Nestled in among the Greek bakeries, groceries, and restaurants on 30th Ave in Astoria you'll find Sugarfreak. It bills itself as "Louisiana home cookin'", and walking into the restaurant is like walking into a New Orleans theme park. The ceiling is covered in corrugated tin, there are copper fleur de lis on the walls, and the bathroom is straight out of the Country Bear Jamboree. Atmosphere isn't everything, though, and luckily the food is very good. New Orleans is well known as a food-centric town, but not so friendly towards vegetarians; at Sugarfreak they have vegetarian versions of many New Orleans classics.
We started with an order of the popcorn okra ($8). The little bits of okra are lightly battered and deep fried, and served with a spicy dipping sauce. The cajun-seasoned batter makes the outside crisp, but when you bite into them the okra pops in your mouth. I'm a fan of the slimy texture of okra, and these make the best of that feature.
We also got an order of hush puppies ($8). These also have a crispy exterior, though in this case they are sweet. The innards are airy and light, with a great corn flavor. The sweet dipping sauce served alongside is unnecessary, as the hush puppies are moist and sweet on their own.
I debated a bit between getting the tofu po'boy ($13), made with cornmeal battered tofu, and the veggie muffaletta ($14). Since we'd already had a couple of fried dishes, I decided on the muffaletta. Made on Gambino's bread, imported from New Orleans, the sandwich was composed layers of olive salad, cheese, peppers, and roasted vegetables. The bread was relatively thin, but the crumb soaked up the briny flavor of the olives while the crust stayed crunchy. Normally anonymous, grilled portobello and peppers got a huge flavor boost from all of the other components.
Astoria may be best known for Greek food, but there are plenty of other reasons to make the trip. I can now add Sugarfreak to that list. The decor may leave much to be desired, but I'm already thinking of going back for that tofu po'boy.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.