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…)

11/29/16 7:04pm
cfruitpizza2

Durian pizza, a match made in Hong Kong.

Once upon a time there were many places in downtown Flushing to get a slice of pizza, notably Gloria Pizza and Lucia Pizza. The former is long gone and the latter soldiers on in a space flanked by a Chinese food court and a Korean skin care emporium. And then there was T.J.’s, which served a mean kimchi slice. These days it’s easier to find a spiky durian fruit than old school New York City pizza. Enter C Fruit Life, a new Hong Kong style dessert cafe serving “Golden Pillow Durian Pizza,” a decidedly modern fusion pie.

Is jin zheng tou liu lien pi za as it’s known in Mandarin Chinese the strangest pizza I’ve had in Queens? (Yes, the pinyin for pizza is pi za.) Hard to say, after all the borough boasts both bulgogi and falafel pies. It’s certainly one of the stranger uses of the pungent durian fruit I’ve come across. For the record I happen to like durian and think it has a bad rep.  (more…)

08/18/16 7:02pm
Marani's mighty meat and mushroom khachapuri.

Marani’s mighty meat and mushroom khachapuri.

Few things are as decadent as the adjaruli khachapuri served at Marani, a glatt kosher Georgian restaurant that’s a mere five-minute walk from C+M headquarters. The eye-shaped bread is filled with a lake of molten cheese and egg. Stir it up and dig in. “Khachapuri not pizza,” read the restaurant’s square takeout boxes. Despite the pizza comparison, you won’t find any sausage versions in Marani’s basement khachapuri parlor. That’s because it’s a strictly dairy kitchen. (more…)

06/22/16 10:22am
Giuseppe

The Giuseppe, Astoria’s take on Philly’s roast pork Italian.

The late great Josh Ozersky once said that I had forsaken my Italian-American heritage to eat my way through the Chinese food courts of Queens. He was partly—well, really mostly—right. When I find myself in need of comfort and familiarity though, there’s nothing quite like a good Italian deli.

I am a huge fan of the ladies at Leo’s Latticini in Corona and their food. They know how to make this Italian boy feel right at home. I am lucky to live so close to their shop. Lately I have been exploring the Italian delis of Astoria. My favorite so far might be Rosarios. Under the el Rosario DiMarco serves up old-school Italian-American comfort food in the form of killer Margherita pizza and more than a dozen sandwiches. (more…)

06/07/16 11:44am
Because nothing says Korean food like Canadian ham.

Because nothing says Korean food like Canadian ham.

Back when I first moved to Queens there was a pizzeria in downtown Flushing called T.J.’s that sold a Korean-influenced slice. Apart from a generous serving of tangy, peppery kimchi it was a classic New York City slice. And T.J.’s itself was a classic New York City pizza parlor.

A few weeks ago some friends and I tried out Pizza Maru, in the vast K-tropolis of Northern Boulevard. If T.J.’s was a classic New York joint then Pizza Maru is classic Korean fast-casual spot. It’s Pizza Hut as envisioned by Korean businessmen, complete with four types of stuffed crusts and more than a dozen pies, including honey gorgonzola and Chicago style. (more…)

03/08/16 11:01am
danis1

A pesto slice resting atop a regular one at Dani’s.

I’m a simple man when it comes to pizza. Buffalo chicken, ham and pineapple and other novelty pies are not for me. I prefer an old-school NYC slice, as executed by New Park Pizza or Margherita. There are some notable exceptions to this otherwise rigid pizza protocol: the falafel slice at Benjy’s, Zuppardi’s fresh clam pie, and the pesto slice at Dani’s House of Pizza. That last one, a sauceless slice stained green by pesto and flavored with basil and garlic is utterly delectable. The way the crust fries in the oil from the pesto is an added bonus to this oddball slice.

Dani’s takes great prides itself on the sweetness of sauce on its regular slice. It’s a bit too sweet for this pizza eater, but that never stops me from getting one regular and one pesto. On a recent visit I had the brilliant idea of creating my own novelty slice, by stacking a pesto slice atop a regular. “It will be a veritable Christmas morning of a stacked slice,” I thought as I sipped a Coke waiting for the red and green slices to emerge from the oven.

(more…)

01/12/16 10:46am
whitspie

Surf and turf Rockaway style: The wood-fired clam and sausage pie at Whit’s End.

I’m not much of a beach in the wintertime kind of guy. But when I found out that Whit’s End Rockaway was still open in the winter, I knew I’d be taking that long bus ride down Woodhaven Boulevard, not for surf and sun, but for top-notch wood-fired pizza and other goodies served up with a healthy dose of attitude.

Whitney Aycock is a chef who gives a fuck. A fuck about food from dishes like pig tenderloin with baked tomato and mortadella toast to the wood-fired “Fuckin Good Burger,” to the dozen pizzas. In fact as my buddy and I bellied up to the bar he was giving a fuck to somebody who entered his establishment reeking of weed. Once the fellow was properly chastised Aycock turned his attention to my buddy and me. (more…)

09/14/15 12:42am

As many of you may know Queens has been getting its fair share of media attention lately, with everyone jumping on the Lonely Planet #1 destination bandwagon and, of course, with the U.S. Open in town. Pizza maven Adam Kuban alerted me to what is my favorite bit of recent Queens media glory. It’s a U.S. Open commercial that features two Queens icons: old school slice joint John’s in Elmhurst and The Unisphere, along with plenty of tennis.

The spot makes a comparison between “New York style tennis” and New York style pizza. The pizza at John’s is as fine an example of old school New York City pizza as any. It’s a slice of glory with a crispy crust that comes from placing a perforated disk betwixt pie and pan. The best thing about John’s though might be its circa 1969 dining room complete with counter seating. I do believe I shall eat a slice or three tomorrow.
John’s Pizzeria, 85-02 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-457-7561

08/11/15 1:53pm
tomato)pie

Frank Pepe’s tomato pie’s a slice of summer.

The other night I found myself in New Haven on a road trip as one sometimes does. Out-of-town guests were being entertained and the question of where to eat arose. “America’s first hamburger or pizza?” came the question. As the resident food expert the tie breaking vote was put to me. “Let’s go to Frank Pepe’s for pizza,” I responded. (more…)

02/26/15 11:23pm
SOTTOPIZZA

Sotto 13’s pork pie pizza topped with head cheese.

Last November I had the privilege of being taught how to make turducken by Ed Cotton, the executive chef of Sotto 13. “Come back some time; I’d love to feed you,” he told me after our lesson and frankenbird photo shoot. A couple of weeks ago I finally took him up on that offer.

The meal began with that week’s special pizza, pork pie. Provolone cheese, caramelized onions, and cabbage are topped with pork shank meat. Once the pie comes out of the oven it’s blnaketed with housemade coppa di testa and lashed with mustard vinaigrette. It’s like a subtler, more sophisticated version of an Italian combo sandwich. Cotton changes out the pizzas regularly and recent iterations have included beef carpaccio with creamy kale, wild mushrooms and fontina and this week’s special: spicy lamb sausage pizza with n’duja, ricotta, and mint. (more…)