Astoria Characters: The French of Tootles & French

It’s a really funny and inventive name: Tootles & French.

As with most things in life, there’s a story behind it, one you’d never guess in a million years.

When Chad Goldsmith was 3, he and his much more experienced and sophisticated older brother, who was 5, were ordering in a restaurant.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
French, aka Chad.

Chad had chosen French fries, and his brother had selected noodles.

Much to the horror of the boys and their fledgling taste buds, the waiter mixed up their orders, prompting little Chad, whose vocabulary was, like his body, baby-size, to declare, “No, he’s Tootles, and I’m French.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Tootles & French is at 36-15 Ditmars Blvd.

The cartoon-cutesy nicknames stuck, so when Chad, a gregarious guy with Frank Sinatra eyes, opened his Astoria wine bar/cafe earlier this year, there was no question that he would call it Tootles & French.

There was no question, in fact, that Chad, would, indeed open a bar/restaurant.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Tootles & French is a wine bar and cafe.

He took up residence as the chef in the family kitchen almost as soon as he began eating.

By the time he was 7, he had mastered the art of frying plantains, a skill he learned from his nanny when he was growing up in Plainview, Long Island.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The menu includes a cheese board.

Shortly thereafter, he proudly prepared his first family dinner – baked chicken creatively seasoned with cinnamon.

“My parents hated it, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, because my nanny, who knew this was going to be a disaster, had baked a separate piece for me without the cinnamon, so it was delicious,” he says.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Bartender Samantha Anderson making a New York Sour.

Undeterred, Chad continued cooking, concocting his own recipes and preparing meals for his family a couple times a week.

“It has always been fun,” he says. “It’s like experimenting with a big chemistry set.”

Chad, it should be noted, didn’t have much competition in the kitchen — his parents weren’t interested and were very busy running the iconic Manhattan culinary concern S. Feldman Housewares, which was founded in 1929 by Chad’s great-grandfather.

(Tootles, Chad’s brother, also entered the family business; he and his parents frequently stop in at Tootles & French to support Chad.)

Although Chad helped out at S. Feldman while he was growing up, he couldn’t get his mind off the restaurant industry.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Tootles & French’s mixed board: cheese/chartcuterie.

In fact, although his parents provided him with a generous college fund, he held several jobs – as a server for a caterer, as a host and a busser at a restaurant and as a server in a bar/lounge – while he was earning his business degree from Hofstra, which he figured would come in handy when he opened his own bar/restaurant.

During his school breaks and for four months after he graduated, Chad, who is 32, traveled the world.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The Night Night features edible flowers embedded in ice cubes.

“I’ve been to 50 countries,” he says, adding unapologetically that “I once traveled 31 and a half hours to eat a suckling pig – in Cebu in the Philippines.”

After his global epicurean explorations, Chad earned a certification from the Institute of Culinary Education, initially making a career working in other people’s restaurants and bars – and making key connections in the wine industry that would lead to the establishment of Tootles & French.

Tootles & French, which stocks privately imported wines from around the world that nobody else in the state or, in some cases, even the country, serves, opened in April, two years after Chad conceived it, in the space that used to be the neighborhood sports bar McCann’s on Ditmars Boulevard.

 The business-casual establishment serves a seasonal menu of what Chad describes as “simple homemade food” that is designed to pair with specific wines.

The menu runs from Chilled Duck, which comes with pureed purple cauliflower and asparagus salad, to a Crispy Tofu sandwich with tomato marmalade and spinach and homemade gelato with exotic flavors such as blueberry/lavender.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Tootles & French offers wines you won’t fine anywhere else.

The wines, beers and ciders are supplemented with fancy cocktails such as Night Night (Calvados blanche, green flora liqueur, white wine syrup and lemon with extra-large ice cubes embedded with edible flowers) and the colorful New York Sour (whiskey, lemon and red wine).

Tootles & French is, Chad says, a neighborhood gathering spot. Although it’s new, there already are scores of regulars.

“We are all about community,” Chad says. “Everyone who works here lives within three blocks of the wine bar, and walk each other home every night.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Chilled Duck with purple cauliflower puree and asparagus salad.

These days, Chad doesn’t have much time to cook – his shortest workweek ran 80 hours – but he still has a hand in the kitchen.

“It’s a group effort on the food,” he says. “We give everyone working here creative freedom, and it has to be a unanimous staff vote to get it on the menu.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Chad started cooking when he was 7.

Many new business owners have dreams of opening additional locations even before the first venture is off the ground, but Chad, at least for now, is content for Tootles & French to be one of a kind.

“Even if I open another, it will be in Astoria,” he says. “I want to be able to be present every day.”

Yes, he says, running a wine bar/cafe is really hard work, but “it’s OK – that’s the life.”

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling