Queens residents, especially in Jackson Heights, might ask “Why should we pay $59 for a food tour of our borough.” Well ... Jackson Heights resident, casual tour guide and lover of food Jeff Orlick would answer that one might miss what he calls the “greatest hits of Roosevelt Avenue.”
“These are the area’s best-kept secrets,” said Orlick. “People think they know, but this is my life’s research.”
Orlick, who spends his nights working in TV news production and his days eating his way through Jackson Heights, knows his neighborhood — he lives just a couple blocks from the bustling avenue.
For nearly four years, Orlick has spent much of his free time exploring the food in the area, often on Roosevelt Avenue under the 7 train, where many of the food cart vendors he knows by name and has on speed dial in his phone park their shops. He has written extensively about these experiences on his website, iwantmorefood.com.
About twice a week, by appointment only, he takes groups of between two and six people hailing from everywhere from Australia to Manhattan on three-hour tours of Roosevelt Avenue largely South American food. Six months ago he started the Roosevelt Avenue Midnight Street Crawl and the Tastes of the World tour. Recently he unveiled the Queens Fiesta Crawl.
On the Queens Fiesta Crawl, Orlick takes groups on mouth-watering walks from 82nd to 111th streets on Roosevelt Avenue. The crew typically stops at about nine different vendors.
Food adventurers will get bites of Ecuadorian, Mexican, Peruvian and Dominican food. They will get tastes of shaved ice, tacos, seasoned pork, fish bollo — a sweet plantain mash with fresh tuna fish — tripe with peanut sauce, and many other dishes he’s discovered from extensive gastronomical research.
“And some of the carts aren’t the best,” he said.
It’s nice to have a tour guide who knows what’s what.
So what’s his favorite dish?
“It changes all the time,” he said. “It’s like asking someone who their favorite child is.”
He has not only become a Roosevelt Avenue food expert, but also has started educating himself on the different cultures of the area — from Bangladeshi to Ecuadorian— and on street cart-licensing protocols. Many of the vendors don’t speak English and don’t understand the all-English application forms, he said. He keeps a fully packed binders of all the rules, and he does his best to help out when he can.
He also has ID necklaces from the many jobs he has done at his night-job as producer. He said many cart owners get fined for the workers not wearing their food vendor IDs.
Orlick has come to call all the vendors his friends, which gives his tours an insider’s flair.
Queens Fiesta Crawl
When: By appt., times vary
Where: Roosevelt Avenue between 82nd and 111th streets