Little Egypt, Queens

A Duzan meal, Queens, New York. Photo by John Griswold



Sometimes you know the universe is at work when the metaphorical intersects with the personal. When my car suddenly shuddered and seemed to slip out of gear as I was trying to get over the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge to Long Island, my next self-assignment, I pushed harder on the gas, thinking I might overcome the situation by jumping on the Grand Central Parkway and running for Deer Park, but there was little response. I was afraid it was my transmission, the means of transferring power to locomotion, and I wondered what the universe meant to say about my life.

But I managed to nurse the car along to the nearest Honda Service Center, in Queens. They were servicing vehicles around the clock, had two days’ back-up and were starting to turn customers away, but Tanjin, my service rep, was polite and sympathetic to the fact that I was far from home. He agreed to put me on the list. I would need to stay somewhere though until they could diagnose the problem, then make repairs, assuming they could be done, which would take longer. I had no other options. Online I found a cheap motel a mile away, and Tanjin paid for my Lyft. The driver was Nepali and used the last name Sherpa.

He took me to Steinway, an area he referred to as Little Morocco. The motel had few markings and was next door to a mosque. The young men at the front desk were professional and friendly, and when I asked about dinner they assured me any restaurant on the street would be delicious, everything was delicious, but Duzan was a favorite. I did not ask but they volunteered it was perfectly safe to walk anywhere at any hour.

Little Egypt, Steinway Street, Queens. Photo by John Griswold

I ended up spending two days and nights in Little Morocco, or Little Egypt, as it was otherwise described to me, and it was wonderful. “Little Egypt” was funny to me, because I am from a region in Southern Illinois also called Little Egypt, for different reasons, and it was a good congruence. After a walk up and down Steinway each morning, looking in shop windows, I ate pastries and drank coffee at Noisette Astoria, a patisserie where the Pain aux raisins and Pain au chocolat are still just three bucks, and you can eat them under an awning at a proper French café table and watch the street wake up with deliveries and growing foot traffic.

One evening I got carryout from Duzan: a pan of hummus with cucumber, onion, cilantro, cabbage, and pickle, with charred garlic naan, and a pan of pilaf with three meats, three sauces, and large wedges of tomato and onion. There was enough food for three people, at a price for one. The second night I ate at Zyara, which has an excellent menu with a filling  couscous platter with chicken, lamb, and sausage, served with large chunks of potatoes, carrots, and zucchini.

As it turns out, it was not a transmission I needed, but a fuel pump. Of course, I thought—my locomotion is fine, but I had grown starved of fuel in my midwestern, Metro East idyll, both intellectually and culinarily, and the universe had injected me with energy and pointed the way for me to drive forward. Tanjin, who told me he lives in the neighborhood, saw that my car was fixed so I could get going again, and has asked after me since.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.