Looking for classic American comfort food, complete with a neighborhood ambiance, in Manhattan’s Upper West Side? Look no further than Good Enough to Eat! Chef Carrie Levin, living in Belgium, London, and France, brings international techniques and experience to down-home American favorites! Never overpriced or haughty, Good Enough to Eat has been a favorite neighborhood hotspot for generations – since 1981! Commitment to quality ensures that every dish is absolutely, scrumptiously divine! Whether you’re looking for a regular breakfast joint, a place to have lunch during a busy workday, a comfortable, cozy dinner, or even catering for your next big event, Good Enough to Eat delivers an amazing dining experience every time! Or, learn from the best and take a cooking class! I had a chance to speak to Chef Levin to learn more about her and her restaurant!
RD: You’ve had quite an interesting life story! Could you describe a bit about your background?
CL: I was born in New York City. At the age of five, my parents decided to go on a little “experiment” for two years. They moved to Brussels, Belgium because there was a wonderful school and they wanted us to learn another language. Then, we were supposed to stay two years, but my parents stayed twenty-eight years! They opened the first hamburger places in Europe, I think! I really know how to flip a burger! Then, I applied to the Hotel Administration School in Lausanne, but I got in later, so I went to college in the South of France. After doing that, I didn’t want to do college all over again so I moved to London and went to Leiths School of Food and Wine that had just started. I came back to the states, and got a job at the Russian Tea Room because my aunt knew the owner, doing her PR. I was pretty much a host! I kept on going into the kitchen and cooking! I interviewed with the chef at The Four Seasons, and he loved Belgian cooking! He took me right away! I had an amazing apprenticeship there! I worked about15-hour days – it was unbelievable!!! I learned four things: you can call yourself a chef after 35 years, roast a perfect chicken, chop an onion perfectly, and use every bit of leftover in your refrigerator!
RD: What unique spins do you put on American comfort food staples?
CL: The thing is, I don’t do anything “unique,” but that said: I’ve been doing kale for 32 years! Now kale is the biggest thing in the universe! People thought it was disgusting! You’d have to force them! Ours are the best mashed potatoes in the whole world! We do the special “mashed of the day,” and there we can have a lot of fun!
RD: What’s your favorite dish currently being served?
CL: I can’t! I can’t! Leave me alone! I can’t do it! I won’t do it! Whatever you’re craving, that’s what you’ve got to have! I think everything on the menu is wonderful!
RD: How does your location in New York City influence Good Enough to Eat?
CL: We influence the neighborhood – we are the neighborhood! We changed neighborhoods, and each time we come in, nobody wants the area, and then they want to put these chichi places in and we get booted out! People say “I don’t want another place near me,” but it’s wonderful having other places because then there’s people on the street! People get each other’s overflow. I like going into neighborhoods where there’s all kinds of different people in the area!
RD: What kind of atmosphere can diners expect at your restaurant?
CL: There’s three generations of people that have grown up here, in vitro on up, and now they’re bringing their children here! People are coming in with their teenagers and saying “Oh, this is where we came!” It’s New York’s version of Cheers! We’re not too expensive, you can have really good food – you can have cheap or expensive!
RD: You’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – how does your restaurant change throughout the day?
CL: The whole restaurant has changed over the years – it changed with me! I learned this, and this was something that took a long time; we became famous immediately for breakfast and lunch. At dinnertime, somebody who worked for Christopher Walken said, “You’ve got to have it different, it’s got to feel different, during the day and at night,” and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to do tablecloths! We put candles and fun flowers; the music changes, and the food, with our specials – that’s how we can get creative. But, it still is always Good Enough to Eat! The ambiance looks like the food, looks like us, looks like me! We all fit in, in a quirky way!
RD: How do you balance having a restaurant, bar, bakery, catering, and cooking classes all under one roof?
CL: Because I’m nuts! We started, and it’s very hard to make money in the restaurant business, so we just did everything. Now, we have to grow! We’re going to have to all these things in a bigger space, so now we’re going to have fun!