Queens Represent!: All’s Well At M. Wells
Would you travel to a desolate street in Hunter’s Point, Long Island City, to eat at a diner? I am here to suggest that you should strongly consider doing it. There, on the corner of 49th Avenue and 21st Street, nestled between the train tracks and the toll plaza for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, is possibly the best brunch spot in Queens.
Described as a “Quebeco-American Diner,” M. Wells was opened by Hugue Dufour, formerly of Au Pied Du Cochon in Montreal, a restaurant that has been an innovator of contemporary Quebecois cuisine and a veritable temple to foie gras. Of course, despite its impressive credentials, M. Wells is still just a diner. That means it looks like a traditional diner (long and thin, with pies and pastries behind glass, virtually the entire kitchen behind the counter) – but more importantly, it is priced like a diner – in fact, I would venture to say that it is less expensive than many diners in Queens (and certainly many diners in Manhattan), with dishes running from $5 up to a few “high end” entree items at around $15 (there is currently an $18 lobster roll, still a good deal). M. Wells currently serves brunch Sunday through Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – however, they will soon be adding dinner, and the menu will doubtless expand accordingly. The dishes described below are all from their current brunch menu.
Here is where M. Wells is different from the typical diner: the food is excellent, made from top quality ingredients, cooked properly and satisfying. Not to say that “typical diners” cannot turn out tasty and satisfying food, but M. Wells is clearly on another level regarding the care and skill that has gone into selecting and preparing its ingredients. In addition, it has a small but eclectic menu that will appeal to those seeking a satisfying traditional brunch as well as those who are interested in exploring more of the Quebecois style of cooking. One the former end of the spectrum are a massive egg and sausage breakfast sandwich served on a “fat” english muffin, a variety of spanish tortillas, as well as a cuban sandwich and, of course, a hamburger. On the latter end of the spectrum, M. Wells offers dishes such as pickled pig’s tongue and escargot with bone marrow.
I ended up sampling some dishes from both ends of the spectrum. A tomato salad was simple but tasty, lightly dressed with basil, parmesan and containing several varieties of in-season tomatoes. Buckwheat crepes had an excellent flavor, but as my wife commented, they could have benefited from some fresh fruit or jam. My favorite dishes, however, were the more atypical offerings. The pickled pig’s tongue (pictured below) was absolutely delicious, very lightly pickled but not briny, perfectly grilled, tender and served with mustard and homemade soda crackers. The escargot and bone marrow (pictured above) was presented as a large split bone, filled with its marrow, escargot, a red wine sauce and, of course, butter. Slathered on small toasts, the mixture was decadent and delicious.
Finally, for dessert I sampled a piece of maple pie. I was a bit hesitant about this choice but I ultimately figured that Canadian cooks know their maple, and everything previously had been so well done I figured I couldn’t go wrong. It turns out I was right – the pie was delicious – full of maple flavor but not cloyingly sweet as I had feared, and covered in a sort of clotted cream that complemented it well (below, Allegations of Deliciousness’ toughest staff critic samples the maple pie and pronounces it good).
M. Wells is literally steps away from the Hunter’s Point stop on the 7 Train, which is the second stop in Queens and about a 5 minute train ride from Midtown. I went at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon and it was not crowded, although I imagine weekend brunch at peak times must get quite busy. It is unexpensive and thoroughly unpretentious, and well worth the (very) short trip into Queens.