Rohan Aggarwal, 28, has spent most of his life working in Indian restaurants.
When the Queens-born restaurateur was 6 years old, his father launched Baluchi’s, a now-defunct chain of eateries that served North Indian fare across the city. Aggarwal spent the majority of his childhood weekends handing out menus and washing the remains of sag paneer and lamb biryani off dirty plates at the original Spring Street location. After earning a college degree in hospitality management, he spent a year training employees at his father’s restaurants in India.
But it was American barbecue and comfort foods that Aggarwal wanted to serve when he set out to launch Queens Bully — a restaurant of his own — with long-time buddy Suraj Patel in the 2,000-square-foot space on Queens Boulevard that Baluchi's was vacating in 2015. The multicultural flavors of his diverse home borough would infuse the menu's meats, seafood and veggies.
“Barbecue was not my expertise,” noted the Institute of Culinary Education graduate, who brought on executive chef Arim Isabel to helm the in-house smoker at his gastropub officially opening for lunch and dinner on Thursday.
Is Queens Bully, named after the Boulevard, an enterprising son’s rebellion?
Contrary to what you might expect, it’s a retired father’s American Dream.
“My father always wanted to open a barbecue restaurant,” said the son, who believes his dad, Rakesh Aggarwal, tried his first smoked meats after immigrating to the U.S. “He had a love for barbecue. He ended up purchasing an industrial smoker, but he never ended up using it.”
Now that Ole Hickory smoker is cooking Bayside Brisket and baby back ribs for hours at a time at the Queens Bully in Forest Hills, Aggarwal said.
And it has company: a tandoor, the cylindrical clay oven used to bake Indian meats and bread.
“To be honest, I don’t think there’s any restaurant in New York that has a classic American barbecue smoker and a tandoor in the same kitchen,” Aggarwal said.
The unique composite of kitchen appliances makes a dish like naan pizza — fresh, fluffy flatbread topped with smoked meats — possible.
“We didn’t really want to create a Indian concept, but wanted those flavors present,” said the gastropub co-founder, whose 100-seat establishment draws on inspiration from other ethnic cuisines, too.
“We tried to really collaborate on the menu and create something that would embrace the diversity of Queens,” he explained.
The Corona corn elote — served with cotija cheese, paprika, grilled lime and crème fraîche — is the restaurant’s take on the street corn sold by Mexican street vendors along Roosevelt Avenue, the Astoria lamb burger with feta and mint aioli a nod to the neighborhood’s Greek food, and the Korean fried sticky wings a tribute to the fast food joints lining Northern Boulevard in Flushing.
As for the drinks menu by Mark Seaman, that’s designed to complement the restaurant’s butcher block offerings, with an emphasis on dark liquors like bourbon, rye and whiskey. Diners can order a whiskey flight that pairs cocktails with the day’s smoked meats. There’s also local New York craft beer in bottles and cans and on tap.
Queens Bully isn’t just sourcing its brews locally; it’s purchasing vegetables from the Forest Hills Greenmarket and setting up a hydroponic herb garden in its basement. (The man behind that project is the bartender Jason Sandman, a sustainability engineer with a passion for horticulture and composting.) Aggarwal hopes to open a rooftop garden to grow the eatery’s own produce by next spring.
"Hydroponic" may not be in Aggarwal Sr.'s vocabulary — "he'd definitely have no idea what that means" — but his son says sustainability aligns with his world view as a lover of nature and collector of vintage items.
Here's father and son together
Here's the outside of Rohan Aggarwal's new restaurant
This is the scene that greets you when you walk in