There is a dark side to restaurant glory, as Corey Ellis discovered on a recent Monday, the one day a week his establishment is closed.
“I’m on the phone and I notice there’s an old lady across the street looking at me with a real mean face,” the 43-year-old chef-owner said while seated in the small dining area at Mista’s Takeout in Roosevelt. “I go, can I help you? She says, ‘you have the gall, the *!#$@% nerve to be closed today? This is crap!’ I said, lady, I don’t need your abuse. ‘I drove from Brooklyn to get this food!’ she says. Sorry, ma’am! I think if she’d had a gun, she might have shot me.”
Truth is, even if Mista’s had been open, the lady from Brooklyn might have left disappointed, particularly if she was hoping to snag one of Mista’s signature, well, mistas, which one Facebook fan recently described as so good “they will make you slap somebody,” and which Ellis described as “an empanada-slash-beef patty to the ten-thousandth power.” By 4 p.m. on the day we visited, Ellis had already sold out of them — 400 at $2.99 each, he claimed — and that news produced visible disappointment on the faces of several of his customers, who arrived in a steady stream as the dinner hour approached.
Ellis, a Freeport native, originally developed his mistas recipe a few years back while living in Florida, but the reaction was so positive, he felt compelled to bring his creation to Long Island, quickly discovering that “they caused either a feast or a fight. People were hiding them at parties.” He sold mistas out of a food truck for about four years before making the leap to bricks-and-mortar in April.
If you’re wondering, Mista’s mistas aren’t the only thing that drives Ellis’s fans crazy. Far from it. There’s also “a sticky Hennessey sauce called Sticky Henny," he said. Originally developed as a companion to his fried chicken wings, Sticky Henny quickly took on a life of its own. “I have to make vats of that sauce.” It now sells for $17.99 a bottle. “If I run out of Sticky Henny, people turn and go out the door. Or CoCo Loso Jerk”— a sauce whose ingredients include Ciroc Pineapple.
“There’s that Henny look,” laughed Ellis as a delighted reporter crunched into a sauce-laden wing. “I’ve seen it again and again. The thing is, I can talk all the mess I want, but when people taste the food …”
A big man with an even bigger personality, Ellis exudes an unshakable confidence in his cooking. (Asked what cuisine he specializes in, he answered “APUD: absolutely, positively, undeniably delectable and delicious.") By his own admission he is also intensely competitive, having participated in several cook-offs over the years with his business partner Trindell Burton. “I’m the king,” Ellis said with a pointed glance at his friend.
“He got me on one piece of steak,” Burton chimed in with a smirk.
“Please, I’m the king.”
According to Ellis, friends say that his chief talent comes in taking “two things that people love but never thought about putting together,” a talent amply reflected on Mista’s menu. Among its offerings are yet another sauce called Ciroc peach cobbler, a perfect accompaniment to, say, Ellis’s barbecued potato chip wings, or his jerk chicken egg rolls, or maybe even his shrimp Alfredo egg rolls. “We have peanut butter and jelly wings with a banana cream Patron dipping sauce,” he added, bursting into laughter when the reporter looked at him speechless.
And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Ellis’ creative output. At various times, his menu has included everything from root beer chicken to General Tso’s fish cheesesteak (Ellis is a pescaterian), from seafood fries (“they have a cheese sauce, and then we put real crab meat on top of that, then we take shrimp sauteed in a creamy garlic butter sauce, and then we take fried clam strips and put it over that") to lasagna cupcakes you can eat while you drive (“that’s why McDonald’s and Burger King are so successful — the convenience.”)
Last question: where does he get these wild ideas?
“Everybody asks me that. They go, ‘Are you smoking some good stuff?’” Ellis said with another booming laugh. “I don’t smoke or drink, that’s the funny thing. I just have a gift.”
Mista’s Takeout is at 263 Babylon Tpke. in Roosevelt, 516-544-2288, mistastakeout.com. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday noon to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday 12 to 7 p.m., closed Mondays.