When I was first asked to cover a press preview of the eats at the LIC Flea & Food this year, I assumed that I would just get to try a couple of different food vendors that grace the Queens region and call it a day. After all, other than having a few friends who live in Astoria, my only real connection to Queens is falling asleep drunk on the G train and finding myself in Long Island City with a half-eaten slice in hand. Sleep training aside, no one prepared me for the food marathon I was about to endure, with some of Queens’ finest vendors itching for you to try their latest culinary creation that you can find at the LIC Flea every weekend. They include innovative food mashups (mac-n-cheese waffle sliders), refreshing summer treats (masala chai-flavored ice pops) and seasonings that traveled all the way from the Dead Sea.
Queens is one of the most ethnically diverse urban areas in all five boroughs, so naturally its foods reflect this. From now until October, locals get to taste how some of these different cultures cross-pollinate their menus.
First up on the food tour was Rib-in-a-Cup. Founder Michael Brandl explained that he gets bored with regular food items and wants to “innovate and come up with something new, (making) more crazy concoctions.”
His Mac-N-Cheese Waffle Sliders do just that, accomplishing a creative take on tiny sandwiches: Pulled pork topped with coleslaw and cornbread crumbles, adorned with a homemade secret BBQ sauce and enclosed by two mac-n-cheese waffles … because why not? Warning: these sliders are v. hardy. Snackers get lost; serious appetites only.
Next up was the delicious and SUPER fresh summer ramen from Ra(Mein). This take on Asian noodles was light and perfect for beating the heat but still satisfying the savory. Their Crunchy Kale Apple Salad featured fresh kale, chilled ramen, crisp apple, shredded chicken, carrots and toasted almonds tossed in a delicious house-made sesame-kale dressing. Perfect for when you want substance but can’t bare to expose yourself to any more heat.
Diving into some sweeter options, Island Pops offered Caribbean-based ice cream with unique flavors like Soursop, Masala Chai and others that contained moonshine, giving you that island buzz.
Shelly Marshall is the founder of Island Pops and a native Trinidadian. Coming back from a trip to her home country, she realized there were no local places where she could satisfy her sweet tooth for tropical island delicacies. She purchased an ice cream maker and started creating her own regional favorites, eventually expanding to grace us non-Caribbean natives with the distinctive ice creams of Trinidad.
Sweetface Snoballs was next in line for desserts, and owner Rebecca Duckert delivered some icy goodness. Modeled after New Orleans-style shaved ice, even down to the archaic ice machine that she winds and pumps to expel the most powdered form of shaved ice I have ever seen. The NOLA-inspired nectar flavor was delicious and refreshing, with the finely crushed ice absorbing the flavor perfectly for an impressively smooth texture, while making you scoff at the next 7/11 Slurpee you see.
Jumping to the opposite side of the taste palate was a specialty salt vendor, Amarasong. They bring you seasoned salts from the Dead Sea “that turn a novice cook into a gourmet chef.”
Their 19 different specialty salts boast 100 percent natural, non-GMO and gluten-free flavor profiles like Spicy Delta Cajun, Country Honey BBQ and Dilly Garlic. The Dead Sea Salt also boasts about 30 percent lower sodium than regular table salt. I tried the Dilly Garlic on a cucumber and it became an instant pickle in my mouth. Ya, I said it.
Riding that savory train to the end, Yumpling was next in line. Founder, Jeffrey Fann quit his job as corporate lawyer to share the majesty of Taiwanese soul food.
As per the name, Yumpling is known primarily for their delicious fried dumplings, but Fann and his lovely wife Carol bring something even better to the menu: “The Big Chicken.” Marinated for 24 hours in a soy, ginger and garlic blend, they then use a buttermilk and sweet potato starch to create the most delicious fried texture I have ever tasted. This frizzled slab of meat is then topped with a basil aioli and a sriracha mayo that made me cry in absolute food splendor. BYO tissues to this food tent.
The LIC Flea is every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm through Oct. 30 at 5-25 46th Ave, in Long Island City. The market will be stacked with an array of about 80 different vintage, artisan and food vendors – including the ones listed (and lusted over) above, so come hungry! And before you go, don’t forget to pick up one of our Queens Beer Books to wash it all down with.