Our Quest headed east again this evening. Crossing into Suffolk County once again, we opted to try a relatively new Chinese Restaurant in Centereach, New York. “LOL Kitchen & Grill” is located at 2545 Middle Country Rd, Centereach, NY 11720.
Centereach is on the outskirts of Stony Brook, and there’s not only a large Asian constituency attending Stony Brook University, but lots of Asian Markets springing up in the Centereach area. It’s also the home of Yao’s Diner. [Ed. Yao’s Diner closed]
A former Stony Brook Student, Yang, and a few friends decided it was time to open their first restaurant, and they knew that they could reach their roots via their connection to Stony Brook University. What they opened is “LOL Kitchen & Grill”, a thoroughly modern looking restaurant. Small in size, just six tables, and another room that would hold a small private party. They even designed the chairs themselves. Leftover plumbing supplies became chairs. Ingenious!
“LOL” is no laughing matter. They are serious about their eats! Looking to create an experience of Chinese Street food and Northern cuisine, they’ve brought authenticity to their kitchen, grill, and the dishes that they serve.
The Food of Northern China
The best-known part of China, historically and archaeologically, is Northern China. This is the cradle of Chinese culture; after all, the earliest agricultural sites in China were discovered in this region. It is an area of little rain, almost all of it falling in the spring and fall months. Northern China is known for cold, bitter, dry, and dusty winters.
Today, however, the agriculture of Northern China is dominated by non-native plants: wheat, corn, sorghum, rice, cotton, and sesame seed. Wheat, this basic grain of the North, is made into a variety of products including noodles, steamed breads, pancakes, stuffed buns, and dumplings of various sizes and fillings.
The best-known regional cuisines of Northern China are those of Beijing, Tianjin, and Shandong. Beijing and Tianjin, both cities located in the northern province of Hebei, share culinary traditions with their northern neighbors because of their proximity and similar ancient history. Shandong is a province with a long coastline bordering the Yellow Sea; it is rich in natural resources. These three cuisines, developed because of wealth and natural resources, are in contrast to the remainder of the North, which is poor.
Northern cuisine relies primarily on hearty dishes of meaty and starchy foods. Most of the Northern cuisine ingredients are based on the region’s agricultural products, which are limited due to the cold and dry weather in the north.
Wheat Flour — the Staple Ingredient
Wheat is the staple crop of Northern China, and you will find an abundance of wheat flour products in the form of noodles, dumplings, steamed buns, stuffed buns, and pancakes. Rice is also eaten in the north but is definitely secondary to wheat.
Dumplings are very popular in the north, served with vinegar and hot chili oil for dipping. There are various meat and vegetable fillings.
They had a list of specials on the chalkboard outside their open kitchen (and grill). We had to try a few for sure.
Steamed Pork Soup Dumplings – As we learned from Yang, after our first bite, the Soup Dumplings served in the North don’t contain a lot of soup. Being authentic as this was, there was very little soup in these dumplings. However, they were still good. But, be warned, these aren’t the Soup Dumplings that you might have been expecting.
Dry Pot Ribs – WOWZA! Loved them. Short ribs. Delicious. Topped with Sesame Seeds, and served with an assortment of vegetables, red peppers, green peppers, celery, some shoots, and chili peppers, served over a flame… they quickly sizzled up and sizzled our palates. We felt we were in for quite a treat tonight!
Eggplant with Hot Garlic – Two out of three ain’t bad, right? And one abstention. The Southside of the table liked this dish, and the Northside was split.
Bang Bang Chicken – Loved it. All-white meat chicken. Peanut allergy warning. Peanuts. They were yummy. And this other crispy thing, and was unlike anything we ever had. For lack of a better word, we called them “Rubber Bands”, but I’m sure a reader will correct us. Please!
For those of you who might be interested in recreating this dish yourself, excluding the rubber bands, check out our recipe for Bang Bang Chicken.
Skewers and Roast Pork Buns!
They have an extensive selection of skewers on their menu. We tried four different ones. Lamb. Short Ribs. Chicken. And Taiwan Sausage.
One of my all-time favorite Chinese “snack food” is Roast Pork Buns (also known as Char Siu Bao). We used to buy them by the dozen and freeze them. One by itself is almost a meal. But, one always makes a great snack. And you can easily heat them up in the microwave, and they will miraculously maintain the softness and sweetness of their bun, and the yumminess of the pork inside. These Roast Pork Buns were just the way I remember them. The other Mee’s found them doughy. To each their own bun.
These guys are here to stay for sure. Heck, they even tricked out their car with a custom license plate to catch your eye!
Aside from this fine restaurant, they also own the store next door, where on the weekends you can sing Karaoke to your heart’s content in their video sound rooms until 3:00 am. The kitchen closes a lot earlier, so make sure you get your eats on before you get your song on.
Here is our rating of LOL Kitchen & Grill:
There was no dessert served, but the price of the meal for four was almost shockingly low, $64 including tax. Jews will like that. Will it get them to schlep all the way from Queens or Nassau County? Not sure. But, it sure does attract the students from Stony Brook University when school is in session so they told us.
Humbly submitted for your consumption,
—Mee Magnum (“Chop! Chop!”)