M Wells, the new diner in Long Island City from Hugue Dufuor, an alum of Montreal's famous Au Pied de Cochon, has a lot going for it. With so much positive buzz while still only serving a limited breakfast/lunch menu, they are seemingly poised to become a destination spot in Queens once dinner service begins. Currently, they're only open Monday-Friday from 7-3.
Yesterday I hopped on the 7 for the quick ride to LIC. It was obscenely hot and humid, and sweat dripped from my elbows onto the ground as I turned a corner off the subway stop and nearly ran into the unmarked diner. Still sweating, I sat down at the counter and feebly tried to towel myself off with paper napkins while I chugged water as fast as it could be refilled.
The menu contains a little bit of everything, but for the most part can be characterized as classic diner food with some unique additions riffing off of some classic French and American dishes (possibly French Canadian as well, but I'm not sure if I'm qualified to make that pronouncement). At first glance, "chicken skin fried chicken" ($9) was impossible to resist (though I was torn between that, a classic beef tartar, a pork terrine and pork tongue). The chicken skin was marinated before being wrapped in a piece of dark meat, then breaded and deep fried. It was served over a house-made mayonnaise with a lemon wedge and an expertly pickled carrot. The result was inventive, with a great crunch from the crust, but slightly sweeter than I would have preferred. Definitely worth a try though.
The egg-sausage sandwich sounded delicious, especially after reading Joe DiStefano's rave, but I figured I should do my duty and try something different. I debated the two hashes (one with poached egg, bacon and greens, the other with salt cod subbing for bacon, $7 and $9 respectively), but the waitress recommended the cubano sandwich with roasted pork, pickles, mortadella and "cheese from Quebec" as well as the tortilla Espanola. I went with the cubano ($7). It was satisfying, especially with the sinus clearing mustard and gooey cheese, but I think I prefer shredded pork to the thick slices of roast pork served. Yet again the pickles were great, and I downed the whole sandwich.
I was also intrigued by reports that M Wells served Timmy O's Frozen Custard. My waitress recommended the peach-blueberry pie (check availability, as I think it was a daily special), but my profuse sweating had so far not abated, and I went with a banana frozen custard shake ($5) to cool myself down. It was a little thinner than I would have liked, but still delicious.
Incidentally, the service was great-- friendly and enthusiastic without being overbearing. We'll see how they deal with the inevitable crowds, but for now it's a great place to hang out with a newspaper and graze on plates of inventive snacks while watching Dufuor man the griddle.
M Wells manages to capture the New York City zeitgeist for downscale, comfort food prepared with fine-dining skill at reasonable prices (recession, comfort food, blah blah blah ad nauseum). If their breakfast/lunch menu is any indication, dinner could be fantastic and unique (there have been hints of foie gras tamales-- yes please). I truly look forward to a second visit soon. Yet, with so many similar places opening around town, it's only a matter of time before critical mass is reached. Until then, I'm content to ride the wave.
21-17 49th Ave (at 21st Street)
Long Island City, Queens
I just took a look at Au Pied de Cochon's menu. If even a fraction of their offerings (or something similar) ends up at M Wells, you can count me as a regular.