Sometimes an average restaurant banh mi is just what you need.
“I really want to try the Vietnamese sandwich,” Chef Dave, said as we wheeled into the parking lot of Elmhurst’s Pho Bac. He was pretty excited because there were baguettes stacked in the window, an unusual sight for midevening. Not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm, I didn’t trot out my theory that restaurant banh mi are passable at best compared to those from sandwich shops and delis.
As we were looking at the menu, I remembered something I wanted to try, call it a Vietnamese French dip. (I’m sure whatever blog I cribbed the idea from does.) In no sort order Chef Dave and I had each ordered a sandwich—classic pork for him and highfalutin steak for me—and a large bowl of pho tai. The latter is the most minimalist of the 10 or so beef noodle soups offered, containing little more than noodles and rare slices of beef. (more…)
You would think after a weekend spent surrounded by smoked and cured meats at Charcuterie Masters, I’d be tired of ham and pâté. Not so. Which is exactly how I found myself at Violet’s Bake Shoppe ordering a Pâté Supreme bánh mì earlier today. My go to order is the house special, which features crumbled roast pork and Vietnamese charcuterie.
In addition to a homemade pork liver pâté, the Supreme ($6.50) features Vietnamese ham and salami with all the standard fixins. The cold cuts and shmear of peppery pâté combined with the veggies and fresh jalapeños made for a satisfying lunch.
In case you’re wondering the Charcuterie Masters 2017 Grand Champion was Mark Elia of Hudson Valley Sausage Company who took home the crown for his liverwurst. I’ll bet it would be just splendid on a Vietnamese sandwich!
Violet’s Bake Shoppe, 72-36 Austin Street, Forest Hills, 718-263-3839
With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. It was a big year for me and for food in Queens, including a feature in Asahi Shimbun and the discovery of the durian pizza. In no particular order here are 16 of the best things I ate last year.
1. Best Grilled Cheese Mr. Crispy, a grilled cheese sandwich served at Astoria Bier & Cheese answers the question, “How good can a grilled cheese be?” with a resounding “very, very good.” The sandwich of cave aged gruyere, ham and honey mustard is coated in mantle of white crispy cheese. This coating extends outward into a golden lacy corolla, a veritable halo of crispy cheese. It’s crunchy, sharp, and eminently craveable. I’ve haven’t been this excited about fried cheese since Joe Bastianich’s ill-fated Frico Bar. Astoria Bier & Cheese, 34-14 Broadway, Astoria, 718-545-5588
2. Most Fabulous F***in’ Clam Pizza
The salciccia e vongole pizza at Whit’s End is the best clam pie I’ve had outside of Zuppardi’s. Housemade sausage seasoned with clove, star, anise, juniper, and allspice join the Littleneck clams along with pepperoncini and shaved garlic. The combination of the fior di latte mozzarella and Parmigianno Regianno round things out quite nicely. Whit’s End, Riis Park Beach Bazaar
3. Hottest Off-menu Indian-Chinese Chicken
Nashville may have cayenne-infused hot chicken, but here in Queens we have something I like to call hakka hot chicken. Peter Lo, Queens’ godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine and founder of Tangra Masala, whipped up a batch for me a while back. The hacked up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic call to mind Dominican style chicharron de pollo with an Indian-Chinese twist. Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298
4. Best Breakfast Sandwich I count myself a big fan of the classic bacon egg and cheese, but my favorite breakfast sandwich of 2017 contains no swine whatsoever. The breakfast sandwich at Roast n Co combines organic eggs, tomato jam, and Cabot white cheddar on a brioche make for one of the best egg sandwiches ever. Since Roast n co is run by Tunisians you have the option of asking for a sidecar of harissa, a lovely concoction of chili peppers, olive oil, and paprika. It’s an option you should exercise. Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
5. Most Secret Korean BBQ Garden
Korean barbecue always brings to mind happy memories of backyard barbecues. At Flushing’s Majang Dong the Korean BBQ that takes place in an actual backyard. Chef Yu and his family run what some might call a Korean BBQ speakeasy. Sure there’s a storefront and inside you’ll find a restaurant, but the real action takes place out back in the shack and garden. Say you’re there for BBQ, and Mrs. Yu will walk you out the back door into a Korean BBQ wonderland. Pork kalbi and pork belly are both lovely, and there’s eel and octopus for seafood lovers, but one of the best meats is grilled pork intestines. With a crunchy exterior and chewy interior, the fatty rings eat like an offal lover’s version of pork cracklins. Majang Dong, 41-71 Bowne St., Flushing, 718-460-2629(more…)
Violet’s house special bánh mì with grilled pork, Vietnamese ham, Vietnamese salami.
Friends and neighbors had been telling me about Violet’s Bake Shoppe in Forest Hills for months. First, there was talk of lovely egg tarts and Vietnamese iced coffee. And then, they hit me with the big guns, bánh mì. The Vietnamese sandwich is one of my all-time favorites, so I hightailed it over to Austin Street.
There I found a respectable roster of 10 Vietnamese sandwiches, including a House Special ($6.50), Baked Fish with lemongrass and turmeric ($6.95), and a Pâté Supreme ($6.50). I almost went for the Pâté Supreme, but I’m a bánh mì traditionalist, so I opted for the House Special. (more…)
The bánh mì, a study in textures—cool pickled veggies, crunchy bread, and caramelized pork—and flavors—savory roast meats and charcuterie, and perhaps pate; hot peppers; and Asian mayo—is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches. So much so that a lifetime ago when I was a line cook at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, I took it upon myself to add it to the menu while the chef was on vacation. We had charcuterie, pickles, pork, fish sauce, and chilies in house, so I figured why not run it as a special. Chef was not pleased with my addition of what I called the Banh-Jimmy to his menu. (more…)
Pork—be it pâté, Vietnamese ham, or crumbly char siu—are all integral players in the showstopping symphony of flavors and textures that is the banh mi. The Vietnamese sandwich, with its cool mix of pickled vegetables, pork product, umami rich Kewpie mayo, and chili heat is one of my favorites. In Italy porchetta, another porkcentric creation, is a popular street food.
One of my favorite New York City spots, Porchett,a is devoted to the dish, served as a platter or in a sandwich. I like to stop by the tiny East Village store just to catch a few whiffs of the aroma of pork fat and fennel pollen while ogling the burnished cylinders of meat with their crackling skin and leave without ordering a thing. A while ago I stopped in to do just that and noticed a sign: “Porchetta Banh Mi $10,” and, despite the fact that I’d just eaten, had to order one. (more…)
In the dark ages of bánh mì, there was no place in Queens to get a decent Vietnamese sandwich. Then came JoJu, which continues to turn out some amazing bánh mì. Now Astoria has its very own Vietnamese sandwich shop, Saigon Café. In the grand New York City tradition of bánh mì, shops popping up in improbable locations—jewelry stores, under bridges, etc.—the three-month old joint is situated on a residential side street adjacent to a realtor. (more…)
The world’s best banh mi sports tomatoes and plenty of chili paste.
I’ve been following the social media exploits of my pal Jenny Miller whose trek across Southeast Asia has included stumbling into a Cambodian prison and spying such delightful venues as Chuck Norris Dim Sum. In this guest post she recounts discovering the world’s Vietnamese sandwich in a most unlikely setting.
Hoi An, Vietnam, is not a place that screams “authenticity.” After this tiny former trading town, with its neat streets of wooden shophouses situated charmingly at the mouth of the Thu Bồn River, proved irresistible to visitors, it’s been virtually theme-park-ized in recent years, so that every single business in the center of town now caters to tourists and an admission ticket is required to see the main attractions. In case you fail to get this memo, there are loudspeaker announcements several times a day informing you of this and other rules.
Disappointed with the town itself, I figured I’d spend my two days there focused on eating—always a good backup plan in Vietnam. After hitting the main market for the local specialty, cao lao (chunky gelatinous noodles, thin-sliced fatty pork, fried wontons, and greens in a tiny bit of broth), I did a some digging and decided I’d try a banh mi shop that was recommended on several different traveler’s blogs. (more…)