As Joe McDonald and I walked toward FieldTrip, the eatery created by JJ Johnson at the 2018 US Open, you can see the staff hustling to get orders out to hungry tennis fans. What you might not notice is one of those people hustling, carrying two boxes of Evian natural spring water on the fourth consecutive 90-degree day of the week, is owner and chef JJ Johnson.
Johnson brought FieldTrip to the 2018 US Open as a preview to his restaurant of the same name set to open in Harlem this fall. New York Sports Day sat down with the James Beard -nominated chef to talk about his concept and inspiration for FieldTrip, and, of course, the mouth-watering eats.
“I’ve been traveling the world for the last five years and everywhere I went, regardless of if it was a super expensive restaurant or inexpensive restaurant, rice was always at the center of the table,” Johnsons said. That reminded Johnson of his childhood, and he had an epiphany that it would probably do the same for many others. “If I could give you really good rice in a good form, that would be amazing.” FieldTrip is just that: amazing!
Johnson sat with us as we tasted different items on the menu.
“Crispy chicken thighs on Carolina gold rice with jerk barbecue sauce, we have sticky crispy rice with an eggplant jollof sauce, which is from West Africa with shrimp and corn and carrots,” Johnson said. The chicken dish also comes with vegetables. The menu offers even more diversity.
“I have a veggie burger that will go up against any meat lover’s burger, with some grains and corn on stracciatella and avocado with tarot chips,” Johnson boasts, and let me tell you, he is not lying! I am a meet eater, but I savored every bite of the veggie grain bun.
The Skuna Bay Salmon includes pineapple tribute rice, piri piricrushed peanuts, and edamame, and is described by Chef Johnson as “a little sweet, and sticky and spicy.” The menu also offers roti bread with carrot dip, as well as a hearty salad with spinach, cucumber, pickled red onion, grilled corn, ginger carrot and vinaigrette. You can add one of the proteins for an addition free.
We asked Chef Johnson, who has cooked for many notables, including three-time NBA champion and two-time MVP Stephen Curry, what his favorite dish on the menu was. “I truly love the salmon with the black fried rice because it gives you this nuttiness from the rice, it comes with this pineapple sauce that’s like sweet and sticky, the piri piri has some spice to it, we throw some peanuts on for some crunch, so it has everything,” JJ says. Johnson, who was the executive chef of Harlem eateries The Cecil and Minton’s, also loves the veggie grain bun.
Johnson, who is co-author of the cookbook Between Harlem and Heaven, will leave your taste buds somewhere between Harlem and heaven if you stop by Field Trip by Court 17 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the 2018 US Open.
Keep up with JJ Johnson on Instagram @chefjj, New York Sports Day @nysportsday and Derrel Jazz Johnson @jazzjohnson1