BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so very fortunate to live in the most diverse and delicious destination in all of New York City. And I’m even luckier to be a Tastemaker for the World’s Fare, a celebration of global cuisine and culture, which will be held this coming weekend on May 18 and 19 at Citi Field. Over the past few weeks I’ve profiled my favorite international vendors from Bangladesh, Colombia, and India. Last week, we even visited the good old U.S. of A. to learn about hamburger maven George Motz. Now, we end with something sweet via Portugal — pastéis de nata, or Portuguese egg tarts, from Joey Bats Cafe.
The first time I ever had a Portuguese egg tart was at New Flushing Bakery, a downtown Flushing coffee shop that is so renowned for its many varieties of Chinese egg tarts — or dan tat — that it’s also known by the nickname the “Egg Tart King.” It was browned in the middle and cradled in a buttery crust, all in all quite nice.
The second time I had a Portuguese egg tart was also in Flushing, but this time around it was from an outfit called Joey Bats Cafe at Flushing Night Out. It was amazing — and not just because it was served piping hot. The warm crème brûlée custard was a great contrast to the flaky crust, and the whole thing was dusted with cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar. Best of all, the proprietor Joey Bats was joined by his mother. All of this combined to evoke memories of my own mother frying up fresh zeppole and dusting them with powdered sugar. If the Flushing Bakery was the king then, surely this Joey Bats character is the emperor of egg tarts, I thought to myself while polishing off this taste of Portugal.
If the name Joey Bats Cafe sounds like it’s derived from the classic mob movie “Goodfellas,” that’s because it is — in part.
“We had a lot of Joes in the family, and I was the first of the generation, so they called me Joey and it never changed,” recalls the 39-year-old Joseph Pedro Fernandes Batista. When he moved to New York City, his friends Sammy and Carlos started calling him Bats as a “Goodfellas” reference, and it stuck.
Joey’s pastéis de nata are now famous, and served at festivals throughout New York City, but he originally started out selling a different Portuguese dessert, bolo de bolacha, a cake made of crackers dunked in espresso and layered with vanilla pudding. When he saw how successful he was, Joey knew he had sell the classic pastéis de nata.
So he contacted his mother, Isabel Fernandes, and asked her to come from Portugal to help launch the business that has since spawned two cafes, one in New York City, and one in his hometown of Ludlow, Mass.
Joey and his mom will be serving their classic Portuguese custard at the World’s Fare. While he is quite modest about his family’s pastéis de nata, he does have some thoughts as to what makes them so good.
“Many Portuguese bakeries here have the custard right but the tricky part is keeping the shell flaky. Usually, here they are chewy and that is a no-no. If you get to Lisbon you will see what I mean,” he said. “I also only ever serve them warm because it’s the only way I like to eat them.”
Joe DiStefano is a Queens-based food writer, culinary tour guide, and author of the bestselling guidebook “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss.”
Enjoy the pastéis de nata from Joey Bats Cafe at the World’s Fare at Citi Field (123-01 Roosevelt Ave. in Queens, https://theworldsfare.nyc) on May 18 and 19 from 12 to 8 p.m. Tickets from $19 to $199 (children under 10, $5).