Joseph Leonard, a West Village favorite of Madonna, Drew Barrymore and mine is referred to by my friends as “Brooklyn in The City,” “The Name of My First Yorkie,” or “My Grandparent’s Living Room.” The owner, Gabriel Stulman of Little Owl fame, named it after his grandfathers, Joseph and Leonard, and the place is graced with many of their artifacts: distressed bookshelves stocked with weathered volumes, a vintage typewriter and beat-up suitcases with stickers from “Villa Medici, Roma.” As brunch wears on the room takes on a pleasantly intimate party feel. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. It’s cozy, romantic and encourages handcrafted cocktail drinking as early as 10:30AM.
Despite the being full beyond capacity (basically always) the JL staff remains decidedly chill, greeting you like an old friend upon first meeting. The bartender is effortlessly pretty with big green eyes and a denim shirt. In a mason jar, she meticulously prepares my Bloody Caesar, some sort of Bloody Mary Bloody to the Gods, and I doubt my ability to manage course one should I finish half of it. “The secret’s in the Clamato juice,” she tells me. Clearly, this is not your typical vodka infused V-8, it’s genuinely handcrafted, right down to the bacon-wrapped fried brussel sprout, and low and behold, an oyster. Yes, the oyster is a garnish.
My favorite spot at JL is the corner of the U-shaped bar, typically shoulder-to-shoulder with an understated downtown crowd. The local color ranges from writers to start-up visionaries to makeup artists, and on Saturday at 11:04AM someone just so happens to be receiving a spontaneous makeover and no one bats an eye. Perhaps because we’re already feeling the effects of our Bloody Caesars and the bartender’s playlist seems like a collective of our favorites spanning twenty years, from Prince to Passion Pit. It’s a bit loud, a little too crowded and the A/C can’t seem to push below 78 degrees but no one cares. The food is sublime, the energy upbeat, and the crowd outside—perennially cueing.
The worst thing about dining at Joseph Leonard is deciding what to order. What to choose when the menu consists of what your Grandma used to make if she was born British and raised in Provence? Think grits gone gourmet by way of creamy fromage, and delicately grilled shrimp. Being the kind of hedonist who appreciates a good dessert for breakfast, I opt for the brioche French toast doused with crème anglaise and fresh peaches. My more health-conscious dining companion orders the avocado on whole grain toast with a lightly dressed salad and fried egg for good measure. “Spicy!” she exclaims. The perfect segue into a bowl of fresh berries before dessert: Carrot cake. But not your average carrot cake, one curiously chunky nestled by smooth vanilla crème frosting so perfect, it served as the owner’s wedding cake. We’re in love.
Joseph Leonard has secured its foothold as a West Village gem, rare but worth it. You may get lost trying to find it, you may have to wait 30 minutes for a table, you may eat your brunch at the bar with your knees pressed against a stranger’s but you don’t mind. Good vibes are on the menu. And despite the no reservation policy you’ll be back. And if they don’t remember your name, guaranteed they’ll greet you like a long lost friend.