I'm guilty of outer-borough-itis: fear or reluctance of traveling out of Manhattan (also see "laziness").
Over the 4 years I lived in New York, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I traveled out of borough to hang out. But what about all the amazing food in Brooklyn! The killer Chinese in Flushing?! Indian in Jackson Heights??! I know…I'm ashamed I didn't take full advantage of how close I was to so many ethnic enclaves, rich with culture and good eats. On my last visit to NYC, I decided to make up for my younger self's shortcomings and said yes to waking up early (gasp, the horror) and trekking out to Long Island City (that is in Queens, people) for brunch at M. Wells.
If the 7 train is running normally, it's actually a pretty straightforward shot from the city -- the Hunters Point stop lets you out right at the corner where the diner is. However, if you're dealing with an abnormal weekend service schedule, and not paying attention because you're too busy yammering away with an old friend…it may take you a bit longer to get to your destination. A few detours and a shuttle bus ride later, we arrived at M. Wells, a gleaming "gastrodiner" that is swiftly curing Manhattanites of outer-borough-itis with its quirky charm and food so good not even threat of a burning building could tear New York Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton away from his plate of Escargot & Bone Marrow.
Hugue Dufour is the man behind creative gourmet comfort dishes like Seafood Cobbler with bechamel, gruyere, and biscuits, Pickled Pork Tongue, and soup du jour served with foie gras. Prior to opening M. Wells with his wife, Sarah Obraitis, Dufour cooked at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. His food reflects an influence of Québécois cuisine…and a love of flavorful animal fat.
The vibe of the place is foodie-hipster meets the Peach Pit. The food is homey and full of soul.
We started with a side of homemade Biscuits slathered with sweet-tart Rhubarb Jam. The buttery biscuits tasted like someone's Southern grandma made them that morning.
We had a hard time deciding what to get -- everything sounded so good. Our server sold us on the Egg-Sausage Sandwich, topped with cheddar, tomato, and house-pickled jalapeno, all squished inside a fatty English muffin. The sausage had some nice seasoning it, but the English muffin was a bit dense. Next time, I'd try one of the more out-there items on the menu.
The Gravlax Pie on the other hand…total WIN. A flaky, butter-rich pot pie filled with cubes of roasted potatoes, draped with a thick blanket of gravlax and smothered in crème fraiche. Spoonfuls of salmon roe sat glittering on top, spilling over into gorgeous pools of salmon-ness around the plate. An artful drizzle of pale green parsley oil, bits of dill, and pretty purple chive blossoms decorated the dish.
Mercifully devoid of any hint of Jell-O Pudding, the Banana Cream Pie was sweet and simple. Slices of ripe banana, freshly whipped cream, and homemade crust. While were waiting for our table, we actually watched the pie crusts being made. Based on the insanely mouthwatering scent of baking butter coming out of that oven, we had high expectations for the pie. We wished the crust was as divine as that of the pastry from the Gravlax Pie…alas, not so. It was on the tough side, and oddly, didn't have that rich butter flavor we were expecting. Sad times.
After our meal, we decided to make the most of our field trip and swung by 5 Pointz, which is just a few blocks away (down the street from MoMA PS1). If you haven't been there before, 5 Pointz is absolutely worth checking out. It's a 200,000 square foot warehouse that has been turned into a legal graffiti building/outdoor art space. Street artist from around the world have painted the walls here. It's a cool scene, especially on a nice day when you can watch artists doing their thing and maybe even stage an early 80's style hip hop photo shoot of your own.