There was a time when you'd find Stacey Greenberg, hubby Warren, and their friends out a couple of nights a week, enjoying restaurants from one end of the city to the other. But that all came to a screeching halt with the arrival of the Greenbergs' first son, Satchel. Suddenly, the idea of dining out, with baby in tow, lost its shine. Soon, Greenberg number two arrived, and the prospect of dining out became twice as intimidating. Until the entree-deprived mom decided to take matters into her own hands. Surely hers couldn't be the only family wondering how to best re-enter the restaurant world? Thus, Dining With Monkeys (diningwithmonkeys.blogspot.com), a blog dedicated to reviewing various restaurants' kid-friendliness, was born. I sat down with Stacey and her two monkeys, Satchel, 4, and Jiro, 2, for dinner at Cooper-Young's Soulfish restaurant to talk about monkeys, quick service, and the importance of saltines.
Before the monkeys arrived, what did you do?
A little bit of everything. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and I did a lot of writing for various online sites and the [Cooper-Young monthly newspaper] Lamplighter . But writing pretty much came to a stop when Satchel came along . Satchel, hearing his name, grins and asks for more crackers, which makes Jiro instantly ravenous for more as well. The waitress is quick with the new supply, and a meltdown is averted. I missed writing, so in 2003 I created a zine called "Fertile Ground: For People Who Dig Parenting."
Why a zine?
Because you can pretty much write it whenever you have time, like, at 4 in the morning! The meal arrives, with each kid getting chicken strips, mashed potatoes, and a green veggie, which they seem to like. For about three seconds. Then it's cracker time again. Jiro seems genuinely unhappy with me stealing his mother's attention.
So the next logical step for a parent's go-to resource was the monkey blog?
I wanted to find places that were OK to take kids. I don't mean Chuck E Cheese-type places, but real restaurants. And so we ventured out, gradually working up a list of reviews. Satchel shares his recipe for making a mashed potato sandwich using, what else, crackers, eyeing me warily when I ask him his favorite place to eat. "Chineeeeeeeeese!" he squeals, then ducks under the booth in a fit of shyness.
So what's it take to get a good monkey review?
It's not a food review so much as it is a kid-friendly ranking. Service has to be quick. Also, places with more than corn dogs and French fries on the kid's menu are great. If they don't get any real nutrition, I consider it a failure.
Your site has more than 60 reviews. You guys get around!
It's not all me now. There's a group of friends with kids that gets together for what have become known as "monkey convergences." They send me reviews too. It's also a great way to laugh about things that go wrong and know that there are other people going through what you're going through.
What's the largest number of monkeys you've ever had together?
At El Porton recently we had 10 adults and 16 monkeys. It was ridiculous!
Has anyone ever complained?
No, thankfully. Though the El Porton night, I looked at our group and said to another mom, "These people hate us." She looked at the monkeys and said, " I hate us." Jiro pokes a hole in his cup with a straw, creating a fountain. The waitress is quick with a replacement drink and napkins, undoubtedly earning a monkey point in blogland.
What advice would you give to parents re-entering the restaurant world?
Make sure the kids are hungry before you go, and go early, before the lunch or dinner rush. Encourage them to try different things, too, so they aren't eating the same meal everywhere. Both kids disappear under the table at this point.
Probably not a good idea to bring a journalist who hogs mom's attention.
Also good advice!