You may be familiar with disco fries (gravy and mozzarella) a.k.a. New York poutine, or even Irish nachos (corned beef, bacon, cheese, onions) but panda fries are an anomaly that have been taunting me on Due Fratelli’s online menu for nearly a year whenever I get the wrong-headed urge to order neighborhood pizza (I swear the prosciutto is mangled country ham). Why panda? I still don’t know; there’s nothing particularly Chinese or black-and-white about them. The combination of vodka sauce and mozzarella is uniquely Italian-American (and I want to say Northeastern since I’d never encountered it prior to living in NYC, though I don’t think that’s true) and is a perfectly delicious tangy and creamy addition to fried potatoes, though not a common delicacy. In fact, I can only see two other pizza places serving panda fries: Grandma Rose’s in Williamsburg and Granos in Astoria. Maybe there’s a connection? I was slightly embarrassed to order them but am now emboldened.
Argentine pizza seems to come and go around this part of Queens, and sometimes it’s not obvious from the outside that a pizzeria is slinging fugazzetta and empanadas in addition to pepperoni and garlic knots. What makes a pizza Argentine? My brief encounter in Buenos Aries has led me to believe that it’s a thick, bready crust but not quite deep dish, a molten blanket of mozzarella, a fondness for whole green olives and roasted red peppers, and the occasional addition of faina, a chickpea pancake that gets draped over the pizza like a triangular carb cap.
Pizza La Boca opened a few months ago, right in the strip where competing Uruguayan bakeries La Nueva and La Gran Uruguaya reign and sell lasagna-like slices too. I would’ve assumed it was run by South Americans if I hadn’t decided to pick up a pizza ordered online (total nightmare in Jackson Heights fyi–restaurants on Seamless and Eat24 don’t know how to use the services, send delivery automatically, and instruct you to just call, which defeats the purpose of living in 2015 and never having to use cash or interact with humans again) and discovered the staff was South Asian. Eventually, the fugazzetta (onion and more onion) I ordered emerged from the oven, a strange rendition I discovered once home. Yes, there was a shit-ton of cheese and onions sprinkled with dried oregano, but the addition of tomato sauce (just a little) isn’t traditional and the sliced onions appeared to be added at the end rather than getting the necessary char to sweeten them up and tone them down. And yet, it still served its purpose as Sunday hangover stomach-padding.
I really need to see these Doritos, available with a $10 or more donation to the It Gets Better Project, up close and personal. Blue chips!
In semi-related news, Burger King is finally bringing black buns to the US (for Halloween, duh) but at this point do we really care?
Like black holes of the international chain restaurant scene, Burger King and KFC suck up all of the black bun attention. Now Hard Rock Cafe is playing me-too, and quite charmingly, with a series of “locally inspired burgers,” unique to particular branches, one which happens to employ a black roll.
Universal Citywalk’s offering in Osaka, the eho-maki burger, is meant to mimic the girthy, un-sliced good luck sushi eaten on February 3. It uses seven ingredients “to represent the 7 gods of happiness,” which include an 8 oz patty, onion, tomato, lettuce, monterey jack cheese and bbq and doro sauce (the Worcestershire-esque sauce served with takoyaki and okonomiyaki in Osaka).
Apparently, the roll must be eaten in silence while making a wish for the new year, which kind of contradicts the whole hard-rocking concept.
Sake Bar by Zabb. A basement izakaya/sushi den popping up in many neighborhoods might be no big thing, but Japanese food is scarce in Jackson Heights and a drinking (and snacking) place open until 4am that isn’t geared toward carousing Latino men is huge. I was excited. There’s nothing wildly esoteric being served in the slight space, but you’ll do just fine with grilled mackerel, fried baby octopus and chicken gizzards, takoyaki, as well as some of those cross-cultural pastas that are practically Italian if it weren’t for flourishes like seaweed or roe, plus a sushi bar and specialty rolls like the one I’m just noticing now that combines shrimp tempura with pineapple and mozzarella that should’ve been calling my name if I’d been paying attention to the other side of the menu. Sake Bar is affiliated with upstairs Zabb Elee (and the naming convention couldn’t be more Thai) the restaurant with the distinction of being the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Jackson Heights. Next door Playground Thai, which I’d never heard of, was completely packed on a Sunday night and made me wonder who goes to Playground when Zabb is right there? If it hasn’t already been done, this is crying out for an article. Who goes to the lesser restaurant when competitors are in close proximity?
Smorgasburg Queens. The very definition of barely blogged is stopping by a food fair and only trying one thing. I was hot and uninspired (eating and sweating outdoors isn’t really my thing unless I’m in Southeast Asia) sorry. RAR Bar is perhaps better known for its Elvis croissant, but I wanted something more, er, delicate and less sweet, you know, like a bacon jam sticky bun. The less sweet thing was too true. In fact, the dense and lardy pastry was fully savory despite what looked like candied bits of bacon and what they’d call pork floss if sold at one of those Singaporean or Malaysian hawker stalls. I love pork floss and I’m still not sure if I liked this or not.
Lobster Joint. And once again being a hypocrite, I made a big production about wanting whole lobster only this weekend, no rolls, and then went and ate a roll on a whim (after walking from Smorgasburg in a daze and pit-stopping at Transmitter Brewing for a tasting). This was a satisfying New England-style roll, light-handed with the mayonnaise (which I’m pretty sure contained tarragon) and extraneous crunchy additions i.e. celery. I also ate fries, this time waffle, for unexpected late-night dinner at The Randolph. That might be embarrassing under any other circumstances than a three-day weekend.
Fritzl’s Lunch Box. Ok, technically I ate this delicious mess of a cheeseburger before Labor Day weekend. It’s notable enough, though, to not let it get lost in the wilds of Instagram. The use of strong cheddar instead of American cheese (my disgusting preference) tells you it’s not haute junk food, as does the aioli and super mustardy relish, which probably made me seem like a maniac when I asked for mustard before tasting. It’s not precious either. Why there was never more than one other table occupied during my 8-9pm solo stint in the back garden is a mystery.