There’s something about shawarma—a Middle Eastern exclamation point of rotating meat basting in its own juices—that is absolutely fascinating. Like my dear departed friend Josh Ozersky who once gushed, “Just the outer edge of the meat is sliced, so essentially the sandwich is just the sizzling brown surface of a lamb roast,” I am fascinated with shawarma in all its forms.
Until very recently I have only had the chicken version, but lately the lamb variety—really a blend of lamb and turkey—has come on my radar. Most recently at Tov-Li Shawarma & Falafel a newish Israeli spot that opened on the Bukharian Broadway that is 108th Street in Forest Hills. (more…)
In the 20 plus years that I’ve been living in Queens the strip of Austin Street that runs through Forest Hills has never been known as a hotbed of authentic Asian cuisine. In the past few years though, that’s been gradually changing. First came Violet’s Bake Shoppe, which brought top-notch bánh mì to the area and then Pink Forest Cafe, a Chinese-run coffee shop with a sideline in jian bing. The latest entrant, Xin Taste Lan Zhou Hand Pull Noodle opened a few weeks ago, just as winter was beginning to sink its icy claws into New York City. (more…)
As a friend likes to point out, summer—with its steamy humidity and lazy beach days—is far from over. With that in mind here are seven of my favorite international frozen treats from Indonesian and Thai shaved ices and South American slushies to old-school American ice cream for you to enjoy
1. Pitaya nieves, Los Poblanos Grocery Nieves, literally snows, are a wonderful frozen Mexican treat. With flavors like lip-puckering tamarind; refreshing melon; and jamaica, or tart hibisicus flowers, it’s easy to think of them as a frozen version of the auguas frescas that many vendors lining Roosevelt Avenue sell. There are many nieves sellers on La Roosie, but thankfully my peeps at Food & Footprints turned me on to one the best, Los Poblanos Grocery. On my first visit I had a jamaica, scarlet and refreshing and on my second, I had pitaya, better known as prickly pear. The tart red snow was shot through with crunchy seeds making it even more fun to eat. Los Poblanos Grocery, 92-19 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
2. Naem kaeng sai, Teacup Cafe
When I was a kid I was always jealous of one of my cousins who had the Snoopy Sno Cone machine. We never played with it, no doubt because the novelty had worn off. I trace my fascination with shaved ice to that unrequited desire for frozen confections. Now that I’m all grown up, there’s no better way for me to fulfill that childhood wish than Thai shaved ice or naem kang sai. As served at Teacup Cafe, it has enough sugar and toppings for a kid’s birthday party.
First choose your syrup—red or green—and then pick from eleven toppings. The red syrup, an artificial take on the sala fruit is floral and ultrasweet as is the green, which resembles cream soda. Toppings include taro, black grass jelly, pudding, corn, mixed fruit, coconut, palm seeds, red beans, toddy palm seeds, jackfruit, and popping bubbles. Three toppings will run you $4, but for the princely sum of $5.50 you can get all of the toppings. The result is an arctic explosion of colors, textures, and flavors.Teacup Cafe, 76-23 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, Phone: (718) 426-2222(more…)
A popular Tunisian street food has come to Queens.
I’m a big fan of what I like to call the Tunisian tuna sandwich at Roast n Co. Essentially it’s a salad nicoise sandwich kicked up with a bit of spicy harissa spread. Back in Tunisia it’s a common street food, as are the spicy little lamb sausages known as merguez. Recently the Forest Hills cafe started running a merguez sandwich ($9.95) as a special.
Several ruddy little lamb sausages are packed into a crusty baguette along with greens, cherry tomatoes, olives, cucumber, onions, and of course harissa. It comes with a choice of salad or French fries. I always get the fries, since a) they’re excellent, and b) there’s already a salad in the sandwich. (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
“They should call this place mei you xiao long bao,” I cracked to a buddy on one of my first visits to The Bund, a newish Shanghai spot in Forest Hills. Two chefs from Shanghai and nary a soup dumpling in sight. Apparently the guys who started it wanted to make the point that Shanghai cuisine consists of so much more than XLB.
I’m not sure if they made their point, but I’m happy to say that they’ve changed their minds about XLB. They recently introduced soup dumplings to the menu. Today I stopped in with some friends for a steamer full of pork and another of pork and crab. The skins were a bit on the thickish side, but they were fine otherwise, certainly the best in the hood. As long as they don’t start selling those ridiculous novelty dumplings with the straw the Bund is all right by me. (more…)
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
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…)
I can’t recall ever writing a Sandwich Wednesday column about a tuna salad sandwich. Heck I can’t even recall eating one in the past decade. Served on white bread with bits of crunchy celery and onion it was a lunch box staple growing up. Now I’ve found one that’s so good I’ve eaten it twice in the past two weeks. Roast n Co can call it the Mediterranean Tuna Sandwich, but after talking with the chef, I now know it’s a Tunisian tuna salad sandwich.
Served on a baguette the mixture of tuna, hardboiled eggs, salty black olives, tomatoes, greens, and spicy harissa it eats like a salad Nicoise sandwich. It makes for a lovely light lunch or a great post-workout repast.
“It’s a common snack in the market in Tunisia,” the chef said. Seeing me in my gym clothes he had at first offered me a Bulldozer smoothie made with peanut butter, banana, and milk. I’m glad I declined and took my tastebuds to Tunisia instead.
Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000
Tomato jam and white cheddar make for a tasty breakfast sandwich.
The classic New York City bacon egg and cheese sandwich looms large in Gotham’s culinary consciousness, so much so that Times critic Pete Wells penned an ode to it around this time last year. In Forest Hills I purchase my breakfast sandwiches from a taciturn Central Asian gent who runs the coffee cart down the street from my apartment. That is to say I did, until Roast n Co opened its doors a few days ago. The new cafe/rotisserie chicken spot serves up what is fast becoming my favorite breakfast sandwich in the hood. (more…)