What We Ate and Drank at Queens Taste 2017
“Takes some napkins!” were the first words I heard when stepping onto the floor of the recent Queens Taste 2017 event at the New York Hall of Science—a solid sign that I was in store for a surplus of food made from the heart. I turned my head to see the source of the voice but my sightline was met instead with an all-smiles janitor dancing through the crowd, his broom as his date, to the latino-jazz of the Afro-Latineers, who provided the soundtrack for the night.
Turns out Via Vai, located in Astoria, was the restaurant offering up the kind of beautiful, oversized all-beef meatballs that mandate a napkin warning, all marinating in a simple and fresh sauce made of tomato, onion and garlic. "That’s it. That’s all you need," explained the Roman born-and-raised chef and restaurant owner Antonio Morichini. He was right.
Next in my mouth was a slider from F. Ottomanelli Burgers, a retro-inspired Woodside-based burger joint related to the long-standing Ottomanelli butcher shop (which supplies its meat). I loved the heat and juiciness of the jalapeno burger, served to me with the mantra “The only way is the best way!” and a giant grin. Then I had a hit-the-spot trio of meatballs, pulled pork and wings from Neirs Tavern & Grill, which has been a staple of Woodhaven for 180 years (and the location for several scenes in the mob movie Goodfellas).
The handmade Thai-style crepe dumplings filled with peanut and turnip from Thai Rock in Rockaway Beach were a nice break from meat, though they were packed with so much flavor and juiciness that even the most steadfast of carnivores would be pleased. At one point, a very tall, handsome man in a suit walked up to me and handed me a plate of food with the words “Try this,” then walked away—a scene that felt ripped from a foodie version of Twin Peaks. The mystery man was from Nest, a restaurant in Richmond Hill that offers a Chinese, Caribbean and South Asian-inspired cuisine. I enjoyed the perfect amount of heat in the green curry shrimp, which was served on soft roti.
My first sweet stop was for a perfectly moist and sweet (and hued, thanks to a stunning bright pink cake) hibiscus-infused cupcake from Glendale-based Mahalo New York Bakery, which offers desserts featuring Hawaiian and Guianese flavors. I taste-travelled to Cairo next, via Milène Jardine’s artisanal chocolates. Milène’s five chocolate flavors are each inspired by a place in the world that has greatly moved her, and showcase ingredients from that area. The Cairo chocolate, named “Goddess,” honors the female leaders of ancient and modern Egypt with the mint and hibiscus tea of the pharaohs found in the Nile Valley.
Dozens more restaurants and drink purveyors offered samples to the crowd of hundreds who came out to the event, and all were invited to explore the New York Hall of Science museum during the event. Proceeds from the night went to the Queens Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit that works to to attract, create, and maintain jobs in the borough.
As the sun started to set and I made my way back to the train, I felt like I found the Queens Taste afterparty, hosted by several street vendors selling grilled meats and fresh sweets along the pathway. It was a welcome reminder that the diverse flavors of Queens are available in abundance every day, everywhere—not just at a special event.