavours and textures with perfectly grilled beans and seeds, and a zing of paprika.
My Brioche French Toast was lusted after by everyone except the toddler who just wanted to eat pieces of ice from the water chiller. It was everything French toast should be—light, fluffy, sweet, and covered in a delicious apricot and caramel fruit compote, with a dash of whipped sour cream. It. was. amazing. I may have shared it around to stop all the hungry faces from staring at me.
While Willow Road had none of the usual baby-friendly paraphernalia, what they did have was extremely friendly and accommodating staff. Miss Cheese was at her wriggliest (walk! walk! down! down!) and spent the entire time running around the restaurant (yes, we were THOSE people) and up and down the ramp and stairs out the front. The hostess and other staff we ran (literally) into during these strolls could not have been more understanding and kind, making it super kid-friendly even without highchairs and change tables.
Last bite: A great option for brunch with friends or a date night in Chelsea. Bring the kids for a fun meal, with super friendly and accommodating staff. Order the Brioche French Toast and a Hair of the Dog, and enjoy a relaxed outing.
Highchairs: No. Stroller storage: Minimal – bring a fold-up stroller or carrier. Easy access: No. There are a few steps to get in after the ramp at the entrance. Change tables: No. Kids’ menu: No.
Today’s Brunch Special is courtesy of Lauren Pohl, founder of Kidz Central Station, a website where parents can search for and book fun classes and activities for their kids. Lauren lives with her husband and two kids, her four-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son, in Manhattan.
How would you describe your business and website, Kidz Central Station? Kidz Central Station helps parents search for, learn about, compare and enroll in classes/activities for children (like Open Table but for kids activities rather than restaurants).
How did Kidz Central Station begin?
I was motivated to start Kidz Central Station after I tried to find a cooking class for my daughter and Googled “kids cooking classes”—and only found tons of adult classes. I asked friends for suggestions and walked around my neighborhood to see if there were any cooking schools for kids. I became frustrated as I use technology for so many aspects of my life as a mother (e.g. buying diapers at diapers.com or sharing photos on Facebook) yet there was no comparable service for discovering, comparing and enrolling in kids’ classes and other activities. I knew that there were so many amazing options for classes and activities in NYC for kids, and that there needed to be an easy, centralized way, for busy parents to learn about them.
We built Kidz Central Station so that parents could go to one site and learn about the different kid activity options available by searching with filters that are important to them such as age, price, location, type of class and schedule, and to directly enroll if they so desire. We also have reviews of classes/activities so parents can learn from the experiences of other parents.
What kinds of activities has your business introduced your kids to?
Every week we learn about so many amazing and interesting classes and activities available in NYC. My daughter is four and loves princesses and fairy tales. As a result of Kidz Central Station we were introduced to the Galli Fairy Tale Theater. She now takes an acting class there and will also do a week of camp there this summer. She loves performing the stories we read at home and pretending to be the different characters. I also learned about some really cool art classes for kids, called Claire’s Creative Adventures, that include visiting local museums as part of the classes. This kind of option make so much sense to have in NYC and I’m so glad that we can help other parents learn that it’s available.
On to food! When did you start taking your kids out to eat in restaurants?
We started taking our children to restaurants when they were able to sit in a highchairs. We took a vacation when our daughter was four months old. We ate in a bunch of restaurants on that trip and found it wasn’t as hard as we expected it to be.
What have you found are the easiest/hardest ages to eat out with your kids?
Four is a good age to eat out as she likes to try to read the menu (or at least the letters on the menu) and this occupies her. Ages 12-18 months were hard as both of my children threw their food on the floor and they constantly wanted to hold the utensils and throw those on the floor as well.
Fave local restaurants to eat out with the kids?
We love a local Italian restaurant near our apartment called Notaro as it’s really family-friendly, the waiter knows our kids’ names and always makes us feel really welcomed. We love that there are often other families there, so we aren’t the only ones with loud kids who can’t sit in their chairs.
Fave spot to stop for treats?
We like PinkBerry and we love the vegan chocolate chip scones from WholeFoods. Our (almost) daily routine now includes going to WholeFoods to get these scones—after picking up my daughter from school on Fridays, plus other random days when the mood strikes. We take the scones to nearby Madison Square Park to enjoy them.
Do you have any eating out traditions with your family?
We enjoy going to Central Park and then out to our favorite pizza restaurant, Al Forno. Whether we go to the zoo, play in a playground or go scooting in the park, we typically end up at Al Forno and then Emack and Bolios for ice cream.
Number one tip for other parents when eating out with kids?
Remember your kids always seem louder to you than they do to other people.
With recommendations from several locals on The Treats Truck as an incredibly kid-friendly cafe (including a shout-out from our fave photographer and mama, Raquel Frechette, thanks Raquel!), we absolutely had to take a trip down Carroll Gardens way to check it out.
With a tag line like “Not Too Fancy, Always Delicious!” you know exactly what you’re getting into with this neighbourhood fave. Local families love the cafe (yes, it’s not actually IN a truck, but the do HAVE a truck) for its delicious brownies, rice crispies and cookies—they come back over and over again because it’s one of the most kid-friendly cafes or restaurants that you’re going to find—anywhere. No hyperbole.
Entering the “truck”, it looks pretty much like any other quaint little cafe. Tables, chairs, counter. Walk to the left of the counter however, and down the narrow hallway, and you’ll find yourself in a little back room, stocked with a toy kitchen, books and more toys and games for kids. One wall of the room backs on to the kitchen, with a huge glass panel running across it, so kids can watch their treats being made in person.
This quiet little back room just for kids means no-stress dining for adults—yay! We had a large group of kid-friendly cafe testers with us on this occasion, and, after blocking off the hallway with a stroller (sorry, we know, fire hazard ), we were able to let the toddlers run freely while we actually sat and held brief conversations with each other. Miracles do happen!
It’s not a huge area however, and I think we were pushing the limits with our group of crazy toddlers (we had six or seven toddlers under the age of two. After you hit five toddlers in one group, it’s impossible to keep track of them all). Older kids who sit still can fit in larger numbers.
The service is fast and friendly, the food a solid hit with mamas and kids and nobody sweats a big mess left behind. Tip big to show your appreciation to the hard working and kid-friendly staff.
The Plaza Food Hall beneath the famous Plaza Hotel is our secret go-to place when we’re in midtown and need to eat something good in a hurry. For some magical reason, tourists haven’t yet discovered it, so it’s never crazy busy, even on weekends at peak brunch or lunch times. This could be due to its relative newness—while the more well-known The Plaza Food Hall By Todd English opened under the Plaza in 2010, the expanded (and more reasonably priced) food hall with the smaller vendors only opened in May 2012.
Give yourself time to do a lap and get acquainted with your huge amount of choice. This will be the most difficult part of your time at the Plaza Food Hall. Honest. Some vendors offer ready-made food that you can simply grab and chow down, you can also get made-to-order cooked food if you’re planning to hang around a bit longer.
I chose a vegetarian quiche from Pain d’Avignon. It was heated up for me in their little toaster oven, and came with a separate side salad, delicately topped with lemon dressing. Cheese, of course, devoured most of my quiche (anyone else have a hard time keeping track of how much they eat with a toddler stealing half of their food?).
Alec chose a salmon salad from FP Patisserie by Francois Payard, plus a few croissants for us to share. Tip: the croissants by Francois Payard are some of the best croissants you’ll find in New York City, so grab a few when you get the chance, even if you’re not feeling particularly hungry at that moment. You’ll be thanking yourself (and, hopefully, us!) a few hours later for your forethought.
One of the reasons the food court is so family-friendly is the large seating area they have. Plenty of room for strollers, lots of high chairs, and a casual, yet upmarket, ambience lending itself to the feeling of finer dining, without the pressure of trying to ensure that your little kids don’t make a peep while you’re eating.
Don’t fill up too much on savouries—be sure to leave room for a treat of the chocolate, cupcake, slice of cake or yogurt variety. Take dessert to go if you can’t squeeze in another bite.
Highchairs: Yes. Stroller storage: Yes. Easy access: Yes. Enter via 58th st and take the elevator down. Change tables: Yes. Kids’ menu: Not a specific menu for kids, but a lot of places to choose from, so there’s sure to be something kids will like.
The Plaza Food Hall
1 W 59th St
New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 986 9260
Hours: Mon-Sat 8am-9:30pm Sun 11am-6pm
Here’s some happy news for foodies who usually hunt down food trucks on Twitter: Brooklynites can now catch some of their faves on select weekends—July 6 and Sept. 7—at the plaza outside of the Barclays Center.
We wandered on by to check out the food trucks on their opening day, and were so pleasantly surprised to see a great variety of trucks (with no queues) and plenty of seating in the shade. Score! The food trucks out on that day were: Kimchi Taco Truck, (think Korean-cross-Mexican), Treats Truck (the actual truck that serves the Carroll Gardens store of the same name), Coolhaus (build-your-own ice cream sandwiches), Mamu Thai Noodle (a family-owned and operated truck specialising in Thai food), Frites ‘n’ Meats (design your own burgers) and Taim Mobile (gourmet falafels and smoothies).
We were planning to pick up food from a truck and walk with it to Prospect Park. But when we felt an unexpected cool breeze coming through the plaza (on an otherwise stifling hot day), we decided to sit and eat in the nearby plaza instead.
I’d been wanting to try Taim in the West Village for ages, so was delighted to see their truck Taim Mobile in attendance. Taim is great for more than just vegetarians like myself—their falafels are gluten-free and cooked to order in 0% trans-fat vegetable oil. All of the items on their menu are vegetarian—most are actually vegan (items with a * on the menu contain either dairy or egg products).
We decided to share a few things—the Mediterranean Platter, $9 (hummus, tahini, israeli salad, green cabbage, quinoa salad and pita), Falafel Side, $4 (six balls) the Date Lime Banana smoothie with soy milk, $5, and Falafel Sandwich, $6.50 (green falafel, hummus, israeli salad, green cabbage and tahini sauce).
In retrospect we didn’t need the sandwich—we had SO MUCH FOOD. We tried our best to eat some of everything, but admitted defeat with groaning stomaches. Note to fellow diners—the platter plus falafels are PLENTY for two people to share, plus a toddler. Miss Cheese tried a bit of everything, and decided she liked the smoothie, pita and falafels best—perfect kid food, by the way.
We let Cheese sit on our laps or on a proper chair since she was too wiggly to stay in the stroller. If your kid sits still you can park them right at the table. We each also took turns chasing her around the plaza while the other parent finished his or her food. There was a lot of shade and plenty of fun things for toddlers to explore (doors and fences and tables, oh my!), so she was actually really reluctant to leave.
Last bite: A great variety of food surrounding a shady plaza with tables and chairs. Put the dates on your calendar and make it part of a day trip to Prospect Park.
620 Atlantic Ave. (between Dean St and Flatbush Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Food Truck Dates: June 1, July 6 and Sept. 7
Hours: Saturdays, 11am-5pm
Today’s Brunch Special is courtesy of Jennifer Cattaui, Owner of Babesta, a cool kid’s clothing and gear store in Tribeca. Jennifer lives with her husband, Aslan Cattaui, their two daughters, Amina, 9, Camille, 6, and their cat, Elvis, in Tribeca.
How would you sum up your store, Babesta?
Curated for a cool city child. Because the city is densely-packed, standing out on the busy streets and playgrounds is essential. We favor indie brands from all over the world and work hard to find the coolest labels from Sydney to Stockholm, Brooklyn to Berlin. From a gear point of view, there is no point really in having the “most unique” stroller or carrier—city parents use gear into the ground, so we like to balance great style with practicality, excellent quality and durability. Babesta also offers a warm, personal experience, with convenient services like white glove delivery, hold-it-till-you-need-it, gift registries and a style concierge.
Tell us about the birth of Babesta Babesta started in 2004 as a late night project while I was working as a magazine editor. I was pregnant and sort of obsessed with all the ‘fun’ a baby brings, and a big part of that was style. I had downtown tastes as far as fashion went, and was met by a market of pastels and bunnies. It just wasn’t my bag. I would scour the market for some cooler designs and made a personal list of them. I made a website that was sort of a lookbook for the cooler stuff I was finding, thinking that others might have the same tastes. I was pretty psyched to learn they did. The site got picked up by New York Magazine’s Best Bets section and some other great placements. We just went from there.
Our focus is the POV and needs of a city parent. It’s really unique to raise a kid in NYC (or any city). It comes with some hassle sometimes and space shortage, sure, but the trade off is well worth it. We’ve got everything here at our fingertips—the people, the culture, the experience, the style…
Fast forward to 2013. You now have two daughters, aged six and nine. When did you start taking them out to restaurants?
Our girls’ve been going to restaurants since before they could eat solid foods. Once they could and would actually eat at a restaurant, we’d do brunch at Cercle Rouge in TriBeCa, or dinner at Odeon, Edwards, Coffee Shop, BBar, Forcella, Mediterraneo, Mesa Grill—we didn’t really dumb it down for them and don’t favor ‘kiddie” places—though we also know our limits, and stay away from the new and super-trendy or 5-star unless it’s in a hotel, in which case I think it’s appropriate enough. We kept our go-to list of restaurants for the most part unchanged because there’s almost always something that they’ll eat and they have to learn how to behave and we have to learn to manage and cope. We were lucky—they were both pretty good as babies.
Any good dining out stories?
We are so lucky that in the city it’s commonplace to get out and go to a restaurant with kids. My mom told me that when I was a baby, they never got to go out, but they dared one time and I (gasp!) was misbehaving. It was a different time (I don’t think this would happen today!) but their server felt bad for them, and offered to babysit me while they dined. She apparently waited her tables while carrying me around the restaurant, which luckily did the trick and calmed me down.
As for us, when our first daughter was just born, we would go to Roc on Greenwich. The owners had an infant daughter too, so they were really friendly about it. We’d stroll the baby in and she would snooze—sometimes parked next to the proprietors’ child. The two later found themselves in class together, and became friends. Roc continues to be a great go-to in the neighborhood, with kids or without.
Fave spot to stop for treats?
The food trucks—there’s something super fun about a random after-school ice-cream cone from the truck outside the school on a sunny day. As for cupcakes we’re big fans of Baked by Melissa, because they’re tiny and cute, and Billy’s Bakery (not tiny but yummy), and pretty much anything that Tribeca Treats has to serve!
Any eating out traditions with the family?
We have date night every Friday (so no kids then) and family dinners out every Saturday. We try to do Sunday brunch or barbeque with my brother who is lucky enough to have a terrace in the city!
Fave spot to go for special family occasions or events?
The two that come to mind are outside the city: Love Blue Hill at Stone Barns—gorgeous spot and amazing food. The other one that’s kind of cool outside of the city is Rats in Princeton. It has a very cool sculpture garden and delish food.
Number one tip for other parents eating out with kids?
Prep the kids before going out. Remind them of their “pleases” and “thank yous”, just so that’s top of mind. Check the menu before you choose a restaurant just so you know what battles lay ahead. Once you get there, relax. Take the time to help your kids observe, converse, make their own choices and start to become little citizens of the city.
How do you keep the kids entertained?
A notepad and a pen or crayons for drawing normally does the trick. I’m not one for absolutes, so I do allow the iPad and have been known to throw my phone at the girls to keep the peace if service is slow or trouble is brewing. But I try to use this time more as a time to look around, play games (hangman together, tic-tac-toe), chat about our day, ideas and stuff.
Taking your kid anywhere special this summer? Check out Jennifer’s picks for the best outfits for kids to wear to afternoon tea at The Plaza, a jazz festival on Governor’s Island and brunch at Balthazar. Full credits under the pics.