Spicy Lanka: Sri Lankan Cuisine Returns To Queens
I used to hit up a little joint near the Ganesh Temple Canteen in Flushing, called Bownie.
It was a tiny, dark storefront that you could have passed a million times without noticing it. Chances are if you did notice it, you'd likely have mistaken it for one of those makeshift car service joints. What it was, for many years, was Queens' only Sri Lankan eatery.
Bownie was the first place I tried a dish called Kothu Roti, which consists of chopped up roti mixed up and fried with the meat of your choice, assorted vegetables and a dynamic array of herbs and spices. I understand that in Sri Lanka, it's a street classic. In these parts, it was, and still is, hard to find, and I fell in love with it at Bownie. I returned periodically to Bownie over the years and tried other dishes, such as Iddiapam and Fish Curry. Liked them all. On top of that, I liked the people who worked there. Good, friendly folks.
Then, a few years back, something terrible happened.
Bownie burned down. On top of the fact that some good people were out of work, Queens had lost its' only Sri Lankan restaurant. That is, until about a year or two ago, when I heard about a new place that had opened up on Hillside Avenue. I'm sure someone here will remember the name - started with 'A' as I recall - and perhaps a few of you ate there. I never got a chance. On my two lone attempts to eat there, the joint was shuttered, and there was no answer on the phone. Eventually, it was a given that the place was a goner, down before its' prime.
I'd all but given up on Sri Lankan in Queens until this afternoon, when, en route to dropping my car off for servicing, I saw the bright green sign for Spicy Lanka, with the proprietor/server, a very gracious and friendly hostess, standing outside. To my delight, the place wasn't shuttered. It was open.
First, a few facts. Spicy Lanka has been open for about two months. They took over the medium-sized storefront previously occupied by the other Sri Lankan place around 9 months ago, and spent all that time renovating before opening. The chef is, indeed, from Sri Lanka. Sounds like they flew him in just to open the place. I'd give anything to know his impressions of Hillside Avenue.
The menu is a work in progress. Like Bownie's, Spicy Lanka has a small, modest selection of curries - I'm going for the Kingfish next time - appetizers and Devil dishes, which are something of a Sri Lankan stir fry. They don't have Hoppers yet, but will as soon as they have the proper kitchen equipment. The decor is nice, simple, clean. Nice bathroom. There's a funky little bar in the back right, but I'm guessing these guys don't have a liquor license yet; I didn't ask.
Pictured below is my lunch today - String Hopper Kothu with beef. String Hoppers are a kind of noodle, aka Idiyappam. The portion was enough for a meal and then some, and could easily be shared by two people along with another dish or two. What to say, I'm in love all over again. For those who've tried this at the celebrated Sigiri, Spicy Lanka's version is just as good, with potent heat, great texture and a wonderful array of flavors. It's also, at 10 bucks, about five dollars cheaper. This dish has a claim on my soul - I consider it a dark master. I know it's not good for me, but I can't stop eating it. With each heaping spoonful, I say I'm going to stop but know that I don't stand a chance. I'm caught in the crosshairs and resigned to my fate.
In all, I've been worse.
I'm excited to try more dishes here, and am really glad we have some Sri Lankan in Queens again. If the kothu is the only good dish here, I'd return again and again just for that.
Hope others come, enjoy and report back.
159-23 Hillside Avenue
(about a block or so away from the Parsons Blvd F stop)
Jamaica, NY 11432
+2 Many thanks for the inspiring report. I too miss dear old Bownie. Relieved to learn of such a promising option outside Staten Island. Look forward to hitting it up soon.
Just went to Spicy Lanka. We had the fish and veggie croquettes, the vegetarian thali (with beets, string beans, eggplant, okra, and dahl), the kotthu hoppers with beef, the mutton red curry and the fish (they said tuna, I thought kingfish) with pepper and tamarind. Everything was delicious, fresh, interesting, vivid, and to the limit of my experience authentic, full of leaves and spices, tasting nothing like anything but quintessential Sri Lankan cuisine. The red rice is also delicious. Lovely people, pretty space, impeccable bathroom, easy to get to (50 meters from the Parsons Blvd. stop on the F train), BYOB. Quite spicy--I ordered medium to accommodate my wife, and it was still somewhat too hot for her. I could have taken hotter, and would have gotten a devil dish in different company. But I didn't miss the hotness per se, as I would have done in a Thai meal. The mutton red curry was the hottest thing we had.
One word to Hounders: GO!!!