The newly opened Yun Café, situated beneath Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens, serves excellent Burmese fare, including tea leaf salad (left), something of a culinary ambassador, and a less commonly known seafood salad.
They don’t call the open space above the Jackson Heights subway station Diversity Plaza for nothing folks. Upstairs there’s plenty of Tibetan, Indian, and Bangladeshi food to be had, in addition to the S & R Travel Agency, which predates the plaza itself, where one can book a passage to India. For a real gastronomic journey though, head down the subway stairs to Burma. Yes, Burma! Just past the Tibetan handicraft shop, the barbers and across from Jinme & Phuntsok of NYC, which sells lucky bamboo and candy, sits the newly opened Yun Café, surely New York City’s only Burmese restaurant located in a subway station. (more…)
Clockwise from bottom left: Southern fried chicken at Dylan’s and two ways of serving Papa’s bird.
Yesterday was National Fried Chicken Day, which as best as I can tell is an Instagram Holiday. The occasion got me to thinking that for someone who doesn’t cook I sure know a lot about fried chicken. I blame my parents who used several different recipes. My favorite was one with a craggy crust à la Kentucky Colonel as my father called KFC, but they also used a smoother buttermilk batter, and even experimented with cornflakes.
All of which brings me to the subject of today’s post: my two favorite new fried chicken spots in Queens. The first comes from Dylan’s Forest Hills. By all appearances it’s pretty traditional in its takeout box with a lovely biscuit and corn on the cob. A closer look reveals a uniform crunchy crust and a slightly smaller bird. Dylan’s uses flavorful free range fowl that’s encased in a corn flake crust to great effect. (more…)
A visit to Joe’s Sicilian Bakery during somewhat happier times.
March 19 was scarcely three weeks ago, but it feels like years because of the soul crushing COVID-19 pandemic. My friend Robbie Richter and I took a ride to Bayside to Joe’s Sicilian Bakery for St. Joseph’s Day pastries. Social distancing was in effect on the line and in the shop itself, and we observed it, though at the time it seemed like an overabundance of caution. I’ll cop to having had a cavalier attitude toward the Corona virus, including posts on social media that made light of not being able to catch it from a walk through Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
A few days ago I visited Robbie after taking a hike through Forest Hills. We maintained our distance and he even gave me a mask. At the time I scoffed, now I wonder how to wear it without fogging up my glasses.
Everybody—and everything—has come untethered. Social media teems with jokes about days blending in to each other, I call it yestermorrow. In a quest for comfort and normalcy some bake bread and some watch Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings. Every sniffle, ache, and the slightest respiratory difficulty prompt the question: “Do I have it? Or it just my seasonal allergies and my new demanding home fitness regimen?” Friends have lost their sense of taste and smell; I pray it’s all they lose. Several times a day I huff peppermint oil to make sure my olfactory receptors still function.
Chef Binder Saini (left) and Sonny Solomon are doing their part to feed hospital workers in Queens.
March 23 was supposed to be an epic Indian feast at Sonny Solomon’s Astoria restaurant, Kurry Qulture held by Queens Dinner Club. Instead Solomon shuttered his restaurant and has been working out of a commissary kitchen with the restaurant’s Chef Binder Saini to feed health care workers at Mount Sinai Hospital in Astoria. Along with Jaime-Faye Bean, my good friend Jonathan Forgash, a co-founder of Queens Dinner Club, has launched an effort called Queens Together. It’s working to keep numerous local restaurants afloat—including Ornella Trattoria Italiana, Bund on Broadway, Sac’s Place, Dino’s, Chakra Cafe, FireFly Petit Café Bistro, Cooldown Juice, Ricas Pupusas & Mas, Tangra Asian Fusion, and The Queensboro—by giving them the opportunity to feed doctors and nurses at hospitals throughout Queens.
Feeding the ‘epicenter of the epicenter.’ Top, Fefe Ang delivering home-cooked Indonesian fare; and Michael Mignano of Farine Baking Co. providing comfort food classics.
Others are doing their part too. Josh Bowen of John Brown Smokehouse has been feeding hospital workers across New York City, including those at New York Presbyterian in Flushing and has set up a GoFundMe. Chef Michael Mignano of Farine Baking Company in Jackson Heights is working with Queens Feeds Hospitals to prepare meals for Elmhurst Hospital, where he was born.
“As Chefs, our job no matter what is to feed people and bring comfort where we can through a great meal. I would love for our health care heroes to know that we appreciate them and understand the unrealistic challenges they have to face everyday. And I hope they can take 10 minutes out of the craziness to enjoy a thoughtfully prepared meal,” Mignano says. Fefe Ang, founder of Elmhurst’s Indonesian Food Bazaar and operator of Taste of Surabaya has been feeding workers at the “epicenter of the epicenter” as well. “I’m volunteering cooking Indonesian food not for looking popularity, but for humanity and thankful to all doctors and nurses. Just please pray for us,” she wrote on Facebook.
I awaken daily wondering what’s next for me, you, and Queens. And yet there is hope, nobody seems to have told the irrepressibly peeping birds and the blossoming dogwoods and magnolias about the pandemic.
In case you are wondering Joe’s Sicilian Bakery remains open for business from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will have St. Joseph’s pastries for sale until the week after Easter. Stay safe, dear friends.
Tibetan stir fried beef with laphing conjures childhood memories of chow fun on Mott Street.
“The pork and mushroom was pretty good,” my friend Chef Jonathan Forgash said as we were deciding what to eat at Phayul, a Tibetan restaurant in Jackson Heights. We were at the new location, which sits across from the original second-floor location. For whatever reason they’re keeping them both open, which strange as it may seem businesswise, does means twice as much of Chef Chime Tendha’s delicious Tibetan food.
The menu at Phayul’s new, more elegant digs has several new items, including chicken tangkung, a soup of ginseng and jujubes that is Tibet’s answer to Korean samgyetang. We got the soup that evening, but didn’t order the pork and mushroom, instead opting for stir fried laphing with beef. Both of us are big fans of the slippery mung bean noodles, usually served cold in a sauce of vinegar and garlic, but had never had the hot version. (more…)
Tong, a tiny festive Bangladeshi food stand, in Jackson Heights has the honor of being America’s first fuchka cart. This post is not about those amazing crunchy orbs though, it’s about aam bhorta, or Bangla style spicy mango.
For some 30 years I’ve been a fan of spicy South Asian pickle. It all dates back to a college roommate, Harold, who was the ringleader in many a Patak’s lemon pickle eating contest. Since then I’ve branched out to mango pickle. I’m especially fond of amba—the tangy Middle Eastern mix of pickled mango and turmeric—on my falafel. So when I learned Tong offered spicy mango, I had to try it. (more…)
“You finally went,” my friend Greg, one half of the dynamic duo that is Food & Footprints, commented on an Instagram post of a Peruvian picarone—a lovely sweet potato and squash donut—at the Antojitos Doña Fela cart in Jackson Heights. I’d been trying to visit the Vendy nominated Peruvian snack specialist for weeks, but until last Sunday had missed the cart, which is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. only weekends.
“Do you have chicharron con camote?” I asked Doña Fela’s daughter, about the pork belly and sweet potato sandwich that’s a common breakfast in Peru. “Let me see, we might be sold out,” she said while I hungrily eyed a bunch of pork belly and camote, or sweet potato, sizzling on a corrugated cast iron grill. “One last order,” she said. (more…)
As the No. 1 food fan in Queens, I was very pleased to learn tennis fans have some Queens-based dining options at this year’s U.S. Open. My favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop, Elmhurst’s JoJu is slinging classic bánh mì as well a bánh mì inspired hot dog and Helen You of Dumpling Galaxy is serving up her signature lamb with green squash dumplings and other goodies. It’s nice to see China and Vietnam represented, but Queens offers food from all over the world so here’s a globetrotting list of 7 of our favorite places from an Argentine steakouse and the borough’s only Burmese to one-of-a-kind only in Queens street foods like Peruvian doughnuts and amazing Tijuana style tacos.
1. Tijuana style Birria tacos at Beefrr-landia
Dozens of taco trucks and carts line Roosevelt Avenue as the 7 train rumbles overhead transporting tennis fans to the Open, but there’s only serving Tijuana style tacos: Beefrr-landia. The truck’s signature beef birria taco is filled with a ruddy beef stew scented with cumin, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves, cloves, and a good dose of chilies. For a real treat get a side of consomme—a heady scarlet soup featuring more beef—and dip your taco into it. Beefrr-landia, 77-99 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 347-283-2162
2. Burmese at Asian Bowl
Despite its generic name and a menu that features such American Chinese standbys as General Tso’s chicken this spot run by Kyaw Lin “John” Htin and his wife, Aye Thida, has the distinction of being the only Burmese restaurant in the World’s Borough. Among the list of 13 thoke find the famous latphat thoke, or tea leaf salad, as well as the lesser known gin thoke. The latter is a tangle of shredded cabbage, ginger, and tomato shot through with briny dried shrimp and crunchy broad beans resulting an explosion of texture and flavor. It’s great paired with the crispy beef, which has been fried with onions and chilies until it shatters. Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, 718-275-1888
3. Chinese Breakfast at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
This breakfast specialist whose Chinese name translates to Stone Milled Rice Roll King, is located just one subway stop away from Arthur Ashe Stadium. It’s a well-deserved moniker, owner Joe Rong and his crew make the lightest rice rolls around thanks to the fact that the grind their rice in a stone mills to create fresh batter daily. Fillings include shrimp, pork, beef and an assortment of veggies. The crown jewel at the King Joe’s though is the shrimp and egg topped with curry fish balls, soy sauce and peanut sauce. It’s even better with the complex homemade chili oil. Best of all Joe’s is open all day not just for breakfast. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
El Chivito’s namesake steak sandwich doesn’t appear on the menu.
“Skirt steak, sweetbreads, chicken, matambre,” the server intoned as my eyes glazed over while she recited a roster of sandwiches. “What about chivito?” I inquired after the Uruguayan national sandwich. “Yes, we have, it’s really good, you can get it with chicken or vacio,” she replied adding that the flap steak is butterflied.
“Para mi, vacio,” I replied wondering what sort of joyless individual would possibly disgrace the country’s national sandwich by ordering it with poultry. While I waited for lunch I perused the menu of El Chivito De Oro noting that the national sandwich was nowhere to be found. Secret sandwiches are catnip to a certain type of food writer, and I am that type. I was pretty hungry, so I was quite pleased to see that the rosy colored beef was topped with ham, mozzarella, bacon, and a fried egg, all cradled in a puffy brioche style bun that held a base layer of lettuce and tomato.
Lobster rolls have come to Jackson Heights, thanks to Farine!
I’m not typically a brunch guy, but I’ve been known to make exceptions. M. Wells for one with Hugue Dufour’s decadent creations like foie gras and oatmeal, and now Farine. I’ve been meaning to try the lobster roll from the brunch menu, but I’m averse to weekend crowds.
On Monday night I stopped by to introduce a friend to Michael Mignano, the man behind the hot new Jackson Heights eatery. I’d forgotten it was the last night of Ramadan and the last night of Farine’s Iftar dinners. Every table was filled with joyous Muslim families all tucking into spicy fried chicken sandwiches and fruit plates.
“We’re going to have it tomorrow as part of an EID brunch,” Mignano told me when I asked about the lobster roll, which I’d been seeing on the gram for weeks.
As food writer I’m often loathe to throw around superlatives even though I’ve been called upon by Grub Street to do so in recent months. All that said, I have no problem calling the spicy buttermilk chicken sandwich at the newish Farine Baking Company in Jackson Heights the best fried chicken between bread in Queens.
At $16 Chef Michael Mignano’s chicken sandwich is isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny. It’s insanely crunchy and juicy and packs a nice kick from a Sriracha honey glaze. It is a gloriously messy sandwich requiring removal of both wristwatch and rings. The secret behind this marvel is twofold: first the chicken thighs luxuriate in a mixture of buttermilk, fresh thyme, rosemary and garlic for two days. Then they’re fried twice first at 325 to seal in the juices and then at 375 to get a nice crust.
If this method sounds a lot like Korean fried chicken, that’s because Mignano borrowed the technique. “I’m not using a Korean chili paste, but I am borrowing the double fry technique and the breading mixture is very similar,” he said. For the record his favorite KFC can be had at the H Mart off Route 100 in Hartsdale. Farine Baking Company, 74-24 37th Ave., Jackson Heights