BUSHWICK — Right off the Jefferson L stop in Bushwick, among the gray asphalt and re-purposed manufacturing giants, is a Mediterranean oasis, Queen, a new Moroccan-Israeli bar and restaurant lighting up the corner of Starr Street and Wyckoff Avenue with a bright aqua exterior.
Justin Ahiyon, the owner of Queen, is from Queens himself, and was born to a Moroccan father, whose family lived in Israel. Ahiyon is a musician and after years of touring as a percussionist, he decided to open nearby nightlife destination House of Yes in 2016 with co-founders Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova, and his cousin Ilan Telmont. The nightclub used to house his former food establishment, Queen of Falafel, a small take-out pita and shawarma joint that outgrew its three seats and now has become another space within the nightclub for private events.
“It was hectic having a café in a nightclub,” Ahiyon told us. “We weren’t really looking to move, but the [landlord] of [Queen], a neighborhood veteran, came to us at House of Yes and said, ‘Hey, I need to get rid of this place right away, are you guys interested?’ He wanted to get out of here, he now lives upstate, he has children now.”
While the other partners were not thrilled with the idea of another food establishment, Ahiyon and his cousin, who co-own the new establishment, fell in love with the space and location. It made sense to leave behind their take-out joint and settle down with a full-service all-day café and bar.
It’s a family affair. One of Ahiyon’s aunts, who owns Café Mogador, an East Village staple of Moroccan food that opened in 1983 at St. Marks Place, and opened its second location in Williamsburg in 2011, helped put the space together. Being the “food genius” of the family she was involved in conceptualizing his first venture of Queen of Falafel, and helped with the new Queen. And Ahiyon’s brother Jordan is now the manager.
The menu is inspired by fresh and healthy options, heavily gearing toward Israeli staples with Moroccan flavors, and was also designed by two family friends from Israel who work alongside Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani.
“It’s very in line with food me and my cousin grew up with,” Ahiyon told us. “It’s a lot of hummus, shakshuka, baba ganoush, a lot of the mezzes, tagines, and a lot of couscous dishes.”
The options are vegan and vegetarian-friendly and offer many little dishes for mezze, a platter of Middle Eastern appetizers, like charred beets and falafel. You can find chicken shawarma adorned with pickled vegetables, sabich, an eggplant-based sandwich, and other staples like mujadarra, a lentil and rice dish with caramelized onions. Expect a lot of tahini and pita. Mezze starts at $6, sandwiches go for $9-$11, and entrees range from $10 to $19.
While they wait for their liquor license–they hope to get it this spring–they’re serving mint and hibiscus iced teas and drip coffee. Once their full bar program launches, expect cocktails inspired by the flavors of the Middle East with rosewater, cucumber, and dill. They’ll have a late-night menu too and a to-go window.
As the area has changed significantly over the past years, it has boomed with new businesses, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Ahiyon told us they have built many relationships in the neighborhood since opening the nightclub and invite local businesses to cater or join events.
“We really don’t look at anything with competition,” Ahiyon said. “It’s such a great thing that’s happening in [Bushwick] — the food scene is elevating with lots of different cultures and different types of food.”
The design of Queen is inspired by Morocco and has many décor items refurbished by Telmont. From traditional light fixtures and bright colors, like fuschia and turquoise, to the tile and pillows, the owners hope to bring a cozy and warm atmosphere of an Israeli café, which is candlelit at night. The restaurant seats 35 to 40, and the bar and windowsill seat 12.
“We wanted to go for a cozy, intimate vibe, something that would be great to have lunch in during the day with all the natural light,” Ahiyon said smiling. “But then, can get really cozy and sexy at night.”
Their mission is to have great service, fresh and good food, but with an extremely casual atmosphere.
“I want [my customers] to feel like they had a satisfying, refreshing, healthy meal,” he added, with a chuckle. “It’s just a really cozy place to hang out, have meetings, get to know people, go on a date. I find that people actually don’t want to leave, that’s been our biggest problem, turning tables.”
Queen is located at 247 Starr Street and is open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight. Follow them on Instagram for updates.
Update: story now clarifies the names of House of Yes co-founders, and Ilan’s last name is Telmont, not Ohiyon.