Butcher Bar

It’s the end of March and, here in New York, it’s actually snowing. Whatever happened to “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? While the weather may be distressing, the meal I ate this morning certainly was not. If you’re looking for a unique answer to “where can we go to brunch?” in Queens, Butcher Bar is it.

butcher bar burnt ends and scrambled eggs

burnt ends and scrambled eggs

This borough has been experiencing a sharp influx of hipsters. Brooklyn transplants have been making their way across the county line to settle in Astoria, Long Island City, and, now, my dear Sunnyside. Butcher Bar is precisely designed for the newcomers. It’s an organic, sustainable barbecue joint with a quaint, yet plain interior. I’ve never been to the proper South, but I imagine this is the type of place you’d find in Austin, TX. These new Queens-bound millennial types enjoy this kind of thing, and I can guess that Butcher Bar has capitalized on their sensibilities.

That’s not a bad thing, of course–especially when the quality of meat and dining experience feels unparalleled to anywhere else in the neighborhood.

This morning, MDP and I wanted something different for brunch and decided to take the subway to Astoria. Butcher Bar is just a few blocks away from the N/Q 30th Avenue stop, so we hiked through the falling snow to find the lauded restaurant (it has a four-star rating on Yelp, which is pretty good considering that people love to complain on this site).

butcher bar brisket hash

brisket hash

Butcher Bar only recently began to serve brunch. Their menu is chocked full of egg dishes, with the occasional pancake item making an appearance. But the real star of the menu is the meat. Butcher Bar only sells the finest grass-fed meat, and the sheer quality of their cut selections is readily apparent in their offerings.

MDP opted for the brisket hash, while I ordered the burnt ends with scrambled eggs. Both dishes were incredible and accompanied by a complimentary alcoholic beverage of our choice (sangria, cocktail, beer). Let’s start with the brisket hash, which features diced potatoes and peppers with–you guessed it–brisket mixed in. It’s covered with a white gravy and an egg on top. MDP seemed to enjoy it, and I had a taste and agree that it was top notch. My burnt ends were phenomenal. They were silky, smooth, and very flavorful. The burnt ends were situated atop scrambled eggs with a layer of cheese, to my delight. Expertly cooked potatoes and mixed greens also came with our selections.

In addition to the mains, we got the creamy macaroni and cheese as a side dish. I found the simplicity of the dish to be satisfactory, but MDP wasn’t as impressed by it. The pasta was drenched in a delicious cheese sauce, and paprika was sprinkled on top.

butcher bar creamy macaroni and cheese

creamy macaroni and cheese

At the end of our meal, the lovely waitress asked if we’d like a piece of apple cake on the house. I enthusiastically said yes, and she brought us a sliver of the cake. It featured a drizzle of caramel on top, and the rare apple piece inside the cake. Despite the lackluster showing of fruit, I found the crust to be thick and authentic tasting. I was pleased with this addition to our meal.

I’d say that the value of brunch at Butcher Bar is amazing. Although the burnt ends with eggs plate cost $18 or so, it came with 10 – 15 pieces of meat and the plate was filled to the brim with food. The cocktail I ordered would have been $10 a la carte, and I quite enjoyed it. Plus, let’s not forget the apple cake that was a surprising finish.

Even if you’re not a Queens dweller, I’d suggest making the trip to Butcher Bar for brunch or even dinner. If they can serve up masterfully crafted dishes for the Saturday-Sunday morning set, I’m confident in their ability to do this during the evening, as well.

Butcher Bar
37-10 30th Avenue (between 37th and 38th streets)
Astoria, NY
Take the N/Q to 30th Avenue and walk north several blocks. It’s on the east side of the street.

Advertisements

Dumplings & Things

Xi’an Famous Foods is probably my favorite Chinese restaurant ever. This seems to be the widely held sentiment among New Yorkers (and please God let Xi’an be a secret kept from tourists — for now anyway). At the Xi’an near my workplace, the line is typically out the door and down the block. Sure, it’s a hole-in-the-wall space, but the demand for high-quality Chinese foods has reached a fever pitch since Xi’an came on the scene in full force a few years ago.

There’s a Xi’an in Flushing, and I’ve even gone there with MDP for take-out to bring back to our home 30 minutes away — that’s how good Xi’an is.

dumplings & things pork and chive dumplings

pork and chive dumplings

But, now I don’t have to travel to Flushing for authentic noodles and dumplings because Dumplings & Things (see menu here) has opened up shop in Sunnyside. Yesterday was the opening day, and I’m fairly certain it will be the first and last time I ever actually eat there. The hungry crowds are coming, and I suspect they’re looking for Xi’an-level deliciousness. They’ll certainly find it at Dumplings & Things.

I wouldn’t call Dumplings & Things a chain, but there’s definitely another outpost in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, which has garnered rave reviews. It’s no wonder. Dumplings & Things serves up delectable Chinese (and sometimes Korean) fare for affordable prices — think $3.50 for a plate of five dumplings. Yeah, that cheap.

MDP and I were dead-set on sampling a wide variety of Dumpling & Things’ offerings, so we went about scanning the menu and choosing a food from just about every category: dumplings, noodles, baos, rice platters (we’ll try next time), and appetizers.

dumplings & things melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

So, let’s start with the dumplings. We opted for the pork and chive (steamed) type. The filling was nearly bursting from the tightly wrapped skins, which goes to show the value you get when you order dumplings from this amazing place. And they weren’t just plump — they were delicious, too. Unlike some pork and chive dumplings that are typically “chive” in name only, these had a distinctly chive flavor that made the entire experience of biting into each dumpling feel fresh and clean.

We had to get noodles, and Dumplings & Things has a nice selection on their menu. You can either get your dish with rice or “regular” noodles (which, I think, are either ramen or la mien), and with broth if you choose. We got the braised beef noodles and melt in your mouth pork belly ones. Wow, both were just out of this world. While Xi’an’s wide hand-pulled noodles are pretty impressive, Dumplings & Things’ noodles are also up there on my list. They, like the dumplings, were bursting with flavor. Our respective meats were beautifully flavored and heaped aplenty on the top of our noodles, which cost a mere $6.50 and came out in a giant traditional bowl.

dumplings & things braised beef bao

braised beef bao

MDP wanted to try a bao, so he ordered the braised beef one. It’s two baos per order, so I was in luck. I bit into the bao, with sliced cucumber and carrot, as well as crushed peanuts on top, and was blown away. One of the best restaurants in Sunnyside, Salt & Fat, used to serve unique pork belly baos. I think Dumplings & Things is giving them a run for their money in the bao department.

I wanted to try the garlicky cucumber salad, to compare it to Xi’an’s version, so we got that, too. It was good — not great, like Xi’an’s — but MDP figured out that, if we doused the cucumber pieces in soy sauce, the dish would taste better. It did. Somehow the soy sauce brought out the garlic flavor more intensely, and I was a happy clam.

dumplings & things garlicky cucumber salad

garlicky cucumber salad

All this food cost about $29. Twenty-nine dollars! The seating arrangement inside is fairly utilitarian, with simple stools and small tables for patrons to dine at. It’s no sit-down and order through a waitress place, either, so snag a table before you put in your order at the counter. Getting your food could take upwards of 20 minutes because I think Dumplings & Things has a few kinks to iron out in the kitchen process yet, so grab a gourmet ginger ale and sit tight.

I highly recommend Dumplings & Things. If you’ve been looking for your local Xi’an, this is it.

Dumplings & Things
45-26 46th Street (between Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Ave.)
Sunnyside, NY
Take the 7 train to 46th Street. Walk south for one block. It will be on your right.

Pink Icing Bakery

The wait is finally over. Pink Icing Bakery has opened.

pink icing cupcakes

pink icing cupcakes

The long-awaited bakery has been teasing Sunnyside residents for more than two months now. First, Sunnyside Post said it would open the first week of March. Then, Pink Icing’s sign went up some time in April. Then, I saw a “we’re hiring” sign a few weeks later. As of yesterday, Pink Icing is in business.

Nestled between a fish market and Mr. Wonton Chinese food eatery, Pink Icing (which took over a failed Indian restaurant’s space) is just a few doors down from The Sugar Room baking supply store, which is owned by Juan Arache, the man at the helm of the much-anticipated bakery.

So, what exactly does Pink Icing offer?

Well, tons of stuff.

Today, when I visited, they had mini and full-size key lime pies for a few bucks. There was also a pecan pie and what looked like an apple crumb pie (both in mini and full-size form). But the real attraction here is the cupcakes.

Available in big and small portions, the beautifully decorated cupcakes–at a fair $2 price point–are delicious. Without a thick slather of icing (who can bear that?) but rather a delicate application of it, the small cupcake has the ideal balance of frosting and cake. Moist and not-too-sweet, the vanilla cake was just right. I can’t speak for the larger cupcake, but, based on what I saw, I believe it mirrors the perfection of the smaller cake–just more of it.

In addition to the decorated, vanilla cupcakes, Pink Icing serves up red velvet cupcakes, in both large and small sizes. The woman ahead of me ordered a red velvet small, and I envied her. I’ll have to go back and try it. But, then again, I want to try everything at Pink Icing.

pink icing cupcakeThough the space is cozy, there’s room for a handful of tables and a countertop with stools. Several customers milled around the bakery, talking over coffee and cupcakes and enjoying the morning. It seems as though Pink Icing has already become a hallmark of the neighborhood in the mere two days it’s been open.

I sincerely hope Sunnyside residents partake in the wonder that is Pink Icing. After all this time–the waiting, the hand-wringing at the closed door–Pink Icing has finally arrived. Hopefully, to stay for a long time.

Do I think Pink Icing is a destination bakery? We’ll have to see. The cupcake trend in New York has certainly died down (is it fried pizza that everyone’s fascinated with now?), but the cupcakes are so good–and so cheap!–that it just might attract the non-Sunnysiders. Pink Icing is open until 8 p.m., which gives the Manhattanites who frequent Salt and Fat just enough time to grab dessert (before a late dinner, perhaps?) prior to heading back to the city.

If you’re in the neighborhood, try Pink Icing. It’s the kind of cupcake that wholly satisfies the body and soul. You don’t want to miss out.

Pink Icing

44-12 Queens Blvd.

Sunnyside, Queens

Take the 7 to 46th Street and walk west for two blocks on the north side of Queens Boulevard. Do check out The Sugar Room, too!

F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries

My mom always says, “A simple menu is a recipe for success.” She’s right, and that couldn’t be closer to the truth at F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries, where, as owner Frank Ottomanelli puts it, “we have a small menu so we can bring the freshest ingredients to our customers.” Surely, they’ve succeeded.

And it’s not just the fresh ingredients that will keep customers coming back for more. It’s the gracious hospitality with which customers are met. While we were enjoying our burgers, Frank came over to my dining partner and I and asked if we had tried the special sauces for the fries (I’ll get to them later). We hadn’t, so he decided to bring them over to us … with an order of freshly prepared fries. You simply don’t get that kind of service at most places.

As part of a butcher dynasty, F. Ottomanelli is practically neighbors with its meat supplier, S. Ottomanelli and Sons, a Woodside institution. “The meat is always fresh. We grind it at the butcher store,” Frank says. “Our goal is to sell all the ingredients by the end of the day so that we can start fresh the next day,” he continues. At this rate, they’re bound to do just that.

I’ll break down the burgers and fries for you, part by part, so that you can have the best idea possible of what to expect from F. Ottomanelli.

F. Ottomanelli Burger

f. ottomanelli burger

The meat: It was nothing less than completely juicy and delectable. I wouldn’t say it’s the most flavorful hamburger I’ve had (Shake Shack is the gold standard in this category), but it’s a burger I’ll likely crave at some point. And, as one of the only true burger joints in the area, it’s inevitable that I’ll return for that juicy patty.

The bun: Big and puffy, as my dining partner said, but definitely delicious, the bun adds something to the burger; it isn’t an afterthought. My only concern is that the bun might seem like too much bread to those ordering the “junior” (or single patty) burger. Am I wrong? Tell me, if so.

The toppings: Here’s where I have a gripe. I ordered mustard, mayo and grilled onions to top my burger. (The burgers come standardized with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup.) I felt that there could have been more toppings to go around. What the Shake Shack and Burger Garage seem to do best is they distribute a large amount of toppings for the double burgers. I felt that Ottomanelli’s double burger received as much toppings as a single might have. Lay it on, I say! I’d rather use a knife to remove some of the toppings than feel I have a dry burger.

In other news, if you order, say, a caramelized onion burger, apparently, Ottomanelli will mix in the caramelized onion with your beef and serve up a patty with the onions embedded in it. I’ll definitely try this next time I go.

F. Ottomanelli Belgian Fries

f. ottomanelli belgian fries

The Belgian fries: Cubic and beam-like, the Belgian fries are certainly a notable part of the menu. The quality of the potatoes shows through, and their freshness is definitely an enjoyable element of the fries experience.

The fries sauces: The ones I liked best were the creamy and cheesy Rosemary Parmesan, the flavor-that’s-hard-to-place European Mayo, and spicy Chipotle. There was also Malt Vinegar, Buffalo Sauce, and Hot Sauce, which I don’t care for, but MDP enjoyed the MV.

I highly recommend the sauces, so be sure to ask for them when you go.

The service: Excellent. I think I rankled the nerves of the woman who was taking my order, but ultimately, the service was fantastic. Frank came over to our table, beaming as he talked about the new restaurant and all the press it’s already getting (Time Out New York is going to feature F. Ottomanelli in an upcoming issue!). I appreciated his time and his words.

So, even if you’re not from Queens, you definitely want to check out F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries. They’re top-of-the-notch and possibly the best in the borough. (For you Donovan’s fans, this place gives D a run for its money. And triumphs, in my opinion.)

To Ottomanelli: Please put up a website soon. Don’t let your customers rely on the totally unreliable Yelp to find and enjoy your place!

 

Wafa’s: A Dream

When I read about Wafa’s in New York, I knew I had to go there. I trust New York‘s food reviews more than any other in the entire world–much more than Yelp’s attention-deprived diatribes and certainly more than any place Time Out New York might recommend. You see, both Yelp and Time Out are largely indiscriminate. New York (Adam Platt, Robin Raisfield, and Rob Patronite, to be exact) clearly has taste, which is why I rely on it for restaurant recommendations.

Wafa’s, dishing Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine, is a small place on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, Queens. Humble and unassuming, the flavor is big at Wafa’s. BYOB is its policy, but luckily there’s a liquor store directly next door.

We started with some grape leaves and babaganoush. Stuffed with rice, onion, parsley, and tomatoes, the grape leaves were average in taste. They lacked something–flavor might be it–but were served in generous proportions. They gave us at least six grape leaves for our order. Though they paled in comparison to the babaganoush, we devoured them.

Wafa's Grape Leaves

wafa's grape leaves

The babaganoush stole the show, however. Prepared with grilled eggplant, the babaganoush had a rich, smokey flavor. Small chunks of eggplant dotted this otherwise very creamy dip. Moustache is one of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants, but I am certain that Wafa’s babaganoush gives it a run for its money.

Wafa's Babaganoush

wafa's babaganoush

As an entree, I ordered the Lamb Shawerma sandwich, which was chock full of tangy lamb, turnips, onion, lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce stuffed into a light pita bread. It was pretty delicious, but I still think that babaganoush was better.

Wafa's Lamb Shawerma

wafa's lamb shawerma

My dining partner ordered the vegetarian platter with fried cauliflower, hummus, and falafel. He’s a big fan of falafel and decidedly enjoyed Wafa’s nicely spiced rendition. The fried cauliflower was delectable, and hardly smelled or tasted pungent (as cauliflower many a time does). Wafa’s hummus is mild: light on the tahini, tasting of chickpeas and lemon juice. He couldn’t believe how full he felt after dinner. “Chickpeas are filling,” I reminded him. (I learned this from the menu at the Hummus Place.)

Wafa's Vegetarian Platter

wafa's vegetarian platter

Last but certainly not least, we sampled the baklava for dessert. When I say this is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, I mean it. The crisp filo dough was layered with walnut/pistachio filling (I thought it was walnuts, but MDP suggested pistachios). Lightly drizzled honey covered the top layer. It was to-die-for–and nearly impossible to eat with a fork. We both ended up eating the baklava with our hands.

Wafa's Baklava

wafa's baklava

You don’t need to take my advice about anything I write here on this blog. However. I implore you: ORDER THE BABAGANOUSH AND BAKLAVA. You won’t be sorry. One day later, I’m still lost in a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean reverie that is Wafa’s. Try it out some time.

Queens Comfort: Brunch

This weekend, my dining partner and I were searching for a good brunch place where we could fill our bellies on Sunday morning. We came across Queens Comfort in Astoria on Yelp, which received fairly high reviews (not that this means anything; it means nothing, really). I’m not a huge fan of Astoria, but I thought we’d give it a go anyway.

We arrived at 10 AM because both Yelp and Google stated this to be the opening hour. In fact, Queens Comfort opens at 11 AM. We killed time at a local bakery, tasting pine nut cookies and pear marzipan.

Once we sat down in Queens Comfort, we ordered hush puppies with housemade ranch dressing. The ranch didn’t have the sharp tang that so many ranch dressings have. Rather, it was light and deliciously seasoned with black pepper. The hush puppies, made of corn meal and spices, were small, but solid in flavor.

queens comfort hush puppies

hush puppies

For entrees, MDP ordered pork and grits, and I ordered a fried green tomatoes sandwich. The pork and grits was fantastic. I liked this better than my sandwich, which came with overcooked french fries. The pork was crispy and the grits were creamy. A moat of barbecue sauce lined the periphery of the plate. Yum!

queens comfort pork and grits

pork and grits

The fried green tomato sandwich had three slices of tomato on it with “chow chow” (corn drenched in tangy sauce) on top. It was assembled on a Martin’s potato bun. I thought it was good, but it lacked the crispness I imagined the fried green tomatoes would have.

queens comfort fried green tomato sandwich

fried green tomato sandwich

Last–because we hadn’t eaten enough–we ordered a Funfetti housemade doughnut. It was sugary and tasting of fried. We didn’t finish it, feeling fatty enough.

queens comfort funfetti doughnut

funfetti doughnut

Queens Comfort was pretty good, but Lowcountry (review here) is much better. We calculated that it would take only a few minutes longer to get to Lowcountry from our residence, which means that when we’re craving comfort food, we’re likely to go there.

The One and Only ShackField

SHAKE SHACK AT CITI FIELD

shakesh

Oh, Danny Meyer!

I know the Mets season may soon come to an end. Or it should. Put the people out of New York out of their misery, please.

If you happen to intentionally attend a Mets game or take a ride on the 7 toward Flushing on a game day, I highly recommend paying the ticket price at Citi Field and trying the Shake Shack aka ShackField.

The line feels shorter than Madison Square Park. Incentive enough to see the Mets?

I think so.

It’s a Love Story

First of all, the quality at ShackField is as exquisitely perfect as the original Shack’s. I am not a fan of the Upper West Side faux Shack. While the line’s length varies, my burgers have been consistently greasy. And one time they put pickles on my ShackBurger. Get with the program, UWS. ShackField is far, far superior to UWS–an impressive feat considering the fact that ShackField is, you know, at a baseball stadium and the UWS “Shack” is an actual restaurant. Props to ShackField.

Hunger-inducing photograph of Double Shack

Hunger-inducing photograph of Double Shack

Second, the limited menu is, undoubtedly, what speeds up the process. Don’t expect a regular ol’ hamburger or cheeseburger or ‘Shroom (sorry veg-heads!) at ShackField. The classic ShackBurger comes in two speeds: mild heart attack (single) and triple bypasss (double). I opted for the TB–and I’m alive to write about it.

Third, the fries are somehow more delicious than the original Shack’s. Their crusty, crunchy godliness is elevated by extra salt methinks. Thank you, ShackField.

Another Menu to Burn

The biggest problem with ShackField is the price: ShackBurgers cost $5.75; Double Shacks go for a whopping $8.75 (well worth it); and regular fries–that may be slightly less generous in portion–are $5.25.

If you’re into Concretes, don’t get your hopes up. No such thing at ShackField. Shakes, custard–yes, yes. For ice cream, try Carvel. You could take home an adorable helmet cup ($6 and change). I’m eating yogurt out of mine right now.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Remote interest in baseball? Or Queens? The 7? Check out ShackField. Also, if you’re tired of long lines at Madison Square Park’s Shack, you might prefer the Queens borough version. (I realize it will cost at least $50 for a ShackBurger.)

What’s more important: your money or your time?

And what’s most important?

The Shake Shack
Citi Field
7 train to Mets-Willets Point during game times

Bliss Bistro::Sunnyside, Queens

BLISS BISTRO

Gesturing to the street sign–46th Street/Bliss–Furry said, “Places around here get a lot of mileage out of that.”

Bliss, my friend, is the that Furry speaks of.

He’s right. They do. Nail shops, fruit stands, bars, Starbucks even (well, if they could, they would). Businesses assure us of their overwhelming bliss-filled essence. And we believe them. (We shouldn’t.)

Bliss Bistro, located on the corner of 46th and Skillman, capitalizes even more on the euphoric-sounding modifier. The restaurant’s name is written in luxurious script on the cream-and-green facade. On top of it, Bliss Bistro is French. How utterly blissful!

Don’t lose yourself in this Sunnyside reverie. The bliss stops here.

It’s a Love Story

I ordered Filet Saumon ($15?): a generous cut of delicate salmon over a ladleful of indifferently spiced lentils and grilled seasonal vegetables. The salmon nicely complemented my lentils. A light meal–exactly what I was hoping for after a week of heavy, mystery meals.

Furry tried their Coq au vin ($13), a sunken dish filled with a tender stew: red wine chicken, mashed potatoes, bacon, and mushrooms in hearty gravy. He wasn’t impressed; not bliss impressed anyway. I found it interesting. Bacon’s inclusion in any meal always grabs me by the taste buds and forces me to slow down to allow the melting fatness to fill me. (Don’t deny it. You’re hungry right now.)

Waitstaff was total Love Story: attentive, nice, prompt.

Another Menu to Burn

Taking advantage of a dry night, we sat in the restaurant’s garden. Bliss Bistro’s interior is moodily lit by candles and waning sunlight through windows. Round tables with lawn furniture lined the fenced-in patio. The smell of burning Citronella wafted over our table, chairs. This is lovely, I thought, as I raised my Blue Moon to the clear blue sky.

And then the mosquitoes landed. Furry took several hits on his arms, while I walked away with only one bite. “Isn’t Queens supposed to be better about mosquitoes?” Furry asked rhetorically. Agreed. Isn’t it the pigs we have to worry about in Queens?

We rushed out of there. Without dessert. What’s up with the mosquito infestation, Bliss Bistro?

Also, a table behind us featured two older ladies discussing important topics (sounded like health care, could have been knitting club) while slamming back Cosmopolitans and other lady-like drinks. So, I’m not sure who their clientele is, but I’m concerned about joining their regular crowd.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Should you persuade me to try Bliss Bistro again, I’d opt for indoor seating and brunch, perhaps. I’m always fond of bistro brunches–Balthazar among the very most bliss-filled.

I can handle mediocre food, but I prefer to eat and not be eaten during dinner.

Bliss Bistro
4520 Skillman (at 46th Street)
Sunnyside, Queens
46th Street stop on 7 train