N/Q Train to 30th Avenue
After about a month of being open and after all the hoopla, I absolutely wanted to experience the wonders of Sugarfreak. Welcoming a new cuisine to Astoria with its NOLA Cajun style menu, Sugarfreak absolutely offers something different and unexpected in a neighborhood where great Greek and Italian food speak loud and clear.
I embarked on this food adventure with fellow comrades, Kimberly and Jonathan, who were more than looking forward to exploring this new-found gem. Having some experience with cajun cuisine (especially Kimberly), I knew that they'd only accept the best. The stakes were high...
I was a little surprised to find the restaurant completely packed on a Saturday night, with a 40 minute wait. True that this shouldn't be a complete shocker, but given that it's a new place with not much of a reputation, I wasn't expecting it. It was all good though, as the wait gave me some time to absorb the colorful surroundings and to enjoy the nice bar area.
The first thing that came to mind when I took in my scenery is how vibrant and fun everything was. From the mismatched wallpaper and exposed brick walls, the milk bottle light fixtures, to the antique hutch and the comfy seating with movable pillow cushions, my senses were on overdrive. Overdrive in a good way though, as all the little details made me smile and appreciate the effort that was put into this place. I was happy to see the space really transformed into something homey with the most endearing country flair.
We were all in the mood for something comforting and couldn't wait to try and share a lot of different items. After some deliberation, we chose the following and proceeded to stuff ourselves silly:
Boudin Balls - How could we come to a cajun restaurant and not have these? We simply couldn't. Even though there was a crawfish version, we went straight for the pork and consumed it like candy. The balls were crunchy on the outside and soft and meaty on the inside (hey...don't get any ideas!). I appreciated the moist quality of the meat but would've liked the flavors to be a little more aggressive in terms of spice.
Muffaletta - Another typical dish, associated with New Orleans cuisine, Kimberly especially wanted to try it. If you're familiar with a muffaletta sandwich, you'll know it's served on a large, round roll covered with sesame seeds and stuffed with plenty of cold cuts, cheeses and olive tapenade. Enjoying Sugarfreak's version, we loved biting into the still warm, crusty bread and the thoughtfully arranged meats, cheeses and the slightly bitter green olive tapenade that sandwiched the guts of the sandwich from both ends. Overall, a great sandwich and if we wouldn't have split it, I simply wouldn't have room for anything else.
Jambalaya - A great dish for sharing, Kimberly and I both nibbled on the jambalaya and loved its deeply set flavors. The New Orleans version of risotto so to speak, this jambalaya (like any typical version) included short grain rice, the holy trinity as the locals call it (onions, celery and bell peppers), andouille sausage, fresh herbs and lots of spices. The overall flavors in the dish tasted like home and were deeply comforting, which I think is just what they were going for.
Broiled Shrimp and Mac n' Cheese - As if we didn't already order enough, we also tried their broiled jumbo shrimp entree with creamy Velveeta mac n' cheese. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and contained great flavors from Cajun spices, but what I should really be highlighting here is the mac. I loved it when the Sugarfreak staff came by and boasted about the use of this cheese. Naturally a taboo in food circles, I loved how Sugarfreak embraced the beauty of this pedestrian ingredient and called a spade a spade. The result was a soft, velvety and delectable version that brought you back to your childhood, when you ate your mac n' cheese from a bowl, accompanied by a tall glass of milk.
Chicken Po' Boy - Jonathan ordered this grilled chicken sandwich, which he seemed to enjoy. Paired with nice looking French fries and served on a fresh baguette, he had no complaints and polished off nearly the whole thing. I didn't try it, but took his clean plate as proof that it was good.
Chocolate Caramel Pie - As if we didn't eat enough, we were offered a complimentary pie, with a deep, dark chocolate filling, peanuts and caramel, topped with crunchy pie crust. The presentation was just gorgeous, served in a cute little mason jar. Even though I was full, I took several hefty spoonfulls and enjoyed pairing the buttery crust with the gooey chocolate middle. If this is what NOLA tastes like, please take me there.
Watermelon Punch - Prior to our meal, as mentioned, we hung out at the bar, ate some complimentary peanuts and indulged in cocktails. I loved sipping on my watermelon punch, which included a mixture of fresh watermelon juice, gin and some citrus. It was wonderfully refreshing and not too strong, as I like my drinks.
Service and Cost:
While the service was friendly and accommodating, I couldn't help but notice the lag time in between courses. My friends noticed too, (no doubt amplified by our hunger), but overall the wait wasn't a deal breaker, just something to take note of. All the staff were gracious and hospitable, and we appreciated their two cents about each dish and the unique ingredients found in each item. It seemed that the staff were invested in this place and it showed.
Costs are very wallet friendly, especially given the generous portions. For the incredible amount of food I just described, we each paid $22 including tax and tip. What a steal!