“In France, a cantine is a place you often go for a quick and comforting bite, we hope to share that concept with the neighborhood,” says Ioana Hercberg of her La Cantine, a new restaurant and that recently opened in Bushwick.
Hercberg, who formerly worked in fashion, hails from France and hopes to infuse the food she grew up with in her new space off the Jefferson L, alongside her business partner and significant other, chef Raymond Lyons (who formerly worked at Café Select, Faro, Rose Bakery and Made Nice)—the duo have been brainstorming a luncheonette concept since they first started dating. They were frustrated with the lack of daytime offerings in their area, but by contrast, noticed a neighborhood teeming with bars and other nightlife opportunities.
While some restaurants go after highly conceptual cuisine showing off soigné techniques of liquid nitrogen gastronomy, Hercberg forgoes all of that in place of something else: comfort.
Admittedly, the dishes—which span tartines with ham and cornichon or eggplant and harissa, a quiche of the day, fresh salads and snacks such as banana bread—aren’t anything new or super innovative, but Hercberg and Lyons are after longevity in the community, a space neighbors will actually use.
A feat that might not initially sound radical, but for those who know restaurant lifespans can be fickle (just look at La Cantine’s nearby Teo, opened by a chef from Momofuku’s first years in operation but that shuttered after just five months), it’s a sensible and admirable approach.
“Our food concept is about serving breakfast, lunch, snacks and coffee all day. Inspired by French luncheonettes and American Delis, Ray and I designed a menu that represents a simple cuisine made fresh daily with seasonal products,” says Hercberg. The concept reflects a growing trend in New York, joining Golden Diner (a Momofuku Ko alum serving up Asian-inspired, plant-based plays on club sandwiches), Gertie (Nate Adler’s take on old-school Jewish New York) and Three Owls Market (a new all-day restaurant near the Whitney Museum making prepared foods exciting again), that hope to evoke a nostalgic, small-town feeling, equally achieved through design details as creative plays on American classics.
Working with designer Sophie Lou Jacobsen of Studio Sayso, Hercberg and Lyons transformed La Cantine to reflect the duo’s heritage: a combination of European details as well as classic American deli references into a gorgeous modern space. Granite tile flooring evokes the feeling of small old cafés in France or Italy; the texture of the paint on the counter is a nostalgic reference to Hercberg’s Spanish grandparents’ house; the deli fridge, a nod to NYC’s brimming-over bodegas where condiments and tuna fish are displayed with almost a gallery-like casing.
Overall, wobbly edges, flowers by Fleurotica, wall art by Gaia Loglio and Lou Svahn, a funky lamp by Ladies & Gentleman, colorful chairs, and a stunning bathroom overhaul by Anahit Pogosian keep the space playful without going over the top. The original concept was only food boxed up to go, but as the design evolved into this beautiful thing, we realized we needed plates as pretty as the interior!” says Hercberg. She quickly packed up empty suitcases filled with bubble wrap and went on a thrifting excursion, rounding out the space’s design with objects that act as pedestals for the pleasant plating. The end result is cute and cozy, a space where we’d actually like to spend time.
Photographs courtesy of La Cantine.