There are many, many things I love at Elmhurst’s Little House cafe, a Malaysian bakery/restaurant run by Helen Bay and her husband Michael Lee. There’s the giant chicken curry bun; stupendously good chow kueh teow; specials like salted egg chow fun; and goodies baked up by Helen, including the amazing Malaysian style brown sugar cake. In fact there are so many sweet and savory things that the family rotates some of them out. What I love most about Little House right now though is that it’s back open. Well, that and the glutinous rice doughnuts, 夹粽, or kap zhong, that appeared as a special dessert over the weekend.
A while back, Helen’s daughter, Joanne, gifted me a black and yellow tote bag. One seam bears the legend, “Don’t ask just eat.” It’s a slogan I took to heart with the little box of ovoid kap zhong. Soft and sweet with a ring of brown dough enclosing a center of chewy glutinous rice, they’re sugary and oily in the best possible way. They call to mind the zeppole my mother used to fry up on St. Joseph’s Day.
Like many things at this little house that could, these treats, whose name means something along the lines of pressed from both sides, are only around for a short time. But Joanne tells me there will be a fresh batch tomorrow. I’m going to forego them this time, at my age, I can only eat such a thing occasionally. But you should try them while you can. To paraphrase the slogan on the bag: Don’t ask about the calories, just eat them.
Little House Cafe, 90-19 Corona Ave., Elmhurst, 718-592-0888
When it comes to chicken the star of the show at Little House Cafe is surely the jia li mian bao ji, a gargantuan golden brown bun filled with curried chicken. That said, it may have just been eclipsed by a dish that made its debut today, chicken rendang. I learned about it while looking at the restaurant’s Instagram page, which called it dry curry chicken with biryani rice.
I’ve eaten my fair share of both Malaysian and Indonesian beef rendang, a soul warming curry, but had never heard of a chicken version so when I saw the photo of a sunny mound of rice accompanied by a generous portion of curry coated poultry, I knew what was for lunch. (more…)
Stephen Yen, executive chef of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a pretty busy guy, so I’m pretty glad he found the time to answer Seven Questions. Not only was Chef Yen born in Queens, he was born in the Year of the Pig. Chef Yen will be preparing a very special roast pork bao at Charcuterie Masters on February 23.
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I was born on Main street in Flushing. The hospital was called Booth Memorial back then. My mother’s OBGYN, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, is now president of the Hindu Temple Society in Flushing. I have a special place in my heart for Flushing. I was raised out on Long Island in a small town about an hour from NYC, been back in queens now for about 7 years.
2. I’m excited to have you roasting a pig at Charcuterie Masters! Tell me a little bit about the process?
We are going to brine the little piggie using fish sauce in the brine, this is something I learned from Robbie Richter at Fatty ‘Cue. Nowadays its common practice in most kitchens. The sodium content is where you need it to be, plus you gain all the umami! We are going to then roast the pig in a La Caja China. It’s a roasting oven that simulates the old way of burying a pig and keeping the charcoal on top. The box makes it easier for us, we don’t have to dig! I’ve used a La Caja China before and they are awesome! I usually end up throwing some seafood on top of the charcoals to snack on while we wait for the pork. (more…)
Behold: Elmhurst’s most elusive Malaysian layer cake.
A few weeks ago on the Voyages of Tim Vetter podcast I posited Instagram has replaced Chowhound, particularly when it comes to hyperlocal culinary exploration. Case in point, Little House Cafe. Had I not been seen my dear friends Food & Footprints posting about this Elmhurst bakery/cafe I’d never have known about its giant Singaporean style chicken curry bun and top-notch char kway teow. Nor would I have ever tried the elusive and epic taro pudding cake.
My friends and I first spotted the multilayer creation lined up in the pastry case and didn’t have the appetite for it because we’d just dispatched the aforementioned giant curry chicken bun along with several pieces of Malaysian brown sugar sponge cake and other goodies. When it was described as layers of coffee jelly, pudding, taro cake, and sponge cake we were all quite curious. (more…)
Until very recently I’ve always thought Little House Cafe—with its yellow and red awning that reads “Bubble Tea. Bakery. Teriyaki Express. Asian Cuisine” —was just another of Elmhurst’s many bubble tea spots. Despite appearances Little House is actually a stealth Malaysian restaurant, with a very big secret, a jumbo curry chicken bun the size of my head.
I learned about it from a breathless Instagram post: “The first unique and delicious handmade ‘Jumbo Curry Chicken Bun’ in the United States- Only from us!!” The other day I stopped by hoping to try the jia li mian bao ji, as it’s known in Chinese. (more…)
One of the things I heard most from my editors when I was putting together 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Misswas “Joe, there’s too much food on your list.” To which I mentally responded, “Don’t they know who they hired? I am the guy who ate Queens for chrissake!” Somehow I still managed to mention food and drink more than 40 times in the book. Herewith are seven of my favorites. To find out the others, you’ll have to score a copy. A great time to do so would be next Wednesday, February 21 when 111 Places in Queens Comes to Jackson Heights at Espresso 77. Ace photographer Clay Williams and I will even autograph your copy. Can’t make that? Come celebrate Chinese New Year at Leaf Cocktail Lounge with us on February 22nd.
1. Lhasa Fast Food I’d love to take credit for discovering this gem of a Tibetan restaurant tucked behind a Jackson Heights cell phone store, but I can’t. Momo maven Jeff Orlick turned me on to it years ago. There’s nothing fast about the momo making here though. The reward for your patience? Juicy steamed beef dumplings that are amazing as is the thentuk soup featuring hand-torn swatches of dough. It’s such a special place it merited its own chapter! 37-50 74th St, Queens, NY 11372, 646-256-3805
2. Falafel slice at Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar This marvelous Middle Eastern mashup can be had at Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar. It combines two great street foods New York City pizza and Israeli falafel. Topped with half a dozen falafel balls, I like to eat it with tahini and hot sauce. In case you are wondering, this novelty slice did not get its own chapter. It appears as a tip at the end of the chapter on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s gravesite. 72-72 Main St, Flushing, 718- 268-0791(more…)
Frigid temperatures call for noodle soup. One of my favorite warmups is a bowl of Malaysian kari laksa, which is how I found myself at PappaRich in Flushing the other day.
With its vast full color menu and decor featuring Edison bulbs and plenty of blonde wood the restaurant on the top floor of the One Fulton Square retail complex calls to mind a Malaysian Cheesecake Factory, with one major exception, the food is actually pretty good. (more…)
The year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017.
1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808
2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888(more…)
Spicy pork chops by way of Elmhurst, Malaysia, and perhaps Taiwan.
One of my favorite Elmhurst spots for a late night snack is Pulau Pinang, the wonderful Malaysian restaurant in the infamous all-food strip mall on Broadway. My go-to meal is usually char kway teow or assam laksa.
The other night I was out for a solo birthday meal and in the mood for something different, something festive. So gave a dish with the rather unassuming name “Malaysian salt and pepper pork chops,” a whirl. I had a good feeling about it, and I was right. (more…)
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of noodles— whether the fusilli with red sauce and chow fun that I cut my teeth on—or the tallarin verde of Peru and various culture’s takes on cold noodles that can be had in Queens. This edition of The Seven is devoted to my favorite Asian noodles in Queens, at least as of summer 2017.
1. Tom thuk, Lhasa Fast Food
Anthony Bourdain recently paid a visit to this Jackson Heights momo shop tucked away behind a cell phone store. While the big man tried the hand-torn noodle soup known as thenthuk he did not get to experience its colder, spicier cousin tomthuk. Listed in the menu’s Noodle Zone as beef cold noodle ($6) there’s no forewarning of the twin heat engines of chili and mustard oil. The tangle of chewy noodles interspersed with shredded carrots, cabbages, and bits of ground beef packs enough heat to melt snowy Mount Kailash which looms above the counter. Lhasa Fast Food, 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights
2. Yum Dek Sen, Dek Sen
There are many Thai noodle dishes, from funky bowls of blood-enriched soup to those that resemble pork ragu, but Dek Sen is the first restaurant where I’ve seen noodles used in a yum, Thailand’s spicy savory version of the more prosaic Western salad. Yum Dek Sen ($11.95) takes Mama instant noodles and mixes them with squid, shrimp, minced pork, and two types of fish balls. Served warm the whole lot is dressed in a chili lime sauce. You might be tempted to order it spicy, but medium is more than adequate. Dek Sen, 86-08 Whitney Ave, Elmhurst, 718-205-5181(more…)