A record-setting 49 vendors served the world's fare to the more than 700 eager participants who braved the elements to take part in Queens Taste 2014 at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in Flushing. Hosted by the Queens Economic Development Corporation, the twelfth annual gastronomic extravaganza included performances by a Big Apple Circus clown, two tables of World's Fair memorabilia from the Queens Historical Society and The Port Authority of NY & NJ, and special Mets ticket offers.
Queens Taste 2014 video
The Taste welcomed several newcomers this year, including Pa-Nash, a new "Euro Soul" eatery in Rosedale that fuses Mediterranean and Moroccan cooking with Caribbean and Soul Food influences. The Fig-glazed Chicken Wings, though tasty, were not warm enough to allow my full appreciation of them. The meatball and the Herb-Crusted Lump Crab Cakes, on the other hand, were warmer, and, thanks to the savory Moroccan spices, hotter.
Another newbie, Murphy's Lobster Grill, fared very well at its Queens Taste initiation. Michael Patrick Murphy's Sunnyside pub received the Best Appetizer award for its Oysters on the Half Shell. In addition to its victorious raw oysters, Murphy's Bar offered Steamed Mussels and Mac 'n' Cheese.
Also making a triumphant debut was Zenon Taverna of Astoria. The Greco-Cypriot eatery earned Best Entrée honors for its Mediterranean Octopus, Lamb Meatballs, and Taramosalata (ταραμοσαλάτα). While the char-grilled meatballs—seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh garlic, onion, and parsley—may have been slightly oversalted and a bit chewy, they were delicious nonetheless. The Taramosalata (carp roe, or taramas, mixed with mashed potatoes, lemon, and onion, served in a phyllo cup) was a tasty meze as well. The veritable standout, however, was Zenon's grilled octopus. Perfectly seasoned with oregano, pepper, and bay leaves, then drizzled with olive oil, vinegar, and lemon, this preparation was tender, moist, and unquestionably deserving of its award.
Dutch Kills Centraal, a Long Island City gastropub, marked its first appearance with housemade Chicken Liver Pâté on Crostini and Deviled Eggs with Bacon—some of my favorite picnic fare.
It was also the first time round for Bill's Balls, a purveyor of artisanal meatballs from Astoria. Bill tailors his spherical concoctions to suit various localities, such as Astoria, Mulberry Street, Upstate, and even Philly. To honor the venue of this year's event, owners Bill Morris and Daniela Del Giorno rolled out The Flushing—a pork dumpling ball served with Sweet Thai Chili sauce and and cabbage-scallion slaw.
DF Mavens completed the list of successful 2014 premieres with its dairy-free frozen desserts. The chill, non-dairy Salted Praline (soy milk), Mint Chocolate Chip (almond milk), and Mango (coconut milk) scooped up the award for Best Dessert.
It was a pleasure to see a number of returning favorites as well.
Though it failed to receive an award, Chef Mina Newman's Braised Short Ribs from Christos Steak House in Astoria represented perfection on a plastic plate. Tender, succulent, and seasoned just right, this marvelous viand melted in my mouth.
The Dog and Duck gastropub of Sunnyside served sliders again this year. I still miss the duck confit from 2012! Next year, Padraigh?
Woodside's F. Ottomanelli Burger & Belgian Fries returned with more burgers with which to defend its 2013 Best Entrée title.
La Adelita was back with more good Mexican eats.
Uncle Peter's of Jackson Heights spooned up its Seafood Salad Supreme of lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, and avocado.
The sport of kings is celebrated in Queens at Elmhurst's La Fusta. Holding the reins at his Argentinean homage to horse racing (fusta means rider's crop) is Stephen Tatarian, one of the Taste's most engaging restaurateurs. This year, he trotted out skewers of skirt steak, grape tomatoes, portobellos, and sausage.
And what would a visit to this event be without a bite of the signature sandwich from Leo's Latticini? In addition to its famous hero of peppered ham, salami, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, and mushrooms, Mama's of Corona (as it's known locally) reprised its Caprese Salad (fresh mozzarella with basil, tomatoes, and olive oil), Prosciutto Bread, and Biscotti.
Flushing's Magna Ristorante, another perennial favorite (awarded for Best Entrée in 2012), returned with a pair of tasty pastas, and introduced a highly popular dish of sweet, spicy peppers with ricotta and mozzarella inside.
After last year's success, McClure's Pickles of Brooklyn and Detroit was back with more brined bits. The Sweet Spicy, my favorite, packed plenty of heat—perhaps even more so than did the Spicy.
The beverages seemed to include fewer wines this year. SquareWine & Spirits returned as one of the few vino vendors.
Having sampled the aforementioned Bill's Balls, it was only fair that I tried Pat's balls again for dessert.
Pat Pilla describes her cheesecake balls as "a little bite of heaven and an explosion of flavor in your mouth." Her company, Chee'Bonnet, is one of the many successful ventures launched at QEDC's Entrepreneur Space.
And finally, Ridgewood's venerable Rudy's Bakery and Café, famous for its Süßigkeiten since 1934. For this year's Taste, pastry chef Cristina Nastasi prepared Mini Cupcakes, a seasonal Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp, and Oatmeal Marshmallow Sandwiches.
"A great time was had by all," declared QEDC Executive Director Seth Bornstein. "The food, the beverages, the networking, and the upbeat atmosphere were simply fantastic. I'm already looking forward to next year, and I am extremely grateful to our lead sponsor, Fairway Market."
Queens Taste 2014
Tuesday, 29 April 2014, 6:00 P.M. till 9:00 P.M.