By Suzanne Parker
We first encountered Beth Roa, owner of Papa’s Kitchen at a pre-launch event for Smorgasburg Queens, the newest Saturday market in Long Island City.
She was proffering balut, those boiled fertilized duck eggs with the fully formed embryo inside, a much beloved street food of the Philippines.
Never known to back down from a gastronomic challenge, we scarfed the unborn quacker with gusto. If you don’t look at what you’re eating, the flavor is mostly umami and hard boiled egg white. We recommend not looking.
This left us craving to find out what else Roa has up her sleeve in her “Papa’s Kitchen” in Woodside.
The surroundings at Papa’s Kitchen define hole-in-the-wall. The 18-seater exists in a perpetual state of forlorn Christmas cheer. In late August it was sporting plastic evergreen wreaths and garland, strings of lights, and a blackboard with a hand-drawn Christmas tree, stockings, and holly, and “Peace on Earth” was emblazoned along with a come-on for a 2015 Karaoke contest ending Jan. 21. It’s safe to say no one comes here for the décor, but happily the food is another matter.
Filipino cuisine is a glorious mishmash of flavors. It intermingles Chinese, Spanish, Malaysian, American and indigenous people’s influences with local tropical ingredients. At Papa’s Kitchen it all feels very homey. The food, all of which is served on white paper plates precisely lined with carefully cut palm leaves, just telegraphs authenticity.
Appetizers are an easy decision here. You can have lumpia or lumpia. That is to say you can have Filipino-style spring rolls with a spicy (Dynamite) or non-spicy (Shanghai) filling. They come as a chorus line of eight slender deep-fried rolls filled with ground pork and veggies. We recommend the Dynamite version, which is not overwhelming spicy and comes with a mayo-based dipping sauce. This would make the quintessential party hors d’oeuvre.
Pappa’s serves no alcohol, but they do have an exceptionally thirst quenching citrus drink called “Mansi.” It’s a lemonade-like beverage made from calamansi juice, a citrus fruit native to the Philippines. It has the added benefit of counteracting anything spicy or greasy.
Papa’s next menu category is “Filipino Pasta.” “Pancit” which is the Tagalog word for noodles, comes in three different styles. We chose “Bihon,” which means rice noodles. It’s a sort of Filipino lo mein, stir fried with cabbage, carrots, garlic and lemon. It is fairly bland, in and of itself, but shared among diners, makes a nice accompaniment to the other dishes.
Bicol Express is a pork dish, slow cooked in coconut milk, with veggies and serrano chilies. The coconut milk makes it satisfyingly rich, with much in common with some Thai dishes. The little bursts of heat from the serranoes sneak up on you. Sitaw n Kalabasa is a vegetarian entrée marrying long beans to chunks of winter squash in a coconut milk sauce similar to the bicol, but without the heat.
Sinigang is a Filipino casserole whose base is a tart, tamarind broth. We opted for the fish version featuring pompano. A pork version, Sinigang Na Baboy, can also be found on the menu.
Neither deep fried, nor steeped in coconut milk, it was the lightest and healthiest of our entrees. The broth had a pleasing tang and was packing heat. A whole pompano bathes in the broth along with chilies, okra, long beans and cabbage. It’s a dish that is light enough to enjoy on a balmy summer evening or yet equally gratifying on a chilly autumn night.
There are no desserts listed on the menu, but chances are Roa has something tucked away in the kitchen to satisfy your sweet tooth. We were treated to Maja Blanca, a luscious pudding loaded with coconut.
The Bottom Line
At Papa’s Kitchen, Beth Roa offers a homey introduction to the delights of Filipino fare. You are encouraged to sing with, if not for, your supper, as karaoke is as much a part of the scene here as rice.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
65-40 Woodside Ave. at 65th Place
Price Range: $7.95-$16.99
Cuisine: Homestyle Filipino
Setting: Tiny, unseasonal Christmas decorations
Service: Friendly and accommodating
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday—Sunday, Closed Monday
Credit cards: No
Noise level: Noisy when busy