Editor’s Note: alright, alright, so we’ve been here before, but this is a totally different Ihopapotamus and I think you’ll like what he has to say!
“Who makes you laugh?” Saturday morning. Snowy, cold, and early. I’m standing on the sidewalk watching my girlfriend get interrogated by a…brunch bouncer? He holds a clipboard (definitely a brunch bouncer) filled with names and comedic affiliations. Is it a test? If I say Dane Cook will they refuse to serve me? Is Louis C.K. too obvious? It’s odd to feel so self-conscious about brunch.
“That guy,” my girlfriend says, pointing to me. Sweet, but that will curry us no favor. As we enter I say to him “I would’ve said Bill Hicks.” That would have been flippin’ perfect.
Queens Comfort is a carefully crafted kind of strange. Artistry lives here. The sort of insufferable artistry that has made Williamsburg so groan-worthy. HBO’s Girls would film an episode here. Action figures are everywhere. Not mainstream action-figures. He-Man, Thundercats – 80’s staples. B movies (or C) play on a projector against one wall. Old-timey family portraits thickly coat another. The portraits were submitted by customers, I’m told. Nothing is displayed out of love or genuine affection. Instead, the place is crowded with tokens of worship to Irony, the hipster god.
Oscar Wilde proclaimed that sarcasm was the lowest form of wit. I imagine he’d consider irony to be sarcasm’s somewhat less ghastly sister. But irony is a funny thing (puns, however, Wilde was rather fond of). Irony is in essence taking something familiar, something accessible, and giving it a pleasurable twist. Queens Comfort’s food, like its kitsch, is a form of irony. You’ve seen all of this food before. But you’ve never had it quite like this.
People line up every weekend to eat eggs, pancakes, and waffles at Queens Comfort when there’s a perfectly serviceable diner literally across the street. They answer riddles from the brunch bouncer, rub elbows at communal tables, and stare at somber pictures of family members that are not their own. They do it because the food is superb, because it coaxes more flavor and more joy then you thought someone could from something you’ve been eating all your life. You’ve been eating it wrong!
There’s the Down By Law Benedict, a riff on chicken rochambeau, with roasted chicken, bacon jam, and poached eggs served atop a buttermilk biscuit before being drowned in hollandaise and a chipotle mayo. There’s the staple Chicken & Waffle, a slab of perfectly fried chicken done in a tabasco glaze atop a whopper of a waffle. My girlfriend had the South by Southwest Benedict – a crispy corn tamale is topped with smoked pulled pork, BBQ sauce, poached eggs and hollandaise. The menu rotates, so the pancakes can show up in a lot of ways. This time, they accompanied BBQ pulled pork with a Jack Daniels maple syrup.
Queens Comfort thrives on taking the familiar, the accessible, and using just enough wit to tease at your pleasure center with such deftness and skill that the craftsmanship is easily overlooked with all the funky flavor combinations and clever naming schemes. You could take their most basic pancake across the East River and serve it up in the Waldorf (NYC’s “other” Astoria), devoid of bombastic toppings, sides, or glazes. Visiting hot-shots and United Nations envoys would declare it pleasantly plump, perfectly scrumptious, and a fine pancake if there ever was one.
Worthy of special note is the truly genial staff that convince you to completely forget the smarmy vibe of the joint. You’re treated like a right proper guest instead of a customer. The check? Nothing more then a vicious necessity to keep the griddle hot. It’s as if they were saying to you, “We like this food, we think you will too, won’t you stop by?”
As we left, the bouncer told us he looks forward to seeing us back tomorrow. That there’d be homemade donuts in honor of Sunday. You get the feeling that these folks would be cooking this stuff whether it made them money or not. They are missionaries of a sort, spreading a gospel of simple, yet finely crafted, guilty pleasures. It’s not so much a restaurant as it is a sustainable pleasure machine.
“Are they free?” My girlfriend inquired, hoping to score a bonus Sunday donut.
“Sorry, babe, This ain’t New Orleans. This is New York.”