Thursday, November 11, 2010
Absolutely everything conspired to fulfill our fantasy of Shangri-la. The Long Island Expressway exit was Utopia Parkway. The neighborhood was Fresh Meadows. The address was Fresh Meadow Lane. The restaurant was called Quantum Leap.
The menu had a small mission statement with an explanation of the reason for the restaurant's name. It said that the secret of life was in the orbital quantum leaps of subatomic particles made in photosynthesis. That was just magical enough to add to the image and scientific enough to enable retelling.
There was no subway service there but we had access to a car. With a number of us packed inside a Honda Civic, we must not have looked too dissimilar to the cover of R. Crumb's Carload O'Comics. Our visits to Quantum Leap were spirited pilgrimages with empty stomachs and tremendous anticipation for the food, which was to us at the time like nectar from the gods.
We knew what we wanted before we arrived. Rituals are important and we had ours. A salad called the Big Wood (which I still miss) was a meal in itself - one or more was shared. At the time, we eschewed cooked food as much as possible. If budgets allowed, raw carrot juice (a rarity at the time) was ordered by the more affluent. The kitchen was well regarded for it's desserts and an excursion to Quantum Leap was never complete without their Banana Creme Crumb. Our desire to limit our dairy intake was thrown aside for these events.
The space included a natural foods store - browsing the wares was part of every trip as was meeting and greeting the manager, someone who became a dear friend and the subject of my story All The Way (see it here). I bought one of their T-Shirts at the time - it was too small then and still too small - another episode of my life's backstory of things too small and tight - see here.
On a recent trip to Queens, I decided to revisit the restaurant. When arriving at the address 6564 Fresh Meadow Lane, however, Quantum Leap was nowhere to be found, with Tienda Vieja in its place. After a brief visual survey of the area, it appeared to be the same neighborhood I remembered. A brief visit inside Tienda Vieja confirmed that this was the former home of Quantum Leap - a current staff member told me that they had closed at this location in the beginning of the year.
In the 1980s, the owner opened the first Manhattan location near my home - I was ecstatic. I still eat there on occasion, likely their oldest customer. When I tell the owner that he should bring back the Big Wood, he laughs. Silly boy, I bet you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and that the secret of life is in a Quantum Leap :)