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Hot Pot Heaven at Mingle Beer House

Back in 2009, I invited a large group of friends to celebrate my birthday with a meal at Imperial Palace, an excellent Cantonese restaurant in Flushing. While waiting for our table to be ready, we stopped in at the only bar-looking place around. It turned out to be a strange amalgam of the newish kind of bar that serves high-end, mostly Belgian, beers and a Taiwanese hot pot and karaoke lounge. It was called Mingle Beer House, and it was clearly my kind of place. I made a mental note to come back and try the food, but it ended up taking until a few weeks ago to get back there. I went with my friends Imperial Stout, Plumlord, Forager, Sgt. Pepperjack and Sgt. Pepperjack’s girlfriend Princess Pea on a Sunday afternoon. We were seated in a well-lit dining area set back and above the bar. I could immediately tell that this place was classier than Shanghai Tide, the other Flushing hot pot place where I’ve eaten in the past. The table had the requisite spots for three pots to boil. It also had an Internet-enabled flat-screen computer that we assumed was for doing karaoke or playing entertaining videos while we ate. Luckily, my friends are not boring, and chatting with them was entertainment enough for me.

Hot pot, as a concept, is a beautiful thing. For a flat fee of $25 a person, you can order as many kinds of meat, seafood and vegetables a you please to dunk into boiling pots of flavored broth. Also included in that price is unlimited cheap beer. At Shanghai Tide, it is slightly warm Budweiser in a can. At Mingle, it’s Coors Light by the pitcher. Classy, I know. While it’s tempting to forgo it and order the fine Belgian brews the restaurant serves, there is actually nothing better than watery beer for washing down a spicy morsel, just plucked from a hot pot. Since there were six of us, we decided to order every flavor of broth, including half a pot of kimchi broth, half a pot of pickled-cabbage broth, half a pot of duck-meat broth and half a pot of the spicy broth laden with sweet, fiery Sichuan peppercorns. Since Princess Pea is a vegetarian, we also ordered a pot of the vegetarian broth, which truthfully looked like little more than water with a few vegetables in it.

Into the pot, we dropped thin slices of beef and pork, various kinds of flavorful mushrooms, udon and thinner wheat noodles, pork-filled dumplings, whole crab, water spinach, flaky white fish, thin, noodle-like tofu skins, taro root and surely other things that I can no longer recall. Each of the broths had its own appealing flavor profile, but my favorite was the kimchi. The spicy cabbage gave the food a dimension of heat that wasn’t quite as palate coating as the peppercorn pot. That broth, however, was probably my second favorite. The vinegary, sweetness accompanied by the burning sensation made it a wonderfully complex backdrop to the unseasoned meats and vegetables. The other broths delivered flavor, but were decidedly more timid in their approach.

Another appealing feature of Mingle that I don’t recall seeing at other hot pot places was the sauce bar. You could walk up to this station and fill small dishes with any combination of about a dozen sauces. I had no idea what most of them were, but it made for fund experimentation. As we fished the cooked meat and vegetables out of the pots (Plumlord developed a special aptitude for this art form), we dipped them in one of the many sauces before popping them into our mouths. Sometimes I would also ladle some broth into one of the smaller bowls and eat the noodles out of that, but mostly it was easier to just pop my chopsticks into the bubbling pot and pull out the next bit of food they encountered.

Mingle Beer House
34-07 Prince St.
Queens, NY 11354

Mingle Beer House on Urbanspoon

NYC Cravings for the Office Worker’s Soul

TruckI mostly bring my lunch to work. It’s cheaper and often better-tasting than the lame chains that populate Midtown Manhattan. But there are a few Midtown options that get me out and willing to pay the price. One of these is NYC Cravings, a Taiwanese food cart that parks right next door to my office (48th and 6th Ave.) every Monday. I read about the cart when it first opened, but only learned recently from my food-loving, part Taiwanese editor, Noodles, that it was parked mere steps away.

PatronNearly every Monday at around 11 am, a line of office workers cues up to wait for steaming, hefty portions of Taiwanese-style fried chicken, pork chops and fish cake, served over rice with pickled vegetables and pork sauce (all $7). The cart also serves pork dumplings ($3), chicken wings ($6) and zongzi ($4), which the menu describes as Chinese tamales. The line can be long, which is difficult to endure in the cold of winter. Luckily, my colleagues and I tend to eat later. When Saltman and I went out to try our luck at about 2 pm a few weeks ago, there was one lone patron (who had regretfully come out without his coat) standing ahead of us.

ChickenHaving already tried the pork chops and finding himself with too much food on another visit, Saltman wisely offered to share with me. We ordered the crispy Taiwanese-style fried chicken and brought it back up to the warmth of our office to eat. The chicken was moist and tender with a pleasantly crispy, but not heavily bready, skin. The sauce was salty and rich, playing nicely off the tangy pickled cabbage. Fluffy steamed white rice let us soak up all the juices. This is one flavorful lunch, especially by Midtown standards.

Half a portion was just the right amount for me that day, but Salt Man admitted to still feeling hungry. I guess three-quarters of a portion would be enough to fill most people up. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to sample the pork chops or fish balls. I’m also fascinated by that Chinese tamale concept. Luckily, NYC Cravings seems set to keep showing up near my building every Monday, undoubtedly drawing long lines of lunch-goers every week. You can be sure that the next time I forget my lunch, that’s where I’ll be.

NYC Cravings
48th St. Between 6th and 7th Avenues
Other locations include: 24th between Park and Madison on Tuesdays and 53rd between Park and Lexington on Thursdays.

For all other days, check