The first thing that I ever tried at Leli’s Bakery & Cafe on 30th Avenue in Astoria remains, improbably, my favorite. I say ‘improbably’ due to the sheer number of delectable pastries, fresh breads, cookies, and savory snacks that I have sampled since Leli’s opened their doors in November. In fact, fans of Leli’s Bakery know that it would be possible to try an entirely new item every day for a full year and not be disappointed. Astorians who have not yet visited Leli’s should move it to the top of their Must-Try Astoria Bakeries List. I am assuming here that everyone has one.
But back to that improbably good thing. The Ricotta Cheese Qassatat caught my eye on Leli’s hand-scrawled chalkboard menu because it was something I had never heard of before. When I scoped it out in Leli’s plentiful pastry case, it was something I had never seen either. The Qassatat, it turns out, is a traditional Maltese pie, that is stuffed with ricotta cheese or other savory fillings – most often spinach, anchovies, or even meat or fish. The Ricotta Cheese Qassatat at Leli’s is roughly the size and shape of a balled up fist and features a thick but flakey pastry that is sealed expertly at the top. Lightly glazed on the outside with egg yolk, the Qassatat’s exterior browns up nicely when baked. The inside is packed with a generous serving of soft, crumbly, ricotta cheese. Try and get one fresh from the oven and you’ll be hooked.
Since that first visit I have sampled Leli’s Qassatat stuffed with tuna, anchovies and capers, a hearty pie that pairs perfectly with one of their homemade soups to make for an excellent, and filling, lunch. I have also noticed freshly made spinach or meat-filled Qassatat cooling on the pastry counter at Leli’s, and there’s no doubt I will get around to trying them.
The owner of Leli’s Bakery is originally from Malta, and a part of three generations of highly skilled bakers. Leli’s traditional Maltese specialties like the Qassatat, and the more delicate filo-shelled Pastizzi, are unique among Astoria’s many bakery offerings, and are not all that commonly found around New York City. Don’t miss an opportunity to try them right in our own backyard.
Leli’s Bakery, 35-14 30th Avenue, Astoria NY