Food is a way we share the things that matter most to us with others every day. We introduce friends to our favorite restaurants, we share beloved family recipes, we serve up sweets at holiday time remembered from our countries of origin and our past. So it’s no surprise then that in the weeks that they were finishing up construction and awaiting permits, the three Astorians at the helm of The Thirsty Koala were busy waving curious folks inside and introducing themselves to their new neighbors.
Business partners Katherine Fuchs, Alex Styponias, and Christine Chellos are eager to introduce you to their beautiful new Artisan Cafe on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. The warm reception you’ll receive is complemented by The Thirsty Koala’s inviting design. Simultaneously sleek and homey, the omnipresence of wood and a small silhouetted tree hint at the out-of-doors, of travel, of places not here but there. There is plenty of table seating and a beautiful handmade wood bar where you can sit and relax with a pint of Coopers Ale or Foster’s Lager on tap. They will also have a few local craft beers tapped, bottled beer and wine from Australia and New Zealand, and a creative cocktail menu devised by Styponias. The Thirsty Koala will also offer a full coffee menu, using Intelligentsia Coffee (the first folks to do so in Astoria, I believe) featuring some unique drinks like Australian Iced Coffee, which has ice cream in it, and the “flat white,“ prepared by pouring a microfoam over a single shot of espresso. Fresh fruit smoothies will round out their impressively diverse beverage menu.
The Thirsty Koala was my first introduction to an Australian-inflected menu which is most closely analogous to California style cuisine in the US. The cafe’s concept was inspired by Chellos, who is Australian, a mutual love of Astoria’s many food offerings, and a desire to contribute something new to the neighborhood’s fare. Executive Chef Fuchs has created a menu focused on fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and bold, creative flavor combinations, and I was lucky enough to be able to preview some menu items this past weekend. Favorite dishes included the Aussie Lamb Lollies, Australian lamb chops cooked to perfection and coated in a delicate, delicious rosemary and herb crust. This was served on a bed of tender, diced, lightly sweet and fresh-tasting caramelized pumpkin, which is very popular in Australia and makes for a brilliant side dish. The Boomerang Prawn Tacos are bound to become a local favorite. This visually stunning dish starts with tortillas from Corona’s own Tortilleria Nixtamal and combines large fresh prawns, avocado salsa, cabbage, cilantro, and chef Fuchs’ own bright, tangy white sauce. They will also serve a variety of Crostis (crostini) which feature some wonderfully creative flavor combinations. I am still craving the Noosa Head Crosti where homemade chèvre cheese, cucumber pineapple salsa, and julienned strips of wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon are piled on on a raft of fresh bread from nearby Rose and Joe’s Bakery.
At many restaurants, dessert is an afterthought, but at The Thirsty Koala, this course illustrates exactly what the cafe is all about. I tried the Triple T, a tiramisu which uses the Australian Tim Tam cookie, a chocolate covered wafer cookie filled with either chocolate cream or caramel instead of the traditional ladyfingers. The Tim Tams provide a wonderful crunch, and the dish is fun, playful, and delicious. The team at The Thirsty Koala was excited to introduce us to the Triple T, and especially the Tim Tam, which is little known in the US despite a seasonal distribution by Pepperidge Farm. We ended the meal with a lively demonstration of the “Tim Tam Slam,” an Australian snack ritual which involves dunking the delicious wafer cookie into a beverage, in this case coffee, to soak up the flavor.
At The Thirsty Koala, you’ll be introduced to unique ingredients and preparations, you’ll be rewarded for trying new things, you’ll consume fun, fresh, delicious food, and you’ll meet three generous, gregarious Astorians, passionate about their work. Opening late this week or next week*, put The Thirsty Koala on your food radar screens, Astoria, and share the news of its opening widely with friends. It will be worth the trip, and, I strongly suspect, many trips back.
*The Thirsty Koala Update
The Thirsty Koala will open for business this Friday, December 21st at 4pm.
Many thanks to Bradley Hawks (Amuse Bouche, BORO, Grub Street), for introducing a group of Queens food enthusiasts to The Thirsty Koala for a preview feast. Thanks to Alex, Katherine and Christine for unrivaled hospitality and exquisite eats.