Queens Comfort: A Tale of Old Toys, a Pakistani Soap Opera, and Mac & Cheese
The restaurant scene in New York can be unnervingly similar to elementary school friendships.The closing of a restaurant is like a best friend moving to a different country: You know that no one will ever fill that void, and the most aching pains come when someone new arranges their pencil case in the desk where that old friend once sat.
That is precisely how I felt when Blue Restaurant closed on 30th Avenue in Astoria almost three years ago. The regular menu at Blue wasn't even very good, but it had this secret menu--an actual printed secret menu that we in the know could request--loaded with some of the tastiest and dirt-cheapest Mexican food around. Learning that my secret flauta stand was being bulldozed was like a punch in the gut.
The new kid that moved in was called Queens Comfort. And like a stubborn child, I held out for exactly two days before succumbing and giving it a chance. It helped that the menu was loaded with guilty pleasures. Mac and cheese is my kryptonite, and donuts, pot pies, and anything with a soft-centered egg test my willpower as well.
Queens Comfort owner Donnie D'Alessio graduated with a film production degree from the New School, and his prior work experience includes a stint as a videographer for a Pakistani soap opera filmed throughout the United States. The soft-spoken camera-man-turned-restaurateur was never formally trained in a kitchen other than the one owned by his mother and grandmother, which yielded some old family recipes, though he'd collected a team of friends with enough culinary ability to make a restaurant work.
He gave his new space a kitschy makeover: Christmas lights dangle from the ceiling, and bizarre indie films or WWF wrestling matches play on a movie screen on the back wall. Accessories look like they came from a vintage toy attic, with shelves of Halloween masks from the '80s, a remote-control Godzilla, old McDonald's toys, figurines from Michael Jackson's Thriller, and Gizmo in a pink Corvette. There are even haphazardly framed childhood photos of customers above the booths.
And then he got off to a slow start. While the mac and cheese was almost better than my grandmother's, it was inconsistent. And while the Tabasco-and-honey-doused fried chicken biscuit convinced me that it was no longer necessary for me to ZipCar to Pies 'n' Thighs in Brooklyn, the wait time to get it verged on agonizingly long some days. But most notably, the menu then had nothing for someone not wishing to binge on carbs--not to mention vegetarians--making it difficult to coerce my herbivore friends into joining me for Sunday brunch.