WEDNESDAYS WITH ROOT & BONE

Root & Bone is a Southern style neighborhood restaurant that’s almost too good to be true. It’s intimate but not cramped, it’s homey but still elegant, the menu is daring but not intimidating, and being there makes you feel warm from the inside out. As if that weren’t enough, it’s run by the insanely gorgeous and talented couple duo of Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth who invite you in and make you feel like family from the moment you walk inside.

And trust us, if there’s any family you want to be a part of it’s Root and Bone’s, as you’ll be hard pressed to find a better family supper anywhere. Yes there will be fried chicken and yes you’re obliged to order it, but everything on the menu is finger-lickin’ good. Of course it is, because fried chicken, waffles, and mac & cheese are always good, but here it’s all just better. Everything is made with love, is served with a smile, and will leave you saying something like “I knew it would be, but dang, that was really freaking good.”

We were anxious to know about this neighborhood gem, so we popped in during one of those spontaneous March blizzards for a warm chicken and waffle sandwich and to ask the chefs some questions…

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

 

Where were you born?

Jeff: Niceville, Florida

Janine: Perth, Australia

Breakfast routine:

Jeff: I’m lucky if I ate some scrambled eggs, other than that I run out of the house like my hair is on fire trying to get to work on time.

Janine: Avocado and tomato on grain toast or scrambled eggs and kale. Coffee, always.

Chicken breast or chicken thigh?

Jeff: Chicken thigh

Janine: Chicken thigh

Chicken and dumplings or chicken and waffles?

Jeff: Chicken and waffles

Janine: Chicken and waffles

Thing you’re looking forward to most this Spring:

Jeff: Not wearing six layers of clothing and jackets

Janine: The first spring trip to the greenmarket when you really feel that spring feeling. The flowers, the produce & the buzz about the place.

Last movie you saw:

Jeff: Basic Instinct

Janine: Whiplash

Perfect night cap:

Jeff: Sazarac

Janine: A Gold Rush – Bourbon, Lemon & Honey

 

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

 

So Janine, you’re from Australia and Jeff, you’re from Florida. Why Southern food for your first restaurant together?

Jeff: I was born and raised on the panhandle of Florida a.k.a. the redneck Riviera just about 25 miles from Alabama. My grandparents on both sides have farms in Alabama and my folks were all brought up in Alabama. I spent the majority of my time in the south, I went to college in Charleston South Carolina, I worked and lived in Virginia in a rural area for several years. The last few years I’ve spent in Miami.

Janine: When I first landed in the US I came across and began working at a restaurant called Gigi’s where Jeff was the Executive Chef cooking amazing Asian BBQ food. Jeff, grew up in the South and Southern food is in his blood so he incorporated a lot of Southern flavors and techniques into the menu. This was where my obsession and love for this cuisine began.

What was your initial goal with Root & Bone? And do you feel like you’ve achieved that yet?

Jeff: We’re very happy. We were hoping to open a great neighborhood spot that folks could come on a weekly basis. We wanted to be special but not be so special that it’s only a place you go for a holiday/birthday/special occasion.

Janine: We aim to bring true Southern hospitality and Southern comfort food to New York, providing our guests with a Southern dining experience, marinated in exceptional service and delicious food. We pay tribute to the classic dishes of the South with a certain enhanced elegance and added technique. The space is designed to make our guests feel as they have been invited into somebody’s Southern home, where they feel cozy, welcomed by our amazing staff and have the opportunity to watch the kitchen staff at work.

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

 

I’ve noticed quite a few recently opened restaurants in NYC specializing in Southern style comfort food. Why do you think it’s becoming popular now?

Jeff: Southern food is king. You can call it a trend but I’ve known it for a long time and I think it’s the best cuisine.

Janine: Comfort food is what people crave. People are moving away from wanting to see molecular gastronomy, powders and foams, people want real food! Southern comfort food satisfies peoples cravings while warming the heart and belly.

What’s been the biggest struggle for each of you to get where you are now?

Jeff: Adapting to New York winters has been tough. Not sure if I can think of any specific struggles. We are blessed with a busy restaurant so life could be worse.

Janine: Opening a restaurant is definitely not the easiest task! I have opened restaurants for other people before but Root & Bone is the first that I co-own. Getting this restaurant opened was a lot of fun but brought a number of challenges. Nine months later we are running strong and definitely seeing the fruits of our labor.

And what’s the best part about being a chef/restauranteur?

Jeff: I love everything about being a chef. From being able to cook what I want when I want is priceless. Now that we own our own restaurant, not answering to a boss is a great perk.

Janine: I have loved this whole process so far. From building the space, curating menus that are brand specific especially as the seasons change, testing recipes, working the line plating beautiful and delicious food, and seeing your guests leave extremely satisfied. It’s all pretty amazing.

It’s no secret that you guys are known for your fried chicken and that’s what a lot of people come for. But what other hidden gems are on your menu that you think deserve more love?

Jeff: The meatloaf is very special to us. It’s short rib that has been slow braised for about six or seven hours, then shredded and pushed into a pan. We then pan sear it in a cast iron pan and it comes out crispy and moist in the middle. It’s definitely not your mom’s meatloaf. Something really special.

Janine: We have a lot of amazing vegetable dishes and salads that we change as we move through seasons. I love honing in on a vegetable and turning it into a dish that is truly memorable. Right now I am loving our Grilled Parnsips, Local Honey, Benne Seeds, Charred Apples & Red Onions & Whipped Goat Cheese. It is pretty spectacular.

But now let’s talk about this chicken. Why do you think it’s SO good? Where did the recipe come from? I’ve heard there’s sweet tea involved…

Jeff: We take a lot of pride in your chicken, from purchasing it from a locally sourced farm, to brining it for over a day in special brine, to putting a signature lemon crust on the outside. Janine and I made this recipe together just before opening the restaurant and the sweet T is in our brine.

Janine: Everyone has their own version of fried chicken but ours is inspired by the oh so popular Southern Lemon Sweet Tea. We take left over sweet tea and add salt and spices to make a brine, which seasons the bird! It gets tossed in seasoned flour and fried but I believe the true magic comes in the lemon seasoning we make from dehydrated lemons that gets tossed with the chicken as it comes out of the fryer.

I know you’ve both traveled a lot and have experience with many different cuisines. Is there one type of food that you really miss cooking? Or eating?

Jeff: I enjoy fresh Mediterranean food. It’s one of my favorites. I love using olive oil and fresh raw seafood.

Janine: I love to cook Southeast Asian food, particularly Thai food!

What kind of restaurant would you dream to open next? Miami style? Aussie BBQ?

Jeff: I would love to help my partner Janine open and Australian restaurant in the South, as well as an Asian concept.

Janine: There are so many amazing concepts yet to be developed. I’m not sure what’s next but we definitely have some exciting ideas!

Best thing you’ve eaten in the past 3 months?

Jeff: The Thai Curry chicken wings at Pig & Khao

Janine: The pizza at GG’s in the East village is amazing and definitely worth a trip! The Khao Soi at Pig and Khao on Clinton Street is an absolute must! I am a huge ice cream fan so definitely the salted caramel ice cream from Morgenstern’s is unbelievable!!!

What does the perfect date night in NYC look like for you?

Jeff: Just staying at home with my girlfriend watching a movie and relaxing eating some great food and a great bottle of wine.

Janine: I love getting out of my chef white for a night, style my hair nice, put on a pretty dress and start with a couple of glasses of champagne, some candles and music. Jeff and I love trying out new restaurants in the city, usually cute and cozy places where we can cuddle up together.

 

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

Photo cred: Vanessa Granda

 

Root & Bone is located at 200 E 3rd St, New York, NY, in Alphabet City.

They’re open for dinner 7 days a week and brunch/lunch Wednesday-Sunday.

Bonus? They deliver. Just call 646.682.7080 and you can have all the Sweet T brined chicken you want at your doorstep.

Pat Nunnari