I’ve long thought that summer’s calendar end holds no meaning in comparison to the season’s figurative one: Labor Day, and the first week of September that follows.
Perhaps it’s because I’m from New Jersey, where for decades before the nation learned of its importance to us post-Superstorm Sandy, our summers had a circumscribed beginning (Memorial Day) and an end (Labor Day) down the Jersey shore. Or maybe it’s because my mom was a teacher for 37 years and so “back to school” held as much meaning, promise, and anxiety to the adults in the house as it did the kids. My sentimentality could be a part of the equation too, the fact that I’ve never met a recap I didn’t like, and its corresponding sheen of nostalgia.
Whatever the reasons, below are my favorite Astoria and Queens food happenings this summer. I hope you enjoy the tribute.
Queens food ambassador, Jeff Orlick, launched the ingenious Ambassador Plates program being piloted in Jackson Heights, Queens where the chef is your ambassador to the cuisine of the participating restaurant. Simply pay a preset fee of $10 or $20 at participating locations, and the chef will prepare you a meal of their choosing for that day. I gave it a try and had a great experience and an amazing meal, now get out there and try it yourself!
Thanks to Tyson Ho, a/k/a the Arrogant Swine, this was the summer of Whole Hog BBQ in Queens. Ho’s Hog Days of Summer events, held monthly in Long Island City’s Dutch Kills neighborhood, introduced our borough to the regional delicacy of Eastern North Carolina Whole Hog BBQ. Compelled by Ho’s philosophy on Whole Hog BBQ, I dropped by the August Hog Days event and was floored by how good the food was as well. There’s one more Hog Days of Summer event on September 14th, and I’d suggest you get your tickets now.
Flea Markets and festivals are ubiquitous in New York City these days, so how do you create one that sets itself apart from the crowd with a unique identity? The LIC Flea accomplished that feat when they channeled the diversity of Queens’ food scene into a lively, borough-centric, summer long celebration.
Imagine being in the know about the bars, delis, vendors, cafes and restaurants that are hidden gems and local favorites in your brand new neighborhood. I teamed up with local food writers Anne Noyes Saini and Meg Cotner to offer just that via the Astoria Welcome Wagon, a fun new way for neighborhood newcomers to get to know Astoria’s thriving food scene.
A fixture at the corner of 31st Street and 31st Avenue in Astoria since 1979, the King Souvlaki of Astoria received some long overdue love in the form of a nomination for this year’s coveted Vendy Awards Vendy Cup. Mysttik Masaala, an Indian food cart with Tibetan and Nepali influences which sets up most Saturdays and Sundays in Astoria at the corner of Broadway and Steinway, also got a Vendy nod as a finalist for Rookie of the Year.
This summer, one of my favorite restaurants in Astoria, Arepas Cafe, quietly opened a beautiful new restaurant, Arepas Grill, in the strip mall at the corner of Broadway and 21st Street. And while my aforementioned New Jersey heritage makes me keenly interested in the revitalization of strip malls, what you really need to know is go there and try their kick-ass Venezuelan food.
As always, I continue to be blown away by the talented Queens food writers I have the honor of reading each day. Below are a few of my favorite pieces that came out this summer, though all of their work is worth reading when time allows!
Meg Cotner introduced Real Cheap Eats readers to To Laiko, the little coffee shop on 23rd Avenue which is a true Astoria gem.
Bradley Hawks reviewed VENTURO, the great new Sunnyside Italian eatery from the talented team behind Astoria’s beloved Vesta and Pachanga Patterson restaurants for the Village Voice.
Anne Noyes Saini provided great insight into Astoria’s Iftar meals for We Heart Astoria.
James Boo gave us this awesome look at the famed Arepas Lady of Jackson Heights for Serious Eats.
Joe DiStefano let us know where to eat before the All-Star Game at CitiField (or really anytime you’re there!) for Chopsticks + Marrow.