M. Wells doesn’t look like much on the outside: a dusty chrome diner car in a stretch of long Island City that seems gray no matter the weather. The restaurant, owned by New Yorker Sarah Obraitis and Canadian Hugue Dofour, isn’t a looker on the inside, either. The only things distinguishing it from its greasy spoon past are a modern light fixture by the entrance and two communal tables set apart from the booths and counter stools. What is striking are the prices—shockingly affordable considering it’s the best breakfast in Queens.
The restaurant opened for breakfast just a few weeks ago, lunch was added shortly thereafter and obraitis and Dofour are awaiting a liquor license before starting dinner (and, one presumes, weekend brunch) service. Understandably, the menu—a paper placemat—is in a constant state of flux, in terms of items offered and prices charged. The piquant chilled tomatillo soup ($6) I loved is gone, and so are the dreadfully bland chicken-fried chicken skins ($9). The popular egg-and-sausage sandwich ($8), a gut-buster of housemade sage-andnutmeg sausage patty, Cheddar, mayo, heirloom tomato and pickled jalapenos on a homemade English muffin, costs a dollar more than it first did, as does the frozen custard ($4) from Corona’s Tommy O’s— though the price of a shake mysteriously remains the same at $5. Both are still more than worth the price, but I didn’t try the pickled pork tongue ($6), so you’ll have to tell me if it’s worth paying almost double the $3.50 it cost before I blinked my eye.
With the exception of that breakfast sandwich, most of the portions are small, so you’ll want to order a few dishes and share. An egg baked in a pot of bright tomato stew ($8), served with a baguette to mop up every delicious drop, is a great dish to do just that. The tortilla española ($5), a small, fluffy omelet with potato and onion, is also a good bet for passing around the table.
Then there is the restaurant’s take on eggs Benedict, so good you won’t want to share. My favorite of the variations is a perfectly cooked egg set atop a pile of sweet crabmeat and summer corn chowder, all of which rests on top of a shredded potato pancake, the whole thing doused with expert Hollandaise sauce ($12).
If lunch is your thing, a version of a cubano ($7) with fatty roasted pork, Mortadella, Swiss and juicy pickles is tasty; a hot dog ($5) on a buttered roll with cole slaw is also a good choice, though both suffer from not enough side options.
Billed as a Quebec-American diner, M. Wells doesn’t have much on the menu yet to prove it achieves that goal: scattered amongst the pan-cultural menu are a scant few Canadian dishes, like an unceremonious scoop of the pork terrine dish known in Quebec as Cretons ($5) and thick buckwheat crepes served swimming in a pool of maple syrup ($4), both of which are among the restaurant’s least successful offerings. What the menu lacks in focus, though, it more than makes up for in craft. M. Wells is simple food with good ingredients done exceptionally well at affordable (dare I say respectful) prices.
>> M. WELLS
21-17 49th Avenue (at 21st St.), Queens, 718-425-6917.