10/16/16 11:05pm
kukalo

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…)

08/31/16 1:47pm
MRCRISPY

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…)

06/24/16 12:28am
Was the Jackson Hole burger ever good?

Was the Jackson Hole burger ever good?

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

06/22/16 10:22am
Giuseppe

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…)

05/23/16 4:23pm
Loukomades

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…)

04/06/16 11:09am
kurrysammy

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…)

01/23/16 12:05pm

Now that King Frost has officially made his presence known with the arrival of winter storm Jonas, it is officially soup season. Sure I’ve had plenty of bowls over the course of the past two months. But now it’s on, time to bring in the big guns. So here are seven of my favorites spanning a variety of styles—from sweet medicinal Chinese concoctions to savory noodle soups and spicy sinus clearers—and regions, including Southeast Asia and Latin America. Best of all you can find all of them without leaving the world’s borough, Queens.

pozole2

1. Pozole rojo, Taqueria Coatzingo
This Jackson Heights cantina is known for its tacos, but the specials are the real stars. That’s where I discovered pozole rojo, the spicier cousin of the Mexican pork and hominy soup. As the name implies, the broth is red—very, very red—thanks to loads of chilies. Pozole rojo employs chicken rather than pork as a base.  Served with the standard pozole fixings of diced onion, cilantro, and lime as well as shakers of oregano and red pepper, I like it think of it as Mexican penicillin. Add a few squeezes of lime along with a handful of onion and the other seasonings for one of the most head-clearing soups to be found on Roosevelt Avenue. Sour, spicy, and packed with fresh herbs, hominy, and chicken it’s sure to cure what ails you. Best of all it’s always on the specials menu! Taqueria Coatzingo, 76-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-424-1977 (more…)

01/18/16 11:41pm
HUB1

Chicken ain’t nothin’ but a bird.

With the exception of certain Mexican cantina/hookah lounge Tut’s Hub might well be the strangest restaurant in Astoria. I’ve never been able to quite get behind the Mexican hookah lounge, but Tut’s Hub wedged between two discounts shops on Steinway Street drew me right in with its promise of “Royal Cuisine” and over-the-top Temple of Dendur style.

Once inside I was a little overwhelmed by all the menu choices, design your own pasta, design your own feteer, plus a salmon dish that they seemed all too eager to push on me. I settled for the chicken shawarma platter and grabbed a can of Fayrouz, an apple flavored Egyptian malt beverage. (more…)

01/03/16 12:29pm

Now that the streets around Times Square are almost cleared of New Year’s Eve confetti and I’ve digested several plates of lucky New Year’s noodles it’s time to take a look back at 2015. It was a big year for me, including a profile in The Wall Street Journal. Queens  continued to amaze with everything from octopus tacos and Thai noodles to Caribbean Chinese and the most unlikely French patisserie ever. In no particular order here are 15 of the best things I ate last year.

CHERRYDRYNOODLE

Tom yum haeng topped with fried pork sugar and chili.

1. Yummiest dry tom yum
The weekend noodle soup pop-up at Elmhurst’s Pata Paplean remained on point, but one of my favorites there wasn’t a soup at all. Tom yum haeng—dry tom yum noodles—consists of springy yellow noodles, fish balls and golden shards of fried pork all dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili, and cilantro. Mix it all up and dig into the best dry noodles in Thai Town.

BIGELOWS2

2.  Tastiest deep-fried seafood nostalgia
The cheery blue and white Bigelow’s Seafood has been around for more than 70 years. After driving by it for about that amount of time, I finally had the privilege of trying it this past spring. These wizards of the fryer turn out impeccable Ipswich clams, fried smelts, shrimp, and soft shell crabs all served in an atmosphere that time and cholesterol have forgotten.  (more…)

10/04/15 3:25am

BearCheeseBurgerThere’s a Queens-based chain called Bareburger whose menu complexity never ceases to vex. There are multiple meat choices: elk,bison,beef, duck, ostrich,wild boar, and turkey; multiple sauce choices, including curry ginger ketchup and horseradish remoulade; a greengrocer’s worth of vegetation to choose from; and even multiple bun choices: brioche, sprout bun, tapioca rice. You could also choose from the 14 remade combos. Just writing about all these choices has given me a headache!  The only choices one should have to make when ordering a burger are cooking temp and with or without cheese.

And then’s there Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky’s Bear, which has nothing to do with the aforementioned chain. It offers only one type of burger. It’s a cheeseburger that also goes by the nickname the Grizzly Burger. It consists of a loosely packed patty with a fringed, crispy bottom sitting atop some greenery. The top is mantled with American cheese and crowned with a slice of juicy tomato. The bun’s what Pogrebinsky calls a standard “backyard bun,” because after all who really wants to think about the bun when eating a burger, it should serve as a mere vehicle for its contents. (more…)