Articles by

Joe DiStefano

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07/29/20 1:46pm

The signature roast beef sandwich topped with cheese sauce and raw onions is worth a trip to Sheepshead Bay, Brookyn.

Even though I’ve made a career out of hating on Brooklyn in favor of Queens, my roots lie in the County of Kings where parents grew up. Perhaps my DNA makes me a sucker for the borough’s old-school neighborhoods and their culinary institutions. Today’s post is not about a certain antediluvian steakhouse in Williamsburg, but a rather another purveyor of meaty marvels: Roll ’n Roaster, a 50 year-old establishment that built its reputation on a rather sumptuous roast beef sandwich.

I was two years old in 1970 when Buddy Lamonica founded the Sheepshead Bay roast beef sandwich specialist whose slogan “We’re not so fast, Roll ’n Roaster,” became a staple of New York City late night TV in the 1970s. I didn’t grow up eating Lamonica’s creation—a glorious sandwich of thinly shaved roast beef drenched with gravy and topped with cheese sauce—that one of the restaurants many, many signs touts as “PERFECTION ON A ROLL,” but I wish I had. Instead we had Roy Rogers Roast Beef with horsey sauce. Imagine the greatness I would have achieved had I cut my teeth on Roll ’n Roaster instead of Roy’s! (more…)

07/21/20 10:25pm

Taco trio from Mi Dulce Mexico left to right: arabe, machaca, and birria.

I’ve been trying to meet up with Dr. Taco since this past spring, when we began exchanging Instagram messages. Finally on Saturday the stars, especially the one that’s been baking New York City, aligned and we set a rendezvous for one of his favorite foods, tacos at Mi Dulce Mexico. And not just any tacos, Sinaloense style ones from Northwestern Mexico.

Dr. Taco, whose real name is Steven Alvarez is an English professor at St. John’s University, where he teaches a course called Taco Literacy  that explores the foodways of Mexican immigrants in the United States. He’d originally suggested we meet for Colombian burgers, but I insisted on tacos, which is how we wound up at Mi Dulce Mexico. I’ve passed by the bakery/taqueria numerous times and never thought to eat there, but Alvarez told me that since February it’s been the new home of América Rodriguez, the chef of Taqueria Sinaloense, which closed a while back.

Since I skipped breakfast and am at root a glutton I was seriously considering a plate of machaca con huevos, a Sinaolense beef jerky cooked with eggs and tomato that is a typical breakfast, or chilorio, another specialty of the Nortwestern state. The latter is a life-changing heap of pork that’s been slowly cooked down for hours, then fried in lard, and lastly cooked in a ruddy concoction of chilies and other herbs and spices. When you’re dining with a professor of taco literacy though, tacos are the way to go. So we each got three: a machaca con huevos, birria de res, and tacos arabes. (more…)

07/20/20 8:35am

These Korean cold noodles are one of my favorite forms of edible air conditioning!

When the dog days of summer have got me panting I seek cold noodles: chilled Japanese soba, Chinese liang pi, Chengdu liang mian, and the chillest noodles of all, Korean naeng myun.

Think of the slippery buckwheat noodles as edible air conditioning. There’s a soup version, mul naengmyeon, which consists of the greyish noodles along with chilled beef broth, often with a small glacier of beef stock; cooling fruits and veggies like sliced Korean pear and cucumber; thinly shaved beef; and a hard-boiled egg. And then there are soupless varieties like hwe naeng myun, topped with raw fish.

I’ve never had the fish version and was eager to try it at New Hae Woon Dae in Elmhurst during what seemed like day 1,024 of quarantine and day 99 of New York City’s heat wave. “We don’t make it anymore,” the server told me, so I opted for the bibim naeng myun, or mixed naeng myun.

So much chili sauce blanketed the noodles that I could barely see them. Slices of daikon, Korean pear, shaved beef, and an egg were relegated to the side of the silver bowl, as if scared of the chili drenched strands.The server used her trusty noodle shears to deftly divide the bowl in four and advised me to add hot mustard and vinegar.

New Hae Woon Dae’s bibim naeng myun comes with a cold bowl of soup on the side to add. Slippery spicy noodles, crunchy vegetables and fruit, and that little bit of meat combined for a satisfying and refreshing summer lunch.

I still can’t wait to try the seafood version though. I’d love to know about your favorite cold noodles and soups. Let me know in the comments.

New Hae Woon Dae, 75-32 Broadway, Woodside, 718-397-5834

07/17/20 11:10pm

Tamarind and chili enriched crab noodles by way of Chantaburi and Khao Nom.

Once upon a time called the late 90s there was a tiny Thai restaurant in Woodside with harsh fluorescent lighting, three tables, and a looseleaf binder of photos that served as a menu. At the time Sripraphai was my kind of joint, a place with food that expanded my mind and my gustatory horizons. Thirty years later it’s three storefronts wide and many say the food has suffered, which is to say it’s not my kind of joint anymore. That’s okay though because in the past decade Elmhurst and Woodside have exploded with all manner of regional Thai specialists, some of whom only operate on weekends. Herewith three of my favorites for you to try.

1. Sen Chan Pad Pu, Khao Nom

76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 929-208-0108
When this retro looking dessert cafe opened it featured a wonderful noodle dish from Chantaburi, sen chan, a spicy tamarind enriched forerunner of the now shopworn pad thai, which features several meaty prawns. Recently Khao Nom introduced the dish’s crabbier cousin, sen chan pad pu. It’s only available on weekends since that’s when Kukiat Chareonnan has the time to make it. It’s spicy, sweet, briny and thoroughly satisfying.

This funky, tart, and spicy papaya salad delivers flavor and electrolyte replacement.

2. Som tom pu pla ra, Pata Market
81-16 Broadway, Elmhurst, 347-935-3714
Down the road from Khao Nom at Pata Market one can procure bespoke packages of sum tom, or papaya salad. When the weather gets hot and humid my favorite version is som tom pu pla ra, which is made with salted black crab and fermented anchovy. Briny, spicy, and tart it’s like an electrolyte replacement therapy! Best of all the lady behind the giant mortar and pestle lets you taste it halfway through to adjust the flavor. It’s served with noodles, cabbage, a hard boiled egg, and sticky rice making for a nice summer meal.

3. Hor Mok, 3 Aunties Thai Market
64-04 39th Ave, Woodside, 718-606-2523
I’ve been a fan of the gals who run this adorable Thai grocery store in Woodside ever since I found out they sell the most amazing savory rice crackers studded with chili and minuscule shrimp. One Sunday I learned they also have another seafood specialty homemade hor mok pla, a fish custard flavored with red curry, coconut milk, Thai basil, and a hint of lime leaf. Not only is the version they make here delicious, it incorporates steamed cabbage and is gigantic. Best to show up around 2 or 3 o’clock since it takes them a while to cook it.

07/15/20 11:01pm

It’s not cheap, but it comes with a million dollar view . . .

Like many of us here in New York City I’ve been struggling with the new normal, but I’m hopeful. Trips to Rockaway Beach have helped. I’m trying to get there at least once a week. As always, there’s eating to be done. My first trip featured a massive feed at Whit’s End, the next a visit to La Cevicheria, and most recently a bit of New England via Rockaway Clam Bar. (I’m not counting the trip where I managed to give myself food poisoning by washing down a warm banana with hot Pellegrino.)

Rockaway Clam Bar is located in the Riis Park concessions, which reopened late last month. At one time they served clams on the half shell, which are always a favorite at the beach, but I didn’t see any on the menu yesterday. Instead I splurged for the lobster roll. At $22, it’s not cheap, but it was quite tasty, and as my pal pointed out, it comes with a “million dollar view” of the Atlantic. His fried clams were excellent. I was tempted to garnish my sandwich with the crunchy briny bellies, but kept it simple.

Since we were practically in Brooklyn we almost went to Randazzo’s Clam Bar afterwards. Instead we opted for a Queens classic, slices at New Park Pizza in Howard Beach.

Rockaway Clam Bar, Riis Park Bay 9

07/14/20 9:13pm

Take two plates of plov and call me in the morning.

One of my favorite things about Queens is that there’s deliciousness around every corner: killer tacos down the street from a sex toy emporium; Chinese style nougat outside the Flushing LIRR; even Mexican seafood cocktails in the back of a bodega.

Today’s Twofer Tuesday—Uzbek plov and fruit pie from Greenway Health & Pharmacy, a drugstore/butcher/glatt kosher market in Rego Park—falls squarely in the latter category. Plov is a hearty Central Asian one-pot rice dish scented with cumin and studded with sweet bits of carrot that I’ve come to know and love after 20 years of living in the neighborhood.

Greenway’s excellent version uses beef, and is heavy on luscious nubs of carrot and also has chickpeas, and naturally, cumin. It’s made by a grandmotherly woman stationed next to the butcher counter. She also cooks up bakhsh, a plov variant that gets its greenish hue from coriander, parsley and dill; and a third type that features raisins. (more…)

07/08/20 9:35pm

RCL calls it a sandwich, but it’s more of a platter.

Chef Bruce has been gone about four years now. I still have a jar of cayenne he gave me two years before he died. It’s as potent as the memory of the first time I dug into a gigantic bowl of graveyard shift curry laksa at Curry Leaves with him. The chef turned taxi driver introduced me to what I like to joke is downtown Flushing’s longest running popup, since an entirely different crew runs the late night noodle operation. We’d often text each other in the wee hours with the simple query: “Curry Leaves?”

He introduced me to many places in Queens including the soul food specialist Rockaway Fish House/RCL Enterprises in Jamaica. Despite the name and the excellent reputation for fried fish, we ordered from the well-stocked steam table. I don’t remember what he had, but I do recall my plate: pig ears in gravy with collards and macaroni and cheese. (more…)

07/07/20 11:10pm

Clockwise from bottom left: Southern fried chicken at Dylan’s and two ways of serving Papa’s bird.

Yesterday was National Fried Chicken Day, which as best as I can tell is an Instagram Holiday. The occasion got me to thinking that for someone who doesn’t cook I sure know a lot about fried chicken. I blame my parents who used several different recipes. My favorite was one with a craggy crust à la Kentucky Colonel as my father called KFC, but they also used a smoother buttermilk batter, and even experimented with cornflakes.

All of which brings me to the subject of today’s post: my two favorite new fried chicken spots in Queens. The first comes from Dylan’s Forest Hills. By all appearances it’s pretty traditional in its takeout box with a lovely biscuit and corn on the cob. A closer look reveals a uniform crunchy crust and a slightly smaller bird. Dylan’s uses flavorful free range fowl that’s encased in a corn flake crust to great effect. (more…)

06/30/20 10:39pm

Smoky jerk chicken and rich chicken foot soup at St. Best.

It’s usually my food photos—Thai steam table treats, tacos de birria and the like—that make my friend and partner in arms in Queens Dinner Club Chef Jonathan Forgash jealous, but recently the opposite’s been happening. Largely because he’s been on a jerk chicken binge for the past two weeks in Southeastern Queens, thanks to recommendations from friends at The BlaQue Resource Network, an online networking and resource community for black-owned businesses in Queens, that has been throwing their support behind Queens Together.

Even though I spent the first two years of my life in Queens Village, it along with the rest of Southeastern Queens is a neighborhood that I’ve been needing to explore more for a long time. I’ve had the pleasure of eating from the  soul food steam table heaven that is R.C.L. Enterprises, but that’s about it.

So on Monday I took the F train to the last stop in Queens and then hopped in Jonathan’s car for the drive over to Queens Village for out first stop, St. Best Jerk Spot. Like many of the best restaurants in Queens, it takes a bit of effort to get to, but it’s worth the trip. (more…)

06/29/20 10:28pm

Zhicay’s shrimp ceviche is stupendously good.

I’ve always known Alfonso Zhicay, the Ecuadorean culinary star behind Woodside’s Casa del Chef Bistro knew his way around ceviche, but it took a pandemic and a vegetarian ceviche of all things to fully convince me.

Like many chefs, Zhicay has pivoted during the pandemic, launching a new concept called PapaViche, a collaboration with fellow Ecuadorean Chef Humberto Guallpa of Freemans. I wanted to do only potatoes and then he said, ‘what about with ceviche?’” Zhicay said. “Potatoes and ceviche, why not let’s do it.”

Opening night at PapaViche.

When it comes to ceviche I tend to prefer the bracingly citric Peruvian version to the soupier and sweeter tomato-based Ecuadorean version, but Zhicay’s shrimp ceviche—listed on the menu as Alfonso’s Ceviche—knocked my socks off. The plump shrimp lounged in an orange liquor that was as bright as a gazpacho, but also had an incredible depth of flavor. “It’s a twist. It’s not exactly Ecuadorean ceviche,” Zhicay says noting that one of the secrets to its depth is roasted tomatoes that are added to a shrimp shell consomme. (more…)