LIC eatery blends diner grub with fancy food

LIC eatery blends diner grub with fancy food
By Rebecca Henely

M. Wells, a new restaurant in Long Island City, looks like a typical diner with its metal facade and wide windows looking in on a stool-lined bar with baked goods under glass.

But when you look at the menu, things are a little bit different. There is a hot dog for sale, but it is topped in sweet bacon chili. There is a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich, but it also includes a tomato and pickled jalapeno. There is a hamburger, but it is made of beef and lamb and topped with onion glaze and harissa mayonnaise.

Such are the culinary creations of Hugue Dufour, the French-trained Quebecois chef behind the counter at M. Wells, at 21-17 49th Ave. Dufour runs the weeks-old restaurant with his wife, Sarah Obraitis. This is Dufour’s fourth restaurant — he has been in the restaurant business for 15 years, while Obraitis has been in the food supply business for 10.

“Our food reflects that,” Obraitis said, “because we couldn’t just serve the average fare, the normal fare.”

M. Wells, which is currently open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, blends traditional diner food with traditional Quebecois cuisine to make entirely new creations, Obraitis said. In addition to the changed old favorites, M. Wells also features cretons, a Quebecois pork terrine, and Montauk scallop carpaccio.

This mix of the familiar and unfamiliar can be off-putting to newcomers, but Obraitis said they encourage their customers to try their creations as-is.

“[We say to customers,] ‘We’re happy with this. We think you’re going to be happy with this. Trust us,’” Obraitis said.

Often, it pays off. Obraitis said they have already seen repeat customers. They have also seen a variety of customers, from truck drivers and construction workers to government employees who work in the area and foodies from Jackson Heights to chefs from the Lower East Side. Some of their customers are native Quebecois who remember Dufour from his restaurants in Canada.

“He’s such a likable guy with beautiful food,” Obraitis said of Dufour’s appeal.

Obraitis said she and Dufour decided to open the restaurant after they married in 2009. In February, they found an unused diner which was not for rent, but they were able to convince the landlord of their talent and abilities.

Obraitis, a native of Queens, said Dufour and she did not want to leave the area.

“[Dufour] really, really is smitten with Queens. Long Island City, specifically,” she said.

Within four months, they had it ready for business. The name came from Obraitis’ mother’s maiden name and the “M” stands for “magasin,” the French word for “store.”

Obraitis said M. Wells plans to expand soon to dinners, and Dufour already has some new recipes planned — in particular, a perfection of Salisbury steak.

“It’s very American, but it’s never, ever, ever been good,” Obraitis said.

M. Wells can be reached at 718-425-6917 or on the web at mwellsdiner.com.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.