12/30/16 11:41pm

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.

MRCRISPY

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

 

whitspie

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

 

HakkaHotChicken

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

The action at Majang Dong takes place out back.

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…)

12/21/16 4:41am
thaicongee

Sugar Club added Thai style congee to the menu just in time for winter.

Like much of New York City, Queens is now in winter’s icy grip. Unlike most of the rest the city though we have two Chinatowns and the most robust K-town in New York City, which is all a very long way of saying that there are many many options when it comes to Asian soups. Here are our seven of our favorites.

1.  Thai Congee, Sugar Club
“Thai people like the pork one,” the kid behind the counter responded when asked which variety of Thai congee was better. Earlier this week Sugar Club started selling the rice porridge, known as jok in Thailand, just in time for winter. The shop’s version ($6.50) of the ubiquitous Asian breakfast porridge features an egg stirred in, mushrooms, and a tangle of noodles. As for the pork it turns out to be lovely little meatballs. Doctored up with chili flakes and salty Golden Mountain sauce this combination porridge/noodle soup its a great way to ward off winter’s arctic chill. Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-565-9018

beijinglamb

This lamb spine’s mighty fine.

2. Lamb Hot Pot, Beijing First Lamb Shabu
I’m no fan of Chinese style hotpot, but the stuff they’re making at Beijing First Lamb Shabu, (Lao Cheng Yi Guo in Chinese) is truly special, mainly because the specialty of the house isn’t traditional hotpot, but rather a rich lamb stew. Upon entering the Flushing branch of this Beijing chain I was floored by pervasive aroma of gamy lamb and five spice.  Like many hot pot joints there’s a ballot-like menu with all sorts of add-ins and soup bases. The difference here is that all of the soup bases feature a combination of mutton ribs and spine in a rich heady broth. Lao Cheng Yi Guo thoughtfully provides gloves so you can pick up the vertebrae and get at the ridiculously tender bits of meat that cling  to the lamb spine.  Someone once told me that eating lamb spine is a fertility tonic for men. I’m not sure about tha,t but Lao Cheng Yi Guo certainly put a smile on my face and warmed me up. Lao Cheng Yi Guo, 136-55 37th Ave., Flushing

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11/10/16 3:30pm

cheesecake I have a culinary confession. As a kid I was obsessed with Red Lobster. Grownup me—the adventurous eater and Andrew Zimmern acolyte—avoids fast casual chains, although the local Applebee’s where we’d smuggle in tacos and Difaras pizza—was once my watering hole. There’s one chain I’ve been curious about for some time though, The Cheesecake Factory. Chalk it up to scarcity—not love of cheesecake. So when the first Factory opened in New York City  earlier this month at Elmhurst’s Queens Center I had to check it out. Spurred on by a media frenzy started by Eater, our threesome—consisting of myself and Queens finest barbecue Pitmasters Big Lou Elrose and Robbie Richter—visited during restaurant’s opening week. “Joey, if we can’t get in we’ll go to Shake Shack,” Robbie said. I nodded, thinking to myself, “No, you’ll go to Shake Shack, I’m going to the Factory hell or high water.” (more…)

08/21/16 10:19pm
sotomie

Spring rolls in your beef noodle soup because why not!

For at least a year my go-to order at Elmhurst’s Asian Taste 86 has been a steaming hot bowl of soto ayam, a bracing yellow chicken soup topped with garlic powder and extra sambal. On a recent visit I broke out of my Indonesian chicken soup habit to try something different: soto mie. (more…)

08/16/16 3:46pm
ASSAMLAKSA

Asam laksa is a great way to beat brutal heat and humidity.

As many C+M readers know, I’m a big fan of late night and early a.m. kari laksa runs to Flushing’s Curry Leaves. For years the spicy coconut-enriched soup bobbing with all manner of wontons and fish cakes was the only Malaysian soup I tried. Lately though I’ve come to appreciated kari laksa’s sour sister, asam laksa. (more…)

07/26/16 7:51am
kapitam

Sky Cafe’s crab noodles feature the cutest fish balls ever.

There’s nothing quite as comforting as a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Here in Queens, we’re fortunate to have many varieties from mellow matzo ball to fiery pozole rojo. One of my favorite approaches to the dish is what I like to call the deconstructed Indonesian chicken noodle soup as served at Elmhurst’s Sky Cafe.

Mie komplit is a two-bowl affair. One vessel contains a light chicken broth, while the other holds egg noodles mixed with chicken and mushrooms and some greenery. Sip them separately or add one to the other, the choice is yours. (more…)

05/16/16 11:59am
ThaiFlan1

Forgot it’s a Thai dessert? Let the caramelized shallots remind you!

Until very recently I’ve felt I could take or leave taro. The taro cakes found at Chinatown dim sum houses are good, but I’m not exactly crazy for them. I prefer the latke-like shrimp fritters encrusted in shredded taro. It took a Thai dessert preparation—morkhang puekto make me really crave the starchy tuber.

I found the toasted taro custard at Khao Kang, an Elmhurst steam table specialist, with a sideline in desserts. Like so many of my favorite Thai snacks, the dense eggy morkhang puek blurs the Western disctinctions of sweet and savory. In case there was any doubt that this is a Thai dessert, caramelized shallots sit atop the burnished brown surface.

The distinctly Thai combination of salt, egg, and coconut milk is lovely. The whole affair tastes like a Southeast Asian version of flan. It almost makes me want to sneak in a bottle of fish sauce to a Cuban restaurant. Almost.

Khao Kang,  76-20 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst, 718-806-1807

05/09/16 11:47am
bakso1

Indonesian comfort food returns to Elmhurst.

Java Village, an Indonesian steam table joint in Elmhurst, was once a staple of my Southeast Asian food tour. Typically a tour would start with an order of kwetiau Jakarta, a stir fry of Indonesian broad noodles with beef tripe and tendon. Chef Dewi also served one of my favorite comfort foods bubur ayam, congee with fried chicken and a salted egg. Then one day about five months ago Chef Dewi and Java Village vanished.

Last Monday I stopped by Indo Java Grocery to inquire after Dewi’s whereabouts. I was ecstatic to learn that she cooks there every Tuesday. The next day I returned expecting to find a selection of prepared foods for take home. Instead Dewi directed me to a tiny table in the back of the shop.  It was laid out with a purple tablecloth that read “Happy Birthday!”  (more…)

04/14/16 12:04pm
IntestineTaiwan

Sticky rice for all the offal lovers in the house.

A few months ago I made my first ever Chinese New Year’s resolution: eat more Taiwanese food. Lucky for me Taiwanese Gourmet is just a few subway stops away from C+M headquarters. I’ve slowly been eating my way through the Elmhurst eatery’s menu. Recently I started exploring the vast selection of offal. There are more than half a dozen preparations of intestines, including two varieties of goose innards. One of my favorites is something that goes by the Chinese name da chang bao xiao chang, which translates loosely to big intestine wrapping little intestine.

“The Chinese name doesn’t describe anything about the food,” Taiwanese Gourmet’s manager, Alvin Chen told me explaining that the dish consists of a glutinous rice stuffed pig intestine that’s been steamed and sliced. A disc of Taiwanese pork sausage is then placed between each slice. (more…)

03/30/16 9:34am
Sweet, savory, and spicy; it's my new favorite Thai toast.

Sweet, savory, and spicy; it’s my new favorite Thai toast.

In the Little Bangkok of Elmhurst, Queens, Thai toast is often an elaborate affair laden with fruit, ice cream, and syrup. I’ve long wondered whether there was a more savory version, one that hewed to more conventional Thai flavors. Turns out there is. It exists in the form of a chili jam and pork floss sandwich being served at Pata Cafe.

Sweet, spicy, salty and porky—it’s my kind of sandwich. It made for a perfect dessert after a rather epic Indian-Chinese meal. Pata Cafe is big among the local schoolchildren most of whom order French fries and hot dogs. If Pata Cafe was around when I was a kid you can bet I’d be ordering this savory-sweet-spicy sandwich. As far as this farang’s concerned, it’s a real after-school special.

Pata Cafe56-14 Van Horn St., Elmhurst, 347-469-7142