Growing up in a large family in the Midwest, a nice family night out meant Applebee's or, if it was someone's birthday, Red Lobster.
Determined to give our city toddler a slightly larger gastronomical worldview (and not completely abandon our social life), we've been taking her out to dinner with us from about six weeks old. But even after living in the neighborhood for 10 years, we still weren't quite sure what restaurants would work with a little one in tow.
We knew what places we loved, but now instead of “Can they fit a party of 6 in at 9?” it's “Will the place be empty enough at 6 that the waiter won't roll his eyes at us?”
And what about high chairs? Crayons? A changing table in the bathroom? Plus, there's the delicate dance one must do with those without kids — you want to be in an environment where your kid is happy and respectful, but if there is a little noise or spilled drink, you won't be ruining your fellow diners' evening.
So after two years of painstaking “research,” this week and next we'll be featuring our top picks for kid- and parent-friendly fare in the neighborhood, along with an estimate for dinner for a family of four, including tax, drink and tip.
These are likely the first names that will come up if you say the words “kid-friendly dining” to anyone in Fort Greene-Clinton Hill:
The classics – fries, milkshakes and burgers – done well. Though they don't offer any cooked vegetables (unless you count sweet potato fries), they do grind their own meat and have a number of entree salad choices.
Vibe: Loud, laid back, always busy.
Kid Menu: $5 or $6 for basics like grilled cheese or a child-sized burger plus curly fries.
Kid Supplies: High chairs.
Other Pluses: Quick service and outdoor seating.
Just steps from Fort Greene Park and “Camel Park” playground, Catherine's is a great daytime destination. The food – primarily sandwiches, crepes, and omelets – is reliable, the smoothies are great, and even after last year's prices increase, it's still one of the best deals in the 'hood.
Vibe: Casual, open and sunny, without any affectation.
Kid Menu: Great menu with cheap brunch options, including options for healthy sides like fruit!
Kid Supplies: Backyard with bench banquettes, plus high chairs and crayons on demand.
Other Pluses: Quick service and free Mimosas at brunch.
This Fulton Street’s restaurant’s Friday afternoon Babies and Beers is now a neighborhood staple for new parents. Though they don't feature a full menu, the sausages, potato pancakes and pretzels make for good cheap bites. However, the beer garden's growing popularity does mean after 6 or 7 o'clock, it's time to down that last Hefeweizen and take the kids home.
Vibe: Casual, bright space with lots of room for wandering tots.
Kid Menu: None, but all the items on the limited regular menu are pretty cheap and kid-kind.
Kid Supplies: During the afternoons, toys, mats, and pop-up tunnels.
Other Pluses: Super friendly staff and owners, and a nice selection of cold beers for mom and dad.
Good standard pub-fare served by a very friendly staff, Mullane's is a good option for an early dinner, as long as there aren't any playoff games happening. The place doesn't usually have many kids, but it's noisy and roomy enough that the patrons don't seem to notice when kids do appear.
Vibe: Laid back and open sports bar/pub.
Kid Menu: $7 gets the under-12 set any of a host of pretty standard choices, including pasta and burgers, plus a drink.
Kid Supplies: High chairs, crayons on demand.
Other Pluses: Patio dining and happy hour until 7.
A classic no-frills pizza and pasta joint. Wait staff is friendly and very used to dealing with kids. Food is reliably good, and there are tons of choices even for pickier kids.
Vibe: Old-school family dining, lots of larger groups, not a place for an intimate night out.
Kid Menu: No, but the main menu is full of pizzas and pastas.
Kid Supplies: High chairs and banquette seating available, changing table in the bathroom.
Other Pluses: Rooftop patio from May to September
Next week, stay tuned for Part 2: Kid-friendly joints that might surprise you...