New York is known as one of the centers of the culinary universe, a capitol of innovation and the birthplace of countless trends, but we’re guessing the city’s latest novelty in dining will remain just that.
We’ve all eaten at “sister restaurants,” a term that conjures a homey, if slightly competitive atmosphere (after all, one of the restaurants is always hotter — both physically and…the other kind of physically), but last week Queens saw the opening of the city’s very first “brother restaurant.” Sibling to the borough’s beloved Esther’s Bistro, Dale’s Basement is aptly named if not completely accurate, as the establishment is in fact located in Esther and Dale’s parents’ basement.
Situated in deep Queens, well beyond the reaches of neighborhood classification, Dale’s Basement does indeed provide a homey atmosphere, and is in fact bursting with competitive energy. Once you’ve completed the likely day-long journey into New York’s most regal borough, you’ll see a charming duplex with a porch, one side of which is nearly collapsing under the weight of some heavy existential burden. After you ring the doorbell between 5 and 19 times, you’ll be greeted by none other than Dale’s beleaguered mother, who will buoyantly ask if you’re here to take Dale out (though elderly, she’s a progressive woman who long abandoned the hope that her son would marry a woman and will now settle for “literally anyone, honey. I just want him out of the house.”). Clarify that you are in fact paying Dale a visit — and a platonic one at that, though you are hoping to engage in a sensuous gastronomic experience — at which point she’ll sigh dramatically and lead you through the kitchen to a set of stairs that descend into a black, moldy basement filled, appropriately, with black mold. “Dale!” his mother will scream. “Your friend’s here!”
Dale will pretend he can’t hear his mother over his headphones, which he’ll undoubtedly be using to play video games on his computer that, while brand-new, look like they were created in 1983 and made available only on floppy disk. Eventually, Dale’s mother will give up trying to get his attention and retreat back into the kitchen, leaving you to descend the dilapidated stairs and wait anywhere between twenty and three hundred minutes while Dale finishes his game.
Once he’s emerged — hopefully victorious! — from his game, the owner, who declined to give his last name because he’s, “been banned from more than one subreddit, if you get what I’m saying,” will then complain for several minutes that his mom is a bitch (she’s not) before leading you to your couch. That’s right, there are no crowded two-tops at Dale’s, only tattered, stained couches! One to be exact, which you may have to share with a stranger in the unlikely event the establishment is ever able to bring in more than one patron at a time.
Just as soon as you take your seat, Dale will be happy to take your order himself, though in fact there’s only one dish on the menu: Spaghettios sautéed with a full pound of ground beef. Lest you think Dale’s inauthentic, all meals are served in the pans they’re cooked in, with the spatula that was used to stir its contents exactly once.
Once you quit your meal — that’s right, at Dale’s, you don’t finish, but rather admit defeat — Dale will impolitely ask you to carry your plates to the kitchen and grab him a Diet Mountain Dew. When you return, Dale will guzzle his “DMD, bitch,” tackle you on the couch, put a pillow over your head and fart into it until you scream, “I can’t breathe!” at which point he’ll smartly point out that if you couldn’t breathe, you wouldn’t be able to talk. If you’re strong enough to push Dale off, you get to crash on the couch for the night. If not, you will in fact suffocate under the weight of his noxious gasses. Regardless of whether you leave the basement dead or alive, you’ll be sure to contract a nasty case of pink eye. A rarified dining experience indeed, and unlike any other you’ll have in this great city.
While I would be hesitant to recommend the food at Dale’s, a long conversation with his mother on my way out (the following morning — I won our wrestling match and was therefore allowed to share the couch with Dale for the night) convinced me that Dale’s should in fact come recommended, if only because the restaurant’s success could help its owner finally find his own place, and his elderly parents deserve to enjoy 60 Minutes without their 43-year-old son calling them gay for watching the news.
So, if you’re bold enough to withstand the headlock you’ll undoubtedly be put in before dessert (for which Dale serves one of the Twinkies he buried in the backyard in 1987 to see if they really are nonperishable. I’m sorry to report that they have, unfortunately, perished), take the N to the E to the 7 back to the N to a shuttle bus to a non-shuttle bus to a Citibike, then walk 85 minutes east until you see a duplex with an eerie glow emitting from its basement. Then walk around the corner and you’ll see Dale’s.
If you are brave enough to tackle this culinary adventure, please tell Dale I sent you — he owes me $900 dollars. He said he needed a new computer but then just spent it all on underwear so he’d never have to do laundry again, which makes little sense because his mother, obviously, does his laundry. Huh.
If you aren’t feeling courageous enough to try Dale’s, at least check out his sister restaurant Esther’s Bistro, where you can order a salad and see what wonderful things can happen when parents love one sibling more than the other. Plus, no one will attack you there — unless Dale happens to show up in one of his infamous rages.
The food he serves may be subpar and the atmosphere he creates is downright hostile, but if nothing else, Dale embodies the (complicated and often terrifying) spirit of New York.