R Train Excursion: Astoria to Bay Ridge and Back

Get up early, grab a novel, clamber onto the R Train at Steinway Street. Today you’re going to ride the R Train all the way to the end of the line, Bay Ridge Brooklyn.

Hinch's soda fountain and lunch counter in Bay Ridge will close in March

Hinsch’s soda fountain & lunch counter will close in March

Take the train one stop to 36th Street and ascend into the whirring, car-fueled fray of Northern Boulevard. Your first stop is COFFEED in the Standard Motor Products Building, a colossal man-made border between Astoria and Long Island City that glares, Janus-faced, back at the neighborhood’s industrial past and toward its commercial future. Today is about the city’s edges, so COFFEED is a good choice. And you will need caffeine for the long ride out to Bay Ridge, so grab a single-origin pour over and get on your way.

Bay Ridge looks and feels a lot like Astoria. Both are at the edge of their respective boroughs, they butt up against the water, they shoulder tremendous bridges. And, most importantly, both neighborhood have retained a great deal of the food, tradition and culture of the people who have settled within their borders. Ride the R all the way to 77th Street in Bay Ridge. You might as well see for yourself.

It’s been a long trip to get a danish to go with your coffee, but Leske’s Bakery will make it worth your while. Leske’s is part of a rich Scandinavian history in Bay Ridge that has partially faded from view, but still includes the Scandinavian East Coast Museum and an annual Norwegian-American Parade. Leske’s closed after 50 years of business in 2011, however new owners stepped in to reopen the bakery in 2012. This is where you will find the best danish in the city, the danish that every other danish in a conference room buffet, corner deli and diner aspires to be. Wolf one down. There is a lot more stuff to eat today.

You’re going to need to work up an appetite for lunch. Walk over to 3rd Avenue and start the hike south toward the water. Your destination is Nino’s Pizza, one of many outstanding pizza places in a neighborhood renowned for its Italian community, culture and food. Within view of a great mast of the Verrazano Bridge, lies one of the city’s best Grandma slices. At Nino’s it’s called the Gran Mama slice and it’s appropriately thin with a layer of chunky tomato sauce, crisp, bubbled mozzarella cheese and a olive oil basil drizzle that really sets it apart. While you’re there, throw back a couple of garlic knot sliders, pepperoni and mozzarella on a bisected garlic knot, cooked open-faced in the pizza oven and reassembled into a perfect bite.

And now, at least until March, you are in for a real treat. Soda fountains were once a fixture throughout New York City, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn. First opened in 1948, Hinsch’s, with its legendary facade and long, communal lunch counter, is one of the few remaining in operation in the city. This will all change in March 2013, when Hinsch’s closes its doors for good. Before that happens, you are going to need to have an egg cream there.

Take some time to wander through the neighborhood, working up an appetite for your last Bay Ridge meal. You’ll be dining at Tanoreen, a restaurant the combines the neighborhood’s strong Middle Eastern and Mediterranean culture and influences into some uniquely wonderful dishes. It’s nearly impossible to order incorrectly at Chef-owner Rawia Bishara’s well loved establishment, however I would recommend ordering a number of appetizers in lieu of an entree so that you can sample more flavors. You’re probably getting full anyway. You’ve been eating all day.

Hop back on the R Train at 77th Street and settle in with that novel for a long ride home. Get out at Steinway Street and walk up to the Quays Pub on 30th Avenue. This part of Astoria, which mixes Italian, Irish, Middle Eastern and Balkan culture, reminds me most of Bay Ridge. Tip back a beer. Think about how sometimes at the city’s edges we can obtain a better sense of ourselves, and those greater things connected to ourselves like family, history, migration, immigration, success and loss. These are the things that create the world.

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