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Baluchi's founder's son pays homage to his dad's love for American barbecue

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

Rakesh Aggarwal is 63, his son 28.
Photo Credit: Rohan Aggarwal

Rakesh Aggarwal is 63, his son 28.

Here's the outside of Rohan Aggarwal's new restaurant

The door faces the corner of Queens Boulevard
Photo Credit: Justin Shockley

The door faces the corner of Queens Boulevard and 76th Road. A Baluchi's opened in this space some time around the year 2000 and closed in 2015, said Aggarwal, who worked as a bus and delivery boy at the restaurant in his teenage years.

This is the scene that greets you when you walk in

The design aesthetic is
Photo Credit: Justin Shockley

The design aesthetic is "rustic-industrial," according to a press release, with brick walls, cement flooring and exposed wooden beam ceilings. Vintage items, such as hanging bulb pendant lights, old mirrors and brass wall sconces, decorate the space, just the way his father would like it. "He's always been a big fan of vintage items," Aggarwal said.

Here's the naan pizza we told you about

The Bully BBQ Chicken pizza is topped with
Photo Credit: Justin Shockley

The Bully BBQ Chicken pizza is topped with smoked barbecue chicken, red onion, smoked gouda cheese, bespoke bourbon barbecue sauce and citrus cream.

The chicken at Queens Bully cooks in the smoker for four to six hours

It's served with bourbon barbecue sauce, a side
Photo Credit: Justin Shockley

It's served with bourbon barbecue sauce, a side of your choice, corn bread and cole slaw.

Cocktails at the gastropub will vary by season

This one is called the Queens Quarterhorse. It's
Photo Credit: Justin Shockley

This one is called the Queens Quarterhorse. It's a mixture of Elija Craig 12-year-aged bourbon, vermouth and Campari.

Take a peek at the tandoor oven

The naan gets baked here.
Photo Credit: Rohan Aggarwal

The naan gets baked here.


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