INI had just eaten at Au Pied de Cochon a week earlier, so my expectations for M. Wells were high. Could the cooking of owner Hugue Dufour possibly live up to the standards of his former employer? I was still coming down from the Montreal restaurant’s cromesquis de foie gras, little fried cubes of foie gras that burst like velvet orgasms. Au Pied de Cochon, in case you didn’t know, is a porcine temple on the level of its similarly irreverent and unapologetic peers Momofuku and Animal in Los Angeles. Adding to the hype was the fact that Dufour’s wife and partner, Sarah Obraitis, is also a partner in Heritage Foods USA, purveyor of some of the best pasture-raised meat in the country.
The couple leased and retrofitted an abandoned diner on a barren stretch of 49th Avenue in Long Island City, a chrome diamond in the rough with the unpretentious, home-spun charm of any interstate oasis you might find driving through Jersey. First to come out was the breakfast sandwich, filled with a thick slab of homemade pork sausage, a pillowy blanket of egg, Vermont cheddar and heirloom tomato, all on a yielding English muffin the restaurant makes in-house. It’s a take on a classic breakfast staple that is both exciting and familiar (like hooking up with an ex in a new city). From there my meal got more adventurous. Out came a plate of pickled pig tongue, served with a streak of mustard. Tangy and firm, it might have been the best dish I tried that day, a vinegary hit of flavor that was pleasantly tender to the touch.
The Perfect Diner: M Wells
Dufour has Quebecois roots, but this is an American diner, so of course it has a burger. Here it’s a beef and lamb mix served on a soft onion potato roll from Balthazar. It was thick and cooked perfectly pink, leaving a lingering gamey aftertaste only a serious carnivore could love, which is to say, I adored it. Finally my table received the escargots and bone marrow. On the shin bone, cut lengthwise in half, rested fatty slabs of soft marrow and dark, quarter-sized escargots, rich with the flavor of garlic and parsley. After spreading the last of it on toast points, I ordered dessert; the waiter, who exhibited Canadian levels of unassuming friendliness, brought out a warm brownie with a hint of ancho chile and an open-faced apple pie littered with crunchy bits of granola.
For a small diner that, for now, only serves breakfast and lunch, M. Wells is stunningly accomplished and innovative, not to mention affordable. I’m just glad I don’t have to travel all the way to Montreal to eat there.
Photos by Ashley Minette