Posted by: Orlick | July 20, 2010

The Jackson Heights Food Group – Unpublished Article

This was an article I wrote that didn’t get published. Before it goes obsolete, it should see some light. This was written at least 6 months ago. I realize now that my view of the neighborhood is warped because I work nights. This means seeing people who don’t have normal jobs. I am also realizing that I am probably better to be written about than to actually write the article. I’m no journalist. I’m something else.

The last Jackson Heights Food Group will be this Sunday, July 25th, 12:45pm at El Globo in Corona –Jeffrey Tastes

jhfg shangrila (29)

This is the best Rosh Hashanah I’ve had in years,” said Mark, an original member, during our dinner at Spicy Mina in Woodside. Personally, I was nonplussed on the food but we were all smiles. A new joiner, Franny took it upon herself to find 2 jugs of wine for the group. That helped. And it became cemented: The Jackson Heights Food Group is not about the food.

Jackson Heights is an interesting place. Perhaps some of us are drawn to it because of it’s anonymity. And some just become anonymous. I like to think that everyone here is an outsider. Chances are your neighbor does not speak your language, and the expected communication could only be assumed a smile and holding the elevator door.

On a map, Jackson Heights is the north side of Roosevelt Avenue. The south side is Elmhurst. The Jackson Triplex is in Elmhurst. Possibly influenced by real estate prices or crime statistics, the name Jackson Heights usurps everything in the area. I don’t even live in Jackson Heights, I live in Woodside. But Jackson Heights is the center of it all, and that’s the name of the train station which all the meeting places must be within walking distance. So that’s the name. Plus it has a nice ring to it.

I moved here in the summer of 2008. A couple of months into my lonesomeness here, I became involved with jacksonheightslife.com. I discovered I was not alone. People talked about the lack of a nightlife, the need to meet friends in the neighborhood, great restaurants where they’ve eaten and potential finds untapped. With friends in other boroughs who didn’t want to come “all the way” to Queens, I had all of these great places to discover and enjoy, but few people to enjoy them with. Jean-Paul Sartre mentions a theory about holes in one of his books. In my uneducated paraphrase, he says that from the time we are born, life is full of holes and we have an innate desire to fill them. I saw a hole in Jackson Heights.

I’m not a natural leader, it’s this “urgency of potential” which makes me take the reigns. To me, it’s a forced extroversion. I look at it as everyone standing in a circle and no one is wants to step forward. I couldn’t wait any longer to enjoy my area, so I had to make it happen. One day, I took a step forward on the message boards and suggested a meet. Sunday was a wasted day where most of my friends stayed in and I can’t stand sitting at home doing nothing, so this seemed like a great way to fill my time. At least I could look forward to something.

Before our first meeting, I resolved to continue with the group until I was eating by myself for two months straight. I thought it would gradually dissolve because there are so many distractions in the city. But our first meeting was an awkward six and we maintained from six to 12 people for the first 11 months. We didn’t even need reservations until month number 12. Then, at our anniversary, we returned to Hornado Ecuatoriano with our group of 27 spanning the restaurant. Now we have to reserve rooms or split the group up and I’m hit with the challenge of the limits a single room can handle. The mood is starting to change from an intimate neighborhood table to a party-scene foodie paradise.

Our diversity runs the gamut. We have teenagers and septuagenarians. Occupations are spread across the board and every person who comes has something new to offer. Strangely, not one person has small children. We do have plenty of couples though and about 3/4 are born in the States. Our selections are potentially adventurous, so many of our members tend to be open minded and curious.

In a little more than a year, we’ve had fish tacos at Tortilleria Nixtamal, closed down Friends Korean Restaurant for a home style meal for 30, were serenaded at both Casa Colombia and Himalayan Yak, shot the shit with Timmy O of Timmy O’s Frozen Custard, and did the requisite Indian buffet at the impressive Delhi Heights. Looking at the places we’ve gone, all within walking distance of the Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Heights subway stop, I can see that those same people who were dejected more than a year ago on the boards are now taking advantage of why we are so fortunate to live here.

Few of the meetings actually take place in Jackson Heights. It’s my own inside joke. The truth is: most of my favorite restaurants are in Corona, Elmhurst, Woodside and Astoria – the neighborhoods surrounding Jackson Heights. People love to talk about the Jackson Heights food scene, especially Little India. The fact is that Little India is just that: Little. It’s essentially one entire block. There is much more to Jackson Heights than Little India.

Surprisingly it is not just Jackson Heights whose relationships suffer; it seems there is a need to meet people everywhere in New York City. I think the NYC lifestyle encourages us to be too busy to meet friends organically. Even meeting and getting together with friends becomes a scheduled activity. For me, this takes the fun and integrity out of a friendship.

People need to realize that they are not alone. The great thing about living in the 5 boroughs is that there are so many people that you can nearly guarantee that if you have a certain feeling, there are others who feel the same way. Your own community organizing dreams are available and all you have to do is take a step forward from the circle.

This group gives me a purpose. All I am trying to do is get people to step away from their computers, out of their apartments, out of their comfort zone and find things they love in New York City. It’s out there. Now I have an eager gang of eaters and explorers to work with. And while I do miss the intimacy of our early meetings, and the nervousness wondering if anyone will show up, I’m glad to have helped people make new friends in the neighborhood, expand their reach, and relieve fears of the neighborhood and the food they are eating.

———————————————-

The Jackson Heights Food Group meets every month at always authentic, sometimes adventurous restaurants within walking distance of the Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Heights subway station. The only cost is the price of the meal.

More info at Iwantmorefood.com

Memorable dishes:
-White rice at Casa Colombia (8623 Roosevelt Avenue)
-Chicha De Jora at Anzuelo Fino (86-01 Northern Blvd.) – Fermented maize drink
-Charrasco Marinado (A thick, tender steak slathered with seafood on top it it) and Morcilla (blood sausage) from Hornado Ecuatoriano (7618 Roosevelt Ave)
-Raw Shrimp Salad at Ayada (77-08 Woodside Ave)
-Sizzling Dolsot-Bibimbap at Friends Korean Restaurant (64-16 Roosevelt Avenue)
-Mustard Fish at Spicy Mina (6423 Broadway)

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Responses

  1. WOW. Great write-up. thanks for posting this, i only wish i had been to more outings!

  2. sniff. r.i.p. food group

  3. This was – and is still – a brilliant article, Jeff. Thanks so much for dusting off the cobwebs and sharing it with us. If only I’d have lived there at the time this was happening, I’d have surely joined you – I not only love food, but I love Queens and always will, no matter where I’m living. Again, thanks for sharing – it’s a great read.

    Tell me one thing, though, concerning Jackson Heights. Is there still a pub there called the Poitin Stil, with an adjoining shop? We used to go there all the time, after going to a certain comic book shop (can’t remember the name of it, but it was in or around Little India). Great pub, was the Poitin Stil – I think it was on 72nd Street?

    And speaking of Little India, that reminds me – have you ever seen the film ‘The Guru,’ with Jimi Mistry? It was set and filmed, I believe, in Jackson Heights – great comedy film, and great shots of Queens.

  4. Question: how to do you become a part of the Food Group? Do you just show up?

  5. Don’t worry, it’s only the beginning of many more things. The ambassador programs are still pretty intimate, so that’s good.

    Greek Girl, I don’t know about Pointin Stil. It’s probably out of business. the area sounds like where Reddy Penny is.

    thanks for all your support. Keep tuned…

  6. Great write up Jeff!

  7. Jeff, thank you for all of your efforts. You’ve done an amazing amount for the community, by bringing people together, and by helping us navigate the perplexing (but tasty!) cultural richness that surrounds us. I look forward to seeing what new directions you choose to pursue in the future.

    Sadly, between my job and my kids I never actually managed to attend the Food Group. Hopefully it will find a way to continue in some form and eventually I’ll be able to join it.

  8. FYI for Greek Girl on 7/21.
    In the ’70’s I was a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines. At that time I worked at EAL with one of the owners of Poitin Stil in JH on 72-08 Broadway. His name was Eddie Gibbons. Eddie was a great guy with an thick Irish brogue & he was also an original EAL “Steward”. He had been flying for quite some time when I started. He would fly a “turn-around” to San Juan then go to the PS to close the place up. The other owner named Kevin Ryan I never met.
    I found the PS card Eddie gave to me on one of those trips at home and I thought I would look the place up this morning. First hit I got was your request. I guess the place is long gone by now but you were correct about the existance of the pub.

  9. Eddie Gibbons! Yes! Yes! That’s the man! As soon as I read your post and saw that name, it was one of those ‘bing!’ moments – it brought back all the great memories of the place (Poitin Stil) and of the great chats we had with Eddie. Before we left New York and still living in Woodside, we saw Eddie coming out of the Woodside Inn (I think that was called Toucan Tommy’s or was changed to that name…can’t remember now), on his way to the 61st Street Deli (is that even still there, I wonder?).

    Yeah, Eddie was a lovely fellow. Hope he’s stlll around. We had great chats about all things Irish. Thanks GOC!

  10. Glad to have participated, Jeff. I’ll always remember that time we wrecked your apartment with an impromptu Karoake party!!

    xo xo


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