Rising star chef JJ Johnson is finally getting back into a restaurant kitchen full-time — this time, further downtown. Come Wednesday, the former Minton’s and the Cecil chef will take over the kitchen at Midtown’s Life hotel, the space of the short-lived Henry restaurant at 19 West 31st St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Here, Johnson will serve his signature “pan-African” food, similar to what he made during his popular residence at Chefs Club with flavors from Africa, the Caribbean, and the American South. Dishes there included short rib with Carolina gold rice, hoisin, and roti and udon noodles with braised goat and West African peanut sauce. Initially it will be dinner only, with an all-day menu starting after Labor Day. At the downstairs bar, Pam Wiznitzer from acclaimed but now-shuttered Upper East Side cocktail bar the Seamstress will be making the drinks.
The space previously housed Henry, which opened in December from experienced restaurateur Stephen Hanson. But Hanson left this spring, and now the hotel has partnered with Johnson for this new venture.
An Eater Young Gun, Johnson made a name for himself at Harlem restaurants the Cecil and Minton’s, where he earned one star from Times critic Pete Wells. Since Johnson left those two restaurants a year ago, he’s held a few pop-ups, published a cookbook, and partnered with Tasty. He also has Field Trip, a fast-casual grain restaurant in Harlem, on the way.
Johnson’s restaurant opens tomorrow. Stay tuned for more.