Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
10/30/18 11:30am

It’s not a Pop-Tart, but it makes a great breakfast.

Sun Mary Bakery lies across the street from Golden Shopping Mall and the Q-58 bus, which takes me from my home in Rego Park to America’s greatest Chinatown in downtown Flushing. On food tour days, I pregame there with a pineapple bun, so named for the sugary crust’s similar appearance to the tropical fruit.

In a lot of ways Sun Mary is a typical New York City Chinese bakery. The shelves are lined with buns filled with pork floss, and come fall there’s plenty of mooncake, but it also has a small sideline in Taiwanese treats, notably feng li su, or pineapple cake. Unlike its Chinese cousin, the golden brown buttery treat does contain fruit. Sun Mary sells the tiny pastries in little golden boxes, making them a perfect parting gift for food tour guests. Sometimes, they even have one with salted egg yolk.

“No more,” the lady behind the counter told me about a month ago when I asked for feng li su, indicating that they wouldn’t be back until next fall. Two weeks ago I noticed a flat pastry sitting in the spot on the counter normally reserved for the pineapple cake. Turns out it is gigantic version of the Taiwanese treat. Since I have no idea how long it will be around, I have taken to eating one after every Flushing tour.

Sun Mary Bakery, 133-57 41st Rd, Flushing, 718-460-8800

10/24/18 10:23pm

Better for a late-night megasnack than breakfast.

Even though it sports two eggs and pork belly—not unlike a certain New York City coffee cart staple—Bill Henderson is quick to point that Hendu’s pork belly hero isn’t a breakfast sandwich.

“You’re not going to have a very long day if you eat that for breakfast,” he said of his creation which features thinly shaved pork belly, two fried eggs, and redeye gravy. The latter—a combination of tomato, veal stock, and coffee—was not quite to Chef Hendu’s liking so he had taken the pork belly off the menu when I stopped by last night.

Nevertheless he was kind enough to make this glorious sandwich, a favorite among some Per Se chefs, who like to stop by the sandwich shop that operates out the kitchen at Dutch Kills Bar. It was stupendously good. I can’t wait to taste it when the gravy is really on point. If you’re reading this right now, do note the kitchen is open late.

Hendu’s Sandwich Shop, Dutch Kills, 27-24 Jackson Ave, Long Island City

10/22/18 9:41pm

The fig and rosemary latte from Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters.

I’d just wrapped up a rather epic food tour of the entire 7 line in Long Island City. Before parting ways with one of my guests we had a brief chat about overpriced coffee in L.I.C. and how he never patronizes the local cafes. After we parted ways I proceeded to one of the aforementioned cafes, Toby’s Estate Coffee Roasters for an espresso.

When it come to highfalutin java I’m an espresso man, or if I’m feeling kind of fancy a cortado. I hardly ever get lattes, and certainly never flavored ones. But when I saw the sign on the counter for a $5 seasonal fig and rosemary latte, I couldn’t resist. If I’m going to overpay for a coffee, it might as well be a fancy one.

Thankfully both the rosemary syrup and fig preserves were on the light side, but it was definitely a sweet drink. In any case I’m sure it was way better than the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte. So here’s what I like to know friends, what’s your favorite fall beverage? Let me know in the comments below.

10/15/18 7:52pm

Chicken thentuk, perfect for a crisp fall night.

To say Elmhurst’s newest Tibetan eatery is easier to find than its predecessor would be a vast understatement. After all Sang Jien Ben’s first restaurant, Lhasa Fast Food, lies down a cramped hallway behind a cell phone store, while the new one is in plain sight just behind Elmurst Hospital.

It opened in August with a menu featuring the beef momos—juicy dumplings that are as ubiquitous in Tibet as they are in Himalayan Heights—and thentuk, a hearty soup with hand-torn swatches of dough that made the first spot a draw for everyone from homesick Tibetans and local foodies to Eater and Anthony Bourdain. A beaming Dalai Lama presides over the room. Enshrined on altar below it a photo of Chef Ben and Bourdain. (more…)

10/10/18 4:13pm

A Peruvian breakfast sandwich by way of Northern Boulevard.

“They have Peruvian sandwiches,” my pal Cristina told me a few weeks as I stood slack-jawed in front of Juanita’s, the only Peruvian sangucheria in Queens. We’d already had two meals, so there was no way we were eating any more that afternoon.

A week or so later I returned to the groovy cafe on Northern Boulevard, this time with an appetite. Among the half dozen sandwiches—including pollo a la brasa and butifarra, a home-made roast ham—the one that stood out to me was the chicharrón, after all who doesn’t like shatteringly crisp, succulent pork. Something about the menu description, crispy pork shoulder with sweet potato sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure why until the sanguche hit the table. (more…)

10/02/18 11:02am

Do the Keebler elves eat octopus?

Ceviche de pescado—fish, typically corvina in Queens, cooked in lime juice—is such a staple of Peruvian cuisine that until just the other day I’d never tried Peruvian style octopus. Sure, I’ve had pulpo in the exquisite cokteles from La Esquina del Camaron Mexicano. Octopus is probably  on the menu of every Peruvian place in Queens, but my eyes skate over it in favor of sexier seafood like jalea, that mountain of fried fish, shrimp, and calamari fortified by planks of fried yucca.

The other day pulpo al olivo jumped off the menu at El Anzuelo, spurring my friends and me to order it. Tender slices of octopus loll in a pool of mauve liquor flanked by some avocado slices and, of all things, five Keebler Zesta brand saltine crackers. (more…)

09/28/18 10:39am

Photo: Takaski

With fall finally here, the days growing shorter, and Halloween just around the corner my thoughts and appetite turn to Japanese Cranberry Almond KitKat. Or at least they do now that I found them at H Mart in Manhattan’s K-Town.

Japan’s obsession with KitKat is legendary.  My personal obsession with the Japanese version of one of my favorite American chocolate bars  almost approaches that level. I’ve tried the green tea, wasabi, and Japanese pumpkin varieties and I’m always on the lookout for new flavors. So when I saw the package emblazoned with a bowl of cranberries and almonds I immediately grabbed two. Unsure as to how they would taste, I was drawn in by the blond wood and green-leaved cranberry stems. (more…)

09/17/18 11:48am

Manhattan’s Fung Wong is where I tried my first mooncake decades ago.

Last week I paid a visit to Manhattan’s Chinatown with my brother John. The neighborhood has changed much since we used to go there with our father 30 years ago, but some things remain the same, notably the tea parlors and Fung Wong Bakery. The latter is where I used to get blobs of chewy sweet rice cake for dessert after hitting up Wo Hop with my parents. It’s also where I tried my first mooncake.

After John and I caught up over dim sum at Nom Wah, I poked my head into Fung Wong to see dozens of mooncakes lining the case and stacks of red boxes proclaiming, “BEST MOON CAKES IN CHINATOWN N.Y.” Back in Queens, I shared the treat with some dear friends. The filling of fruit paste and preserved duck egg had an old-fashioned feel to it, more of a rough texture than others, whose smoother paste seems more processed. The real thing that set it apart though was the dough itself, which was far less dense and sweeter than any I’ve had in recent memory. (more…)

09/12/18 9:12am

This past Saturday I had the privilege of judging Pig Island, a festival of fine swine hosted by my dear friend Jimmy Carbone. The pork was provided by Flying Pigs Farm, and much of it took the form of ribs. As anybody who knows anything about barbecue and cooking it in a festival setting, it’s very easy to screw up ribs. You can take a perfectly good smoked rib and ruin the texture by grilling it afterwards. The best ribs come straight from the smoker, or in the case of my dear friend Rodrigo Duarte, straight from a pig bladder. (more…)

09/11/18 9:26am

Pay no attention to the an behind the bamboo curtain!

After trekking out to Bushwick on a raw rainy day to help my friend Cathy Erway kick off the fall 2018 season of her radio show Eat Your Words, I was ready for something hot and brothy.

I always get lost on the way to the Heritage Radio Network studio inside Roberta’s Pizza, even though it’s basically around the corner from the L train. Sunday’s detour took me past Ichiran Ramen where a patient local took pity on my hapless Queens soul to direct me to Roberta’s with his phone. I’d been meaning to try this Japanese import and its ramen isolation booth, so I blurted out, “What time are you open until?” I should point out that the helpful young man was Asian and was sporting a Sriracha T-shirt. “I don’t work here,” he said turning his back to walk into the ramenya, as I spun on my heel to high-tail it to the studio. (more…)