Tucked away on a mostly residential block in Carroll Gardens, far from the crowds of Smith and Court Streets, Take Root is a restaurant, a yoga studio, and a neighborhood haven all wrapped up in one. By day, Anna Hieronimus teaches yoga in the back of the space (mainly to children, using techniques learned at the acclaimed Kripalu School of Yoga in Lenox, Massachusetts) and in the evenings from Thursday through Saturday, chef Elise Kornack (formerly of Aquavit and The Spotted Pig) prepares a seasonal five-course tasting menu inspired by everything from what is freshest at the farmer's market to a memory of a beloved childhood dish. What both the practices share, of course, is that they provide nourishment for the body, mind, and—when done right—the spirit. Or, in the words of Elise and Anna, "both yoga and food not only influences our physical well being, but also our emotions and thoughts."
The philosophy of feeding both body and spirit is all well and good, but in a borough that has it's fair share of superlative restaurants (really, we here at Brooklyn Magazine have bestowed many of those superlative distinctions) Take Root manages to stand out for being far more than just as a unique hybrid space. The space itself is minimally decorated with calming colors and light woods, nothing over-the-top that would distract from the food. Music plays from an iPod (there was a lot of Stevie Nicks the night I was there, which was more than fine with me) and the sounds of the sidewalk drift in, giving diners the feeling that they are in someone's home rather than just another restaurant. This intimate setting, aided by the fact that Anna and Elise do everything themselves with no outside help, accomplishes what many restaurants aim for, but few achieve—an immediately disarming quality that offers customers the chance to fully relax while enjoying a truly special meal.
And so, the food. The menu changes dependent on what's seasonally available, and while that can be disappointing when you happen upon a dish that you really love, each course of the tasting menu was delicious enough that I really can't imagine not wanting to try anything Elise whipped up. Although dinner at Take Root is supposed to be five-courses, two additional courses are served, and throughout the meal, Anna offers excellent suggestions on wine or beer pairings. The highlights from the night I was there include the house-baked bread and radishes, the summer squash salad with trout roe, and the black garlic agnolotti with sweet peas and asparagus that was drowned in a parmesan broth, which was poured over the pasta table side, thus emitting an intoxicating fragrance which actually made my mouth water. The intimate setting (the dining room seats less than a dozen people at a time) allows Elise to leave the kitchen and explain a little bit about each course to the diners before leaving them to dig in. This kind of easy familiarity and fluidity between front-of-house and kitchen only adds to the sense that eating at Take Root is a much fuller experience than is available at most dining spots. It might be the kind of thing you have to experience to believe—a restaurant and yoga studio that is so much more than just the sum of its parts.
Where did you first get the idea to combine two seemingly disparate businesses into one place?
Well, for us, yoga and food are not all that disparate. Both of our families are involved with food, yoga and the healing arts. (Anna’s family owns Ruscombe Mansion, a healing arts center in Baltimore, and Elise’s mother taught cooking for a number of years and now owns a yoga studio in Boston.) In fact both yoga and food not only influences our physical well being, but also our emotions and thoughts. We find that eating sustainable food sourced locally and cooked with love and sincere attention to detail is much like the practice of yoga. There is no way to separate the emotional/behavioral benefits from the physical benefits of practicing yoga, just as there is no way to eat without feeling a sense of connection to our food. Instead of looking at the two businesses as a “combination” we see Take Root as a place for us each to practice our respective crafts and share them with the community—while also getting to share them with each other.
What are your respective backgrounds in your fields?
I'd say the best way to answer this is to check out our Meet Elise + Anna page—it pretty much covers everything!
What's the ethos behind the restaurant? What do you want diners to take away after they leave?
Take Root is a place where we can explore the impact that food and yoga can have on the people who are capable of putting preconceived notions of what it means to practice yoga and dining in an intimate setting aside. We hope people can trust that whatever time they spend here will transport them to place they have not yet been and can not replicate, because as it stands in its truest form of uniqueness, Take Root is a product of our individual passion for what we do, who we are, and our love and respect for each other. This sentiment is demonstrated through every aspect of Take Root—the thoughtful aesthetic, the location and our decision to be the sole employees all support our desire to “host” our diners and yogis at what often feels like a visit to our home—that is the goal, that is what separates this experience from the often corporate sameness of the restaurants/studios that open these days.
Where do you find your inspiration for meals?
It sounds trite and played out, but we find our inspiration from the seasons, the markets and our own life experience. We are not traveling to Southeast Asia and coming back with a “new found love for Vietnamese food,” we are not trying to reinvent the donut, or make you trek to a deserted neighborhood to tell our story; instead we allow the ingredients to speak for us, to let people know that the menu was created for them—from the ground up. The menu is made after we go to the market, after we clean the herbs, the vegetables and taste the milk and eggs. Yes, we may jot down some notes about the crab we had visiting Anna’s family in Maryland and our need to recreate the seasoning (a slightly updated version of Old Bay) or ask my mom what exactly the ingredients are in her Beans and Greens (a dish that has been on our menu since opening) but, honestly, the menus change so often because we can't stop wanting to showcase our market goods!
How is it working together?
In short, working together is inspirational. I am constantly amazed by how different each day is. The schedule may be the same but our moods never are! I am always surprised by how often I stand in awe at Anna’s ability to do what she does. She is an accomplished children’s yoga instructor, an attentive waitress and a loving fiancée. She smiles when things are breaking down and keeps things cool when I am fired up. No doubt there are challenges and misunderstandings, disagreements and frustration, but there is nothing more satisfying than shaking the hand of a happy customer and knowing that we did it together—all of it.
What has been the best part of running Take Root together?
The best part of running Take Root together is getting to see each other. It's no mystery that chefs work crazy hours, have close to zero down time and often struggle to maintain a “normal” relationship with both a loved one and the restaurant. We have found a way to make it work and are excited to know that there can be great joy in working side by side.
Take Root; 187 Sackett Street, Carroll Gardens take-root.com
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen