Sunday, February 8, 2009

American Pie

In Queens, the term "all-American" begs emphasis on the word all. As the nation's most diverse county, Americans of every nationality live here. Anyone wanting proof just needs to walk down Roosevelt Avenue. The street runs under the elevated 7 tracks, and the ambience is more gritty than urban romantic. But venturing under the grimy, rattling train tracks will reward you with an international smorgasbord. In Jackson Heights, Roosevelt Avenue is home to Colombian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Chinese-Dominican, Korean, Bangladeshi, Tibetan, and Pakistani food vendors. This weekend, Adeet and I decided to go west on Roosevelt to Woodside, where Irish and Filipino flavors accent the neighborhood.

We started with Irish breakfast at the Stop-Inn, a nondescript diner outside the 61st Street train station. We sat at the counter, crowded by trays of danishes and muffins. Adeet ordered "The Traditional," or what I might call "The Widow Maker." His breakfast included a quartet of meats: Irish bacon, sausage, black pudding, and white pudding. This protein binge was balanced by a half plate of hash browns and a stack of buttered toast. I ordered the "Irish Special," which came with sausage, fries, and baked beans. I added grilled tomato to give the meal a hint of nutritional merit.

I can usually visualize my food before it arrives, but this meal's presentation startled me. Four small sausages framed a mountain of french fries, while slices of charred but pale tomato perched bravely on top. I know it's foolish to long for a robust tomato in February, so I didn't judge the anemic fruit too harshly. I am not shy around french fries, but the sheer quantity of chips proved daunting. However, they did make a handy mop for soaking up my side of baked beans. So, what was the star of this dish? The sausage—crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. "Creamy" doesn't usually spring to mind as a qualifier for sausages, but these had a surprisingly milky taste. After I abandoned the fries, I kept enjoying "just one more bite" of sausage. The meat redeemed the meal.

After brunch, we crossed over to the 61st Street Deli, an Irish grocery crammed with canned baked beans, Barry's tea, HP sauce, and a deli case stocked with bangers and Irish butter. The wall of Cadbury products got my attention, and I ended up buying Smarties, far superior to M&Ms of any color.

We headed east on Roosevelt Avenue and turned onto 69th Street when we spotted a Krystal's Pastry sign. Bakery smells wafted into the street, and we watched hungrily as men stacked fresh buns on cooling racks. I immediately wanted one, but this was a kitchen, not a store. We turned back onto Roosevelt and found the customer entrance for Krystal's Cafe and Pastry Shop. Inside, tables full of families enjoyed their lunches while watching a Filipino T.V. show featuring young women who happily, and vigorously, shimmied around a room. Adeet had trouble looking away, but when we turned our attention to the pastry case, we settled on two savory buns (pork, chicken) to take home for dinner. At $1.50 a bun, this meal cost less than most street food.

Our last stop on Roosevelt was Phil-Am Foods, a Filipino grocery store. The checkout line took up a whole aisle, and we squeezed past other shoppers stocking up with baskets full of groceries. I was intrigued by bottles of banana sauce and bags of "Porky," pork-flavored snack chips. But I bought suman, a dessert made with cassava and brown sugar and wrapped in a banana leaf. As I waited in line, the middle-aged Filipina woman behind me sang along to the song on the radio: "American Pie." I caught myself singing along to the refrain. It was the perfect ending to an all-American day, Queens style.

Stop Inn
60-22 Roosevelt Avenue • Queens

61st Street Deli
39-67 61st Street • Queens

Krystal's Cafe & Pastry Shop
69-02 Roosevelt Avenue • Queens

Phil-Am Foods
70-02 Roosevelt Avenue • Queens

photos by Adeet Deshmukh


VX†PP said...

Splendid. How were the savory buns?

sandhya said...

The Irish shop sounds fabulous. Next time you go, make sure you pick up Chocolate covered Digestive biscuits. They're yummy!