More than 600 hungry foodies rocketed their way to Flushing Meadows Corona Park for this year's Queens Taste at the New York Hall of Science, a vestige of the 1964 World's Fair. With 66 tables showcasing 56 different purveyors of "the best food on the planet," the Queens Economic Development Corporation launched the thirteenth edition of its annual gustatory event on 12 May 2015—a stellar occasion in which to meet and eat.
This year, winning entries were chosen by popular vote; everyone who completed a ballot helped determine The People's Choice of Best Appetizer, Best Entrée, Best Dessert, and Most Refreshing Beverage.
Queens Taste 2015 video
Queens Taste 2015 welcomed several newcomers including Dan Frieber's carrot-based Tango Chile Sauce, an organic, piquant condiment with the potential to have myriad food partners. The hot sauce certainly accompanied tortilla chips well.
One of the sweet surprises of the evening was the highly addictive Amarena Fabbri. This delightful treat, made from wild black cherries, traces its origins to 1905—in Portomaggiore, Italy, not Queens. How dolce it is!
After its triumphant debut last year, Zenon Taverna returned armed, so to speak, with its famous Grilled Octopus (judged Best Entrée in 2014), along with Koupepia (stuffed grape leaves). Stuffed with rice, and seasoned with tomato, mint, onion, parsley, and fresh lemon juice, Zenon's koupepia would have typically contained chopped pork—an ingredient excluded from these samples in order to include vegetarians.
Chef Julio Velasquez's superb Steak Tartare from Bayside's Aperitif was the People's Choice of Best Appetizer—a rightly deserved distinction for this well prepared classic.
Chef Hugue Dufour of M.Wells in Long Island City rolled out an additional round of raw meat. His delicious spherical servings of Angus Beef Tartare were accompanied by simple potato chips.
Vinny Accardi's first Queens Taste was also a celebration of his first anniversary as chef and owner of Room 55 in Glendale. (His 5 May graduation fifteen years ago from the Culinary Institute of America was the inspiration for the restaurant's name.) Viewers of Hell's Kitchen may recognize him from the reality show's eighth season, in which he appeared as a contestant (video). Vinny's Taste debut featured Chilled Cucumber Greek Yogurt Soup, Pork Belly and Fresh Ham (seasoned with honey and pickled fennel), and Milk Chocolate Mousse S'mores (with housemade crème de marshmallow). The pork's sweet seasoning yielded flavors vaguely reminiscent of Chinese five-spice.
The Deconstructed Chicken Caesar Salad from LIC's Dutch Kills Centraal left me feeling like an outsider to an inside joke. This unusual diversion consisted of a romaine purée at its base, upon which a morsel of salt-cured chicken thigh, a garlic crouton, shredded Parmesan cheese, Caesar dressing, and bits of crumbled egg yolk were stacked. While a little jest such as this was probably meant to amuse my gueule, it did little to humor my palate.
Mulan, a contemporary Asian restaurant situated on the second floor of Queens Crossing in Flushing, served attractive chicken patties. Because my sample was cold, however, I was unable enjoy it fully.
Visitors to the Hall of Science witnessed an astronomical gastronomical line for one of the stars of this year's event. Bareburger's sliders—mouthwatering organic, grassfed chopped beef, topped with blue cheese and bacon jam, unified harmoniously in a bun—earned this Queens-centric chainlet the People's Choice accolade for Best Entrée. And yes, these delicious, all-natural little burgers were worth the wait.
Fairway served three types of slider: Grilled Chicken, Flank Steak, and Buffalo Chicken with Gorgonzola.
Just to the left of the sliders, tender, succulent Beef Tenderloin beckoned. Topped with a squirt of Fairway BBQ sauce, this bite-sized, perfectly cooked cut of beef melted in my mouth.
Of course, a slider from Woodside's F. Ottomanelli Burger & Belgian Fries was a must. It was excellent, as always.
Also from Woodside, La Adelita served tasty Fried Tacos.
One can always count on Leo's Latticini to serve Mama's Special signature sandwich, Caprese Salad, and a number of other perennial favorites. This year, Mama's of Corona (as it's known locally) introduced its version of Pizza Rustica, a delectable quiche-like pie, made with a variety of meats and cheeses. Traditionally served at Easter, pizza rustica can be nevertheless enjoyed any time of year. While there are many variants throughout Italy, Mama's is based on a family recipe from Bari. It was a welcome addition to their annual offerings.
"Flushing's hidden gem" came out of hiding with a prominent table position this time around. It was nearly impossible to miss Magna Ristorante's Letizia Barbetta and Eleonora Greco as they dished up their sapid Chicken Piccata (with lemon, capers, and artichokes) and Penne (with cheese, tomatoes, and artichokes).
Although I had nearly reached my point of satiety, an irresistible broiled salmon-shrimp dish from Flushing's Piccolo Sogno reeled me in. "Real Italian" Chef Maurizio's savory aquatic duo, enlivened by a sauce of white wine, lemon, and garlic, was truly a "little dream."
Jamaica's O Lavrador returned with more tasty Iberian fare. For this year's event, Chef Fernando Gomes prepared Seafood Paelha, along with Baked Clams and Bacon. Owing to a food allergy, alas, I was limited to sampling the latter only. Served in clam shells, the rich combination of mollusc and pig was satisfying but sinful.
Food is merely one aspect of Neir's Tavern's considerable allure. Established in 1829, "the most famous bar you've never heard of" is also one of the oldest in New York. Before it was featured in Goodfellas and Tower Heist, this historic Woodhaven tavern was purportedly the venue of Mae West's first performance. At its Queens Taste premiere, Neir's served Cotton Candy-flavored Wings, Saddle-Up Wings, Boneless Chicken Tender Bites, and Burger Bites. I skipped the first one, but tried the rest; the heat of the Saddle-Up wings made them my favorite.
Redwood Deli of Forest Hills was back with a tasty offering that delivered appreciable heat: Spicy Chicken Tacos.
Hoping to repeat its 2014 success, Murphy's Bar of Sunnyside returned with raw oysters (judged Best Appetizer last year), and introduced a crustacean variant of a common sandwich. The Blue Point Oysters were titillatingly fresh, and the Lobster BLT—lobster, applewood-smoked bacon, mesclun, and tomato—was uncommonly delicious.
Ginger is a marvelous digestive aid, and Bruce Cost's unfiltered sparking beverage provides a refreshing way to enjoy it. Made with fresh ginger, sweetened with pure cane sugar, this natural ginger ale contains no extracts or oils. It's the perfect drink for those who gormandize at events such as this.
There were five flavors from which to choose: Original, Jasmine Tea, Pomegranate with Hibiscus, Passion Fruit with Turmeric, and the 66-calorie Bruce Cost 66.
I've been a fan of Drink More Good's old-fashioned soda syrups ever since I tried the Ginger Ale last year. Founder Jason Schuler handcrafts his syrups with half the constituent sugar of mainstream sodas. He uses neither high-fructose corn syrup nor preservatives; his ingredients are truly more good. On this occasion, I tasted Jason's Lemon-Lime—a syrup that blends the juice of fresh, organic lemons and limes (zested and pressed by hand) with coriander, allspice, and lavender. Mixed with seltzer, it was a "sprightly" alternative to bottled and canned fizz.
Other beverages included a variety of hard ciders, beer, wine, and mixed drinks.
LIC's SquareWine & Spirits dispensed a couple of wines along with a spirituous iced tea. Michael Hesslein poured a Verdicchio and a Rhône blend (from Washington), while Maegan Kovatch "tead" off with an Arnold Palmer spiked with Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka.
LIC's Beija Flor showed lots of spirit with its sweet Caipirinha, the cachaça-based national cocktail of Brazil.
Queens Courage Old Tom gin, distilled in Astoria, was a key ingredient in the 2015 People's Choice of Most Refreshing Beverage.
On to the sweets …
The lovely little cakes and pastries from Rose House at Queens Crossing in Flushing were as delicious to the taste buds as they were to the eyes.
Sam Friedman, The Paleo Factory's "Chief Caveman," produces Mud from "ingredients that come from the earth." He blends coconut milk (as a base), cashews (for texture), a flavor element—Madagascar beans (vanilla), raw cacao powder (chocolate), or bananas—and dates (as a sweetener) to yield a pleasingly smooth consistency between those of soft-serve ice cream and mousse.
Served chilled, this modern Stone Age dessert was delicious and not overly sweet. (The Chocolate was especially good.) Here's Mud in your mouth!
My chocolate mini-Bundt cake from Bundts NYC was not quite so moist as it looked.
Having scooped up the award for Best Dessert at their first Queens Taste appearance last year, DF Mavens sought to defend their 2014 title with three more dairy-free frozen desserts: New Orleans Salted Praline (soy milk), Mint Almond Cookie (almond milk), and Key Lime Creme (coconut milk). (The flavors were best enjoyed separately.) Their efforts, however, did not garner the top honor on this occasion.
The Nachspeisen of Rudy's Bakery & Café, a German stalwart in Ridgewood, earned their just deserts in the 2015 People's Choice ballot. Pastry Chef Cristina Nastasi's winning Süßigkeiten included Berry Mascarpone Shortcake, Chocolate Hazelnut Cake, and Mallomars. I had fortuitously saved this year's Best Dessert for last.
Rudy's and Cristina afforded a delightfully sweet finish to the Taste!
Another year, another great celebration of the wide variety of flavors that enrich New York's most diverse borough. "The best food on the planet" served at Queens Taste 2015 in the New York Hall of Science was, dare I say, out of this world. As ever, my sincerest thanks to Seth Bornstein and Rob MacKay.
Queens Taste 2015
Tuesday, 12 May 2015, 6:00 P.M. till 9:00 P.M.