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Does NYC really need another healthyish fast-casual eatery touting Instagrammable avocado toast and so-called “feel-good food”? It does if it’s from Queer Eye cast member and foodie Antoni Porowski (along with his business partners Eric Marx and Lisle Richards). So aside from the obvious QE fangirl appeal, is it worth checking out? Here’s everything you need to know. (Spoiler alert: There will be avocado.) 

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village den table
Karissa Ong

The Concept

The Village Den focuses on the kind of food that makes you feel a saint after eating—or alternately, serves as penance in between cheat-day meals. And honestly, it’s atonement that I wouldn’t mind making on repeat. It’s inspired by Porowski’s post-workout habits: He and his friends often followed their gym sessions with a meal at The Wayfarer (Richards and Marx’s midtown tavern), where they refueled with off-the-menu dishes that were high-protein and veggie-dense. At the Village Den, you don’t have to go out of your way to eat healthy; the gluten-free, low-carb and high-protein options inspire lust in every CrossFitter.

The all-day casual counter-service restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., with hours eventually starting at 7 a.m. (breakfast officially launches next week). And it caters to a variety of dietary preferences and allergies above and beyond the usual gluten-free, dairy-free suspects to include lifestyles like paleo, Whole30 and keto.

village den restaurant bowl
Karissa Ong

The Food

The morning menu features items such as the Greenwich Breakfast Bowl, with poached eggs, sweet potato hash browns, grilled avocado and pickled shallot, as well as gluten-free almond and walnut pancakes with maple-roasted banana and syrup. And that avocado toast on the menu? Well, it actually goes by the name “Avocado Tartine” and is made with hard-boiled egg, pickled beet and za’atar all on “health bread.”

During the day, graze on salads, bowls and “TV dinners” which are Porowski’s take on traditional comfort food with a nutritious spin, like honey-roasted turkey meatballs over cauliflower-rice cabbage rolsl (a reinvention of a recipe that his mother made when he was a kid). Other standout midday offerings are the macadamia-crusted fish sticks with cider-braised cabbage or maple parsnip mash; the Den Mother salad, with baby kale, maple-roasted squash, pomegranate, beet hummus, cauliflower and pickled apricots; and the Thai chicken bowl, with coconut peanut sauce and purple cabbage over lemongrass brown rice.

If you’re just strolling by, opt for one of the Village Den’s lifesaving smoothies, like the Cake and Bake Keto (which I loved): It’s made with coconut milk, spinach, berries and vanilla keto powder. As a close second, go for the Breadless PB&J (almond milk, banana, crunchy peanut butter, rolled oats, berries and vegan protein). You can boost any smoothie with a laundry list of add-ons like MCT oil, spirulina, bee pollen, cacao nibs and even creatine, to name a few.

village den restaurant
Karissa Ong

The Space

The former classic diner turned all-day neighborhood hangout was designed by architectural firm Buro Koray Duman. It’s cozy, comfortable and cool all at once, with a community feel that had me hanging out for so long I thought they would kick me out (they didn’t). Artist Jeremyville designed a custom and colorful mural inspired by NYC, the restaurant’s cuisine and elements from Porowski & Co.’s personal lives. The whitewashed-brick space is also splashed with lazy hanging ferns and mottos like “Things That Matter: Calling Your Mother.”

Final verdict: You don’t need to be a fancy culinary-school-trained chef to make delicious and nutritious food like self-proclaimed amateur home cook Porowski does. Sometimes all I want is the kind of uncomplicated, wholesome foods—with just a touch of “extra”—that I see all over Instagram and Pinterest. It’s the kind of slightly elevated, healthy alternatives to naughty comfort foods that I always swear I could make for myself at home but never actually do. Fortunately, the Village Den can make them for me.

225 W. 12th St.; thevillageden.com

Food influencer Marisel Salazar is a member of the Coterie by PureWow.

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