Rokhat’s plov, a taste of home for Uzbeki immigrants.
In a neighborhood that seems to have a Central Asian kebab house on every block Rokhat Kosher Bakery is one of the more unique establishments. While other purveyors of samsa, Uzbek meat pies, hide their igloo-shaped tandoors in the kitchen, Rokhat’s sits proudly in the window. In fact there are two ovens in two storefronts.
The newer satellite location functions as a makeshift restaurant. It serves up an excellent version of plov ($7), Uzbekistan’s hearty one-pot rice dish. A few chunks of boneless beef shank sit atop rice that’s fragrant with sweet carrot, cumin, and coriander. Black pepper and chili and lend just a touch of heat. The rice has a wonderful chewy texture and flavor from absorbing the flavors of the meat, along with sautéed onions, and flax seed oil. (more…)
A Jerusalem street food classic by way of Rego Park.
Sandwiches can be roughly divided into two categories: neat and dainty or messy and manly. The true test of how messy a sandwich is not whether its ingredients overflow from the bun. It’s whether I remove my watch to eat it. The Jerusalem Mix ($14) at Grill House is such a sandwich. It sounds like a world music collection, but Jerusalem Mix, or Meurav Yerushalmi in Hebrew, is a popular Israeli street food.
Grill House’s version consists of a trifecta of meats—chicken, lamb, and beef—sautéed with a heady mix of spices and onions. Rama Hababa, Grill House’s matriarch, knows her way around the spice cabinet too. She used to run Pereg, the wonderful spice shop in the Israeli section of Main Street in Flushing. The shop is now closed, but Hababa still uses the Israeli company’s spices. She seasons the meats with Pereg’s shawarma seasoning, which if I had to guess includes such aromatic spices as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cardamom along with garlic and other goodies. Hababa wouldn’t tell me what’s in the shawarma seasoning, but did reveal another surprising ingredient in her Jerusalem Mix, mango powder.
The end result served on a hero with a shmear of hummus is a true hungry man sandwich, packed with sweet and spicy morsels of meat. It is even better with some fiery schug and creamy tahini. At first I tried to pick up this dreadnought of a sandwich. Eventually I succumbed to using a knife and fork. As I put my put my watch back on, I had a brief moment of buyer’s remorse. Fourteen bucks is a lot for a sandwich, but it’s still way cheaper than airfare to Jerusalem.
Grill House, 63-55 Wetherole St., Rego Park, 718-897-1575
When I go to Ben’s Best a classic old-school delicatessen a mere five-minute walk from home I am usually there for one thing, and one thing only. A pastrami sandwich on rye and a can of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda. I am vaguely aware of the existence of other items on the menu, including a list of sandwiches as long as my arm, all named after local landmarks or customers. I say vaguely aware because on most visits I never open the menu. Yesterday I stopped in and opened the menu. And there it was at the top of section labeled Something Different, “KNISHWICH. Knish stuffed with your choice of Corned Beef Pastrami 8.95.” Upon seeing it I flagged down the waitress as if hailing a cab at rush hour. I immediately ordered the pastrami version of this newfound treat, specifying that the pastrami be juicy. And a Cel-Ray, natch.
A look under the hood.
The knish itself is of the square variety, which at one time could be had at most any New York City hot dog vendor. I grew up with them in my freezer. At college I’d occasionally treat myself to a knish grilled cheese at a little hippy dippy café called the Rainy Night House. But this, this knishwich is clearly a snack of staggering genius. Fanned out on top of the bed of potato are several slices of glistening pastrami. They were at that point that Ben’s owner Jay Parker likes to call “cotton candy.” The combination of the salty spicy juicy beef and the warm potato knish was indeed something different. And something quite delicious. I want another one right now. Were it not so cold I’d take that five-minute walk and go get it.
Ben’s Best, 96-40 Queens Blvd., Rego Park, 718-897-1700
Borjomi mineral water is a staple beverage at C+M headquarters.
One of things I like about living in Rego Park apart from its proximity to Flushing and wonderful old school spots like Knish Nosh is the preponderance of Uzbek culinary culture. There are at least 10 kosher kebab houses which fetishize the fatty flesh of lamb to varying degrees. Even the pizzerias here sell the meat pies known as samsa along with plov, a Central Asian spin on pilaf. At the delis find plenty of smoked fish, Eastern European charcuterie, salads, and Borjomi Mineral water. There are many other mineral waters on offer but over the past few years, I have grown fond of the fizzy water in the bluish bottle.