“Good sandwich,” my pal Rocky said between bites, “but Sandwich Therapy’s kind of a goofy name.” Those bites consisted of crunchy chicken schnitzel studded with sesame seeds; thick slabs of fried eggplant smoky and sweet; a shmear of tahini; pickled daikon and carrots; and matbucha, a spicy Moroccan tomato and pepper stew all packed between two slabs of challah.
I first encountered the Sandwich Therapy stand, which sets up on the median of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights just outside Travers Park, about a month ago. I’d already had lunch that day and didn’t take note of the name, but I did buy some lovely Georgian Shakarlama cookies, enriched with ground walnuts and almonds and perfumed with cardamom. I forgot all about it until Rocky texted me an image of this crazy looking dreadnought of a sandwich last Friday. (He in turn had heard of the stand from fellow food nerd Dave Cook of Eating in Translation.)
And that’s how we came to be eating a fried chicken sandwich with a decidedly Israeli accent on a blustery Friday in Jackson Heights. “Maybe he’s a social worker I mused,” taking a pause before tackling the second half of this truly masterful sandwich.
“We’re going to have it every Friday,” said the Master himself Mark Blinder, who operates the stand on Friday’s from 2 to 6 and 11-3 on Saturday and Sunday with his wife, Esthi Zipori. “It’s very popular in Israel right now, they even call it the Friday sandwich.”
As for the stand’s name, it turns out that Blinder does have a Masters degree in Social Work. He’s been sidelined due to COVID, so in November he and Esthi decided to sell set up shop near their local park. They often get their bread from Variety Bakery on 80th Street and Northern Boulevard. It bears pointing out that at $12 the Friday sandwich is among the most affordable of the many modalities of gustatory therapy available in the Heights. And the tahini chocolate chip cookies I scored were pretty damn good, too. To pre-order your very own Friday sandwich e-mail Mark and Esthi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunnyside’s Butcher Block sells Irish candy among many other things.
I hope everyone is managing to stay safe and sane amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to be of service, I present this roundup of markets from some of Queens many culinary cultures. Some of my favorites, notably Patel Bros. in Jackson Heights, as well as some of the Chinese markets in Flushing and Elmhurst have temporarily shuttered, but as of yesterday all of the following were open. That said you should call ahead to check their status. Please stay local if possible, and let me know how you’re doing–and what you’re eating–in the comments.
1. IRELAND Butcher Block, 43-46 41st St., Sunnyside, (718) 784-1078
In addition to a wide selection of Irish chocolate bars and crisps this Sunnyside shop sells prepared foods such as roast beef and sausage rolls as well as black pudding if you want to whip up an Irish breakfast at home. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
2. ISRAEL Carmel Grocery, 64-27 108th St, Forest Hills, NY 11375, (718) 897-9296
A local friend tells me that this market/coffee roaster was one of the first to sell Israeli foods in Forest Hills. I’m not sure about that, but I do love their homemade dips, especially the hummus, white bean dip, and tabouleh. Right now my fridge is stocked with all of them. There’s also all manner of Middle Eastern breads and goodies like halvah. As of now they are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and do not offer delivery.
3. JAPAN Sakura-Ya, 73-05 Austin St., Forest Hills, 718-268-7220
Hello Kitty chopsticks, Vermont Curry mix, furikake rice seasoning, okonomiyaki sauce and the slimy fermented soybean delicacy known as natto are just a few of the items to be found in this tiny market. Grilled mackerel, sashimi grade tuna and when it’s in season creamy steamed ankimo, or monkfish liver, can also be had. Come early if you want to grab one of their excellent bento boxes. Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., delivery minimum $50.
4. THAILAND Thai Thai Grocery, 76-13 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 917-769-6168
Noi Sila is a fixture in the bustling Little Bangkok that runs along Woodside Avenue and Broadway in Elmhurst. Her shop stocks all sorts of ingredients, including curry pastes and other spices as well as kitchen equipment like sticky rice cookers and Thai style mortar and pestle. Hours for now are 1 p.m. to 7 p.m, although she is wisely limiting access to the shop. “I have to take care of the community,” Sila said. Delivery can also be arranged.
5. GREECE Titan Foods, 25-56 31st St., Astoria, 718-626-7771
For more than 30 years this colossus of a supermarket has been serving Astoria’s Greek community, offering everything from Ouzon (ouzo-flavored soda) and religious incense to fruity Greek olive oil and canned grape leaves. Just inside the door there’s an entire counter devoted to flaky cheese and spinach pies, including the spiral skopetiliki spanakopita. Feta is a mainstay of the kasseri counter, with more than a dozen types, including creamy Bulgarian, salty Arahova, and slightly funky goat feta. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
6. KOREA Han Yang Mart, 150-51 Northern Blvd, Flushing, N718-461-1911
If I Iived closer I’d do all my shopping, pandemic or not, here. The aisles are stocked with all manner of Korean ingredients—an entire case is devoted to kimchi and banchan—and there are kits to cook Korean barbecue and other dishes at home. Preppers take note they have canned silkworm and tuna fish. Last I checked they were still open 24 hours.
7. RUSSIA & FORMER SOVIET UNION NetCost Market, 97-10 Queens Blvd., 718-459-4400
The façade of the only Queens location of this sprawling supermarket chain depicts a globe in a shopping cart, but the shelves are mostly devoted to imports from Russia and the former Soviet Union, like caviar and Slivochniy Sort, an 82.5-percent butterfat sweet cream butter from Ukraine. The bakery counter abuts a seafood station with a staggering selection of smoked fish — from whole Norwegian semga, better known in the States as steelhead trout, to cold-smoked buffalo fish and hot-smoked paddlefish — and several types of salmon caviar. Hours are 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for seniors with a closing time of 7:30 p.m.
There’s something about shawarma—a Middle Eastern exclamation point of rotating meat basting in its own juices—that is absolutely fascinating. Like my dear departed friend Josh Ozersky who once gushed, “Just the outer edge of the meat is sliced, so essentially the sandwich is just the sizzling brown surface of a lamb roast,” I am fascinated with shawarma in all its forms.
Until very recently I have only had the chicken version, but lately the lamb variety—really a blend of lamb and turkey—has come on my radar. Most recently at Tov-Li Shawarma & Falafel a newish Israeli spot that opened on the Bukharian Broadway that is 108th Street in Forest Hills. (more…)
“Pretty sure that shakshuka always photographs like it’s already been digested,” I wrote on Facebook a while back. The less than appetizing observation came after reviewing some unflattering photos I took of the shakshuka at Grill House, my local Israeli spot. Many of my friends, food photographers and chefs among them, all agreed with my observation about the egg, tomato, and pepper concoction. (more…)
Sabich, the falafel sandwich’s lesser known cousin.
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
When I was in my twenties running around the East Village smoking more marijuana than I care to remember I ate more falafel than I care to remember. Had I known about the sabich, a lesser sung Israeli sandwich, I’d have added some variety to my midnight munchies. The combination of fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs sounds odd at first, but it’s actually quite good. I’m fortunate to be able to procure one at Grill House a tiny Israeli joint that’s a 5-minute walk from my house. (more…)
Like a Big Mac, but much spicier and much, much more kosher.
The last time I ate a kosher burger was more than five years ago. It was such a disappointment I’ve given little or no thought to repeating the experience. That is until I came across Burgers Plus out on Union Turnpike in the part of Flushing locals call Hillcrest. Still dubious I asked my pal Meir—my go-to guy for Israeli grub—about it. “It’s really good,” he enthused. “We should have lunch there.”
The menu at Burgers Plus lists four burgers, including a 220-gram lamb number ($10.95) that the grill man said was his favorite. In 2013 Burgers Plus seems to be the only the burger joint that has caught onto the metric system. I followed Meir’s lead and ordered the 150 gram (5.2911-oz.) house spicy beef burger ($7.95). The burger is also available in a non-spicy version, given the option I always choose spicy. (more…)
Spell it shwarma or shawarma, I don’t care. Either way, the Middle Eastern sandwich of stacked meat roasted on vertical spit is one of my all-time favorites. Truth be told I am mesmerized by rotating, roasting meat whether it’s a whole goat or a tower of chicken or lamb slowly browning, just waiting to be shaved off into sandwiches. One of the best places in Queens to get an Israeli version of this sandwich is Grill Point, where they spell it shuwarma. Grill Point lies on the largely Israeli end of Main Street in Kew Garden Hills. It’s an area I wish I visited more often. So when my pal Meir suggested we have lunch there I immediately said yes.
The turkey lamb shuwarma has plenty of crunchy browned bits.
I ordered the lamb shuwarma ($10.10) and got a surprise, turkey. At first when I read “pita lamb turkey,”on my receipt I thought it was a mistake. The grill man assured me though that the spit he was carving from was composed of 60/40 blend of lamb and turkey, a meat that I begrudgingly eat every Thanksgiving. I was tempted to ask him whether Grill Point uses meat glue to bond the two, but I’m pretty sure the wonder substance is not kosher. In addition to the wonderfully sweet and spicy meat alloy, my pita was packed with creamy hummus, Israeli salad, and fried eggplant. Best of all there was a perfect balance of crunchy browned meat from the shwarmic wheel’s exterior and succulent flesh from within. Truly one of the best “shuwarma” in recent memory. (more…)
A Jerusalem street food classic by way of Rego Park.
PLEASE NOTE THIS RESTAURANT IS CLOSED
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
Japanese shishito peppers, mellow by any true chili-head’s standards.
As the old Power Station hit goes, “Some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on/Some feel the heat and decide that they can’t go on,” I fall squarely in the chili-head camp, gleefully slathering Israeli schug on shawarma and perking up ceviche with Peruvian aji verde. Iindulge in fiery fare from Sichuan to Liberia and points in between. Sometimes, though, I can’t stand the heat. Take Thai spicy, please, as in, “Take it away.” After one too many experiences with the sensation of receiving a tongue tattoo with a hot needle I have given up ordering food “Thai spicy.”
In the past when I have ordered a dish “Thai spicy” the server usually approaches, filling my water glass and asks, “Too spicy? Are you okay, sir?” “Oh, no this is good,” I’d gamely respond eyes tearing, nose running, and lips burning as I tried to power through an incendiary meal. It’s been about two years since I’ve uttered the words, “Thai spicy.” Thankfully I can always adjust the spice level of Thai dishes by adding pickled chilies or dry roasted chili powder from the condiment caddy that graces the table.
Here’s what I’d like to know: What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten? Where do you draw the line? And when you’ve crossed it, how do you cool down? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.