Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
04/01/21 12:35pm
El Lindor is a double play of flavor, an artisanal cold cheese slice!

Play ball . . and eat pizza. Just in time for the opening day of Major League Baseball, my favorite Queens pizzaiolo, Dave Acocella of Philomena’s has created a special pie devoted to New York Mets pizza loving shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Acocella got the idea for El Lindor when he heard Paquito profess his love for pizza the night of a preseason game against the Washington Nationals. “New York pizza is amazing!” Lindor said. “I’m looking forward to being in New York to eat pizza, but I’m a little scared because it might turn into eating pizza three or four times a week.”

Phase 1 of El Lindor, fresh out of the oven.

Lindor’s namesake pie is nothing to be afraid of though. The double play of flavors would make any shortstop proud. First, a round pie festooned with red onions, capers, kalamata olives, mushrooms, tomato sauce, and garlic is baked off. When someone orders a slice, Acocella reheats it and then tops it off with fiore di latte mozzarella, Calabrian chilies, basil, and parmigiano. The result is savory, salty, sweet, spicy and creamy—absolutely Amazin’.

In fact it’s so good that the other night I heard a Yankee fan singing its praises. “I hate to admit it, but it’s really good,” he said. “I hope Lindor doesn’t play as good as this slice tastes!”

Acocella says the shop’s most elaborate slice may not be available every day. You should definitely try one if you see it in the case though. For the record, the Mets lost that preseason game against the Nationals. Here’s hoping El Lindor brings them luck the next time they face off!

Philomena’s, 41-16 Queens Blvd., Sunnyside, (718) 255-1778

03/15/21 11:13pm
Chef Palm’s use of techniques like rosemary smoke and luxury ingredients like
wagyu beef, is balanced by a firm grounding in the fundamemtals of Japanese sushi.

Even though it’s the most diverse section of the most diverse neighborhood in the United States the area surrounding the Jackson Heights—Roosevelt Avenue/74 Street Subway is better known for Thai, Mexican, and Tibetan cuisine than for Japanese. There are few sushi places—mostly middling takeout and a Tibetan restaurant masquerading as a Japanese spot—and until January 2020 no omakase whatsoever. That’s when Chef Atip “Palm” Tangjantuk opened Sushi On Me, in a space that used to house a Thai bar. Chef Palm was born in Thailand and until he decided to take a job in a sushi restaurant 10 years ago in Chicago to help pay tuition for an M.B.A. at DePaul University, he never gave much thought to kitchen work.

If anything Chef Palm first started making sushi because it had a cool vibe and was a physically cool environment as opposed to a hot kitchen. Fast forward 11 years, including a stint working with sushi wunderkind David Bouhadana at Sushi by Bou, and Chef Palm has become a cool sushi chef in his own right. Like his mentor, Chef Palm presents his sushi as a speakeasy experience. There’s no sign, unless you count the one for East 21, an unaffiliated Japanese takeout located above his hip sushi den, and the sountrack runs to upbeat mellow jazz. Despite the omakase speakeasy vibe, there’s nothing pretentious or gimmicky about his 15-course omakase.

Great things lurk below.

On the night I visited his eight-seat counter the meal began with shimmery hotaru—tiny Japanese firefly squid with shiro miso—and its less exotic cousin, strips of ika squid in ponzu. This was followed by two lovely pieces of yellowtail sashimi. Many of the nigiri were quite Japanese in presentation, including creamy hotate, or scallop from Hokkaido, and silvery kohada, gizzard shad with with ginger and chive, but some were clear examples of Chef Palm’s artistry, like zippy seared white tuna with crunchy Japanese garlic and king salmon, or sake, which Chef Palm infused with rosemary smoke moments before garnishing it with ikura (salmon roe) and tamarind sauce. The latter is inspired by the Thai dish miang kum.

Clockwise: pristine yellowtail sashimi; seared white tuna
with crunchy chili garlic; kohada with ginger and chive; and Hokkaido scallop.

Even the most over the top course— a morsel of A3 wagyu beef topped with creamy toro and briny Maine uni—was perfectly situated in the flow of the meal, less of a flex and more of a crescendo. This isn’t surprising, since Chef Palm is a musician and used to perform in the very space where he now improvises works of a different nature. Just as a jazz musician changes things up, Sushi On Me’s omakase is ever evolving, but grounded in the fundamentals of artistry and top-notch ingredients. “It depends on my feeling at that time,” Chef Palm says. “Sometimes I prepare the menu already, but at the last minute I change.”

At $89 for 15 courses Sushi On Me’s omakase is quite reasonable, and frankly among the best I’ve had outside of Japan. In case you’re wondering, Chef Palm never did get that degree. His parents wanted him to become a university professor. These days he’s a teacher of a different sort. The last time I stopped by to say hello he was teaching two apprentices how to turn cucumber into paper thin ribbons.

Sushi On Me, 71-26 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, (929) 268-5691

03/10/21 7:30pm

“Sorry, we’re out of today’s special, it was Virginia ham and mutz,” the gent behind the counter said. The counter—in case you’re wondering—was located not in my home borough of Queens, but rather in Hoboken, N.J., birthplace of both Frank Sinatra and Fiore’s House of Quality.

As the sign in the window at Fiore’s says, the storied Italian deli has been making its famous mozzarella since 1913. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two years before Old Blue Eyes was born.) It’s also become famous over the years for its roast beef and mozzarella—or “mutz” as they call it here—and gravy sandwich, which is only available on Thursdays and Saturdays.

My pal and I found ourselves in Hoboken Monday evening so we were unable to get the shop’s most famous creation or the day’s special, so we went with that Italian deli standard, the Italian combo.

The guy at the counter rattled off the ingredients: pepper ham, salami, roast peppers and some others that I didn’t really catch because I was deliriously hungry. At Fiore’s one normally chooses the bread—either a skinny hoagie as long as your forearm or a roll—before approaching the counter. There’s no bread pawing during a pandemic so I asked the counterman for a whole sandwich to split. I almost ordered one for each of us, but I had a presentation to give later that night and didn’t want to fall prey to a food coma.

After cutting the loaf in half, my new friend began layering the ingredients—mutz, spiced ham, peppers etc.—so far so good. Then he picked up a knife and proceeded to cut it in half. When he raised the knife again I almost screamed in protest, but held my tongue.

“Geez, we’re lucky he didn’t cut the crust off,” I wisecracked to my friend as we made our way to the car. When we arrived at Frank Sinatra Park and unwrapped our feast, I soon realized why the guy at Fiore’s had quartered the our combo. One piece could barely fit in my hand. We ate it overlooking the Hudson. The combination of creamy mutz, garlicky roast peppers, and all that Italian salumi was almost better than the view. A quality sandwich for sure, I’ll be back for the roast beef.

Fiore’s House of Quality, 414 Adams St., Hoboken, N.J.

03/08/21 1:41pm
Soybean Chen’s new location opened at Broadway Food Mart last week.

Last Tuesday I was on my way back from my weekly foray to Warung Selasa when I noticed a smiling Chinese man waving to me outside Broadway Food Mart. For a moment I didn’t recognize him. Then I realized it was Soybean Chen, the cheery face behind Flushing’s only spot for fresh creamy dou hua—silken tofu—and fresh flowers. The creamy, comforting pudding like tofu has long a staple of my food tours. I was curious what brought Uncle Chen to Elmhurst.

Soon he and his son Jimmy told me that they were opening a tofu stand in Queens’ second smaller Chinatown. Just like the original Flushing location, Soybean Chen’s Elmhurst satellite offers sweet ginger syrup and Chen’s spicy topping of pickled veggies, baby shrimp, and chili. It’s also added a few new toppings, including boba in ginger syrup, which I tried the other day.

Uncle Chen and me in the O.G. Flushing location.

I’m so glad that Uncle Chen’s tofu is now a mere 10-minute walk from my apartment. It’s sure to become part of my breakfast rotation as well as my Elmhurst food tours. By the way I have started giving tours to small groups once again. Please click here for more details.

Soybean Chen Satellite, Broadway Food Mart, 83-20 Broadway, Elmhurst

03/03/21 7:40pm

“Hugue literally said that you inspired the sandwich,” Sarah Obraitis told me via text. The creation in question? A foie gras sandwich that recently landed on the menu at their restaurant M. Wells in Long Island City. While I’m flattered by Chef Hugue Dufour’s comment, I take it with a grain or two of fleur du sel. As for the sandwich, I went to try it last weekend and wasn’t quite sure what to expect other than decadence. I did have a hazy memory of a photo of an orb of fattened duck liver that looked like it had been dispatched with an ice cream scoop.

The $24 sandwich consists of a generous ball of creamy foie perched atop a bun slathered with homemade membrillo, aka quince paste. Call it what you will, its tart sweetness is a great counterpoint to the rich, creamy foie gras. For a moment I considered smushing the orb down and eating the whole lot like an actual sandwich, but decided against that for two reasons: 1) it would be really messy and 2) I wanted to prolong my gustatory bliss for as long as possible. So I spread a good deal of it on the top bun and fell to.

A few words about that bun, it is a challah bread dough that’s been treated like a croissant and has a bit of smoked eel in it. The whole experience took me back to the first time I ever tried foie gras at the River Cafe 20 years ago.
The smoked eel in the bread was a mere whisper, but it did call to mind a smoked eel croissant that Chef Dufour dreamed up for a Queens Dinner Club Brunch. So I guess I am in some sense the inspiration for this sandwich.

I enjoyed my main course of monkfish well enough, but that sandwich was a tough act to follow. Next time, I’m getting two. I wonder if the kitchen would put it on a baguette. Do I dare to dream of a foie gras banh mi? After all stranger and tastier things have happened at M. Wells and hopefully will continue to do so now that restaurants are back open at 35% and the end of the pandemic is in sight.

M. Wells, Steakhouse, 43-15 Crescent St, Long Island City, NY 11101

02/02/21 3:56pm
These savory sweet Phoenix cookies are known as little chicken cookies in Malaysia.

Longtime C&M readers know Little House Cafe, the wonderful Malaysian restaurant/bakery run by Helen Bay—who handles the baking, including the infamous Golden Pillow, a food tour favorite—and her husband, Michael Lee—who handles the savory dishes, like a bangup chow kueh teow and such creations as salted egg chow fun with shrimp—is one of my favorite places to eat in Queens.

After the pandemic hit they closed for a bit and reopened in May, but just for takeout. Since I moved to Elmhurst, I have taken to strolling over to the mini Chinatown spur of Corona Avenue to get some takeout and treats from the little house with the yellow awning.

My go-to treat is something the shop calls “Phoenix Cookies.” Each container holds some two dozen mahogany colored, crunchy sweet-savory biscuits studded with black and white sesame seeds. Toasty, and not too sweet with a hint of pepper they’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, which is how I enjoy them most every day.

The Chinese on the label reads ji zai bing, or “little chicken cookie,” as they’re commonly known in Malaysia, specifically in the the small town of Kampar, where they are said to have been created. Bay makes hers with fermented bean curd, candied melon, and pepper among other things.
Whether you call them chicken biscuits or Phoenix cookies, the irregularly shaped brown crisps are decidedly Southeast Asian.

Like all of the noodles at Little House the Singapore fried mee hoon is excellent.

As I mentioned I’m a big fan of all of the stir-fried noodles at Little House, so when I saw on the restaurant’s Facebook page that they were offering something called Singapore fried mee hoon, which bears a striking resemblance to one of my favorite noodle dishes, Singapore mei fun, I had to try it.

The tangle of vermicelli gone yellow from curry, shot through with fish cake, shrimp, beef, and squid is the best version of the dish I’ve ever had. Since it came from a Southeast Asian restaurant and had a different name, I thought I had discovered the mysterious origins of this American Chinese takeout classic. “No, it’s the same thing, mee hoon is just the Fujianese way of saying it,” my Malaysian pal Danny schooled me.

With Chinese New Year just around the corner my sincere hope for Little House Cafe and every cafe, dim sum house, restaurant, and hawker stand in every Chinatown is that it rises like a phoenix from COVID. Like many other Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants Little House Cafe offers many treats that are only available during this festive season, check their Facebook page for details.

Little House Cafe, 90-19 Corona Ave., Elmhurst, 718-592-0888

01/27/21 10:47pm

“Good sandwich,” my pal Rocky said between bites, “but Sandwich Therapy’s kind of a goofy name.” Those bites consisted of crunchy chicken schnitzel studded with sesame seeds; thick slabs of fried eggplant smoky and sweet; a shmear of tahini; pickled daikon and carrots; and matbucha, a spicy Moroccan tomato and pepper stew all packed between two slabs of challah.

I first encountered the Sandwich Therapy stand, which sets up on the median of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights just outside Travers Park, about a month ago. I’d already had lunch that day and didn’t take note of the name, but I did buy some lovely Georgian Shakarlama cookies, enriched with ground walnuts and almonds and perfumed with cardamom. I forgot all about it until Rocky texted me an image of this crazy looking dreadnought of a sandwich last Friday. (He in turn had heard of the stand from fellow food nerd Dave Cook of Eating in Translation.)

And that’s how we came to be eating a fried chicken sandwich with a decidedly Israeli accent on a blustery Friday in Jackson Heights. “Maybe he’s a social worker I mused,” taking a pause before tackling the second half of this truly masterful sandwich.

“We’re going to have it every Friday,” said the Master himself Mark Blinder, who operates the stand on Friday’s from 2 to 6 and 11-3 on Saturday and Sunday with his wife, Esthi Zipori. “It’s very popular in Israel right now, they even call it the Friday sandwich.”

As for the stand’s name, it turns out that Blinder does have a Masters degree in Social Work. He’s been sidelined due to COVID, so in November he and Esthi decided to sell set up shop near their local park. They often get their bread from Variety Bakery on 80th Street and Northern Boulevard. It bears pointing out that at $12 the Friday sandwich is among the most affordable of the many modalities of gustatory therapy available in the Heights. And the tahini chocolate chip cookies I scored were pretty damn good, too. To pre-order your very own Friday sandwich e-mail Mark and Esthi at sandwichtherapy77@gmail.com.

01/20/21 11:59pm
The Bolivian Elvis filled with beef floss, bananas, and Lily’s peanut butter.

Back in October I created a breakfast sandwich called the Filipino Elvis. It consisted of Lily’s Peanut Butter and bananas on toasted péigēn miànbāo, or “bacon bread,” from New Fully Bakery. Sadly that Elmhurst bakery no longer makes the wedge of spiral bread filled with bacon and slightly sweet pork floss. The sweetness of the Filipino peanut butter and the smokey, salty bacon and sweet pork floss made for a great start to the day.

I’ve been eating bananas and Lily’s on white toast for breakfast for months, but it’s just not the same sandwich as the Filipino Elvis. And then I came across some Bolivian beef floss, and thus was born the Bolivian Elvis. The crunchy salty strands of meat play very well with the banana and peanut butter. They also make a great topping for congee, another of my favorite breakfasts.

Bolivian charquekan as traditionally served at Puerta Del Sol in Woodside.


By now you’re probably wondering where I happened upon Bolivian beef floss. First of all I should point out that it’s called charquekan. It’s made from beef that’s dried for three days, boiled, beaten with a mallet until it frays, and finally crisped up in a hot pan. I owe this discovery to fellow food nerd and ace Instagrammer snackwithsue who turned me on to Puerta Del Sol, a Bolivian restaurant in Woodside this past weekend.

The restaurant’s owner Jose Sanchez told us that Bolivians from as far away Virginia come to at the delicacy. It is a veritable mountain of meat floss atop hominy corn kept company by two hard boiled eggs, two wedges of quesillo cheese, and a potato. I enjoyed the dish but there was so much of it, that I took the better part of the plate home. Somehow, I knew I’d find a use for it. I’m glad my hunch was right!

Puerta Del Sol, 67-03 Woodside Ave., Woodside, 718-685-2087

11/24/20 7:34pm

It’s been a little hard for me to muster up the enthusiasm to write about food finds these days, especially since my ideal subject is something so good I have to tell everyone about it more or less immediately. It’s a high—some would say unsustainable—standard. Nevertheless here are two things I simply have to share with the world. The first is a cheffed up fried chicken meal and the second an equally soigné soup dumpling.

I’m not one to wait on line for food fads or join waiting lists to score fancy pants pizza, but when I heard about the chili fried chicken dinners from Eric Huang’s Pecking House, I knew I had to have one. For one thing he was a sous chef at Eleven Madison Park, plus he was keeping his folks’ restaurant Peking House in Fresh Meadows, Queens, afloat with this new venture. So winner, winner fried chicken dinner!

Ordering from Pecking House takes some patience as one must first send a DM to their Instagram account @pecking_house, or in my case, several DMs. Finally they got back to me and provided me with a password an ordering slot. From there it was pretty easy and on Sunday night Eric himself delivered the meal straight to my door.

After a brief reheat the craggy red crusted chicken was ready to devour and devour it I did. It was crunchy, juicy and had just the right amount of spice. Huang wouldn’t divulge too much about his process, but he did reveal that the bird is soaked in buttermilk and that the spice mix includes Sichuan peppercorns and Tianjin chilies. It was so good I might have to get two orders next time. Dessert was peanut butter pudding with pretzels atop a layer of grape jelly. I don’t recall ordering two, but it gave me the opportunity to try one frozen, which I highly recommend.

As I mentioned the other really great thing I ate recently was a new soup dumpling from Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. Part of the Three Treasures XLB series created to celebrate the one year anniversary of the restaurant’s rebirth the red and white swirled dumpling is made with a very special ingredient, aged Chinese ham. The other two treasures were green, filled with braised abalone, and black, filled with spiked sea cucumber.

Thanks to my adventures in the world of charcuterie I’ve become something of an expert on aged hams, but I have little experience with Chinese ham. Clearly I need to eat more of it because these dumplings knocked my socks off. I was expecting a salty smoky meatiness and to be sure that was there to a degree, but what really struck me about these new XLB, was a deep funkiness that called to mind cheese. I cannot wait to try them again, especially since I’m told that they are looking to make this already amazing dumpling even better.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, 39-16 Prince St., (718) 321-3838
Pecking House available for order through IG: @Pecking_House

11/18/20 12:26pm


Delicias Caleña No. 2, a tiny bakery whose awning proclaims “100% Colombiano,” is wedged between a North Indian and a South Indian restaurant in a part of Jackson Heights better known for halal butchers and Tibetan momo parlors than Colombian bakeries. It’s the type of spot I love to duck into in the morning for a cup of coffee and a buñuelo—the golden fried cheesy orb—or, if I’m feeling a bit hungrier an arepa con queso and a hunk of chicharron. The subject of today’s post isn’t Colombian breakfast though, it’s American breakfast. One that’s near and dear to the heart of New York City folks, the bacon egg and cheese sandwich.

“It’s the best,” my buddy Jeff Orlick, who lives just down the street has been telling me for years. “They make the bread and they deep fry the bacon.” Soggy bacon has turned me more into a sausage and cheese man, so after having lunch around the corner from Delicias with Jeff last week I made a point to finally try this sandwich.

I was prepared to be disappointed for I’m well aware that in this age of Instagram and a constant hunger to feed the interwebs the very best X, expectation often far exceeds reality. All that said it was actually the best bacon egg and cheese I have eaten in Jackson Heights, and certainly the best one from a Colombian bakery.

Perhaps it was the fact that eggs were scrambled, and the bacon was crispy, and the fresh roll definitely played a huge part. More likely though it was the novelty of finding the sandwich in such unfamiliar surroundings. I may just have another for lunch today. For the record, my favorite sausage and egg breakfast sandwich remains Maialino’s spendy cotechino on a pecorino biscuit.
Delicias Caleña No. 2, 35-68 73rd St, Jackson Heights

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