I have run out of things to grill. Okay, not completely. There might still be time to do the butterflied lamb (red wine, soy, garlic, fresh mint, rosemary – let it bathe all day then sear on hot coals). But fall represents change, and crisp cool weekends, bike rides, subway adventures and if you live in New York, that means a world of hand-molded noodle delights.
I happened upon one this past Friday enroute to my usual ride (#LGA #ORD #commutermarriage), where I hop off the F train and grab the Q70 bus to Laguardia, which happens to be the best kept secret in the city. $2.75 for a Metrocard swipe or $50 for a car. You choose. And public transportation is a step in the right direction against climate change. But I digress.
I was running early for my flight and hankering for a slice, so I slipped out of the Jackson Heights station in search of dough and cheese. That’s where I encountered the congenially named Friends Corner. The indecipherable lettering on the plastic sign indicated some sort of outer borough treat, the kind seasoned food reviewers are always touting and I never seem to have time to find. I walked in to explore.
Assuaging any doubt this place was authentic, the community board by the vat of tea boasted a Tibetan Film Festival and the Queens Sherpa Soccer Association tourney. I ordered a side dish called The Momo Sizzler and took a seat in the tiny six-table space. The young woman behind the counter glanced at me with bored disinterest. A Chinese woman with a rolling suitcase of fake leather goods plied her trade with a college couple, who were clearly interested. I waited. And waited some more. I am so accustomed to city dumpling joints where your order is slapped down, consumed and paid for in 3 minutes flat. Could they be handcrafting some sort of delicacy in the back of the open kitchen? I didn’t even see a chef on premise! What kind of alternative universe had I entered? And would I make my flight?
What arrived at my table, in a steaming cast iron hot plate, was the most flavorful eight balls of dumpling goodness I have encountered maybe ever. I hesitate to say dumpling, because they almost had a ravioli consistency, stuffed with seasoned ground meat that was more chopped steak than burger. The wonton-like noodle that surrounded the beef was tender and chewy, flecked with bits of chive and the whole dish was awash in a boiling tomato-based broth heated to a 10 with an orange chili pepper sauce. When the dish had cooled enough that my glasses un-fogged, I dug in.
My collegiate neighbors, the only other diners in the joint, gulped down steamed momos coupled with laughter over milky teas and bought two pleather wallets and an imitation Gucci ballcap from the Chinese lady. I consumed my plate of momos, savoring each and every bite as if I had personally discovered Shangri La, Habanero-induced sweat dripping freely off my forehead.
Sated, I boarded the Q70 and continued my journey to the airport. In a few hours my wife and I would be celebrating our anniversary. 14 years commuting between New York and Chicago. Martinis and sangria would be on the menu. People marvel that we keep this up, but travel is a state of mind. I once flew 9,000 miles for a plate of steamed ginger fish. The planet has grown so beautifully small that you need never leave the ground to savor an out of this world experience.