Aussie restaurateurs taking over the New York food scene

There’s an Aussie dish that New Yorkers can’t seem to get over and you wouldn’t believe what it is.

The basic Aussie staple of smashed avo on toast has become a fixture on menus all over the bustling city since the days of Ruby’s Bluestone, Two Hands, Dante and Banter — all successful Aussie-owned cafes that have influenced the New York food scene over the years.

In fact, the good ol’ smashed avocado on toast is so popular it’s even on the Dunkin Donut menu. For those who don’t know, Dunkin Donut is — as the name suggests — a donut cafe, proving just how in-demand the dish is.

We can all thank Aussie restaurateur Bill Granger for reportedly being the first to serve up this gift around 30 years ago in his little sunny corner cafe in Sydney known as Bill’s.

Since then it has become a symbol of our country’s sunny, cheeky attitude to gastronomy and a global phenomenon — particularly in New York.

When Aussie bar owner Linden Pride took over the legendary Cafe Dante (now Dante) in 2015, New Yorkers feared he would “ruin” the 100-year-old establishment known for its Italian roots.

“One of the articles that was trying to slam us (at the time) was saying ‘these Australians are going to ruin Cafe Dante, they’re going to fill it with flat whites and avo toast’,” Mr Pride told news.com.au from outside his Greenwich Village venue.

“New Yorkers are very territorial and protective, but the truth of it is, that’s what people are ordering and that’s what they want.”

While avo toast is one of the most popular brekky and brunch dishes at Dante’s, it’s not the only one.

Since taking over the cafe eight years ago, Linden and his wife Nathalie Hudson, have stayed true to Dante’s Italian heritage, from its decor to its cocktail menu and of course food offering.

It’s most famous for its extensive menu of spirits and wine from Negroni on tap, Campari-based cocktails, a non-alcoholic Negroni, all manner of spritzers (including a Spritz popsicle), and a medley of martinis.

The venue prides itself on the Aussie all-day menu culture opening from 10am to 2am, transitioning from breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.

“The cocktails are very much an Italian influence — aperitivo style,” Linden explained. “Our signature drink is the Garibaldi cocktail with freshly squeezed orange juice and grapefruit juice and our food is simple produce-driven Italian food.”

The Aussie duo have done the venue proud and have since won over New Yorkers with their great hospitality, quality dishes and award-winning beverages.

It was crowned the best bar in the world by industry group Tales of the Cocktail and also won the best American restaurant bar for two years running.

Meanwhile, it was voted as The Best Bar in North America in the The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020 and ranked number two overall on the prestigious list.

“We are part of a New York institution far greater than anything we could built ourselves from the ground up,” Linden said.

“We had an opportunity to come and take over a historical cafe and elevate it in certain ways and expand the bar and food program.”

And that’s exactly what the pair have done. In fact, Dante’s is such a success Linden and his wife opened another two location — in West Village and Beverely Hills.

“The greatest influence is the Australian hospitality more than anything,” Linden said.

“There’s also Ruby’s Two Hands, Banter and Flinders Lane that have helped shift the New York hospitality scene — especially in the five years before Covid.”

Stef D’Orsogna, co-founder of Sonnyboy, is also making some noise in revolutionising the New York food scene.

He was only meant to stay for a year in the city after finishing a finance degree — but seven years and two venues later, he’s still there.

“In the first few months I met a lot of Aussies doing amazing things here. And they were having a heap of success,” he told news.com.au while at fellow Aussie cafe Two Hands.

“It was in 2016 when Aussie cafes were really starting to take off, like Two Hands.”

Stef noted the cafe’s role in elevating the classic Aussie dish – smashed avo on toast.

“Both Blue Stone and Two Hands really took that avo on toast to the next level and the city fell in love with it — and it’s literally on all the menus — even Dunkin Donuts has it,” he laughed.

The 30-year-old managed to score a gig working with Henry Roberts who co-owns two Hands and from there he was introduced to the Aussie owners of Banter.

“Banter really took off. It became so busy and still is now,” he said.

“I ended up spending my time there and I stayed another two years.”

Stef then propositioned the co-owners about doing more of a night venue while still having that cafe vibe.

“And that’s how we came up with Sonnyboy.”

“Food wise we positioned ourselves as an Aussie restaurant. We had a lot of classic brunch dishes at night like chicken parmis.”

Stef co-owned Sonnyboy with Banter owners and fellow Aussies Josh Evans from Melbourne and Nick Duckworth from Sydney.

But after four successful years the trio sold Sonnyboy with Josh and Nick also selling Banter as the pair decided to head back home to Australia to pursue new restaurant ventures.

Stef, who is originally from Perth, wasn’t ready to hang up the boots in NYC just yet and so turned his attention to opening another restaurant called Layla.

While it is a European-style aperitivo bar and restaurant, Stef said it will embody that great Aussie service.

“The reason us Aussies do so well here is because of our service style,” he said.

”We have a good understanding of how to do hospitality but in a way that’s fun, friendly and not intimidating.”

Stef’s new venue will open in Williamsburg, a neighbourhood in Brookyln that’s known for its Aussie expats.

“We’re taking over a space that’s been here for 18 years, it’s a true neighbourhood spot.”

When asked if we can expect the good old smashed avo on toast on the menu, Stef laughed and said that while he loves the dish, Layla is all about European-inspired food mixed in with that great Aussie service and neighbourhood vibe.

“Layla is about creating a neighbourhood bar and restaurant where the food and drinks are inspired by European cultures,” Stef explained.

“We want our guests to feel like Layla is an old faithful where timeless European classics are given with our own modern twist.

“The brand, vibe and service style is fun, jovial and easy going. I think this is something that our Australian backgrounds have taught us as we have an understanding of the balance between excellent service and making it feel somewhat casual.”

Stef said he basically wants every night to feel like one big dinner party and “the guests are just our mates as opposed to a customer”.

On ya Stef.

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