For many Manhattan restaurants, a photo gallery of famous customers is a point of pride. At this Jackson Heights pizzeria, you'll find a few hand-drawn portraits, but the "wall of fame" doesn't focus on celebrity headshots and publicity stills — the center of attention is the pizza. The artists, as you've gathered, are also customers; they come from all over the neighborhood, particularly after school lets out across the way.
During my few minutes at Mario's, I noted that green — a color well-represented in my slice of spinach-and-mozzarella ($3.50) — doesn't figure strongly in the artworks currently on view. Next time, perhaps, I'll ask for a cup of crayons on the side.
Mario's Pizza & Restaurant 77-09 37th Ave. (77th-78th Sts.), Jackson Heights, Queens 718-446-8879
Here's a roundabout way to get your vegetables: inside matambre ($10 per pound; my two slices were comped by the proprietor). The name of this Argentinean dish conflates the words "mata hambre," loosely, "kill hunger." Lots of carrot, and a little red and green pepper, can of course do only so much to quiet your appetite; it's the rolled flank steak and hardboiled egg that finish the job.
Though the owners of this grocery hail from Mexico — have a look at the refrigerated shelves, which feature a dozen brightly gleaming salsas and other condiments — the meat counter is run by a fellow from Argentina. Given the local demographics, over the years he's trained himself to prepare Mexican charcuterie, too, notably a ruddy, chunky blood sausage that you'd never mistake for morcilla.
El Molino 94-15 Roosevelt Ave. (94th-95th Sts.), Jackson Heights, Queens 347-455-3462 (Argentinean butcher counter) 347-612-4677 (Mexican grocery)
"It's good for you," the counterwoman said, surprising no one. Atop a display case bright with pastel-colored, cardamom-dusted, and foil-flecked Indian confections, a deep tray of panjeeri ($6, at $12 per pound) was the drabbest thing in sight. However, unlike many oddball foods that claim to supply men with a certain vigor, this Punjabi dish is regarded as a nutritional supplement for new mothers. Whole-wheat flour, sometimes with semolina, is fried in sugar and ghee; so too are various nuts, on occasion dried fruits, and a variety of seeds and seasonings. Ginger, for one, jumped out at me.
After sampling my stash, two other guys from our lunchtime group — who already had boxes of brightly caparisoned sweets in hand — stepped back in Maharaja for some panjeeri of their own. One fellow later emailed to tell me that he loved it over yogurt in the morning; my panjeeri didn't last even that long.
Previously: The countertop presented several variations on the Indian sweets called ladoo (Lah-doo, lately $7 to $8 per pound), each the size and roughly the shape of a golf ball, but with more heft. Boondi ladoo, made from chickpeas, were golden, nubbly, and a little greasy; I preferred the firmer, finer-grained besan ladoo (shown below), made from gram, or unhulled pulses — a rubric that comprises various beans and peas, as well as lentils and even lupins. Stand and deliver!
Maharaja Sweets 73-10 37th Ave. (73rd-74th Sts.), Jackson Heights, Queens 718-505-2680 www.MaharajaSweet.com
Signs that take playful liberties with traditional letterforms are a common sight at New York's restaurants and markets. Since the shapes of food are so familiar and widely understood, it's not unusual for amateur signmakers as well as professional typographers to draw on this collective visual vocabulary. A chicken drumstick might be swapped in for the letter I, or a slice of pizza for an A. The practice is not limited to the Roman alphabet: A chile pepper, for example, can replace one stroke of a Chinese character. A favorite of mine embellishes the script of a Central Asian country to simultaneously spell and depict the name of the restaurant.
The letter O gets a lot of attention because of its bulky shape, which is easily mimicked by many other bulky shapes. An apple or an orange, a cocktail olive or a coffee bean, a ramen bowl or a dinner plate all can readily substitute as an O, especially when given context by untransformed letters. The substitution can be so smooth that we (meaning me) often read first and look closely later. The leafy globe on the awning of Global Supermarket (former site of one location of the mini-chain Trade Fair) seemed so prosaic that I almost didn't bother with a photo. Only afterward did I notice that the globe, from an American perspective, has done a one-eighty: It shows the Old World and not the New.
Global Supermarket 75-07 37th Ave. (75th-76th Sts.), Jackson Heights, Queens 718-779-2077
Not too sweet, not too sour, not at all mango: The pale orange of this dodhi, or yogurt (small, $1.50) is the consequence of traditional food coloring.
Also shown: the mark of the dodhi maker, Rosh. According to the food-court counterwoman, the lines and dots at the left are no more than a representation of "Rosh" in Bengali script. To my eye, the dots are teasingly teardrop-shaped and suggestive of another South Asian sweet.
Jackson Heights Bazaar & Food Court 73-07 37th Rd. (73rd-74th Sts.), Jackson Heights, Queens