As we hurtle towards 2014, I thought I would recap some of the food highlights from this past year of living and eating (a lot) in Western Queens. Happy New Year to one and all!
Ring in the New
It seems like new places are opening every day in Astoria, and a few of my favorites from this past year include Michael Psilakis’ massive MP Taverna, the second venture from the Arepas Cafe team, Arepas Grill, and the fun, cozy New York Dog House. My bar fly heart was warmed by the addition of two great no-nonsense watering holes, Olde Prague Tavern and Astoria Tavern. And Elixir, a wonderfully Queensy bar for the LGBTQ communities opened on Broadway, filling a void left when MiX on 30th Avenue shuttered a few years ago.
Honoring a few Old Favorites
This year I also had the pleasure of singing the praises of some of my all time favorite places to eat in Astoria, including my go-to spot for tacos and tamales, La Cabana, the iconic-awninged Jerusalem Pita House (Pita Hot), and Astoria Boulevard powerhouses, Astor Bake Shop and BZ Grill. Other not-to-be-missed neighborhood bites included the Maltese pastries at Leli’s Bakery & Cafe, the potato, chicken and cheese stuffed croquettes at Pao de Queijo, and the Bangers and Mash platter at Cronin and Phelan’s. And, in case you missed it, here’s a handy list of my top 20 favorite things/places to eat in Astoria, all in one place!
New York City street food is a great engine of entrepreneurship and culinary skill that fuels us forward. This past year I was honored to write about Astoria street food royalty, the King of Falafel and Shawarma, and the Souvlaki King of Astoria.
Some brilliant, big-hearted edible undertakings won our hearts this year, including Jeff Orlick’s Ambassador program designed to introduce folks to the great chefs and cuisines of Jackson Heights. Tyson Ho’s Hog Days of Summer was an eminently affordable, boisterous big tent barbecue rooted in respect, tradition and expertise. And along with some food writing friends, I launched the Astoria Welcome Wagon, designed to introduce neighborhood newcomers to local eats that might not otherwise be on their radar screens.
The Changing City
I like to think it is impossible to live in Western Queens – or really anywhere in New York City – and not consider how the city is changing around us daily. This year I spent a lot of time thinking about gentrification and development in Astoria and Long Island City. The destruction of iconic outdoor art-museum-for-all, 5Pointz, allowed us to vent our sadness as well as our anger at this loss, and wonder aloud about the pace and price of progress. Conversely, carrying on the tradition of ten-stop shopping in Astoria might be an important check and balance, a way to support the local businesses and mom and pop shops that have long defined the neighborhood we love.
An Ode to Queens Food Writers
This year I wrote a brief post of gratitude to Queens food writers, and the way they are elevating the discussion about food in our borough. Below are some of my favorite posts of the year from some of my favorite writers. Please read and enjoy!
Meg Cotner brought us an amazing Astoria Breakfast: Greek Frappés and Phyllo Pies at To Laiko via Real Cheap Eats.
Anne Noyes Saini’s remarkable column for We Heart Astoria called United Nations of Astoria brought you a tour of Italian Gems Old and New, and a comprehensive survey of the neighborhood’s Iftar Meals: Breaking the Ramadan Fast in Astoria.
James Boo’s absolutely brilliant 1 Minute Meal videos are a must watch, especially his profile of Maria Piedad Cano, better known as “The Arepa Lady” of Jackson Heights, and this amazing juxtaposition of Galdino Molinero’s Tortas Neza menu offerings with the futbol teams for which they are named.
Joe DiStefano continued to cover Flushing, Queens like no other food writer, including locating falafel pizza for which the whole city is now grateful.
Bradley Hawks continued to turn out great writing about our borough including this great review of relative newcomer Bun-Ker in Ridgewood. Bun-Ker’s phenomenal success this year has been well documented, from a recent visit by Guy Fieri to being named of of the Village Voice’s top 20 new restaurants in NYC this past year.
Happy New Year. Eat well, Astoria. Eat well, Queens.