Socrates Sculpture Park, a local treasure exhibiting massive, thoughtful works of art, free of cost to the public, provides a fitting end to my beloved block, Broadway. On an unseasonably warm day this past fall, I encountered a sculpture there, a likeness of the Virgin Mary covered in bird seed called “Feed.” That day, birds were circling and feasting, and a young man was laying flowers at the sculpture’s feet. I am not religious, but felt blessed to be able to access this free park, and to consider the public and the private, abundance and sustenance, reverence and love.
These are thoughts that I often have when walking and shopping along bustling, beautiful Broadway in Astoria. And I hit on the idea of a picnic: an offering of sorts where the bounty of my block might be enjoyed on the first unseasonably warm weekend in March* at Socrates, in the shadow of “Feed” (which now, in February, has been picked almost entirely bare of seed). What follows is a guide, my humble suggestions for a picnic that I hope you might take up as your own, and we all can have a marvelous and mighty feast.
Your first stop is Muncan Food Corp, a small European meat store filled with well over 100 varieties of meat, much of which hangs from the ceiling, making Muncan one of the most enticing-smelling places in Astoria. You could ponder Muncan’s stock for hours, but you have a lot of shopping left to do. Pick up some of their homemade sopressata and two or three of their flaky apple pastries, made from scratch daily using all fresh ingredients, and head out on Broadway.
You are on your way to Astoria Bier and Cheese, a relative newcomer with an impressive craft beer selection and a well-curated variety of domestic and imported cheeses. Astoria Bier and Cheese won me over after they lived up to their initial promise of both quality and affordability. Most of the beers highlighted on their stylish tap wall cost about $6. They also allow you to buy beer from their refrigerated cases and enjoy it in the charming shop which can yield even greater savings – or allow you to try more new beers. I could talk about beer all day, but you are here for cheese, perhaps a salty, firm, nutty aged gouda and an earthy creamy La Tur. It’s hard to choose wrong here and the kind, knowledgeable staff will help guide you. And with the cheese secured, you must be on your way.
Greenbay Market is your next destination, an urban farmer’s market with an ever-growing inventory of fruit, vegetables, packaged foods, and even a small sushi bar. In fact, Greenbay is so jam-packed, it is renovating the adjacent space and will soon double in size. You are here to purchase some fresh fruit to pair with your meat and cheese, so select your favorites, perhaps grapes, apples, pears and tangerines, and head back out to join the thronging shoppers on Broadway.
What is meat and cheese without bread? This age-old question brings you to your next stop, Parisi Bakery, an Astoria institution that has been baking fresh bread, cookies and pastries daily since 1969. Parisi boasts a vast variety of breads, most displayed in the front window, luring customers in off the corner of Broadway and 31st Street. My favorites include the pumpernickel raisin loaf and Pullman whole wheat loaf, however you are looking for something that goes a bit better with your already procured provisions, so the Italian loaf will do perfectly well.
Meat, cheese, fruit and bread are picnic must-haves, but this next leg of shopping will help bring a truly Astoria identity to your Broadway buffet. Your next stop is the King of Falafel & Shawarma, a food cart parked daily at the corner of 30th Street and Broadway, who’s well-deserved accolades include a Vendy Award and Vendy’s People’s Choice Award. Pick up a couple of brown bags filled with their extraordinarily crisp falafel to add to your spread.
Cross the street and stop into Family Market, Astoria’s only Japanese Market, packed to the rafters with a tremendous diversity of Japanese food, drink and snacks (not to mention beauty supplies, videos, and housewares). You are here for any of their wide variety Senbei rice crackers which will make for a nice light snack before you begin you feast. My personal favorite are the sweet and salty Senbei that are laced with white icing and have an explosive flavor for such a modest-looking cracker.
Your final stop is Los Portales, my favorite spot for Mexican food on Broadway. Purchase a few quart containers of their homemade Horchata, my favorite in all of Astoria, a light and refreshing rice drink that will quench your thirst on this warm day. If you’re feeling adventurous, pick up a few of their outstanding, juicy veal tacos to add to the picnic buffet as well.
Your shopping complete, continue down to where Broadway ends at the Socrates Sculpture Park, spread your picnic items out, and feed. This is what we’re here for: to celebrate the neighborhood in which we reside, to break bread with the friends and strangers all around us, and to think in this public place how grateful we are to be here, right now, right this minute.
*Feed is on display at the Socrates Sculpture Park until March 31st.