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What’s Québecois Food Like (in New York)?

Two weeks into its soft opening, M. Wells was getting quite a buzz when we landed in NY. A Québecois-American diner in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, it seemed to have the “next hip thing” glow about it, so we canceled our ABC Kitchen reservations (Jean-Georges is crying somewhere, no doubt) to check it out.

M. Well is located inside a preexisting old silver train car-style diner building four steps away from the subway stop into Manhattan (@GarySoup schooled us when we queried the distance). There were actual old-timers eating there, who probably thought it was a normal diner and not some heavily blogged cultural moment. One of them, a guy with a bad-sounding cough and even worse manners, kept screaming at the server, “Salt!” and then “BREAD!” The air conditioning appeared to be broken, and it was very hot.

What is Québecois food, you may ask? Maple stuff. Meats. Something called cretons, which is not a dumb person, but rather a pork spread. But the chef, Hugue Dufour, formerly of the popular Montreal restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, isn’t being too literal. Dinner (service has not yet started) will include things like frog’s legs, Salisbury steak, lobster rolls, foie gras tamales, rabbit, hot dogs, pizza, and fried rice, according to reports.

For lunch, Roxanne ordered the Cubano sandwich. It had good sliced pork, a nice, tangy Montreal cheese, and sizable chunks of cornichons. I had buckwheat crepes with maple syrup, which were more like Swedish pancakes, and didn’t have a whole lot of strong buckwheat flavor but were still good. Our friend got the bacon, egg, and potato hash, with a poached egg on top. The hash was super crispy, almost deep fried, and the little pieces of sautéed greens that came with it were a good addition. There was a hot dog with “savory coleslaw” I wish we’d ordered. It came unadorned with sides, in the middle of a white plate.

M. Wells sells homemade treats like tempting loaf cakes and doughnuts, but it was too hot for that. We found ourselves remarking that we would come back here if we lived in NY. Why? Well, first of all, diners are fun, particularly the old train car kind. And the slightly off-kilter menu, where you feel like you’re in familiar terrain but then there’s something unfamiliar like cretons, makes it just exciting enough. And hell, my pancakes were $4. Are those Quebec prices?