I was a huge fan of M. Wells, the short-lived, much-mourned Long Island City diner from Chef Hugue Dufour (late of Montreal and the great Au Pied de Cochon) and his partner Sarah Obraitis. The explosive flavors, the insane creativity of the kitchen, the fun, casual vibe… M. Wells was, for the year or so it it was open, one of my favorite spots in town. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I showed up at the M. Wells Dinette last Friday afternoon, and, no surprise, Dufour and Obraitis totally delivered.
Dufour and Obraitis have been around since that fateful closing day, that stunner of a shutter (they had just received two stars in Times, for crissakes!), whether slinging Grilled Horse Bologna and Foie Gras sandwiches at the Great Googa Mooga last May in Prospect Park, or manning a food booth at PS1 Warm Up all summer, but now the M. Wells gang is OFFICIALLY back in Long Island City, taking over the cafeteria of MoMA PS1.
The Decor in M. Wells Dinette Takes its Cues from the Former School it’s Housed in
MoMA PS1, the great contemporary art museum, is housed in a former elementary school, and the M. Wells Dinette fully, delightfully embraces its surroundings. The tables are all communal, and are actually those grammar school desks with the open front in which you stashed your books, pens, love notes. The menu, which changes daily (as in a cafeteria), is written on a big blackboard, which Obraitis and crew can cross off or add things as the day goes by; as each new class comes in.
You can either sit at a desk and get full waitress service–by the way, unlike my cafeteria in grade school, M. Wells Dinette serves beer and wine–or wait on line and bring your tray of food out to the tables and chairs (and steps) in the PS1 MoMA courtyard, a fine option on these glorious fall days. The kitchen is fully open, the music is solid, the prices are gentle, the energy is excellent.
Some Highlights of the M. Wells Dinette Menu
And the food at M. Wells Dinette? Just terrific, showcasing everything I love about Dufour’s cooking. For example, although there was the M. Wells signature Egg and Sausage roll on the menu, which is amazing, I opted for the Beef Tartare sandwich, which is exactly what it sounds like (a raw burger), and is also amazing. There are some caper-y flavors here, and some pepper, and it’s dressed with a bit of spicy mayo and a crisp piece lettuce, but Dufour really lets the meat stand on its own, which is does, brilliantly, with lots of that deep mineral tang but also a surprising brightness. That the roll tastes good and is the perfect texture–chewy but with enough give so the meat doesn’t get squeezed out–helps too. An instant Top Five NYC Sandwiches contender.
Also great on the M. Wells Dinette menu was my huge Frisee Salad (huge especially for only $8), with all of those chewy lardons, a fat runny egg, bitter, crunchy greens and radishes, just enough creamy dressing. I love Frisee Salad, and order it a lot, and Dufour’s version is outstanding. And the Clam Chowder was really good, too, especially the rich, oily, kicky broth. The clams themselves were a bit rubbery, but that”s just a quibble. I tried all summer, in fish shacks all over town, to eat a great bowl of chowder, and I finally got it a week into fall at an art museum. So: thanks.
M. Wells Dinette is located right by the main entrance of PS1 in Long Island City (not the main MAIN entrance, but after you’ve crossed the courtyard) and is open whenever the museum is open, which is to say: Thursday, Friday, and Monday from 12:00 noon to 6:00 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday; MoMA PS1 admission not required for entry to M. Wells Dinette. Slightly more info, and any changes to the operating hours, can be found on their website.