Every so often a restaurant comes along that’s so full of personality—so idiosyncratic, so nonconformist, and so downright kooky—that you can’t help but fall in love with it. Shopsin’s, in its Bedford Street heyday, was one. Prune is another. And so, in its own freewheeling way, is the Queen’s Hideaway, a scruffy little joint in Greenpoint that for sheer quirky genius surpasses them both. It’s the kind of place where the bathroom walls become a local cartoonist’s canvas, where Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, wafting through the kitchen window, serenades diners in the leafy, Fred G. Sanford–esque garden, and where the handwritten menu, which changes every day, is scribbled with oddball disclaimers: The pie, it reads one night, won’t change your life.
Maybe not, but it is mighty fine pie—fresh and seasonal (admittedly two of the most overused adjectives in the food writer’s lexicon these days) and also, as is everything at the easygoing Hideaway, quintessentially homespun. The chef-owner, Liza Queen, is from upstate New York, but you detect a southern accent in her food (starting with the bowl of addictive boiled peanuts that’s served instead of bread) and in its leisurely delivery. Don’t go when you’re in a rush, or with people who can’t relax, or who demand air-conditioning, or ice in their water, or stemware for wine. Or wine. (It’s BYO, $5 corkage.)
Instead, reserve the experience for those culinary pilgrims likely to appreciate okra fritters that are light and fluffy, crisp and greaseless, to dunk into piquant Hideaway hot sauce. Or “last of the summer squash,” three hollowed-out squash boats stuffed with fresh Greenmarket corn and goat cheese, then baked till tender. Tomatoes get similar treatment another night, with rich corn-pudding stuffing and a garnish of crisp pole beans.
The kitchen’s knack for vegetables and reliance on local produce suggest late summer might be the best time to visit the Queen’s Hideaway. There seems to be a concerted effort to get it while the getting is good: the corn on the cob, served with a knob of butter on a wedge of bread for easy slathering over the kernels; thin slices of cucumber drenched with yogurt dressing and enlivened with lemon verbena and Thai chiles; and especially the “end of summer” special, a picnic on a plate, with toothsome maple-crusted ham, perfectly ripe tomatoes, and that corn.
There are slight misses, even on that rapturously hodgepodge platter, like its toast points dabbed with a watery pimento cheese. But they’re inconsequential in the transporting scheme of things. A haddock-and-swordfish stew was light on fish and heavy on kale, its murky broth nicely flavored and well served by thickly sliced bread “for sopping,” according to the menu. (The Hideaway is big on sopping; “Anton’s buttermilk biscuits” serve the same purpose for the corn-and-maple-ham chowder.)
If sopping is big at the Queen’s, smoking is bigger. It’s done out back, before service, on a grill that sits against the wall among brugmansia flowers and plastic Adirondack chairs. Over the course of several meals, including a brunch—which featured popovers alongside tostadas, not to mention Tang by the 25-cent glass, but which, sadly, has been discontinued for the time being—we sampled smoked buffalo flank (slightly chewy but delicious) and smoked brisket (a bit dry). And as much as we wanted to love “BBQ bunny rabbit,” the leg and loin of soft, pinkish meat came under a near-impenetrable veil of burnished skin, leading us to speculate that maybe bunnies were not built for barbecuing.
Much of the food is served room temperature, which often emphasizes its bold flavors and the chef’s aggressive seasoning. This isn’t the place for timid palates, but it’s a bit of heaven for those who like their red-leaf-lettuce salad embellished with “hard core blue cheese” and smoked walnuts, or their double-roasted fingerlings (served with barely cooked calamari) doused with malt vinegar.
There is a cheese plate at the Queen’s Hideaway. It usually showcases one pungent variety, and comes with fresh fruit (peaches and plums one night), thick slabs of semolina bread, and some chocolates from the Polish candy store down the street. And for dessert, if the pie doesn’t change your life, maybe the beignets will.