Wontons, Noodles and Dumplings at Maxi’s in Flushing

We’re always happy for a second bite on a wonton. At Maxi’s Noodle in Flushing, this Hong Kong delicacy is noticeably larger than its Chinese ancestors. The dumplings and fish balls at Maxi’s are also strong, each large enough to require two delicious bites, if not three. However, size wouldn’t matter if the wontons weren’t wonderful: the pale pink of fresh shrimp, combined with a bit of pork, shines within their translucent wrappers.

The restaurant’s namesake, 33-year-old Maxi Lau, was born in Hong Kong. In 1997, shortly before the handover of the UK territory to China, his family immigrated to the United States. They settled on Long Island, in the eastern suburbs of New York City, but the family did most of their shopping in Flushing, home to New York’s largest Chinatown, and often dined there as well. It was a “second home”, says Maxi.

At 19, Maxi dropped out of school to join the world of work, starting as a cashier and working her way up the ranks at a local branch of a national home goods retailer. She “always loved food,” “cooked a lot,” and began saving money to open a restaurant, Maxi tells us.

His mom too. Maxi’s parents owned a computer business; she eventually expanded to offer security services and karaoke systems as well. But when family friends in Toronto offered to share their private recipes, Maxi’s mom was ready to change careers. Maxi’s parents lived up north in Canada, while her mother mastered “the art of wonton making,” as Maxi calls it.

However, those career plans changed when Maxi’s parents returned to New York and her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

After his death five years ago, “I mentally disassociated myself from work,” says Maxi. Adrift, she received an offer from those same Toronto family friends: come live with them and she’ll learn how to make wontons by hand, just like her mother had done. Those friends suggested to Maxi, she recalls, that even if she didn’t open a place of her own, making wontons would be a skill she would “look at.” [her] back pocket.”

Maxi trained in Toronto for six months. She returned to New York certain that she was ready to start her own business, but her father “broke back”. Before moving on to physical stores, she suggested to Maxi that maybe they should start with a pop-up. Her sister owns a small cafeteria-bakery in Queens that opens early in the morning and closes at 5 pm At night, Maxi’s talents could be put to the test.

Needless to say, pop-ups don’t just appear. Maxi would arrive at 1:00 PM six days a week to make the filling, wrap wontons by the hundreds, and set up the service. At 5 pm, when the bakery-café transformed into a noodle and wonton house, her dad presided over the small dining room, while Maxi ran a one-person kitchen until closing time at 10:00. Naturally, she had to get the kitchen spotless so the bakery could open early the next morning.

Outside of those hours, “I had to do my homework,” Maxi continues, to source the same quality ingredients she had trained herself with, especially the egg noodles that are essential for a wonton-focused restaurant. Her Maxi’s are made for her from a custom recipe, developed with the help of those friends in Toronto, that is based on duck instead of chicken eggs.

Maxi’s food won praise from local food dogs and later favorable notice in The New York Times. Soon, Maxi tells us, even her father was ready to say, “I think it’s time we found our own store.” He had already identified a suitable location a short distance from downtown Flushing’s busiest corridor, on a relatively quiet side street with an unusually wide sidewalk for the neighborhood. Maxi’s Noodle opened in September 2019.

Six months later, Covid-19 hit Queens. After closing her restaurant for a week—”I was bored,” Maxi recalls—she began preparing meals to donate to the overstretched staff at nearby New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital, where her mother’s oncologist was affiliated. Maxi also launched a side business, which continues today, offering raw and frozen items to go: wontons, dumplings, fish paste, noodles, and their homemade chili oil.

During the pandemic, that unusually wide sidewalk and quiet side street has now turned out to be a blessing. In the months when indoor dining was banned throughout New York City, and even later when many customers still did not feel comfortable undressing in enclosed spaces, most Flushing restaurants only offered takeout and delivery. at home. Maxi’s Noodle, however, was able to set up plastic tables and chairs on the sidewalk; that’s where we enjoyed our first taste of Maxi’s cooking.

Maxi’s Noodle has since added an extension, sheltered from the elements, to the front of the restaurant. We sat there recently to take a fuller account of the menu. As much as we admire Maxi’s braised beef, sweet and spicy pork and fried fish skin (puffy and crunchy, tastes like the sea), we adore the combination of noodle soup with handmade wontons, fish balls and dumplings. . The duck egg noodles are great; so is pork bone broth.

Today, Maxi no longer needs to wrap hundreds and hundreds of wontons herself; she has trained a small staff to the “very high standards” passed down by those family friends from Toronto. Maxi’s father, “my rock” she calls him, runs the restaurant on Mondays, Maxi has a day off. He joins her at work on Saturday, the busiest day of the week.

Maxi also has a framed photo of her mother in the restaurant and has her portrait tattooed on one arm. Maxi’s mom didn’t have time to open a place of her own, but now, in spirit, whenever Maxi is at her restaurant, her mom is by her side.

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