02/15/17 10:30am
KICKSHAW

Kickshaw’s ‘Hero’ eats like veggie version of a roast pork Italian.

Astoria’s Queens Kickshaw might be best known for its fancy pants grilled cheese sandwiches, but the other day I tried a sandwich there that was far from dainty. Listed simply as Hero ($13), I like to think of it as a vegetarian version of a Philadelphia roast pork Italian sub. This is mainly because the ingredients feature plenty of broccoli rabe and provolone in addition to fried eggplant and sauteed peppers and onions. It’s the best vegetarian Italian sandwich I’ve had in Astoria, mainly because it’s the only one I’ve had. Faint praise aside, it is a lovely gooey hot mess of a sandwich. I only wish there were some hot cherry peppers and sauteed garlic on it!

The Queens Kickshaw, 40-17 Broadway, Astoria, 718-777-0913 

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…)

08/31/16 1:47pm
MRCRISPY

Mr. Crispy, Astoria’s answer to the croque monsieur.

Culinary hyperbole is as much an occupational hazard as it is a way of life these days. In the race for web traffic, social media likes, and a desire to stand out everything becomes the best. The sense of discovery and wonder that drives me as a food writer is all too often lost in a sea of superlatives. So l when my dear friend and Astoria denizen Connie Murray started raving about a certain grilled cheese being the best, I took it with a grain of gruyere. After all how could good can a grilled cheese be?

I’d been to Astoria Bier & Cheese before. While the grilled cheese I tried was tasty it left my appetite for killer content unsated. “You know I think I’ve had this before,” I said to Connie of the Mr. Crispy ($11) as we munched on some excellent house pickles. (more…)

11/18/15 10:15am
REV-WH

A gutbusting Waffle House sandwich born of a hunger for IG likes.

I spend more time than most—and less than some—thinking about sandwiches and Instgram. The same can be said for my pal Rev Ciancio who was kind enough to pen this guest column inspired by that most American of establishments, The Waffle House.

The lunches at my grade school … sucked, for lack of a better word. They sucked. Our hot pizza was merely a no-name version of a square piece of Ellio’s. The meatloaf was a dense piece of hardened automobile sponge covered in a warm “gravy” that had the consistency of Slimer’s ectoplasm from Ghostbusters. Even the French Fries were terrible. They were toasted styrofoam covered in the same salt they use to clear snow covered roads in states that end in “ota.”

If you wanted a decent lunch you either had to sneak out—which wasn’t an option until you or a friend turned 16 and was blessed with a Chevy Nova that could squeeze in a six-pack of high-schoolers — or you had to bring your own. The latter was a pretty good option. Maybe you had PB&J on white bread. If you were really lucky, you got salami and mozzarella with yellow mustard on split-top wheat. (Those were great days.) Your sandwich usually came with a hand-packed Ziploc bag of Doritos, Chex Mix or some generic potato chips, and a piece fruit or carrot sticks. If your Mom/Dad/Caregiver really liked you, you were blessed with the social currency of cookies. (more…)

10/14/15 10:16am

Somehow I managed to miss National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. Truth be told sometimes I wish every day could be grilled cheese sandwich day. Made with sliced Kraft American singles and copious amounts of butter, the humble grilled cheese, along with hamburgers, formed the backbone of my childhood cooking repertoire.

This recipe from Patrick Drake of The 60 Second Chef is a tad more involved than my childhood efforts. For one thing it involves sweating down red onion into a lovely looking  jam. No American cheese in the World’s Best Grilled Cheese either, Drake uses a combination of parmesan and mozzarella. “Why they call it a grilled cheese sandwich when it’s actually fried is a complete mystery to me,” Drake muses as he assembles this beauty of a sandwich. By the way if you’re into cheese, be sure to check out The Great Northeast Cheese Fest on Dec. 5 at Flushing Town Hall.

05/21/14 1:45pm

As cool as that Alton Brown grilled cheese video that’s been making the rounds is I think this video love letter to a Mumbai grilled cheese is even cooler. Before anyone asks, yes such a sandwich is available in the fair borough of Queens, at Mumbai Express. The sandwich in Chowder Singh’s video looks even better than the one I’ve had in Queens though. It comes from a streetside stand at Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai. The combination of bread slathered with butter and green chutney and topped with cucumber, green chili, tomato, red onion, and a blizzard of cheese looks amazing. And Singh’s closed-caption commentary is priceless: “Ze tomato expertly sliced. More butter. OOF!” I am by no means a vegetarian, but I’ll bet this grilled cheese is as tasty as the kimchi grilled cheese at Queens Kickshaw.

 

01/29/14 1:24pm
KICKSHAWKIMCHI

Kimchi grilled cheese with a sidecar of caraway napa slaw.

Back when The Queens Kickshaw opened a couple of years ago it made a name for itself with such fancy—and frankly outlandish—grilled cheese sandwiches as gouda with black bean hummus, guava jam, and pickled jalapeños. Last week I popped in to the Astoria eatery to try one of its latest creations, a kimchi grilled cheese ($10). It’s one of the more interesting sandwiches I’ve had in a while. The combination of cheese and kimchi has reawakened my curiosity about budae jjigae, the infamous “Korean army base stewthat combines kimchi, hot dogs, and American cheese, among other things. (more…)

01/15/14 9:53am

A million years ago when I worked in an office, breakfast sandwiches—two eggs, with cheese, and bacon—as served by New York City coffee carts were a favorite way to start the day. In the culinary wonderland that is Queens, there are all sorts of breakfast sandwiches from all over the world. Today, a look at a few of my favorites.

 WF-SW-CAMOTE

1. Chicharron con camote at Broadway Bakery
Chicharron con camote, a sandwich of crunchy, fatty pork and sweet potatoes is a typical breakfast sandwich in Peru. The combination of the orange camote and crunchy salty pork with pickled onions and Peruvian rocoto chili pepper paste is quite satisfying. Broadway Bakery, 81-15 41st Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-457-6523

Fried crullers wrapped in eggyfried flatbread.

2. Jiān bĭng at Oriental Express Food Court
Find the jiān bĭng,or titanic Tianjin Breakfast wrap as I like to call it at the Oriental Express Food court, a few storefronts south of Golden Shopping Mall. It consists of a thin pancake coated in egg and studded with chives wrapped around a yóutiáo, or Chinese cruller. Somehow this carb-on-carb bonanza makes an old-school NewYork City egg on a roll seem like health food. Oriental Express Food Court, 41-40 Main St., Flushing (more…)

03/27/13 10:02am
Quite possibly the only Indian-Chinese grilled cheese sandwich in Queens.

Quite possibly the only Indian-Chinese grilled cheese sandwich in Queens.

Mumbai Xpress, a vegetarian restaurant and chaat specialist sits on Hillside Avenue, next door to a temple devoted to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey deity. The list of chaats here is vast. Some of the most interesting items here are the sandwiches made in a panini press. On my last visit I had the paneer Schezwan sandwich ($6.99). It can best be described as an Indian-Chinese grilled cheese, and a spicy one at that.

Peppers, tomatoes, paneer, onions and chili make for one zesty sandwich. The green peppers reminded me of Southwestern queso. If you find it’s not spicy enough add a bit of the restaurant’s excellent hot sauce, which starts off sweet and finishes fiery. Wash it down with a lassi, or a Limca, a lemony Indian soda.

Mumbai Xpress, 256-05 Hillside Ave., Floral Park, 718-470-0059