Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur, the team behind Pizza Lola and Hello Pizza, Young Joni’s, have done it again, reinventing comfort food and giving the masses a comfortable, gorgeous space to sit back with those we love and enjoy a home cooked meal, if we had a nine foot wood burning grill and a crazy talented barman pouring us cocktails and spinning tunes at home. There is so much to discover at the vast yet cozy space. Glistening custom made Japanese tile adorn a giant wall, copper dome reflects the flames within warming the entire room and our cold, cold hearts, and exquisite, knowledgeable service taking care of our every whim. Welcome Young Joni, we need you now more than ever.
All Photos by Katie Cannon
Mothers Know Best
The place is named after owners Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur’s mothers. The married couple gave their third restaurant the moniker to honor both their mothers as inspiration for the new project. Young, Kim’s mother, a Korean immigrant, is represented in the kitchen, the heart and soul of any home, while Joni, Leifur’s mom, is the affable, welcoming bar, laid back and always up for a good time. Together, the two muses inspired the perfect marriage of traditional familiarity and gregarious grace that shines in both the plates of food and service at Young Joni.
It’s like stepping into a family home, filled with buzz and fire and love and the intoxicating aroma of wood and charcoal and an open flame.
Practically every single element of the design has Kim’s touch. While the room feels organic and easy flowing, it is actually a well executed plan from designer Milo Garcia, with a lot (a lot) of input from Kim. From the slightly lower ceiling height above the dining area to create a deeper sense of intimacy to the carefully placed lighting behind the slatted walls of the back bar, there is a purpose to the design which aims for comfort and a welcoming vibe. But make no mistake, the attention to detail did not birth an over wrought, cold aesthetic.
The end result of all that hard work somehow manages to be well thought-out yet completely unpretentious and natural, even sensual. A perfectly imperfect space, as Garcia put it.
Veggies are Where it’s at
The pizza pies are stellar, but that should come as no surprise considering the colossal success of Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza, the couple’s first two endeavors. But dining on the pizzas alone would be unwise. The on-trend, produce-centric appetizer menu is filled with winners, from the crave worthy cauliflower dish, with smokey, barely seared cauliflower, charred shishito peppers, sweet golden raisins and Marcona almonds piled high atop a silky sauce that should really be served with every. single. dish. always. There are innovative salads and plates of gloriously sophisticated yes simple vegetable dishes throughout the menu, with just a kiss of Kim’s Asian culture adorning each sharable offering.
Make no mistake, this is not Asian fusion or a pizza joint with a few Korean sides thrown in for punchy culture. Every dish is who Kim is, the stuff she would like to eat every day. The food that is born from a childhood spent camping and cooking around an open fire. It’s honest, shareable, just plain good.
It’s Not a Trick
Can’t find your way in? You’re not an idiot, and this is not a trick. The slick design Kim was aiming for may make it a tad challenging to actually find the door handle when attempting to enter, or leave. “We are not trying to be assholes,” Kim explained. “This is just what I wanted the front to look like and door handles would have ruined the whole aesthetic.” She does concede there may be a need for handles at some point, but in the meantime, just wave and smile at the kind hosts and they will gladly let you in, and out. You are not the first to attempt pulling on the window sill to no avail. But yes, everyone at the bar did see you struggling.
Put on the Red Light
In Nordeast’s answer to the “red light district,” patrons will know the back bar is open when a thin line of red neon shines in the alley between Young Joni and Dangerous Man. It’s well worth the trek down the darkened alley for one of Adam Gorski’s divine concoctions that compliment, not detract from, the food. The bar is a nod to late nights spent at Leifur’s North Dakota cabin, playing cards after the kids have gone to bed. It is somewhere between a 70’s throwback and that hidden basement away from parents’ prying eyes. It’s easy yet elegant, non-judgemental, and highly personal. And the musical selections on the reel-to-reel are nothing short of curated perfection.