When it comes to food Queens has Brooklyn beat. After all, the diversity and quality of the grub in Queens is simply mind-blowing. Plus, we have M. Wells Dinette. And as of this past weekend Queens is giving Smorgasburg a run for its money with the newly opened LIC Flea & Food. Here’s a look at some of the market’s food offerings.
On Saturday morning I was actually at Smorgasburg performing a Thai chicken skin mitzvah for my friends over at Scharf & Zoyer. They also turned me on to a sandwich and I sampled some wonderful couscous from NYSHUK. And then, I had some ice cream from nearby Oddfellows. So, by the time I got to Long Island City the old food tank was pretty full. Good as it looked there was no way I would have been able to take down Alobar’s Big Dog ($12) a frankfurter topped with ginger pulled pork and carrot slaw.
The vendors were almost as diverse as Queens itself with Italy, Jamaica, Japan, South Africa, and Taiwan represented. A stall by the name Outer Borough was slinging some truly wonderful looking Taiwanese beef rolls ($7). I didn’t try one the first day. And by the time I got to LIC Flea & Food on Sunday Outer Borough had run out of food. Next time, guys.
Over in the far corner of the Flea I ran into one of my favorite people from the L.I.C. food scene Mamma Gianna Cerbone-Teoli from Manducatis Rustica. “Did you see my new toy?” she said of the wood burning pizza oven from which a steady stream of bubbly bilstered pizza margarita ($5) seemed to emerge every minute. After they cooled Gianna wrapped each in paper, so that they could be eaten while walking around.
“You wanna try one?” Gianna asked. I mumbled something about being too full. “Don’t worry. It’s easy to digest,” she added. I suppose I am genetically predisposed to not refuse homemade Italian food, so I was soon munching on a pie in a butcher paper sleeve. I walked around eating the pie I thought the scene was pretty cool. Then I saw the Mozzarepa stand. “In the name of all that is holy and delicious what the hell is that abomination doing here,” I alomsot exclaimed out loud. Might as well have tube socks and magnets in the flea market part too guys.
The second day of the Flea seemed less crowded, probably due to Father’s Day. This didn’t stop the Oconomi crew from griddling up okonomiyaki ($4), the Japanese vegetable pancakes. The stand is the brainchild of Astoria’s Kazuko Nagao, who has held several okonomiyaki pop-ups and sold the savory treats at Japanese street fairs throughout the city.
“We are using the cabbage from those farm boys,” Nagao said gesturing to the stand across from her as she prepared my okonimiyaki. When I told her that was somewhat taken aback at her need to come up with the snazzy, gaijin-friendly name for her new venture she pointed to her pal, “Ask Hideki Joe-san, it was his idea.” Overweening authenticity issues aside it was a tasty okonomiyaki. Topped with a traditional sauce made with dates, apples, onion, garlic, oranges, peaches, garlic, and celery as well as dried seaweed and the slightly less traditional creamy chipotle sauce it’s like a latke with a Japanese accent.
As Smorgasburg has Mighty Quinn and its mighty long lines, the Flea has Butcher Bar, the Astorian barbecue emporium and butcher shop. On the first day they were out of brisket, but the second day they came better prepared. The brisket slider I had was excellent, smoky and tender, everything beef barbecue should be.
Come late Sunday afternoon the wind was picking up causing some of the hapless vendors to almost lose their pop-up tents. Such trivial matters did not deter Jim Pileski and the crew at Burger Garage, whose tent legs were buttressed by sandbags. “We’re here until six o’ clock,” he said.
I admire Pileski’s pluck almost as much as his cheeseburger, a juicy little number mantled with cheese. It was a perfect next course after Butcher Bar’s tasty beef slider.
Even after all I ate on the Flea’s second day I found myself craving dessert. That’s mainly because it came in the form of a doughnut ($2.75) from Dough, a vendor I often walk right by the few times I’ve been at Smorgasburg. It was a perfect end to a pretty perfect weekend of eating.
As I was leaving I ran into Hugue Dufour of M. Wells Dinette. “I didn’t know you guys were here,” I said. “We were selling breakfast sandwiches,” Dufour said. As far as I’m concerned LIC Flea & Food has the potential to be way better than Smorgasburg. For one thing there’s less hipsters, and for another the diversity of food is just amazing. And we’ve got M. Wells. One suggestion: Lose the Mozzarepa and see if you can get the Arepa Lady.
LIC Flea & Food, 46th Avenue and 5th Street, Long Island City