MeMe’s Diner, a queer-owned restaurant with a mostly queer staff, quietly opened in Prospect Heights in November. But after owners Bill Clark and Libby Willis spoke with queer food magazine Jarry Mag and described it as “a very, very gay restaurant,” the buzz quickly grew. Now, it’s one of the borough’s hottest restaurants. Here are the top five things to know about the popular newcomer at 657 Washington Ave. near St. Mark’s Avenue.
1. Its approach to hospitality is LGBTQ-focused and inclusive
MeMe’s has specific policies in place that make it a welcoming place for queer and trans diners. Clark and Willis emphasize to their staff the importance of using gender-neutral language when interacting with customers and preferred pronouns where applicable. “It has been a conversation since the very first day when we hired our staff,” Clark says, admitting that it’s a hard habit for some people to break so has been something that is continuously talked about in order to keep it a priority.
Staff is also instructed not to second-guess names on credit cards that might not line up with their assumptions about a person’s gender presentation. MeMe’s is also launching a queer industry night series starting February 12 to foster community and show support for queer people who work in the restaurant industry.
2. The menu features comfort food with twists
Meatballs in a hoisin sauce, a gluten-free meatloaf, and shell pasta mac and cheese with a Ruffles potato chip topping are all featured on the menu of familiar food made with a mixture of elevated and snack pantry ingredients. Texas migas-style eggs are served at brunch in a bag of Fritos with salsa verde, julienned radish, sour cream, and cilantro. The chips and dip snack is straight-up just Ruffles and housemade French onion dip, and there’s a jar full of cheese puffs behind the bar.
3. The baked goods are on point, thanks to experience at Ovenly
In talking about their background, Clark and Willis present their lack of name recognition as a good thing. “We’re nobody,” Willis says. “No fame, no big names.” Rather, they hope their food and hospitality speak for themselves, both bringing a ton of experience in each area to the table.
Willis is a third-generation restaurant owner: Her grandmother owned her own restaurant. “I’ve been in this industry my entire life,” Willis says. Clark, who has worked in the industry since he was 16, met Willis while working at Ovenly, a bakery in Greenpoint. The “everything bagel babka” at MeMe’s creatively blends Eastern European baking with iconic New York flavors.
4. Brunch starts with free cereal
Brunch at MeMe’s, which is as central to the restaurant’s menu as its dinner, starts with free bowls of mixed sugar cereals (Froot Loops, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Lucky Charms). This — along with green vinyl stools, a layer cake on the counter, and thick ceramic dishware — signifies the restaurant’s diner epithet, creating nostalgic, comfy vibes. In addition to those classic bowls of cereal, there’s also a brunch dish called the “milk and cereal” that plays on the staple: yogurt panna cotta topped with cara cara orange slices, kiwi, and Corn Pops.
5. The drink list is very simple, but covers all the bases
There’s a classic Manhattan which is, like the restaurant, named after Clark’s grandmother, who reportedly drinks one every day. There’s also the MeMe’s punch, a dark rum-based punch with ginger, lime, passion fruit, cava, and bitters, garnished with pineapple and mint. For the most part though, the cocktail menu is full of classics — think gimlets, negronis, old fashioneds, and dark and stormys. On the beer side of things, there’s a Miller High Life plus a shot special for $7. And there are red, white, and sparkling wines offered by the glass.
MeMe’s Diner is open Tuesday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are available for dinner (for groups of five or more); brunch is first-come, first-serve.