The Queen at the Farmer’s Market

This morning at our local farmer’s market I ran into Liza Queen, chef-owner of The Queen’s Hideaway, a new restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I wrote about it for Time Out before she opened, but dragged my feet about actually getting over there to try Liza’s cooking. But I mentioned it to Peter Meehan, who writes the $25 and Under column for the New York Times, and two Wednesdays ago he wrote a rave the likes of which I haven’t seen since I don’t know when. After that, I figured our chances of ever getting a table were shot. I pictured legions of people jumping onto subways—actually, it’s not the easiest trip, so more likely they took cabs—and cleaning dear Liza out. No reservations, either. It’s a homey, casual spot, and reservations don’t go with that vibe. But last Sunday we decided to give it a shot, figuring if we went on the early side we’d be ok (and it was a cool enough night that sitting inside with no air conditioning wouldn’t be a problem). Arriving at 6:30, we got one of the last empty tables, inside. From our vantage point near the door we could watch the parade of hungry, hopeful customers writing their names on a steno pad in the entryway. By the time we left, waits were a good 45 minutes to an hour, on a Sunday night, on a quiet stretch in middle-of-nowhere Brooklyn.

“But the food!” you say, “How was the food?” It was really, really, really good (really). For starters, S had the smoked tomato and basil salad with crostini: a handful of heirlooms of different sizes and colors, slouching after hours in the smoker, and a sprig of basil that had softened and blackened—it was smoked, too—with two slices of hearty bread glistening with oil. I’ve never eaten smoked tomatoes before, and the effect was surprising—the smoky flavor was quite subtle, and it mostly served to enhance the sweetness of the fruit. The basil was deepened and mellowed by its time in the smoker, and we used the bread to mop up the sugary, intoxicating juices. I ordered the zucchini fritters, and if they’re on the menu when you go, you simply must try them. Perfectly greaseless, small, and bursting with shards of bright green, they came with a small ramekin of homemade hot sauce, which was more like barbecue sauce with a serious kick. Even when mixed with batter and dunked in the sauce, the fresh zucchini taste shone through.

After that, naturally, came entrees. S went for the smoked buffalo brisket, tender slices served atop a slice of Wonder bread with sweet onions and a whiskey sauce, and alongside a fabulous sauté of corn, bacon, and a whole bunch of other yummy things. I was curious to see how spending hours in the smoker might affect the meat, since I’ve had mixed results in my own attempts at buffalo. Liza’s was delicious, full of meaty goodness, but slightly tough. I was surprised—I really thought a long sleep in a smoker would break down those resistant fibers. My entrée, though, was an unqualified success: smoky, soupy black beans with roughly sliced chorizo, ladled over a grits cake. I was trying to be healthy (ha!) so I let S eat most of the sausage, but man was it good, fatty and juicy and spicy, playing off the toothy, barely-cooked beans. And the grits cake was a lovely surprise—when I read the menu I assumed it would be similar to the polenta triangles I made recently, but it was much lighter, fluffier, with a sweet, mild corniness. The whole dish worked together beautifully—if we weren’t in a restaurant, I would’ve licked the bowl.

By this point S and I were full to bursting, but I couldn’t very well leave without trying the homemade pie of the day. It was cherry-blueberry, and it was a gloriously messy pile, the kind of pie I dream of serving—except that I have absolutely no aptitude with pie crust. S, who doesn’t really care for cooked fruit (which lets me off the hook, phew), issued his standard disclaimer before we ordered it: “I’ll have a taste, but don’t expect me to eat much more than that.” Uh-huh. Our forks were dueling down to the last piece of crust.

The Queen’s Hideaway is not without problems, of course. The great influx of hungry customers (especially after another rave, in this week’s New York magazine) lends an air of chaos to the place. The service isn’t the best—although I can’t complain about our treatment, I saw the waitress apologizing to two other tables, for whom she’d put in the orders incorrectly. And if you’re trying to eat healthfully this probably isn’t the place to do it: the menu changes literally every day, depending on what Liza finds at the market, so it’s impossible to count on there being a lighter option. But as far as I’m concerned, these aren’t really problems—any small, new restaurant is bound to have some growing pains when accolades start pouring in. And as for my dietary concerns, well, the night we went there was a main course gazpacho, which I didn’t order simply because it had yogurt in it and I don’t care for it, and the tomato salad was certainly Weight Watchers-friendly. So I could be wrong about that.

When I saw Liza this morning, she was buying bushels of tomatillos, grape tomatoes, and corn. I asked what she was planning for tonight and she didn’t quite know yet, although she was thinking about doing another brisket, and a pecan-and-cornmeal-crusted flounder with remoulade. Sounds good to me! If I hadn’t just bought a mess o’ corn (my first buy of the season, hooray!), I’d be heading there myself tonight. Tell you what: Why don’t you go, and tell me all about it?