26 Aug The EATORIALIST: A MILDRED PIERCE MOMENT
Sad days for the legions of fans who took the 10 minute subway ride from Midtown Manhattan to M. WELLS, the irreverent diner in Hunter’s Point, Queens that is slated to shut its doors next week. Sarah Obraitis is the modern day Mildred Pierce who feeds the faithful inventive comfort plates of organic minded and locally sourced ingredients in the hulk of an aged diner. Hustle bustle runs amok with a music pumped staff working the quirky room – and, it is just that, one long room. With its stainless steel and Formica, booths along the windows and the counter seats along the kitchen – we’re talking pure Americana diner nostalgia. Too bad for the Vita in her life (and ours) – I am not talking about the daughter gone spoiled rotten from the film but, equally as unsettling, an uncompromising landlord unwilling to renew her one year lease.
Gosh, time flies. It was just the other day I lingered with gustatory awe over M. Wells’ menu of superbly enticing picks from the repertoire of Hugue Dufour, who arrives in Queens by way of Quebec and the nose-to-tail restaurant Au Pied de Cochon. I will always think back to the satisfying Cuban Sandwich and a scrumptious banana cream pie. I couldn’t get my mouth to say “I do” to the pickled pork tongue nor could I fall in love with a Caesar (salad) but I will never forget that special moment I shared with a bleu cheese salad adorned with candied walnuts followed by the wonderful union of escargot and bone marrow. My counter-side dining partner went on about her mushroom souffle, oh so well-married to a generous sprinkling of dried bonito flakes speckled with a smidgen of green scallions though, I did not think of it as such a dream relationship.
Now back to Mildred. The iconic (if fictional) food tour de force of mid-century America diner lore made her start by way of a rolling pin and pie crust. No futuristic sensory surround in the film but, you knew those were meant to be mighty special bakes. Flash forward to the 21st century and it’s a world of flat and unmemorable premixed and prepackaged diner bakes. But, not so at M. Wells. The baker at the helm of the workstation across from my counter seat was busy rolling out pie crusts and a dough sheet was set for cutting out doughnuts ahead of their trip to the fryer and crispy deliciousness. Along with that banana cream pie an upside down pineapple cake was beyond superb. This was all very serious yum.
Tears one moment and conviction for keeping M. Wells alive in a new spot the next, Sarah remained the embodiment of all things Mildred as she warmly greeted crowds at the diner’s front door – reassuring them during their wait to these exceptional if fleeting plates.
M. WELLS. Through August 2011, M. WELLS. 21-17 49th Ave., Queens, NY. Tel. 718-425-6917