Max & Mina’s

Instagram Post 4/22/2019

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Since we’re in the middle of Passover and warm weather is inching ever closer, I can think of no better time than to recount the story of my pilgrimage to Max & Mina’s Ice Cream at 71-26 Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. That they’re kosher is beside the point – and their over-the-top decor showcasing covers from 60’s era Mad Magazines, cereal boxes, and other memorabilia against a seaside themed subplot is just the tip of the icecreamberg. It’s the seemingly infinite roster of unique, unusual flavors they’ve created over the years that’s their claim to fame.

If you can name it, and even if you can’t, they’ve probably made it: Cotton Candy Pop Rocks, Pancake Chip, Sponge Bob, Circus, Snickers, Bourbon, Merlot, Coffee & Doughnuts, every breakfast cereal I can think of like Rice Krispies, Cap’n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Puffs and Quisp. (Remember Quisp? I wonder if they did Quake.) If your taste runs to the more conventional, there’s always Mint Chip, Pumpkin, Nutty Pistachio, Peach, Rum Raisin, Key Lime Pie and the like. This trio comprises Peanut Butter Pie, Blackberry, and Egg Nog. I’d name more but Instagram limits me to 2200 characters. I’m told that they also have chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.

So how does Passover factor in? In a nod to Judaica, past flavors have included Nova Lox, Herring, Horseradish, Cholent (a Sabbath stew), Esrog (the yellow citron that’s part of the Jewish holiday Sukkot) and Macaroon. But not only plain macaroon, oh no. How about Chocolate Macaroon, Coffee Caramel Macaroon…the list goes on. Horseradish gets a similar facelift from strawberry and blackberry infused versions as well, and their Babka ice cream really takes the cake.

Note that when you go (and it would be a shonde if you don’t), none of these flavors may be available, presumably to accommodate the latest experiments, but I can guarantee that they’ll be replaced by as many equally intriguing offerings in a rainbow of flavors, colors, and textures.

So nu, what are you waiting for?
 
 

A Passover Dare

Instagram Post 4/20/2019

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Previously on ethnojunkie.com, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

“Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!”

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking at its finest, Jewish soul food, and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked!

Happy Passover!
!חג פסח שמח
 
 

La Colomba di Pasqua

Instagram Post 4/18/2019

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Two notable celebrations of the season, Easter and Passover, are concomitant this year. It’s no coincidence that the Italian word for Easter (pasqua) and the Hebrew word for Passover (pesach) are closely related, although culinarily the holidays couldn’t be more disparate. During this time of year, Jewish families are expunging their homes of even the most minuscule crumb of anything leavened, and Italians are baking Easter breads like they’re going out of style.

Italy’s traditional seasonal bread is La Colomba di Pasqua (“The Easter Dove”), and it is essentially Lombardy’s Eastertime answer to Milan’s Christmastime panettone. These deliciously sweet, cakey breads, in some ways Italy’s gift to coffeecake but so much better, are fundamentally the same except for two significant distinctions: the colomba is baked in the shape of the iconic dove that symbolizes both the resurrection and peace, and the recipes diverge with the colomba’s dense topping of almonds and crunchy pearl sugar glaze. Traditionally, a colomba lacks raisins, favoring only candied orange or citron peel, but as with panettone, fanciful flavors (including some with raisins) proliferate.

[1] The first photo shows a colomba in all its avian splendor. Frankly, I think it’s a leap of faith to discern a dove in there, but if you can detect one, you may have just performed your own miracle.

[2] Hard pressed to see the dove? Fret not, for the second photo has the cake turned upside down so the columbine form is somewhat more evident.

[3] The third photo depicts a version that features bits of chocolate and dried peaches within and crunchy crushed amaretto cookies atop.

Just wondering: There’s no debate that American kids bite the ears off their chocolate Easter bunnies first. Do you suppose that Italian children start with the head, tail, or wings of the colomba?
 
 

Kreyol Flavor

Instagram Post 4/17/2019

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The early bird just might not get the worm. Or much else to eat for that matter. Timing is everything, they say: at certain restaurants and events, if you arrive too early, you’ll hear, “It’s not ready yet!”; arrive too late and the good stuff is gone. The former was the case at Kreyol Flavor, 8221 Flatlands Ave, Brooklyn. A friend of mine who knows Haitian food and the fact that I love the stuff suggested I give this mini chain (three locations) a try, so I was pleased that on a trek through Canarsie in search of Caribbean and African food, this venue made the list curated by my itinerary guide/dining buddy.

What we were able to snag was a pair of smoked herring patties that were flaky to the extreme and equally tasty. There’s another location closer to home that I’m looking forward to scoping out soon – when I can join a famished flock’s feeding frenzy.
 
 

Morrone Bakery

Instagram Post 4/16/2019

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Seems like no one can agree on the proper name for this confection but everyone agrees that by any name it’s noteworthy. It’s the Italian rainbow, three color, tricolore, Neapolitan, Venetian, seven layer (chocolate + cake + jam + cake + jam + cake + chocolate) cookie/cake. And arguably, it’s neither cookie nor cake. It flies the colors of the Italian flag – except sometimes when yellow subs for white (a pennant sallow with age, perhaps?). Fillings range from apricot or raspberry jam or marzipan to cannoli crème (hard to find, but oh so rewarding when you do).

This wedge hails from Morrone Pastry Shop at 2349 Arthur Ave in the Bronx, Belmont’s Little Italy – almost a little too sweet (is that possible?) but good nonetheless. I’m considering working my way through the neighborhood to compare versions in a longstanding quest to equal the one with marzipan and cannoli crème I had last summer from a bakery in Staten Island that is now shuttered. Life is hard.
 
 

Merit Kabab Palace

Instagram Post 4/15/2019

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Wandering around Jackson Heights yesterday looking for something with which to celebrate Poila Boishakh, Bengali New Year, we stumbled upon these Chicken Lollipops outside the venerable Merit Kabab Palace, 37-67 74th St, Queens. Featuring Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese and Bangladeshi food, Merit is well known to locals and the clued-in for quick and tasty South Asian fare.

Wing drumette meat is scraped along and pushed down the bone (frenched), marinated a bit, coated in a colorful seasoned batter, and deep fried to produce a snack that’s as appealing to the eye as it is the palate. Not a dish particularly associated with the holiday, these were too cute to resist – not to mention the fact that the hungry celebratory crowds got the better of us. Well, there’s always next year.

Shubho Noboborsho! শুভ নববর্ষ
 
 

Cka Ka Qellu

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as four posts, published on March 14 and 15, and April 13 and 14, 2019.


If you’ve never tried Albanian food, here’s your chance. Tucked away in Belmont’s Little Italy, Çka Ka Qëllu can be found at 2321 Hughes Ave, Bronx and it’s a gem. Veal and creamy yogurt have starring roles in this cuisine and everything we tasted was delicious and in many cases a little surprising. Here are some of the top notch dishes we tried during our three visits.

(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Dips from the Appetizers section

Each dip was different in nature and temperature (from top moving clockwise): Tarator, a cold yogurt dip with minced garlic and cucumber; delicious warm Sausage Dip made from Albanian veal sausage; Ajavar (you may have seen ajvar), room temp, a savory roasted red pepper spread.

Samun

Marvelous pillowy bread called Samun (sounds a little like salmon), so fresh and hot out of the oven that we literally couldn’t tear it barehanded. I’m usually unimpressed by bread but this was amazing; it was perfect with the dips.

Fli

A further surprise (because I had no idea what to expect) was this wedge of Fli, savory layered crêpes in the Brumat (Savory Dishes) section of the menu. According to the Albanian dictionary, brumat means dough – sounds about right; here, it seemed to be a repository for items that are not really appetizers, not really mains and not really sides, but all dough based in one way or another. A bit of cheese and pickled green tomato kept the fli company on its plank (which matched the table which matched the fli). I was told that it takes six to seven hours to prepare this dish; it took a tiny fraction of that to consume it.

Mantia

I expected the Mantia në Tavë (literally, mantia in a tava, a clay casserole) to be similar to their thin-skinned dumpling cousins called manti from neighboring countries, but was surprised by a drier, sturdier, baked pastry dough encasing the filling; they seemed more like goshtgizhda, the Central Asian meat pies I wrote about recently. These crisp bottomed bites were rescued by a much welcomed creamy sauce. Filled with ground veal (of course) and drenched with yogurt (of course), they were delightful.

Qofte Sharri

Ground veal mixed with kaçamak (cornmeal) oozing melted kashkaval cheese with a pleasant surprise coming from a touch of spiciness, unusual for this cuisine. A winner.

Skenderbeg

Skenderbeg is named for the 15th century Albanian national hero. It’s pounded veal rolled around a slender layer of smoked mish i thatë (literally “dried meat”) and kashkaval cheese, breaded, fried, and crowned with an aioli mayo. The smokiness leaps out on the first bite and distinguishes the dish from other cheese-stuffed veal dishes on the menu. Outstanding as well.

Kaçamak

Kaçamak is polenta that’s integrated with a sauce of slightly sour fermented kaymak; note that I said “integrated” and not “topped with” because the dairy is equally potent in terms of flavor balance; it’s the texture that betrays the presence of cornmeal. A friend who knows polenta proclaimed that it was the best he’d ever had.

Qebapa

Also known as ćevapi in neighboring Balkan countries, these are finger-sized skinless sausages made from ground veal (natch), onion, garlic, herbs and crushed red pepper (yes, there’s a welcome bit of heat). These juicy cylinders boasting crispy browned edges (bless you, Monsieur Maillard) and a wonderfully fatty mouthfeel come ten to a plate (no, that’s not too many).

Fasul

This thick, creamy, long simmered soup/stew of white beans and onions featured a chunk of smoked meat that infused the dish with its rich flavor. On a subsequent visit, I decided that it might be a good idea to cut it up into bits and stir it back in for the occasional unexpected nibble: yes, it was.

Sarma

Cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables. Well-seasoned, I detected paprika and onion powder as dominant.

Leçenik

Albanian style cornbread, dense and almost cheesecakey, distinguished by the bits of spinach within.

Bërxollë Dukagjini

Saving the fanciest for last (although everything was terrific). Pounded veal this time (not ground), kashkaval cheese inside: smoky, meaty, cheesy goodness topped with mushroom gravy. Even the rice was tasty. Superb!
 
 
Çka Ka Qëllu is located at 2321 Hughes Ave, Bronx.
 
 

Mitsuwa Marketplace – Ice Cream

Instagram Post 4/11/2019

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Is it warm enough yet to start writing about ice cream? (And does it even need to be warm at all?)

[1] A recent visit to the frozen food aisle at Mitsuwa Marketplace, probably the most comprehensive exclusively Japanese supermarket in the area, turned up this besquiggled, choko-cliff of an ice cream cone that was too visually compelling to forego. I made my way through the red balloon katakana (“super”), the yellow hiragana (bikkuri which means “amazed”), and the creamy soft-serve curlicue to be rewarded with a crunchy chocolate supporting infrastructure.

[2] The inside scoop (as it were). Truth in advertising: “amazed” pretty much summed it up.

Mitsuwa Marketplace is located at 595 River Road, Edgewater, NJ.
 
 

Boran

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as six posts, published on April 4 through 10, 2019.


On very rare occasion, I venture into a restaurant and know after a few bites that there is no choice but to return and work my way through the entire menu. That’s how the story begins at Boran, 462 Court St in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Five of us enjoyed a compelling Thai meal (from multiple regions of Thailand I should add) that started magnificently and kept getting better with each course. Note that the selections I’m covering can be found in the Authentic Style (sometimes identified as “signature”) part of the menu or among the daily specials; they’re not included on the take-out menu or elsewhere on the dine-in menu.

Here they are, in no special order. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Meang Kham

There are some foods that are meant to be popped into one’s mouth whole, no biting allowed – Indian pani puri comes to mind. These are Meang Kham: dried shrimp, roasted coconut, roasted peanuts, shallots, ginger, lime and sweet shrimp paste all nestled in a betel leaf; open wide and let the flavors explode in your mouth.

Mixed Appetizers

This platter featured some universal favorites including chicken satay, grilled honey pork, Northern Thai style sausage (sai oua), and an assortment of tasty fried crispy treats, but a particular delight for me was the Sa Cu Sai Moo (you’ll see alternate spellings elsewhere) shown at the top of the photo reposing in their spoons. I first tasted these pork-filled steamed tapioca dumplings in a Thai restaurant in Manhattan that closed decades ago and have had difficulty finding them since; they’re often available with a peanut filling instead of pork, but that’s just not a moo-ving experience 😉. They’re also available as an appetizer item themselves, not as part of a mixed platter. Definitely try them!

Meang Pla Tood

Another flavor/texture bomb was Meang Pla Tood, one of their signature dishes: meang (you might see miang) refers to food wrapped in leaves, pla is fish, tood (you might see tod) means deep fried. This is deep fried boneless dorada with cashews and dried shrimp enhanced by ginger, red onion, bits of lime (even the peel) and lemongrass, one of those synergistic devils where the whole definitely exceeds the sum of its parts. Tasty, incredibly crispy fish and crunchy nuts in a perfect blend of sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter condiments that characterizes Thai cuisine. Frankly, this dish blew me away.

Khao Knook Gapi Boran

An excellent submission from among Boran’s signature dishes, Khao Knook Gapi Boran. In center stage, shrouded beneath the toss of cilantro, is the soul of this dish: fried rice infused with funky shrimp paste and topped with sweet pork. Decisions to be incorporated ad libitum from twelve o’clock, fried eggs, cucumber, red chilies, bits of pickled long beans, shredded green mango, dried shrimp, chicken sausage and red onion.

Nam Prik Aong

When you see Nam Prik on a Thai menu, you’re venturing into a fiery zone; it’s a condiment made from roasted red chilies, garlic, shallots, lime juice and fish or shrimp paste. Nam Prik Aong (you might see ong) zooms in on Northern Thailand; the dish adds nam prik to ground pork in a tomato-based sauce and is generally served with cucumber and lettuce for wrapping along with pork cracklings (you might see chicharrones 😉), freshly steamed veggies like broccoli and carrots and sweet kabocha squash. This plate also featured Sai Aua (you might see sai ua), addictive, spicy Northern Thai sausage.

Nam Ngeaw

A classic dish from Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Vermicelli rice noodles plus pork that’s been simmered in a spicy, garlicky, tart, tomatoey broth (nam means water, liquid, or juice) served with shredded fresh cabbage, bean sprouts and pickled mustard greens. I can’t think of a flavor that was missing.

Pad Thai

So after all of Boran’s spectacular, authentic, signature dishes I’ve been nattering about, I’ll leave you with just one more: Pad Thai. Now don’t go all anticlimax on me; this is not like any pad thai from your corner we-can-grab-lunch-here restaurant. Swaddled in a blanket of thin omelet, the steamy components maintain their heat as the crispy ingredients linger outside waiting for you to fulfill your role: break it open, mix it well, and enjoy it like you’ve never tasted pad thai before.
 
 
Boran is located at 462 Court St in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.