I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me more than a decade of living in Queens to try Rizzo’s Fine Pizza. After all, if I hear of an amazing Chinese dumpling, I can scarcely wait a day to try it. Perhaps it is as my dear departed friend food writer Josh Ozersky once said: “Joey has forsaken his Italian heritage to eat Chinese food in ethnic hell holes.”
Upon entering the 58-year-old Astoria institution last Saturday night I noticed Ozersky was one of many food writers whose accolades lined the walls. When I got to the counter I paused for a moment—as if there was any possible order for a first-timer other than the shop’s famous thin-crust Sicilian. (more…)
Kickshaw’s ‘Hero’ eats like veggie version of a roast pork Italian.
Astoria’s Queens Kickshaw might be best known for its fancy pants grilled cheese sandwiches, but the other day I tried a sandwich there that was far from dainty. Listed simply as Hero ($13), I like to think of it as a vegetarian version of a Philadelphia roast pork Italian sub. This is mainly because the ingredients feature plenty of broccoli rabe and provolone in addition to fried eggplant and sauteed peppers and onions. It’s the best vegetarian Italian sandwich I’ve had in Astoria, mainly because it’s the only one I’ve had. Faint praise aside, it is a lovely gooey hot mess of a sandwich. I only wish there were some hot cherry peppers and sauteed garlic on it!
The Queens Kickshaw, 40-17 Broadway, Astoria, 718-777-0913
With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. It was a big year for me and for food in Queens, including a feature in Asahi Shimbun and the discovery of the durian pizza. In no particular order here are 16 of the best things I ate last year.
1. Best Grilled Cheese Mr. Crispy, a grilled cheese sandwich served at Astoria Bier & Cheese answers the question, “How good can a grilled cheese be?” with a resounding “very, very good.” The sandwich of cave aged gruyere, ham and honey mustard is coated in mantle of white crispy cheese. This coating extends outward into a golden lacy corolla, a veritable halo of crispy cheese. It’s crunchy, sharp, and eminently craveable. I’ve haven’t been this excited about fried cheese since Joe Bastianich’s ill-fated Frico Bar. Astoria Bier & Cheese, 34-14 Broadway, Astoria, 718-545-5588
2. Most Fabulous F***in’ Clam Pizza
The salciccia e vongole pizza at Whit’s End is the best clam pie I’ve had outside of Zuppardi’s. Housemade sausage seasoned with clove, star, anise, juniper, and allspice join the Littleneck clams along with pepperoncini and shaved garlic. The combination of the fior di latte mozzarella and Parmigianno Regianno round things out quite nicely. Whit’s End, Riis Park Beach Bazaar
3. Hottest Off-menu Indian-Chinese Chicken
Nashville may have cayenne-infused hot chicken, but here in Queens we have something I like to call hakka hot chicken. Peter Lo, Queens’ godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine and founder of Tangra Masala, whipped up a batch for me a while back. The hacked up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic call to mind Dominican style chicharron de pollo with an Indian-Chinese twist. Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298
4. Best Breakfast Sandwich I count myself a big fan of the classic bacon egg and cheese, but my favorite breakfast sandwich of 2017 contains no swine whatsoever. The breakfast sandwich at Roast n Co combines organic eggs, tomato jam, and Cabot white cheddar on a brioche make for one of the best egg sandwiches ever. Since Roast n co is run by Tunisians you have the option of asking for a sidecar of harissa, a lovely concoction of chili peppers, olive oil, and paprika. It’s an option you should exercise. Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000
5. Most Secret Korean BBQ Garden
Korean barbecue always brings to mind happy memories of backyard barbecues. At Flushing’s Majang Dong the Korean BBQ that takes place in an actual backyard. Chef Yu and his family run what some might call a Korean BBQ speakeasy. Sure there’s a storefront and inside you’ll find a restaurant, but the real action takes place out back in the shack and garden. Say you’re there for BBQ, and Mrs. Yu will walk you out the back door into a Korean BBQ wonderland. Pork kalbi and pork belly are both lovely, and there’s eel and octopus for seafood lovers, but one of the best meats is grilled pork intestines. With a crunchy exterior and chewy interior, the fatty rings eat like an offal lover’s version of pork cracklins. Majang Dong, 41-71 Bowne St., Flushing, 718-460-2629(more…)
If you’re anything like me—and I suspect you are if you read my musings about food and culture in Queens—you might still be struggling about what to bring to Thanksgiving tomorrow. Rejoice procrastinators and noncooks! Japan has come to your rescue in the form of pumpkin creme brulee KitKats. Let me say that again “Pumpkin Crème Brûlée KitKats!”
Lunza kukalo, Cypriot style smoked pork ribs marinated in red wine, rubbed with crushed coriander.
Just as Jackson Heights has long been associated with South Asian and Indian cuisine Astoria is renowned for its Greek tavernas, but it’s also home to another cuisine that’s often confused with Greek. I speak of Cypriot cuisine, a product of a nation that sits at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia. And the best place to enjoy this wonderful style of cooking which bears Greek, Sicilian and Middle Eastern influences is Zenon Taverna. Which is precisely why the boys from Queens Dinner Club and I chose it for this month’s dinner on 10/26. To find out when tickets go on sale, be sure to watch our Facebook page.
“Everyone thinks we’re a European country, but we’re actually part of Asia,” said Elena, daughter of Zenon Taverna’s founder Stelios Papageorgiou. “We’re just below Turkey and right above Egypt.”
Many people conflate Cypriot and Greek cuisine, but Elena is quick to point out they are quite different. One of the main differences is the prevalence of pork. “We use pork for everything,” she said. “The reason for it is we’re a small island and pigs are easier to raise.” (more…)
Mr. Crispy, Astoria’s answer to the croque monsieur.
Culinary hyperbole is as much an occupational hazard as it is a way of life these days. In the race for web traffic, social media likes, and a desire to stand out everything becomes the best. The sense of discovery and wonder that drives me as a food writer is all too often lost in a sea of superlatives. So l when my dear friend and Astoria denizen Connie Murray started raving about a certain grilled cheese being the best, I took it with a grain of gruyere. After all how could good can a grilled cheese be?
I’d been to Astoria Bier & Cheese before. While the grilled cheese I tried was tasty it left my appetite for killer content unsated. “You know I think I’ve had this before,” I said to Connie of the Mr. Crispy ($11) as we munched on some excellent house pickles. (more…)
There are probably some hamburgers out there worth a 20-minute subway ride and a 20 minute walk involving traversing the BQE. Sadly the cheeseburger at Jackson Hole is not one of them. The loosely packed behemoth is steam griddled, that is to say cooked on a flat top under a dome. A burger should breath free—sputtering and sizzling on the flat top or under a salamander—not suffocate in its own fetid vapors.
Ordered medium rare it was a mushy flavorless gray travesty of a burger utterly devoid of a char. I found myself wishing Tommy DeVito would walk in and put two in the back of my head so that I didn’t have to finish thing.
I did not bother to ask what type of meat it was, it could have a blend of unicorn chuck and golden calf short rib for all I care, the cooking process would still turn it into drek. There’s only tasty steamed burger out there kids: White Castle.
All that said the decor can’t be beat. There’s a reason the folks behind Goodfellas used it in a scene, the exterior of the diner is iconic, all stainless and neon. It’s evokes a time that was simpler and also more glamorous. I’ll bet it was a time when people gave a shit about how their burger tasted.
Jackson Hole, 69-35 Astoria Blvd., Astoria, 718-204-7070
The Giuseppe, Astoria’s take on Philly’s roast pork Italian.
The late great Josh Ozersky once said that I had forsaken my Italian-American heritage to eat my way through the Chinese food courts of Queens. He was partly—well, really mostly—right. When I find myself in need of comfort and familiarity though, there’s nothing quite like a good Italian deli.
I am a huge fan of the ladies at Leo’s Latticini in Corona and their food. They know how to make this Italian boy feel right at home. I am lucky to live so close to their shop. Lately I have been exploring the Italian delis of Astoria. My favorite so far might be Rosarios. Under the el Rosario DiMarco serves up old-school Italian-American comfort food in the form of killer Margherita pizza and more than a dozen sandwiches. (more…)
Little Greek doughnuts, aka loukoumades, at Astoria’s Cafe Boulis.
“Let’s go to the place with the little Greek doughnuts,” my friend Jane said. We’d just had a lovely Thai lunch at Pye Boat Noodle. After I confessed my ignorance of little Greek doughnuts, we set out for our dessert destination.
“Oh, gosh I’ve passed this place dozens of times,” I said when we arrived at Cafe Boulis. Like many Greek cafes in Astoria the little space hums with a caffeinated energy. Directly opposite the door a sign reading, “LOUKOUMADES MADE FRESH TO ORDER” graces the Greek doughnut station. Behind the glass lies a fryer that evokes memories of fresh fried zeppole for St. Joseph’s Day and the spectacle of watching Krispy Kremes receive a cascade of glaze as they come down the conveyor belt. (more…)
Kurry Qulture’s pav bhaji: Not quite a veggie burger.
When it comes to vegetarian food, I’m not a veggie burger or mock meat type of guy. Give me a vegetarian cuisine that’s based solely on the love of vegetables. It’s one of the reasons I love Indian cuisine, with all of its chaats and dosas, so much. One dish I’d never tried until a visit to Astoria’s Kurry Qulture is pav bhaji. Served with two slider size buns, I suppose one could think of it as veggie burger if one were inclined to such thoughts, which I am not. (more…)