0
Food Culture NYC

The Rise of the Home-Based Kitchen in Queens

May 26, 2021
Selection of delicious diverse foods found in the home-based kitchens of Queens

Whether by necessity or for fun, lots of people have started cooking and selling out of their home kitchens this past year, adding increased variety to Queens’ already super diverse dining scene. Here are 9 to try. [Last update: July 21, 2021]

Selection of delicious diverse foods found in the home-based kitchens of Queens

Every other day I seem to learn about another new home-based kitchen or chef in Queens—someone with or without professional cooking experience making something delicious for sale out of their apartment. Some of these home cooks are more organized than others, with a set menu, active social media presence, a physical food stand and/or delivery options. Others are more word-of-mouth: an email address and an undisclosed pickup location.

Certainly home-based chefs and kitchens existed, particularly in the immigrant communities of Queens, well before the Covid-19 pandemic. But this past year’s restaurant closings and skyrocketing unemployment rates have contributed to a surge of home-based kitchens. There’s a certain intimacy to the process—you’re communicating directly with the person making your food to place your order, coordinate pickup or delivery, and even provide direct feedback afterward—that’s impossible to find in most restaurant settings, and it’s an intimacy many of us crave after the year we’ve had.

I for one am here for it. Not to detract from our wonderful brick-and-mortar restaurants or established street vendors, but in a perfect world of the curious and the hungry, there’s room for everybody. And new variety on the dining scene only makes our existing diversity more exciting. Here are some of the home-based kitchens we’ve been following closely in Queens.

The Rise of the Home-Based Kitchen in Queens Click To Tweet
A Fiesta sushi platter from home-based chef Sushi Fella in Jackson Heights, Queens

The beautiful “fiesta” platter from Sushi Fella

Sushi Fella

When the West Village’s Michelin-starred omakase spot Sushi Nakazawa closed (temporarily) last year, sushi chef Maciek Malinowski found himself, after seven years working at very traditional, high-end sushi spots around Manhattan, out of work. Malinowski, who’s from Poland and also goes by Macia San, started making sushi at his Jackson Heights home for fun. What happened next was a “snowball” of word-of-mouth recommendations that built him up a steady client base for his business, Sushi Fella.

Jackson Heights has a few Japanese restaurants doing sushi, but with Sushi Fella, Macia San has tapped into a neighborhood need for something different—both in the menu and the way it’s presented. “This is more my signature sushi. Of course it’s not traditional, because I can’t make traditional sushi from the home—it’s going to be too expensive,” he says, noting that he draws on restaurant contacts to source his fish domestically. “[Also] many people don’t know too deeply about sushi, so I make my signature sushi: a mix of Japanese and American sushi.”

Macia San isn’t running an at-home restaurant, so don’t expect to pick and choose your rolls. “This is going to sound funny, but I know better!” he laughs. “This is why I don’t list the choice for my clients. They trust me and whatever I’m going to do, they’re happy.”

Order a set for the number of people you’re feeding and he takes care of the rest—including the beautiful, flower-adorned presentation. There are single ($20) and double sets ($44), which are more basic “regular dinners” for one or two, mostly sushi rolls. The fiesta set ($70; 3-4 people) is an upgrade that includes a mix of everything: rolls, nigiri, and sashimi. Beyond that, there’s a special set for celebrations that’s a bit pricier, and separate nigiri and sashimi sets for the serious raw fish lovers among us.

Since October, Macia San has been back at Sushi Nakazawa Monday through Thursday, and continues to run Sushi Fella Friday through Sunday. Unfortunately for those of us in Queens, he’s recently announced he’s leaving New York soon, so he’s running Sushi Fella only through the end of August 2021. Find him on Instagram at Sushi Fella, and get your orders in (via direct message or the WhatsApp link in his bio) before Thursday for the weekend. Sushi Fella is takeout-only from 87th Street and 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights.

 

Home-cooked Indonesian food, including tekwan (Sumatran fish ball soup) and nasi unyil, from Mamika in Elmhurst, Queens

Homemade Indonesian food by Mamika, including South Sumatran fish ball soup


Mamika’s Homemade Indonesian Food

For Ribka Siahaan, aka Mamika, the pandemic provided an opportunity to expand her Indonesian food business—because she had to. “We were about to be homeless last March. My [self-employed] husband was telling me, I’m not going to have any job. We didn’t have any savings, we didn’t have any checking,” she tells me. “Then I start to cook. When people were closing their restaurant I start telling people, Hey, we are open, we are going to deliver to wherever you are.”

Before that Siahaan, who has a 14-year-old autistic son, was a full-time parent and ran Mamika on and off, mostly in Queens’ small Indonesian circles. She got her start in the borough’s Indonesian food bazaars, cooking for friends and building up her confidence: People “start putting my food on their Instagram story, and that really gives me motivation, encourages me.”

Last spring she took the leap, with the help of her husband and eventually a third-party delivery service, to tri-borough delivery, reaching Indonesian communities in Manhattan and Brooklyn she never even knew existed. Her clientele remains about 90 percent Indonesian.

Siahaan hails from Java and attributes her love for cooking to her upbringing—her parents were both in the food industry. She started making Javanese food, but has long since branched out. She enjoys researching and learning the differences in regional Indonesian dishes. “I love to cook, and I’m always curious about food. I like to challenge myself, to push myself. When I see something new on YouTube or on Instagram, I want to give [it] a try,” she says.

With Mamika, she offers three or four dishes every week, and they’re almost never repeats. We recently tried her delicious tekwan, a traditional south Sumatran fish ball soup, alongside her nasi unyil or bungkus, an incredibly flavorful bundle of rice, shredded chicken in sambal, stir-fried vermicelli with tempeh, Indonesian omelet, and marinated tofu. “There are many, many foods in Indonesia. We are very rich in culture, in diversity, including the food. I like to show people that we have a lot of food. And we are as good as Thai food,” she laughs. We have to agree.

Follow Mamika on Instagram and watch for her weekly menu drops every weekend—it’s typically posted around midnight on Fridays, and the ordering window closes Sunday nights for deliveries on Tuesday. Deliveries to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens cost $10, and there’s a $50 order minimum, but you’ll want to try more than one of her dishes in one go.

A to-go platter of Malaysian lemang with chicken rendang from home-based chef Nicholas Lee in Queens

Malaysian lemang with chicken rendang from NL Kitchen

NL Kitchen

From his Jackson Heights kitchen, Malaysian pastry chef Nicolas Lee has built a steady word-of-mouth following for his home-cooked sweet and savory foods, which he describes as “classic with a twist.” After graduating from New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, he spent more than two decades consulting for and working in various NYC kitchens, notably as pastry chef for the Four Seasons Hotel and most recently the (currently shuttered) Knickerbocker Hotel. Given his personal and professional background, he might be doing classic Malaysian, Chinese, or French cuisine, but with his own spin. “I’m a pastry chef, but I like to eat too,” Lee laughs. “This is my food. This is the way I want to eat it.”

What results is an eclectic East-West, rather personal menu, often inspired by what he sees is fresh and available in local groceries and farmers markets, that’s sent out weekly to email subscribers for pickup twice a week. This might mean sourdough bread made with Peruvian purple corn, a pineapple upside-down cake, or Japanese curry pot pie, combining two of his favorite comfort foods—Japanese curry and chicken pot pie. Recent menus have also included dim sum, Moroccan chickpea tagine, Japanese cheesecake (a guest favorite from his days at the Four Seasons Hotel), and lemang, a signature heritage dish of Malaysia, with chicken rendang, in honor of the end of Ramadan. His menus include brief but appetizing, often endearingly personal descriptions.

Lee calls these weekly offerings “testing menus,” as he’d love to have his own brick-and-mortar spot in Jackson Heights one day. Or a ghost kitchen, or a pop-up space shared with other local home-based kitchens (yes, please!). He doesn’t know if the Times Square hotel he last worked at will reopen and require a pastry chef again, but until then he’ll keep experimenting while navigating the challenges of a home kitchen. He’s learned to plan carefully for those two days of food, and empty his fridge as needed to make room for fermenting bread dough. Then there’s the aftermath: “Cooking food at home is fun, but the cleaning is crazy!”

Find NL Kitchen on Instagram, or email him at [email protected] to get on his list. He typically sends out a menu every Sunday for pickup (on 85th St. in Jackson Heights) on Wednesdays and Fridays.

 

The chicken schnitzel sandwich and vegetarian borscht from food stand Sandwich Therapy in Queens

The Friday chicken sandwich and vegetarian borscht from Sandwich Therapy


Sandwich Therapy

If you’re in Jackson Heights, you’ve probably noticed the little sandwich stand out on weekends near Travers Park since last fall. The brainchild of Mark Blinder and Esthi Zipori, Sandwich Therapy is a mix of Georgian/Soviet and Israeli dishes, reflecting the founders’ respective backgrounds. It came about as a result of pandemic job woes coupled with immigration issues: Both Blinder and Zipori came to this country in 2009 as international students, and their visa status requires sponsorship from a U.S. employer—an especially challenging thing to obtain in the Covid era. 

“We were thinking about selling food for some time,” says Blinder, a social worker by profession (Zipori is a Ph.D. candidate in urban systems who teaches at the New Jersey Institute of Technology). “We knew the history of NYC and street food, [and] we thought we could add something different to the already diverse food scene in Jackson Heights. As immigrants, selling food was more interesting and doable than anything else.” The couple took the plunge once 34th Avenue became part of the city’s Open Streets initiative. 

Sandwich Therapy’s menu is small but focused. They started by offering two familiar dishes they love: Israeli sabich and North African/Middle Eastern shakshuka, offered here in a sandwich or over rice. “We only pick dishes we like because, especially when we just started, we have to eat what we don’t sell,” Zipori tells me. 

Those two favorites remain on the regular menu, joined by egg and labneh sandwiches, some popular challah sandwiches on Friday (a seriously delicious chicken schnitzel with fried eggplant as well as a vegetarian fried cauliflower and eggplant version), vegetarian borscht (made with Moroccan spices), and an assortment of side dishes, cookies, and rotating desserts. (The Friday sandwich, interestingly, is based on a post-Shabbat-dinner late-night snack in Israel, commonly eaten on Friday night.) In the fall you can find pumpkin porridge, an ancient Russian dish and Blinder’s interpretation of a favorite childhood food that combines pumpkin, rice, and dried fruits. It’s definitely a unique find, even in Jackson Heights! Don’t sleep on the Georgian butter cookies or tahini chocolate-chip cookies either.

The couple hopes to add more baked goods to their menu, and they’d love to find a more permanent space—ideally an electric bike-powered food truck, if not a brick-and-mortar. Follow Sandwich Therapy on Instagram for the menu (and order-ahead info), and find the stall on 34th Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets Fridays, noon-3pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 11am-3pm.

Three types of homemade ceviche plus plantain chips from home-based chefs Ceviche Fussion in Queens

Peruano, tropical, and aguachile ceviches from Ceviche Fussion


Ceviche Fussion

Last year, smack in the middle of the pandemic, Jackson Heights residents Ruben Cabrera and Kevin Cardenas had the idea to start a pop-up. “Ruben was trying to get something to do in all the free time we had, the city was shut down, and our jobs were closed, so he decided to learn how to cook. One night he made ceviche and, oh, boy! It was the beginning of all this,” recounts Cardenas, who’s from Colombia and works as a server in an upscale Spanish restaurant. He thought they had a product on their hands. “Why not?” he says. “Let’s make a lot of people happy and sell this!”

Ceviche Fussion was born with the creation of their first ceviche: Called “tropical,” with fruity undertones of mango and passionfruit, the guys combined recipes from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, where Cabrera is from, to create it. They now offer that plus three other types of ceviche, all served with plantain chips: Mexican aguachile, herbaceous and with a kick; Peruano, with chewy choclo and milky-white leche de tigre; and Colombiano, which has precooked shrimp. For all but the Colombian ceviche, fresh raw tilapia is used, cured in fresh-squeezed lime juice. “Our [menu] items are picked based on the diversity we have in this wonderful neighborhood,” says Cabrera.

The tropical ceviche is the most popular one, although this writer liked the spicier aguachile best. The chefs agree: “We both think Mexican food is one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world, and we found they have more than one ceviche. The one that caught our attention was the aguachile, so we added it to our menu. It’s made with cilantro, onions, limes, and serrano pepper. To this day it’s our favorite!”

Cabrera and Cardenas are both back to work now—you can say hi to Ruben behind the bar at Friends Tavern in Jackson Heights—but they’ve scaled back their hours so they can keep their business running. And they dream of taking it bigger. “We are putting our heart, soul, and body into an amazing project, but it’s too soon to talk about it!” says Cabrera.

The #cevichedeliveryguys, as they’re known, consider every customer a friend, so while you can find and order through Ceviche Fussion on Instagram, you can also call or text them directly at 347-961-3386 or 857-234-5589. Order two days in advance. Delivery is free in Queens and Manhattan.

Picnic spread of home-smoked ribs, brisket burnt ends, double-smoked kielbasa, baked beans, mac and cheese and more from home kitchen Queens Custom Barbecue.

An incredible barbecue picnic spread from Queens Custom Barbecue

Queens Custom Barbecue

After about 15 years cooking barbecue professionally in NYC restaurants, pit master Matt Fisher, last of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem, has officially opened up his backyard to the city’s smoked-meat enthusiasts. It’s been a journey getting to this point: Following a debilitating knee injury he suffered on the job in 2019, Fisher needed more than a year to recover and regain mobility—which he did just as the hospitality industry was shutting down early in the pandemic. “There were no jobs to go back to, even if I were physically able,” he recounts.

He spent a year digging into recipes and exploring other culinary techniques before he finally got back into the kitchen, reigniting his curiosity. Still, when his wife bought him a smoker this spring for an event, he wasn’t really feeling it. “But I went out and cooked some brisket, some ribs, and all of my neighbors started coming out and asking about the barbecue. I shared it with them, they were excited, and I rediscovered that I loved doing it,” Fisher says.

Queens Custom Barbecue was born shortly thereafter (and he now has two smokers and a grill in his concrete Ridgewood backyard). He puts out a weekly menu for customers to choose from, with rotating specials like prime rib or double-smoked kielbasa, but the custom part of the name is for real: The man takes requests. If there’s a particular barbecue style or protein you’re after, if you have a dietary restriction or preference, if you want to pick it up hot or frozen, add some tri-tip or hush puppies, want the meat cut or not cut, packaged or not—just ask Matt.

Fisher calls his style, generally speaking, a hybrid of Kansas City and Central Texas barbecue: smoky, meaty, with a diversity of proteins, and not a lot of sweet sauces. He’s known for his ribs and burnt ends—both absolutely delicious, we can attest—but he loves to experiment and approach the art of barbecue from every angle: as a flavoring, a tool, both a hot and cold technique. He’s making pastrami and cold-smoking cheese and nuts, and he cites his “candy apple pork burnt ends” as a favorite special. Cooking everything himself start to finish, he recognizes he can do things restaurants aren’t easily able to do. “It gives me a lot of freedom to be playful as a chef and innovate, be curious and strive to get better,” he says.

Cooking barbecue from home isn’t without its challenges. He’s had to get creative about storing huge quantities of meat and winning skeptical neighbors over (via shared food, of course). It works great for now, but Fisher would love his own business “more outside the home” one day. He’s got a few brick-and-mortar pop-ups in Brooklyn and Queens coming up, but otherwise you can order his barbecue through Instagram or by emailing [email protected] (pickup is in Ridgewood).  

Pro tip: Based on Fisher’s suggestion, we made an afternoon of our BBQ pickup: If you let him know in advance, he’ll have your meal hot and cut for you, and give you paper plates/utensils as needed. Bring your food five minutes away to leafy Grover Cleveland Park, spread out for lunch on the grass, get ice cream afterward, and/or drive a few minutes further to visit a local brewery (we love Bridge + Tunnel and Evil Twin).   

A classic Neapolitan-style margherita pizza from home-based chef Luciano Sosa and Queens Pizza Club in Jackson Heights

The classic margherita from Queens Pizza Club

Queens Pizza Club

Pizza lovers in Jackson Heights were unexpectedly rewarded this past winter with the emergence of chef Luciano Sosa’s Queens Pizza Club, a monthly pop-up out of the apartment he shares with his wife and business partner, Rebecca Sosa, specializing in Neapolitan pizzas. Not just any Neapolitan pies though: Sosa uses the best ingredients he can source, from the flour and organic tomatoes (both from Italy) to the high-quality organic Italian olive oil and the fresh local mozzarella di bufala from Di Palo’s in Manhattan. It’s a simple yet transcendent margherita pie unlike any other in the neighborhood.  

“We started Queens Pizza Club during the pandemic when a local friend loaned us his amazing Breville Pizzaiolo oven,” recounts Luciano, who’s from Argentina. “To say thank you, we made our friend the first batch of Neapolitan pizza,” an idea inspired by past travels to Naples. The friend was very impressed and encouraged him and Rebecca to open up to the neighborhood. Luciano, whose 20 years of experience as a chef has taken him around Europe and to some of New York City’s top restaurants (Del Posto, The Modern, Wallsé), dug right in, researching the pizza style, perfecting his dough, and scouting ingredients.

He’d been between jobs at the start of the pandemic, and then restaurants were scaling down, keeping on skeleton staff to stay afloat—not hiring experienced chefs. “Queens Pizza Club became a fun project to stay active creatively during the pandemic, and to keep our friends and neighbors happy with super-fresh high-quality food,” Sosa says.

The menu began with a classic margherita pizza—which should still be your first order—and grew a little from there. After many customer requests, (high-quality European) pepperoni was invited to the pizza party, sourced from a local shop in Astoria. Because Rebecca is gluten-free, Luciano experimented with gluten-free pizza dough until he came up with something suitably delicious, and he added that to the menu. (He can also accommodate the dairy-free/vegan.) A dessert like French apple tart or from-scratch tiramisu, with his homemade lady fingers, is usually offered, and occasionally you’ll see homemade pasta or a special, like the truffle burrata pizza he did for Valentine’s Day—but that’s pretty much it. It’s a small menu once a month that leaves Jackson Heights wanting more.

The couple is expecting a baby this summer, and they hope Luciano finds a new executive chef position soon, but Queens Pizza Club isn’t going anywhere. “Our future dream is to open up a local family-owned Italian café and restaurant here in Jackson Heights, serving fresh pizza and pasta,” Luciano says. He’d also love to do a pop-up collaboration locally somewhere in Queens. For now sign up for pizza party announcements at [email protected], and reply (quickly; they sell out) to the email to place your order for delivery or pickup. You can also follow Luciano on Instagram, where he occasionally drops hints on upcoming parties.

Delivery boxes filled with homemade Burmese food from De Rangoon, a home-based kitchen in Queens

Delicious delivery from De Rangoon, including: Shan-style fish and rice, ginger-garlic chicken, nan gyi thoke, Shan tofu + Shan noodle

De Rangoon

Based in East Elmhurst, the Burmese home kitchen known as De Rangoon may be familiar to some: Snow Wai and her husband used to run a stall at the Queens Night Market. What started as a weekend project—Wai works at a Japanese restaurant during the week—continued once Covid-19 hit. “During the pandemic, customers couldn’t come to us, so we decided to cook from home and deliver to them,” she says.

The food of Burma is still unfamiliar to many in New York City, as there’s just a small (but growing) number of eateries. It’s largely influenced by the foods of its neighboring countries—China and India, Southeast Asia—but it’s also all its own, a sour, spicy, crunchy, flavor-packed cuisine that makes frequent use of dried shrimp, curry leaf, fermented tea leaves, ginger, lemongrass, coconut milk, rice and noodles, to name a few essential ingredients.

De Rangoon’s menu changes weekly, and reflects this diversity: “Typically, we choose Burmese-Chinese food one week, Burmese-Indian food another week, and Burmese ethnic food like Shan the following week,” says Wai. Recent menus have offered chicken biryani, braised duck garlic noodles, and Shan-style fish and rice balls. She recommends everyone try the laphet thoke, a tea leaf salad made of fermented tea leaves that demonstrates the quintessential Burmese “balance of salty, sour, spicy, bitter, and crunchy,” and the mohinga, a popular fish noodle soup. Both are considered national dishes of Burma.

Our recent order from De Rangoon included several Shan-style dishes we’d never tried before, and we loved every one. It’s easy to try the majority of the weekly menu, which is posted every Tuesday around 2pm on social media, as prices hover around $7-$10 per dish. And delivery is free in the Elmhurst and Jackson Heights area for meals over $35.

Wai says it’s difficult to handle an onslaught of orders due to their limited space and storage, and the fact they have just one driver to make all deliveries within the promised time frame. The couple plans to return to the Queens Night Market once it reopens fully to the public (when current restrictions on limiting vendors and customers are lifted). Until then it’s not too late to get their food delivered at home: Follow De Rangoon on Instagram and Facebook, and place your order before 5pm on Wednesday. (Queens deliveries happen Fridays between 5pm-8pm; Brooklyn and Manhattan deliveries are Saturday between 11:30am-2:30pm.)

Taiwanese cookie treats from home-based kitchen Mickey Lin's Messy Kitchen in Queens

Taiwanese cookies from Mickey Lin’s Messy Kitchen

Mickey Lin’s Messy Kitchen

Among the newer weekend food stands you might have spotted on 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights is that of a local family under a rainbow-colored umbrella. There you will find Mickey Lin and the eclectic products coming out of her so-called messy kitchen: popular cookies from Taiwan, no-sugar rice sticks with walnuts or black sesame, custom Swiss rolls, and sugar cookies.

“I wanted people to know more about the Taiwanese cookies I grew up with,” says Lin, who’s from Taiwan. Her husband, Jeff Orlick (of local Momo Crawl fame), loved the cookies and encouraged her to sell them. 

She started with the chocolate crunchy cookies she calls Puggies, a name she chose because “I love pugs and it’s cute.” (The adorable pug is also part of her logo.) There’s a spicy version too, which doesn’t exist in Taiwan but really works with the chocolate, called Bust-a-Nuts. Fun fact: She was going to call the nonspicy ones this, but then found out what it means and didn’t want kids, part of her intended clientele, to start yelling “bust a nut!” on the street.

The Q cookies also hail from Taiwan, where Q means chewy. These marshmallow-based cookies are like crunchier Rice Krispy treats, but flavored with various natural add-ins like strawberry or cashew. The custom rice rolls are beautifully customized and decorated by Lin, and the no-sugar cookies were inspired by her own toddler, who’s often at the stand with her parents (and pictured taste-testing on social media). “I wanted to make a healthy cookie for my daughter, and thought I would sell it too, because there are so many kids here,” she explains.

Lin says she’d love to expand her operation one day, but for now she’d like for more people to know where to find her—it’s challenging when you lack a physical address and aren’t selling order-ahead meals. Check her out on Instagram or Facebook, and look for her stand Fridays and Saturdays from 3:30pm-5:30pm across from Travers Park on 34th Avenue. Bring your sweet (and spicy) tooth!

And there’s more …

This is a lot, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg! Also don’t miss Salteñería Victoria for Bolivian salteñas in Jackson Heights, and the growing number of chefs selling specialized sweets online, during occasional pop-ups, and via Instagram: hard-to-get Filipino doughnuts by Kora, creative baked goods by Owl Beak Oven, Peruvian alfajores from Alfajores Asumare, all manner of baked goods and occasional codfish balls from MumsKitchens NYC, chocolate-dipped goodies from Russian Roulette Sweets. Tell us in the comments if you know of other home-based kitchens in the area!

Leave a Reply