What a strange trip it’s been for M. Wells. Our story begins in 2010, when chef Hugue Defour and his wife, Sarah Obraitis, took over a diner in Long Island City, turning that forlorn Queens neighborhood into a destination.
Defour came to New York from that insane Montreal restaurant Au Pied do Cochon, where you’ll find a whole pig’s foot stuffed with foie gras; or a hunk of foie gras on a buckwheat pancake ladled with maple syrup. (We’ve been twice, and would happily go again.)
M. Wells was very much in this spirit, with its meatloaf for four, plates of veal brains, and “seafood cobblers the size of throw pillows” (said Sam Sifton, who awarded two stars).
It was never quite a fully-formed restaurant, as dinner was served only three nights a week: the small kitchen apparently couldn’t handle any more. Still, those three nights were enough to turn Long Island City into a world pilgrimage site. Then the landlord got greedy, and after just a year in business, M. Wells was forced out.
The following year, Defour and Obraitis opened M. Wells Dinette, a lunch-only restaurant located inside MoMA PS1, a branch of the Museum of Modern Art located in a former schoolhouse, just a few blocks away from the former diner. Pete Wells gave it two stars.
The Dinette was just a snack to tide us over for the main event, M. Wells Steakhouse, which opened in late 2013 after nearly two years of planning. Naturally, it’s in an improbable location: a former auto body shop that is unrenovated and totally unmarked. By now, this is all schtick: luxury apartments have sprouted up everywhere you look, including right across the street.
Inside, the 80-seat dining room is a smart mash-up of old and new. There’s plenty of exposed brick and garage doors made of corrugated metal, but chandeliers hang from the old industrial ceiling, and servers are smartly dressed in black vests and ties. Unobtrusive nick-nacks remind you of times long past, such as an old-fashioned ice box, used for bar storage.