Before it was Anella, the restaurant space on Franklin St was the beloved Queens Hideaway that served “homely southern bent American cuisine.” If you are still broken hearted about its closing, head over to Southside Williamsburg for Chef Liza Queen’s new restaurant Potlikker (338 Bedford Ave), where you will find new riffs on old favorites because food is always on Liza’s brain.
Literally, she is holding a binder of recipes on her head!
Reminiscing about Queens Hideaway is bittersweet for Liza, who said she has a “huge amount of pride in it,” because there was, “nothing like it,” but she criticizes what she called “a productive failure” for not having basics like a business plan – a word that makes most start-ups in any field cringe.
“I was so dumb,” she joked, “I didn’t know enough.”
Along with a few regrets she can recall, down to the garnish, dishes she served back then, like “grits, poached egg, softboiled aioli and chamomile flowers,” which she plans to build upon at Potlikker.
After Queens Hideway closed because of a rent hike, Liza feeling that “it is very important to spend extended time outside of your own culture,” was sold on an offer to run a kitchen for a couple of years in Saigon, cooking “shitty western food,” for ex-pats when her chef buddy promised, “you won’t make any money, but you will be really happy.”
She recalled how the Vietnamese staff who had no exposure to western food thought the food she served was “fucking disgusting,” adding that they were “absolutely appalled by it,” except of course for cheeseburgers and pizza. While ingredients for Vietnamese dishes were easy to come by, ingredients for dishes like chips buddies that satisfied the homesick tummies of English teachers, and items like tabasco sauce and horseradish were difficult to find.
In vivid detail she described the “ultimate sick food” she ate, a poor peoples’ dish of rice cooked down so long in chicken stock it becomes porridge with poached chicken and fermented cabbage and cilantro on top, and “family meals” for the staff of seafood covered in sugary hot sauce.
When she returned from the East she got another offer that came in the form of a question. “What are you doing for the next 14 years?” After Queens Hideaway, Liza had a long list of “never open a restaurant again unless” and Potlikker satisfied all those requirements, like a walk-in, a prep kitchen, basement storage and a long lease.
The vibe of the space melds well with the food, which is served as small plates that are meant to be shared. A very open and airy dining area and bar with a huge window invites the liveliness in from Bedford Ave.
“It’s more fun to share,” Liza said, “You get more raucous.”
Liza is very aware of what she wants to create at Potlikker and she is extremely sure of her own palate and how she wants it to translate in her cooking. After work she stays up and tests recipes in her own kitchen, obsessing over dishes and ingredients, “tinkering” with them so that “over years” they are specified according to her personality.
The “short answer” is that Potlikker is American comfort food. Based on Liza’s idea that “no matter where your are, every culture has a version of the same thing,” on any given day you will find dishes from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Italy, France, Asia, the Caribbean and South America and “because it’s America, you can call it American food.”
What takes it a step further and “makes it cohesive beyond that fact that it is comfort food,” is that Liza has specified ideas about seasonal items that she is most excited about and she knows exactly how she wants them to taste and how she wants the texture.
She has even featured dishes from her childhood, like Veal Piccata on Potlikker’s ever changing seasonal menu and used her own mother’s palate, which she described as “much light than mine,” to describe her own.
“I like a lot more animal fat. I’m more extreme. Bright flavors – I like brighter, heavier flavors – I like heavier. I’m heavy handed with everything … but balanced out of course.”
I tried three unforgettable dishes, which were interesting to taste after understanding Liza’s attention to flavors and texture. While completely reinventing old comfort foods to an iteration that just about jumps off the cliff to totally modern cuisine, there are hints that bring back childhood happy place flavors and textures. And her heavy hand is heavy, but it works. The acid balances out the fat perfectly and the savory the sweet.
The duck confit croquetta, which was perfectly fried and super fresh over exquisitely dressed greens, reminded me of the ham croquettes we still enjoy at the Cuban restaurant El Sitio on Broadway in Woodside, Queens. I didn’t miss the entire bottle of Tums I chew after a heavy meal there.
The Dutch Pancake had an incredible texture and great combinations of flavors, which Liza described as a “super trashy heavy snacky.” The oyster itself reminded me of fried clams I’d enjoyed as a kid at Peter’s Clam Bar out in Long Beach while the little puffs in the dough reminded me of pizza bubbles.
When asked if she could only eat one thing, Liza didn’t hesitate with custard, which she says is always on the menu: “eggs, heavy cream some kind of flavor, that’s pretty good.”
The Lemon Rhubarb Pudding’s smooth texture along with the sweetness and freshness of the fruit that still had a slight crunch, left my brain saying only “yes, more” after each bite.
I look forward to returning for Semolina Gnocchi Cake with Sauteed Greens, Favas, Spring Garlic, Chantarelle Chips and Taleggio Cheese and plan to go back for lunch to try the Philly French Dip, which is a pressed strip loin steak sandwich with caramelized onions and bells, beer cheese and dipping jus.
It’s exciting to see a Greenpointer chef, who really put Greenpoint on the map in terms of restaurants, back on the scene doing what she loves.
Bonus: when asked what her favorite restaurant in Greenpoint is, without a second to think about it Liza said Amber Steakhouse (119 Nassau AVe) describing the old Polish butcher who owns it and has a walk-in devoted to aging steaks properly for 3 weeks.
“Nothing but the steak,” she said.