The city lost a piece of its raw creative soul when the spray-painted buildings that made up Long Island City graffiti haven 5Pointz were surreptitiously whitewashed overnight in November 2013, a precursor to their demolition almost a year later. (A pair of mega rental towers are now being constructed in their place.) “It’s so sad that it’s gone now,” Katherine Oh laments, explaining how she commissioned the site’s curator and most vocal champion, the graffiti artist Meres One, to design a custom mural for her five-month-old juice bar and table barbecue restaurant, the Green Street. “I wanted the old red 7 train because that’s what reminds me of Queens, my childhood, and 5Pointz,” Oh continues. More than just a nod to the neighborhood, the vivid Redbird locomotive takes up most of the Green Street’s hundred-foot exterior wall. Splashed with anthropomorphic lightbulbs (Meres’s signature), the artwork injects some tangible old-school character, in its own small way, back into a neighborhood that, like so many around New York City, is changing faster than some would like.
“The older Long Island City was filled with factories and warehouses. I wanted to re-create that feel,” says Oh, and from the looks of it, she’s done a bang-up job. The deep building she and her fiancé, Bassem Soliman, took over, tucked along a sleepy stretch of 47th Road, boasts high ceilings, bare cement-block walls, and lofty paned windows that fill the dining room with seraphic beams of sunlight. Oh, a project manager with her father’s construction company for the past eighteen years, repurposed raw materials from her day job for the venue. Take the steampunk shelving system, made from demolition-site plumbing pipes and accented by a cascade of interlocking gears, which sits behind the bar and makes a fun backdrop for sipping Korean liquors like soju and makgeolli, the cloudy fermented grain beverage that goes down like a fizzy nigori sake. It’s here where a row of barstools fitted with wheels made me momentarily question whether one woman had pulled up for a drink on her unicycle. Oh’s also cloaked her open kitchen in embossed metal panels, and grill pits with stealthy induction exhaust systems are embedded into the dining room’s handsome wood tabletops.
While the surroundings suggest gritty, “old” New York, the Green Street’s ingestible offerings are decidedly new-age. Oh, who grew up spending time at Flushing’s Hwajun and Manjo, the Korean joints her parents owned in the Nineties, cops to eating mostly gluten-free and paleo-friendly meals at home and saw an opportunity to incorporate some of those practices here. So she uses agave and coconut sugar to sweeten her unexpectedly palatable smoothies, protein shakes, and juices — like the “Wild Caribbean,” which melds fresh guava, mango, papaya, pear, and coconut milk — and starts all of her marinades with a foundation of organic tamari, industrial soy sauce’s mellower, wheat-free cousin. A mix of almond and tapioca flours turn cubed tofu, paleo fried chicken, and shrimp-studded pajun pancakes shatter-crisp. Even banchan, the often gratis small plates that typically kick off Korean meals, are rechristened “organic vegan paleo vegetables,” yours for $4 a pop or $10 for a choice of four. Don’t balk — it’s easy to justify the cost when napa cabbage kimchi has this much snap and zest, and when garlicky eggplant gets cooked down until it glistens, spiced yet cooling and almost jellied.
The banchan are included as part of the Green Street’s barbecue sets ($69–$79), which encompass a wide range of meats, vegetables, and side dishes and will feed two or three people. Vegetarians get their due with an assortment of organic vegetable skewers, a personal favorite being the nutty and bulbous king oyster mushrooms. Soliman’s Egyptian mother provided the recipes for the conventional tastes that make up a Mediterranean sampler that begins with tahini-drenched cauliflower and crunchy fava-bean falafel and crescendoes with oniony grilled beef kofta and wild Spanish octopus tentacles. K-town aficionados will feel right at home with Oh’s more traditional Korean procession, which includes meltingly tender grilled pork jowl and short ribs, soft steamed eggs shot through with chopped scallions, an appropriately sinus-clearing spicy tofu-seafood stew, and a truly captivating cast-iron skillet of parmesan-shrouded brussels sprouts charred under the broiler. The key to the latter’s smashing success? A double salty dose of anchovies and the fermented soybean paste known as doenjang, which lends a more persistent umami kick than miso. While you can mix and match on your own with various cuts — wagyu ribeye, ginger-marinated chicken thighs, thick-cut pork belly — from virtuous supplier Meat Dorks, who source their grass-fed beef and pork from Montana — the prix-fixes are the way to go here unless dining solo. (I do wish they’d find room for their excellent marinated tongue in one of these sets. As it stands, the kitchen will only slip it to you as a standalone platter.)
In keeping with the theme, sweets come from Rawsome Treats, a raw vegan dessert company started by Oh’s pal, photographer and Muay Thai fighter Watt Sriboonruang. Stick to either of the two faux-tiramisus, which pair chewy cashew-almond-date sponge cake with cold brew– or green tea–infused coconut cream. As these kinds of saintly, healthful desserts go, they pack a surprising kick — much like the baker who made them.
The Green Street
10-39 47th Road, Queens