Tonight is the first night of Passover, and there is no better way to start the holiday than with a Matzoh Ball Soup round-up, Queens style. Although Jewish-style delicatessens and eateries are not so easy to find these days, I took a walk down Queens Boulevard to see if I could still get a good bowl of the old favorite. Here's what I found in my own borough.
Delis may be a dying breed, but diners are still going strong, and the Georgia Diner is a crowd favorite. The matzoh ball soup at first glance was quite pretty. The matzoh balls were perfectly round and flecked with green, firm and toothsome, with a slight onion-y taste. The flavor was mild—not much matzoh taste, not very seasoned. The soup was tasty, but in a Campbell's sort of way, with small bits of carrots and chicken floating on a bed of egg noodles. Not your grandmother's soup, but warm and familiar, a taste of childhood. Three packages of saltines accompanied the order. For diner-style comfort, not bad at all.
Price for bowl: $2.75
Highlights: aesthetically pleasing matzoh balls, saltines on the side
86-55 Queens Boulevard, Elmhurst Queens 11373 (map) 718-651-9000
One of the last Jewish delis remaining in Queens, and the only one easily accessible by train, Ben's Best is a trip back in time. Their matzoh ball soup is served in an oversized mug, clearly labeled as "Jewish penicillin". The matzoh ball was huge as well. This soup, like Georgia's, also had a large amount of egg noodles in it. I happen to be a matzoh ball soup purist, and do not think noodles belong, but that is a question of personal taste for most of the year, and definitely not kosher during Passover.
No matter, this soup was full of noodles, chunks of carrots, and the aforementioned jumbo-sized matzoh ball; it was all topped with chopped dill. The matzoh ball was falling apart into the soup—to a point where the waitress even apologized for it. It was light and airy, but too airy. Nothing was holding it together. No strong flavor of matzoh or much else. The soup came with a piece of rye bread, a nice touch. Not the best soup, but sitting in a kosher deli with a can of black cherry Dr. Brown's and the smell of pastrami wafting through the air on a rainy day was a beautiful thing.
Price for bowl: $5.50
Highlights: Chopped dill garnish, large servings, atmosphere
Knish Nosh is decidedly old-school. A somewhat dark and dingy storefront with a counter, a few tables, and a fridge filled with Dr. Brown's. No frills. And the name is priceless. Of course their specialty are knishes, but they do all sorts of catering, and soup is on the menu. The matzoh ball soup here is served in a plastic pint container, taken directly out of the display case and warmed in the back.
The soup looked promising. Huge chunks of carrots, large pieces of chicken, and a misshapen matzoh ball that took up almost the whole container. A lovely layer of schmaltz floating atop of the soup, which was salty, fatty, and full of chicken flavor. So good. The matzoh ball was light, fluffy, and almost falling apart. Not much matzah flavor, though; the soup was the star of this show. If you're feeling sick and do not have a Jewish mother to make soup for you, the next best thing is a bowl, or plastic pint container, of this liquid gold.
Price for bowl: $4.00
Highlights: Great homemade-tasting soup, great name
Just Like Mother's
The winner of the bunch. Just Like Mother's is a Polish kitchen, the menu is full of pierogies and pork and kielbasa. But, catering to the Forest Hills community, there are Jewish specialties as well. This soup was just great. The soup and matzoh balls were an equal match in tastiness. There were three small matzoh balls languishing in a golden broth, garnished with thick slices of carrots. The soup was perfectly clear and tasted of chicken. Salty, but not overly so. The carrots were soft but not mushy, adding a nice sweetness. The matzoh balls themselves were the last I tried and the first that actually tasted of matzoh. (Finally!) They were neither too fluffy nor too dense, they stood up to the soup. Not exactly like my mother's, but close enough. A basket of brown and rye breads were brought out as accompaniment. As if that weren't enough, I went all-out and ordered borscht and a side of potato pancakes with sour cream as well—everything was fantastic.
Price for bowl: $4.95
Highlights: This bowl had it all.
Just Like Mother's
110-60 Queens Boulevard, Forest Hills Queens (map)
All it takes is a little exploration, but there is still good Jewish-style food to be found, whether it be on Queens Boulevard or further afield. Where do you get your favorite matzoh ball soup?