For those unfamiliar with it, Long Island City is a section in Queens, which is one of New York’s five boroughs and where I make my home. Long Island City has a nice view of Manhattan, some great industrial architecture, and some surprising art spaces. Now it has a surprisingly good diner.
Most diners are known for being open seven days a week, dawn to dusk, and for serving affordable, similar and basic American comfort food; meat loaf, burgers, with Spinach pie about the most exotic thing on the menu. M. Wells serves foie gras for breakfast and the brunch special included “brains.”
M. Wells Diner is French Canadian. And it's only open from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., and is closed Monday. And now, it's become fashionably trendy. I got there on a freezing weekend morning for brunch, and found a line out of the door. Despite the long cold walk to get there, believe me, it was worth it.
The management has created a restaurant that is cheerful, inventive and inviting. I managed to get a seat at the counter, right in front of the grill. Watching the short order cooks in the midst of action, with their Francophilia linguistics back and forth, I was in heaven.
The coffee was wonderfully hot, and I had a biscuit to start, served with some sort of strawberry butter, delicious and surprisingly light. I didn't go for the breakfast foie gras or the brains (maybe next time), settling for pork and potato studded hash, along with poached eggs served with brown butter and hollandaise sauce. As they say in France, "so good, with no guilt, just a bit," which may sound better if you actually heard it rather than read it in French, but here goes; "se si bon, sans culpabilité, juste un peu peut-être."
After finishing my main course, I briefly considered trying their “tourtiere,” a meat pie with pork and veal. But given the crowd at the entrance was two to three bodies deep, I decided to do a quick dessert. Maple pie... fine, a little warm and not at all sickenly sweet. Very good and très Canadien!
Below a shot of Maine shrimp with mayo, Oh Canada!
Hollandaise on the fly....whisk, whisk!
M. Wells was a kick. Watching chef Hugue Dufour orchestrate his team out of the cacophony of weekend traffic was especially fun. Wearing a shirt with the title “Sous Chef” (from his days at Montreal’s Au Pied De Cochon), he stood front and center, barking out his orders but always composed. His diner was a real inspiration for me; the food, the smells, their ability to make a Hollandaise sauce to order, and most of all, their inviting and professional attitude. I am going back, cold or snow. And if you experience M. Wells, my bet is you’ll do the same. Go, try it, eh!
I found a hockey rink for the chef, just a few blocks away!