21-17 49th Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101
(718) 435-6917

For a long time, an abandoned and derelict diner stood by the entrance of the Hunter's Point 7 Train on the edge of Long Island City. It was the kind of diner that Southerners buy up and truck off to one of those "take me back to the good old days of the Fonz because the best years of America are behind us and now all we have are sin and foreigners" theme parks in Florida. In fact, even though multi-million dollar condos are sprouting like weeds within a ten minute walk in just about any direction, the rest of the block is still derelict. But now there's M. Wells, a "Quebeco-American 'Diner'" renovating the culinary landscape.

Okay, so M. Wells calls itself a diner. Uhhh... no. Let's get past the exterior, the stool seating and the handful of booths and really ask ourselves "how many diners serve escargot with a bone marrow glaze?" Sure, there's fish and chips and eggs, but I didn't see any line cooks, I didn't smell any bacon, and I didn't taste any diner coffee. I got the impression that the chrome shell really housed an experiment by a crew of post-culinary school hipsters in which they raise a collective middle finger to the establishment of mainstream brasseries. No big kitchens, no host, no master chef throwing stale rolls at underlings in fits of rage. It seemed - though I could be totally wrong here since I'm no reporter and didn't talk to to anyone but my waiter - like a collective of people doing what they loved to do (cooking), their way, at their pace. Oh, and doing it by 4pm because that's when they close and head home.

Yep, Magasin Wells is strictly a lunch joint. 11AM to 4pm every day but Monday, when they aren't open at all. So I scheduled myself for two days around a 7 Train jaunt to LIC and plopped myself on a stool at the counter. Get there early. Both days that I ate here, a sizeable chunk of the menu had already been wiped out.

I started one meal with the Parsnip Soup (sans optional fois gras). Distinctly parsnippy, with a hint of fresh pepper and parsley, this soup was smoother than cream. I've never had a soup, in my life mind you, as smooth as this. It was thick, but light. It tasted fabulous and I can imagine that it tastes even better in the fall when the palate for root vegetables is more in vogue. My other meal was begun with the Escargot and Bone Marrow. The escargot is literally served in the trough of a split cow bone under a dusting of pesto and garlic and under a drizzle of a red wine sauce. If you're like me and come to expect your escargots floating in a sea of butter, then you're in for a new experience. This is not that. This is actually better and I never thought I'd say that. The downside is that you don't really get much. A few bites at best, even when you smear the combination of snail, marrow and fat onto toast.

The M. Wells Hamburger is a mixture of beef and lamb grilled and served on a brioche roll with a tangy chili mayo, arugula and onions. The beef/lamb burger has a little extra nuance than a standard beef burger does, but it's a bit gamier than I was expecting and doesn't have quite the richness of flavor. This was unfortunately over-compensated for with too much sea-salt, which I noticed right away. I ordered a side of French Fries, which cost a few extra loonies. They're Belgian-style thin-cut fries and were fine. Nothing amazing. I nibbled on them while I read a book. The Seafood Cobbler, my other main course was far heavier than a hamburger and fries could ever hope to be. M. Wells takes haddock or cod or some such white fish, places it over a bed of Brussels sprouts, then buries it in bechamel sauce, tops it with biscuits and Gruyere cheese and then bakes it. Yes, this was heaven incarnate, but it was hard to walk to the subway afterward.

M. Wells can call itself a diner all it wants, but it's not cheap like one. If it was open for dinner, then I'd drop it down to only three dollar signs, but for lunch, it gets four. Lunch, with a drink and tax and tip can be expected to range between $20 and $40.

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