When Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski was a kid, he always wished he could have TV dinners.
Fast-forward to 2018, where he has TV dinner-inspired dishes on the menu at his very own restaurant.
“I wasn’t allowed to have them. I always wanted to. I’m really romanticizing what a TV dinner is right now, but there’s these delightful little compartments of all these different components that you could have. So you could have mashed potatoes, and a little mac and cheese and peas,” he tells Refinery29. “And so our menu has a whole section dedicated to that.”
He explained his love of the nostalgic frozen dinners while cooking up a few macadamia-crusted fish sticks, which will be on the Village Den’s menu.
Located in NYC’s West Village, the Village Den is a bright and airy space complete with plenty of dangling plants and a colorful mural. It also comes with a lot of history. Porowski, along with partners Eric Marx and Lisle Richards, brought back the former neighborhood diner, and redesigned it with a modern, Instagrammable twist.
Ahead, we chatted with Queer Eye’s culinary expert about his first foray into New York City's restaurant scene. Plus, he shared what the Fab Five would order at the Village Den, his upcoming cookbook, and what we can look forward to in Season 3.
Could you walk us through the Village Den menu?
What I really like about the menu is that there’s an inclusivity to it. I wanted to develop a menu that was concise but really offered something for everybody. It’s a little varied in terms of my influences and sort of the way that I was raised with food. Like we have an homage to cabbage rolls, which is a very Polish dish, but made healthier with cauliflower rice instead of traditional rice.
This menu has fresh ingredients prepared right, in a nice, simple way, which is what I’m all about. We follow the seasons. So we have a market section, with different vats — I don’t like the word vat with food, but that’s what they are — they’re just vats of fresh salads and different preparations of veggies that we have that are going to change based upon the seasons.
Then we have our staples, like our TV dinners, so the things that people know and love, that they can come back to time and again. It’s a place that you can come to during lunch breaks, it’s a place that you can have cater to your office, during weekends, if you want to grab a bunch of food when you’re heading out to the Hamptons, or you’re just having a little party at home and you don’t want to cook but you want to have homemade-style food.
What will the Queer Eye cast order when they come to Village Den?
There’s actually one dish that is a little nod to my special little dear Tanny Banny. There’s this Indian dessert, called Halwa. It’s kind of like a rice pudding but made with carrot. We have a healthier version of it that’s a lot lighter, the sweetness just comes from the carrots alone, with a nice little cashew cream and a pistachio brittle. Tan loves a crunchy brittle, he loves his sweets. So that dish is definitely dedicated to him.
For Jonathan, I would definitely dedicate the meatloaf. He loves good American soul food. Although we do not have mac and cheese, we do have the meatloaf, which I think he would really enjoy because it has a nice sweet, tangy crust on top of it.
For Karamo... actually Karamo is a very picky eater. He basically eats Jube Jubes and Welch's gummies for breakfast, lunch and dinner and manages to have an eight pack. But he loves his sodas, so I actually want to get him into cascara, which is the fruit of the coffee bean. It’s kind of a hybrid, like if iced tea and iced coffee had a baby. I think Karamo would really like that.
And for Bobby, I would have him try any of our smoothies. Bobby’s big into his fitness recently. He’s been working out a lot; he loves to eat clean. And I think Bobby actually likes to be vegan some of the time too, so he would actually really like our Sicilian Sea Bomb, which is shaved fennel, with citrus segments, and supremes — episode 2, season 1, check it out — and some pistachios as well. It doesn’t require any cooking, but it’s just preparation of raw ingredients.
And for me, I’d eat the whole thing. And I will every day, when I’m back from filming, if that ever happens.
Do any of the recipes overlap with your upcoming cookbook?
There is one dish — it’s the meatloaf. Because I developed such a healthy meatloaf, I also wanted to have one that was just over-the-top insane for the cookbook. That’s basically it. The cookbook is a reflection of who I am on the weekends. It’s about entertaining, the way I share my love. My love language is service and I like to do that with a lot of butter and a lot of pork. With the Den, it’s very different. [The] ingredients are the same. I love to cook with fennel; I put lemon in almost everything. So you’ll see certain nods of that, but in terms of who I am, it just shows a different sides of my sensibility and my taste. Weekday Antoni versus Weekend Antoni — it’s very Jekyll and Hyde.
Do you have any controversial food opinions? Anything you hate?
I don’t think I’m a controversial guy, even though a lot of people freak out over things like greek yogurt and guacamole. I don’t like when people put too much ketchup on things because it sort of just drowns the flavors of whatever it is you’re having. I’m not against it, but my little tip, or my unsolicited advice: Don’t put too much ketchup on things.
Any teasers you can share about Season 3 of Queer Eye?
Tan and I were arguing about which episode we think is going to make it to be the opener of the season. We already have three who are our contenders. They’ve all been so special, and lovely, and we really go in depth into the lives of these heroes and tying it into our own experience. It’s more tears, it’s more laughs, it’s more of everything. And it’s in Kansas City, which is an amazing city, so we can’t wait to show it to the rest of the world.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.