Joe’s Shanghai: China-born Joe’s classic Shanghai in Flushing

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136-37th Avenue Flushing

539-3838/4429 fax: 460-8258

There we were, in Joe’s Shanghai in Flushing. A bamboo steamer had just been set before us holding eight of the famed broth-filled dumplings - crabmeat with pork meat steamed buns. “Careful,” I was cautioned, “They’re filled with hot soup and may squirt. In fact, when our Chinese Luncheon Club met here the first time, I brought linen napkins, just in case.”

The Chinese Luncheon Club is an informal group of six or so maidens in Queens who “do lunch” about every six weeks. Or, rather, do a Chinese lunch. They chuckle when the bill arrives. “It’s so inexpensive.”

Joe’s Shanghai is a spot the Chinese Luncheon Club has “done” several times over the past seven years, before an afternoon of shopping at the super Hong Kong supermarket opposite. Now, I was there with the founder and a devotee of the Chinese Luncheon Club.

Some say Flushing’s Joe’s, the original, has best soup filled dumplings. There are now Joe’s Shanghais in Chinatown, Midtown and Elmhurst, too.)

Joe’s is a modest place with photos of customers posted along one wall, including the one and only Giuliani. “We catered for the mayor.” And there is a large tank with large carp swimming serenely to and fro. The gusto with which the customers are eating, and their happy talk, adds charm. Not to be overlooked are the handsome, tall, blue and white casseroles centered on many tables, with everyone sharing the contents. Downstairs there are five large tables seating 10 to 12 for families and parties.

After the dumplings, our scallion pancakes, cut in pie shape wedges, arrived. It was a less sturdy version than others I’ve had, and I liked that, although scallion pancakes, even when bought from a vendor on Main Street, are always a treat.

My attention, which was focused on a dish we were sharing of the wide, flat Shanghai style, plain wheat noodles, fried rather then steamed (and so tan, not white), was interrupted. At the next table, three steamers were served to three young men who demonstrated an exemplary way to handle the soup-filled dumplings. A large plate of soy sauce was to the right of each. With the right hand they picked up a dumpling with chopsticks and bathed it in the soy. Then, holding the dumpling over a porcelain soup spoon in the left hand, raised it to their lips. This way, any broth that emitted when biting into the dumpling was captured and then sipped from the spoon.

It’s all in knowing how. And they know how in Shanghai, the most cosmopolitan Chinese city.

An interesting dish of prawns and scallops in garlic sauce accompanied by white rice was our entree. There are five other prawn dishes listed - crispy prawns with meat sauce, spicy pepper salt prawns, prawns in chili sauce, braised prawns and twin prawns in chili sauce - and these are all served with the shell on.

Our beef dish, thin slices of beef with creamy cubes of bean curd, is a great favorite with our leader.

As is customary, a fresh orange ends the meal. I wondered, “What’s for dessert,” expecting the usual, ice cream. And if you’re lucky, maybe some red bean or green tea.

But at Joe’s, there were three choices: Steamed dumplings, which were four jelly rolls to dip in cream sauce (and they do come deep fried, if requested); a crepe-like pancake filled with red bean paste and folded into a rectangle; or what I had, the most intriguing, steamed half-moons of rice dough filled with red bean paste, green tea paste and vanilla cream.

Yes, the chefs are from Shanghai. And Joe is a China-born chef who specializes in eastern style food (acknowledged to be a “distillation of all that is the best of Chinese cooking as a whole.”) The food is heavier and a bit sweeter. There are soup-filled dumplings and the famed lions head - pork meat balls and noodles, pan-fried rather than steamed. They can all be found at Joe’s Shanghai, where the Chinese Luncheon Club delights to go and I found an unexpected sweet conclusion.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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