I was lucky enough to stumble on the new Thai restaurant Tong — in Wyckoff Heights near the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood — on a weekend afternoon in late autumn when it was warm enough to sit outside in complete comfort. This was before it was necessary to bask in the glow of those outdoor heaters that roast you like a backyard-barbecue burger on one side, while leaving your other half unthawed. At Tong (meaning gold) I was handed an amazing brunch-only menu consisting of just five Thai dishes, of which I was able to try four. On a subsequent visit, I ate my way around the dinner menu, too.
Served in a battered skillet, one brunch dish (kai kra ta, $14) consisted of three fried eggs with runny yolks served with Chinese sausage, scallion-flecked ground pork, and cha lua. As the menu notes, like a professor lecturing a sleepy classroom, this Vietnamese pork roll is enjoyed all over Thailand “but is most popular in Khon Kaen,” referring to a city in Isan. Nowadays in restaurants we are often not only well-fed, but also well-instructed.
A couple of venues have recently taught us the excellence of Chinese-Thai food, some of which originated in Bangkok’s Chinatown also known as Yaowarat Road. Before the pandemic, Noods N’ Chill presented a serve-yourself congee on weekends paired with one of several characteristic stir-fries, while more recently Soothr whipped up an amazing dish of shrimp in an egg sauce such as might be seen in an old-fashioned Cantonese restaurant here.
At its brunch, Tong adds to the catalog with its own congee (jok pla, $13), bolstered with fish filets and flavored with shredded ginger. A bonus poached egg and crispy sliced cruller float on top. What a lush presentation of this classic Chinese dish! Then there is a soup with short, thick, and chewy rice noodles, sporting wiggly pig blood cubes; a dish of fried pork and sticky rice with garlic chips; and the kind of toast smeared with sweetened condensed milk found at Thai dessert spots favored by teenagers in Elmhurst.
Well, the brunch went away when cold weather struck, but it should return with warmer temperatures. For now, there are heated and tented spaces outside, and carryout, of course, at this broad, white-brick space, set in an industrial neighborhood, that appears to have once been an auto repair garage. A project of owner Prasneeya Praditpoj and chefs Chetkangwan Thipruetree and Sunisa Nitmai, Tong debuted in late August. Nitmai is already well known for her work at Pata Café in Elmhurst.
The main menu specializes in small dishes that the restaurant calls kub klaem, though you’ll look in vain for the term online. These fall in two sections of the menu, kub klaem ($10 to $15) and small bites ($10 to $12). I’ve heard many of the dishes listed therein referred to as drinking snacks, but whether it’s consumed with alcohol or not, a tapas-style Thai menu with such unique dishes is a great pleasure, permitting one to sample a broad range of offerings.
Mum is a bulbous and nearly black sausage made with beef and beef liver, giving it a more assertive and minerally flavor than pork links. In another example, a salad of shredded ripe mango and toasted peanuts flavored with shallots and cilantro, with a gravy boat of a citrusy and peppery sauce on the side, manages to fully conceal a heap of dried catfish like a natural sponge. Excavating this dish is enthralling fun.
While I’ve seen cousins of both those dishes before, yum ma kheu yaw came as a delightful shock: a paste of chile-laced eggplant formed into thick bullets topped by slices of soft-boiled egg flavored with coconut jam. Call it Thai deviled eggs of sorts, with the chile providing extra devil. A plate of fried chicken thigh meat, amply breaded and reddish-brown, comes with a sweet chile sauce in the style of Hat Yai, a city near the Malaysian border where rotis are sometimes preferred over rice. Indeed, like Chinese-Thai food, the cuisine of the Malaysian borderlands in far south Thailand has been another new frontier in the city’s menus, as at Woodside’s Thai Nara.
Two of my further favorite dishes are shredded taro pancakes, something like latkes studded with banana blossoms, which you may come to crave more than actual bananas, and tofu skins stuffed with pork and crab that, being deep-fried, glistened golden in the tent-light. The menu’s larger dishes, though, sometimes turned out to be slightly disappointing compared to the smaller ones. In a curried fish stew of branzino filet with bamboo shoots and kombucha squash ($21), the fish choice tasted all wrong, like a European tourist skinny-dipping at a beach in Phuket, while the flavor of the sauce proved pallid.
On the other hand, pad mhee korat ($16), a mass of rice noodles slicked with earthy soybean paste and dotted with shrimp, was one of the best noodle dishes I’ve tried lately, with pickled radishes adding sweetness. Washed down with a Thai beer, it makes an amazing supper — and, along with the other unique regional dishes at Tong, one you’d have trouble duplicating elsewhere, even in Elmhurst.