Tag Archives: Dining

London Lennie’s to host 18th annual Crabfest


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

When the blow-up crab goes up, it’s time to chow down.

London Lennie’s is getting ready to hoist a ginormous crab atop the restaurant to signify the start of its 18th annual Crabfest event and is shipping in the shellfish from all across the nation to please the patrons.

“We like to think of ourselves as an institution in Queens,” said Les Barnes, owner of the Rego Park restaurant. “We only put out the top quality crabs because it is our responsibility to keep the reputation we have gained throughout the years.”

Crabfest, which will run from Oct. 16 to Nov. 9, started at London Lennie’s in 1996. The event features a wide variety of the shellfish such as blue claw crab, Dungeness crab, red king crab, Jonah crab claws, snow crab claws and stone crab claws.

Each species of crab is flown in to the restaurant from a different place in the United States. Barnes and his chef first do a tasting and quality test of the fishermen’s products and then choose whichever one they feel is of the best quality.

All of the crab is fresh, never frozen, and both the red king crab and Dungeness crab are shipped to the restaurant live where they inhabit the fishing tanks until ordered.

Furthermore, customers can enjoy a variety of crab specials such as crab au gratin, three types of crab cakes and jumbo lump crab among others.

There will also be a large variety of crab appetizers along with specialty drinks that will complement each meal.

“We always look for the best of our product,” Barnes said. “It’s what keeps people coming back each year.”

Because the three-week-long event is so popular, it is best to make reservations due to how crowded the restaurant gets.

They can be made online at LondonLennies.com or on the phone at 718-894-8084.

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Alobar springs into spring


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

IMG_2134

BRADLEY HAWKS

Not many small, privately owned restaurants in New York City can survive all of the changes that come along with the replacement of an executive chef, especially when those changes mean you will have to rebrand your entire restaurant concept, hoping to retain the former regulars, while acquiring new ones.

In a city like New York, after all, no excellent chef would be content stepping into the role merely as a replacement, executing the same dishes as his predecessor with the same finesse, enthusiasm and integrity. That requires nothing more than a well-trained parrot.

This dilemma is precisely what faced Alobar in Long Island City last year, when their previous chef left the space he had built as a snout-to-tail porcine sanctuary. What was left was a menu with loads of bacon, guanciale and pig tails with no leader to cure the pork in the basement any longer. This little piggy had gone to the market, with no plans of returning.

Fortune favors the brave, and Alobar found a new leading man just about four months ago. Astoria’s own Greg Profeta is one of the sweetest, most jovial of souls you would ever meet, and his eyes twinkle when he talks about vegetables for the spring menu. He mentions hearts of palm he has flown in from Hawaii that are the best he has ever tasted — and will be a supporting character in his beet salad. Profeta describes the menu he has been developing as ‘whimsical, fun, and cheeky,’ which are probably the three words anyone would use to describe him, as well. And everyone knows what can happen when a chef with some serious skills puts his own charisma into his dishes. It can be real magic.

On the menu that will be unveiled this month, gnocchi becomes a playground for the flavors of a loaded baked potato. Potpie is stuffed into an alabaster ceramic dish, loaded with braised rabbit and bubbling gruyere over a golden pastry crust, almost like a hunter’s French onion soup.

“And I really like to work around the vegetables… they are so delicate,” said Profeta with a smile as he placed the hearts of palm over a meticulously stacked mound of beets and greens. Jeff Blath leaned in and proudly whispered, “He just knows all the right techniques and takes those things and makes something fun.”

Outside of the menu, Blath has been having some of his own fun, creating the largest selection of whiskey in Queens. He has collected a selection of more than 100 whiskies, which can also be enjoyed in flights. There is even a whiskey made with quinoa.

Cocktails showcase some clever mixology that has been registering high marks with the customers. The Vernon Smash features bourbon with blackberries, mint and ginger beer. A mix called the Chauvinist Pig wuzzles scotch with chartreuse, ramazzotti, and eaux de vie.

With all of the changes, one might wonder if anything stayed the same.  “We kept the maple bacon popcorn,” said Blath with a laugh. Of course. They might be rebranding, but they aren’t dumb.

Alobar
46-42 Vernon Blvd.,  Long Island City
718-752-6000

 

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LAST COURSE: Patrons say goodbye to Joe Abbracciamento Restaurant


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Rosanne Aliperti celebrated one wedding and 23 birthdays at Joe Abbracciamento Restaurant.

And 84-year-old Nathan Boland sometimes made the trip twice a day, rain or shine, for a good chicken Parmesan.

Thousands of diners like them left with full stomachs and empty hearts Sunday on the beloved Italian restaurant’s last day in business.

“It was like one big family here. It’s a shame,” said Maspeth regular MaryAnn Papavero. “It’s very depressing to think this is their last day when it was such a great institution.”

The neighborhood fixture at 62-96 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park served hungry diners from across the city and Long Island for nearly 70 years. It opened in 1948 under Joe Abbracciamento and was later taken over by his sons, John and Joe Jr.

But after working in the restaurant since they were teenagers, the brothers plan to retire.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling, seeing the thousands of people who showed up today,” John, 60, said. “It’s a tribute to my father and my family, and it will be an everlasting memory.”

The decision to close was heartbreaking until the last hour, said his wife, Marie, after embracing customers — some who had grown into close friends.

“It’s very emotional for us,” said Marie, holding back tears. “We really don’t want to say goodbye to anyone. It’s going to be very hard to leave the people.”

People like Aliperti, 45, who walked into the restaurant on her wedding day on April 7, 1990 and essentially never left.

“I’ve spent every special day here — my wedding, every birthday, bridal showers, every anniversary,” said Aliperti, while wiping away tears. “They’re a part of our lives. I’ve had every beautiful moment here.”

The last day was also bittersweet for 86-year-old Mary Schmalenberger, who associates decades of happy memories with the longstanding corner eatery.

The senior has trouble walking and had not left the house in months, but made the trip from Middle Village to say goodbye.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she said. “There will never be another Abbracciamento.”

 

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Supping at Snowdonia


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Crisp, effervescent bubbles hastily scurry upward through a blend of vodka and prosecco, deterred only by a few fresh berries hindering their path, before bursting at the surface and gasping for air.  The “Berry Fizz” is simply the perfect way to awaken the palate and put a smile on your face.

Or perhaps you prefer to start with a fresh bloody mary that gently pricks your tongue with the heat of horseradish, or a sweet—yet tart—flute of peach Bellini.  Maybe you will stray from the brunch cocktail offerings altogether, and opt for a spicy rum punch rimmed with Sriracha (called the Angry Fruit Loop) or an icy margarita laced with ginger, jalapeno, and fresh basil.

Whatever you choose, the drinks are all some of the most exciting around, and all coming from Snowdonia, a quaint little trappist-style gastropub slightly hidden at the corner of 32nd Street and 35th Avenue in Astoria.

“A ‘trappist-style gastropub’ follows in the tradition of Trappist monks using local, fresh food and incorporating beer into the recipes,” explains Matthew Callahan, marketing director for one of Astoria’s newer hot spots.  “From the beer batter and the mussels in beer to our Oatmeal Stout Panna Cotta, craft beer is a major ingredient in most of our dishes.”  And there are plenty to choose from, if you just want a pub with a fantastic pint.

Behind the kitchen are the talents of Will Lubold, a former chef of ‘inoteca.  His dishes are another reason Snowdonia is poised to be a cornerstone in the neighborhood.  A roll arrives at the table slathered with caper mayo, tangy beer pickles, along with crunchy-coated beer-battered skate—which is a steaky, flavorsome catch. A stacked double patty ½ pound burger arrives next, cloaked in melted smoked gouda, topped with pickled onions, and caper mayo.  These are some sandwiches that make lasting impressions.  Some of the very best I have enjoyed in the past year, in fact.

Desserts are the stuff of which dreams are made, like a mason jar filled with stout panna cotta and oatmeal clusters, a caramel sticky toffee bread pudding, and a bourbon brownie that blows your childhood babysitter’s to smithereens.  I am completely leaving out several winners, like the beer-steamed mussels kissed with citrus and cilantro, or the scored, grilled sausages and redskin mashed potatoes and pickled mustard seeds.

Owned collectively by two couples, the family of one of the owners is from Wales. “There’s a beautiful national park there called Snowdonia that’s home to the highest mountain in Wales— Mount Snowdon,” explains Callahan. “The mountain and ski decor in the bar reflects this heritage.”

The bar was started, in part, by a Kickstarter campaign.  Bar stools are etched with different names—the Kickstarter backers who chose that as their perk. The result is a neighborhood bar built for the community, by the community.

Snowdonia
34-55 32nd St., Astoria
347-730-5783
Open seven days a week, 4p.m.-4a.m.
Dinner is 6p.m.- midnight
Late night menu is midnight – 2 a.m.
Brunch is Sat, Sun, and industry brunch Mondays from noon-4 p.m.

 

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A new party at Pachanga Patterson


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Peyton Powell recently took over as executive chef in the kitchen at Astoria’s Pachanga Patterson, the third restaurant of the Mexican trio that also includes Vesta in Astoria and Venturo in Sunnyside. Powell had been the executive sous chef at Casa Mono since 2009 and also worked at DB Bistro Moderne, as well as Daniel.

Powell met the owners of Pachanga by eating at Vesta and seeing them around Astoria, where he has been living for the last four years.

“I loved what they were doing in the neighborhood, and wanted to be a part of it,” explains the chef.

Previously, Pachanga focused on serving “family meals,” incorporating  nontraditional ingredients into classic Mexican recipes.  A family meal, in the restaurant industry, is a staff meal served before a shift.  While tacos stuffed with duck remain, the theme has moved from fusion to classic Mexican.

“What I’m trying to do at Pachanga is not strictly Oaxacan,” says Powell, “even though it’s my favorite region of Mexico, foodwise. I want to incorporate traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients influenced by my background, in a local, seasonal, and comfortable environment.”

The result is some of the most delicious Mexican food in the entire city.  A surprisingly light queso fundido arrives in a shallow clay dish, studded with hen of the woods mushrooms, tiny diced cubes of butternut squash, and pumpkin seeds.  Quacamole is served in the classic style, or can be ordered jazzed up with pomegranate seeds, queso fresco, and chipotle pepper oil, making it sweet and spicy.

Cabernet colored beets are delicately charred on the grill, and served with pickled apples, crushed peanuts, and hibiscus.  Grilled octopus is stewed with cannellini beans and jalapeno oil, giving just the right spark of heat to remarkably tender tentacles.

If you order the fideos con mariscos, do not plan on sharing even a single bite, as these head-on prawns are sweet and tender, swimming with mussels in a pot of broken capellini, stewed with cactus paddles in a habanero aioli.  From the land, never has pork belly been executed to such deliciousness, glazed with tamarind and served with crunchy chicharrones and tangy tangerines.

“Pachanga” can loosely be translated as “street party,” which means there are plenty of unique cocktails to sip.  Drinks range from a Coriander en Fuego to a Cactus Cooler, made from organic prickly pear puree, blended with tequila blanco.

From appetizers to desserts, Pachanga Patterson is hitting it out of the park.  Chef Powell is dishing out some pretty remarkable dishes worthy of at least a visit, if not two… or 20.  If only all Mexican food could taste this fantastic.

Pachanga Patterson
33-17 31st Ave., Astoria
718-554-0525

 

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Panda Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar: More than just great food


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy Panda Asian Bistro

Among a plethora of chain restaurants, fast food joints, small eateries and convenience stores, there’s a new player on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park that is looking to change the game.

Panda Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar, which opened roughly six months ago, boasts a fusion of oriental specialties, and owners are considering expanding it as an entertainment venue.

“On Queens Boulevard, there are not many things you could do after night [fall],” co-founder Sam Cheng said. “We are trying to change it into an entertainment place rather than just pure restaurant. That’s the goal.”

The first floor of the restaurant has black and white striped walls and red bamboo sprinkled around near the windows. Every Friday night the eatery features a performer who does magic tricks.
Cheng said since it has been well received by patrons, they are considering expanding the performances.

A 1,200-square-foot, 80-seat party room for private events is located on the second floor of the restaurant. Cheng, who grew up in nearby Elmhurst, also said they are experimenting with turning the second floor into a lounge with live music.

Besides the entertainment value of Panda, the food is worth looking forward to. The eatery boasts a range of Asian specialties, including Chinese, Thai and Japanese food.

Appetizers are a mix of favorites such as gyoza dumplings, crispy duck rolls and Thai herbs calamari with an original spicy duck sauce.

Entrees, such as tender General Tso’s chicken and yaki udon, grace a wide menu, which includes many vegetarian choices as well.

Cheng said the sushi fish is bought from Japanese vendors, and rolled by a Japanese chef. There are plenty to choose from, including Yellowtail, ikura (salmon), ebi (shrimp), and maguro (tuna).

And so customers can fully enjoy the selection, Panda offers all-you-can-eat sushi every day for $19.95 on weekdays and $21.95 on weekends.
On top of the entertainment value and wide selection of dishes, customers should know that meals at Panda are free, if it’s your birthday.

Panda Asian Bistro
95-25 Queens Blvd., Rego Park
718-896-8811
Hours: Sunday –Thursday 11:00 am- 10:30 p.m.
Friday& Saturday: 11:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit card: yes
Delivery: yes

 

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Build-a-burger at Burger Bistro


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Last month, the space next door to JJ’s Asian Fusion became a Burger Bistro, the company’s fourth location in the city.  The original is in Bay Ridge, with a sophomore effort in Park Slope, a third on the Upper East Side, and now our own outpost here in Astoria, sharing the same 31st Avenue restaurant corridor as Milkflower, Pachanga Patterson, Il Bambino, Enthaice, Zenon, Point Brazil, Brick Café, and Café Boulis—just to name a few in that 10-block stretch.

While the company achieved  status as the #2 burger in the city from Zagat, this location is also just a couple blocks from the Astoria based giant, Bareburger—which, if lines and wait times mean anything at all, is currently making one of the most popular patties in town.  Both Bareburger and the Burger Bistro feature a “build your own” selection of toppings, offering everything from tuna and kobe beef (at Burger Bistro) to ostrich and bison (at Bareburger).

Because we were anxious to see how this newcomer holds up to the competition, we stopped by after they’d been open a week, just to test things out.  Truth be told, we have already returned more than once.

While the burger is certainly one to drool over, I mostly loved that it could be served on toasted garlic bread–reminding me of my old college burger joint that sold GCB’s (garlic cheese burgers).  Other bread options, however, include potato, wheat, or brioche rolls, as well as sliders or lettuce wraps.

There are several side dishes to choose from, as well, from various tater tots to homemade chips, and fried onions to split pea salad.  The buffalo tots were kinda sorta outrageous. Crispy tater tots lightly tossed in a creamy buffalo sauce, then topped with diced celery and crumbled blue cheese.

Other side choices include deep-fried corn on the cob, fried artichoke hearts, and a few salad options, including one with Portobello mushrooms, pears and goat cheese.

The ice cream sandwich was probably one of the best I have ever tasted, with two sugar crystal-coated chocolate sugar cookies, sandwiching a cold, firm scoop of fresh peppermint ice cream.  They also have versions with snicker doodles and cinnamon ice cream, or oatmeal raisin with buttercream ice cream.

At lunch, you can order a cheeseburger with one topping and a side order for $10 —and they offer other specials throughout the week.

Funky burger toppings range from buffalo shrimp to pickled jalapeños, onion frizzles, wasabi mayo, and portobello mushrooms… just to name a few.

The selection of toppings, meat, breads, cheese, and sides is extremely generous, yet still fits on one page.  In fact, the menu is a dry erase board where you actually mark your choices before turning it in to the server.  And thank goodness it is dry erase.  Leave yourself plenty of time to play with the choices to create a burger and side combination that is just what you want.  The cooks execute everything perfectly–you just have to tell them what to do!

Burger Bistro
37-03 31st Ave., Astoria
347-808-8454

 

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One door closes and another opens


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bradley Hawks

When Lounge 47 closed on Vernon Boulevard, I have to admit I was extremely sad.  One of the chefs had been the owner of a bar on the street where I live, which closed last year and became a panini shop, and another contributing chef—Julie Powell—had written a book that became a movie that inspired my own career—as well as the lives of many others I know.  But that is all a part of what happens when you write about restaurants for a while.  A place that held special memories and conversations will disappear in the blink of an eye if you aren’t watching carefully.  And that is how it seemed to me with Lounge 47.  One day I was sipping a coffee with Julie Powell, discussing her career and her friendship with Joss Whedon, and the next time I drove by, a new sign read, Woodbines.

It took me a moment to be able to enter Woodbines without any previous opinion.  I know that the new owners had not personally pushed my friends out the door—it just seemed like I needed to at least grieve for a minute, anyway.  But when I did decide to stop in and see what was going on, I was instantly reminded of something I have always known.  When one door closes, another opens.

Woodbines is an absolutely fantastic addition to the Vernon Boulevard corridor in Long Island City.  Serving pub-style Irish dishes alongside American favorites, they really showcase a few plates of note—with some pretty solid drinks, as well.

The Scotch egg arrives halved, and drizzled with spicy mustard for just $5—the same price as a handful of their snacks, which also include jerk chicken, fried pickles, and miniature sausages wrapped in a flaky pastry crust that come five to an order.

Lamb nachos headline for appetizers, and the lunchtime Woodbines burger is stacked with a blanket of Irish cheddar, thick smoked bacon, and a mound of Irish slaw.  It is disastrously messy, so plan on forking up every bite that falls to the plate.

Of course they serve shepherd’s pie and lamb meatloaf (with hon

ey ginger ketchup), but their pride and joy are the fish & chips, battered an India Pale Ale. For lunch on weekdays, you can get a cheeseburger, chicken Caesar salad, or chicken sandwich for just $10 that comes with a soft drink or mug of coffee.

Be sure to check out the drink list, which features growlers and around eight different whiskey flights, 14 canned beers, and two pages of bottled beers, ciders, and cocktails like the Old Woody — Woodford Reserve with orange bitters, sugar, muddled orange and cherry, and served with a large ice cube.

But the best part is that the staff seems to be the same kind of folks I love anywhere I go.  The bartender, Daniel, runs a sketch comedy group based out of Astoria, and managed to serve me with a perfect balance of humor and sincerity.  Those are the things you can’t put a price tag on.  And since I am addicted to those little sausage rolls and scotch eggs, it looks like I may have a new favorite place to add to my list.

Woodbines Craft Kitchen
47-10 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City
718-361-8488

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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Joe Abbracciamento Restaurant set to close after nearly 70 years


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A beloved Queens eatery that has fed generations for nearly 70 years will soon be serving up its last course.

Joe Abbracciamento Restaurant, a neighborhood fixture at 62-96 Woodhaven Boulevard, will close March 2, as longtime owners prepare for retirement.

“We just want to sit back for a little while, relax and breathe the fresh air,” said owner John Abbracciamento, 60 . “It’s bittersweet. But, basically, it’s time.”

The Italian eatery opened in 1948 under Abbracciamento’s father, Joe. Over time, it became a staple in the borough.

“We’ve taken care of people from the day they were born,” Abbracciamento said. “It’s a wonderful treat to be a part of their lives and some of the most important occasions that they would celebrate. We will sadly miss that part of it.”

Abbracciamento has known the restaurant life since he was 13.

It was not an easy decision to put it to rest after the baton was passed down to him from his late father, Abbracciamento said. But it was a necessary one.

“It was my father’s dream,” he said. “My brother and I kept it going. But I’ve just come to the point in my life where I just need some time to clear my head and move forward.”

“We had a nice, long run — a very successful run,” Abbracciamento said. “It’s just time to just relax a little bit.”

Longtime patrons said the loss of the local icon is a blow to the Queens dining scene and to the community.

“I’m sad. I’ve known them for 30 years,” said Leon Sorin. “They’ve been working hard for many years. Maybe it’s time.”

John Harrington, 73, has been coming for the “out of this world” lasagna for 38 years.

“I was shocked when I heard it was closing,” he said. “It’s a shame because you don’t have any good restaurants around.”

Ed Wendell, a lifelong Queens resident, called the restaurant “the go-to place” for Italian cuisine.

“It’s one of those places where a lot of people are going to look back now and say, ‘Man, I wish I had gone more,’” he said. “It will be missed.”

 

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The Pizza Club: A fresh start


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

When Alan Rabinowitz decided to open a pizzeria on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Flushing about eight months ago, he didn’t know the building he planned to open in had a dark reputation.

Shortly after opening, he started to learn of rumors that the site, which was a pizzeria before, failed because the pizza was low quality and because residents saw shady characters lingering inside.

“We really didn’t know how bad the reputation was,” Rabinowitz said. “But when we first opened up, people wouldn’t even walk in here. If I knew that, I wouldn’t have even opened here.”

With that in mind, Rabinowitz and his business partner decided to introduce deals to appeal to customers and build new relationships in the community, such as giving free pizza to nearby Holy Cross High School when the football and basketball team wins games. Their specials have been successful so far and Rabinowitz said the restaurant has been breaking even in recent weeks.

Like most pizzerias, The Pizza Club emphasizes the world-famous Italian specialty. Rabinowitz offers various toppings for a wide array of pizzas, such as Hawaiian pie with pineapple and ham or the penne alla vodka pie. The pizzas have flaky crust and are covered with a savory sauce and topped with fresh mozzarella.

A regular 18-inch cheese pizza costs $15 on a normal day. But, on Mondays, anyone who orders an 18-inch pie between 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. will pay a price consistent with the time they called.

Calling at 6:32 p.m. for example, would make the price just $6.32. It’s just one of The Pizza Club’s deals to appeal to more customers.

“The line goes through the door,” Rabinowitz said.

Besides normal slices, The Pizza Club offers squares, such as garlicky grandma slices and savory upside down pizzas, which are made by putting mozzarella on the dough first, followed by the sauce and a layer of sprinkled cheese.

Then, there is the Pizza Club’s original treat; the pizza muffin. Using a cupcake pan, pizza dough is baked as it would be for a muffin, then layers of cheese, sauce and toppings, such as pepperoni or buffalo chicken, are added. It’s a unique look for a pizza, with a delicious and familiar taste.

“You always have to be on top of the game and keep changing things up, especially at this location,” Rabinowitz said.

And, for those not interested in pizza, the restaurant may have something for you too. The Pizza Club also offers salads, heroes, rolls, wings, wraps, baked ziti, and even Junior’s cheesecake, a delicacy from the well-known Brooklyn restaurant.

The Pizza Club 
718-281-0444
25-71 Francis Lewis Boulevard, Flushing
Hours: 11 am -9 p.m. 7 days a week
Free Delivery
Wheelchair: Yes
Take out: Yes
Catering: Yes
Credit Cards: Yes

 

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Good Greek grub at Aegea


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Victor G. Mimoni

Aegea, located at the “Douglaston Corner” serves up a surprisingly good array of apps, wraps, pasta, pizza, salads, Greek specialties and some of the best burgers in town.

Owner Mike Sackos commands the counter, moving at light-speed to ensure that, even when the place is packed (which is often), the dishes are not only delicious, but also well-presented and a treat to the eye as well as the palate.

Sackos’ forebears hail from the isle of Chios, just off the coast of Turkey – hence his motto, “where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean.” This may also explain the tasty falafel and Turkish gyro listed alongside the fantastic baby lamb chops, moussaka and other Greek specialties.

Aegea features a wide selection of salads for the health conscious, including seasonal selections. The winter salad is red and green for the season – tender spinach leaves, cucumber, red onion, beets, chick peas and crumbled feta, with a creamy vinaigrette dressing.

Other salad selections include Acropolis (with walnuts and goat cheese),  Aegea (with stuffed grape leaves, feta and grilled chicken),  Douglaston (with shredded mozzarella, fried chicken strips and honey mustard dressing) and of course, Greek salads, all well-dressed and beautifully presented.

Having started in the restaurant business at the tender age of 16 and formerly the owner of  Pete’s Pizza on Bell Boulevard, Sackos’ pie bona fides are impeccable, as are his Sicilian round pies, offered with a good selection of toppings. Those too hungry for a just a slice can also opt for the nine-inch “Pita Pizza,” in plain cheese, Greek (lots of olives and feta), Buffalo or pesto chicken varieties.

Pasta lovers can choose from several varieties of spaghetti, baked ziti, penne (whole wheat penne also available) or stuffed shells. The red sauce is piquant and fresh and dishes with red or white clam sauce, or oil and garlic also satisfy.

More than a dozen wraps will satisfy any taste, from vegetarian to tuna, turkey or Angus burger, plus the expected Mediterranean flavors, including shrimp with spinach, souvlaki or gyro filled. For those with no Hellenic inspiration, there’s even a Philly cheesesteak wrap.

Speaking of burgers, the variety of seven-ounce Angus burgers for less than $7 (deluxe for a few dollars more) is an outstanding value. The Aegea burger features American cheese with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms is juicy and delicious. Soups and sides are also first rate.

If you have room for dessert, the Greek pastry offerings are large, authentic and wonderful.

Mike added a mirror-image double-G to the logo, “Because ‘Aegea’ is a palindrome,” a word that spells correctly forward or backward. Any way you look at it, it’s a place for good food at a great price. Yiasou!

Aegea Gyros and Pizza
242-05 Northern Blvd., Douglaston
718-423-4429
Open 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. every day
Closed Christmas, Thanksgiving Day
Cards accepted for dine in, take out
Free local delivery, cash orders only
Extended delivery for catering orders
Limited on street parking
Q-12 bus, LIRR Douglaston station

VICTOR G. MIMONI

 

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More than just a steakhouse


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

It is not your typical steakhouse.  M. Wells is anything and everything besides just a steakhouse.

In a Napoleonic tradition of aristocracy, corks—still attached to the severed necks of champagne bottles—clunk to the floor with the swing of a sabre.  A couple at the Chef’s Counter sipped glasses of Nero Né, while trout swam beneath the glass countertop.  Beside the trout tank sat four panoramas—two yet-to-be decorated.  One of the designs—perhaps representing Chef Hugue Dufour and his wife, Sarah Obraitis—is of a couple relaxing by their cabin in the mountains, surrounded by grapes and mushrooms and decorations of nuts and berries, as if to celebrate the fruits of their labor.

The entire space is like a breathtaking tribute to the dichotomy between work and play.  From the outside, the space appears to be merely an old rundown garage, while in actuality it is an epicurean sanctuary on the inside.

The menu is equally brilliant and baffling.  Appetizers can easily pass for full meals, and there is so much more than simply steak—though it is very much a presence, with or without the bone, intended to serve just one or an entire party.

On my first visit, a bag secured by a drawstring was the first thing presented at the table, and we stared at it, almost waiting for something to crawl out.  Nothing did—of course—and so we passed out the warm pretzel rolls, which are served with a tiny pitcher of mustard, as well as a warm pat of butter.

From the raw bar, we ordered the “Dog Bowl,” which essentially could have served as our meal.  The lobster tails were exquisitely smoky and sweet after being grilled, then slathered in an herbed aioli.  Pickled smelt lay across potato waffles with crème fraiche, smothered in salty golden orbs of trout roe.  Hackleback caviar was pressed into sheets and served on brioche, like tea sandwiches.  A decadent lobster roll arrived  next, dripping with tarragon aioli.  Escargot was lined up and roasted alongside bone marrow.

Everything was luxurious.

Potato gnocchi were stuffed with foie gras medallions, and poutine was served with straws of crispy golden French fries loaded with melted cheese curds, all drizzled in brown gravy.  The Grassfed Cowboy was as exquisite as any steak I have ever enjoyed, the juices burst in my mouth as I would bite.  And I have never, ever had potatoes like these before—almost two parts butter and cheddar to a single portion of spud—stringing from the spoon playfully as I drew my fork.

The meal was outstanding in every possible way.  And there are so many things that still I want to try.  The beef butter sounds divine.  The Caesar salad looks remarkable, covered in a snowfall of pecorino shavings.  At just $15, the bone-in burger looked  delicious.  And the Coquilles St. Féréol is supposed to be like a seafood shepherd’s pie, with scallops buried beneath an afghan of mashed potatoes, which have been carefully piped onto the plate.

We paid the bill without even considering dessert.  Our waitress, who had been incredible, smiled as she handed me the leftovers in a brown bag.  “I snuck in a piece of cheesecake,” she said as she winked, which I had been eyeing on the dessert cart, swimming in a vanilla bean sauce.

M. Wells
43-15 Crescent St., Long Island City
718-786-9060

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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Osteria Italiana: For a real Italian experience


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Looking for real Italian food, but can’t go to Italy? Then how about Maspeth?

Osteria Italiana, which loosely translates to “Italian restaurant,” opened up over the summer on 61st Street near Grand Avenue with a familiar face.

Head chef and part-owner Michael Zampitelli, who is an Italian native turned Maspeth resident, brings nearly 40 years of Italian cooking experience to the neighborhood. Zampitelli owned a popular restaurant in nearby Glendale, which was forced to close in 2008 due to high rental costs.

Zampitelli, who has worked in the restaurant business starting as a teenager in Rome, wants to bring affordable, authentic Italian food to the neighborhood with Osteria.

Chicken cordon bleu

“Everywhere you go in the city, the neighborhoods are mixed. You can find everything,” Zampitelli said. “Personally I think in Maspeth there are no real Italian restaurants. You find diners and pizzerias, but no real Italian restaurants.”

Aside from Zampitelli’s extensive Italian cooking experience, Osteria’s food is authenticated by the ingredients, such as cheeses and olive oil, which are imported directly from Italy.

The menu at Osteria is wide and can satisfy many taste buds.

Starters include soups, salads and appetizers. One appetizer, the eggplant parmigiana, is covered with fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano cheese with a savory marinara sauce.

Spaghetti alla carbonara 

Entrees include a range of pastas, chicken, veal and fish dishes.

Zampitelli’s spaghetti alla carbonara is a masterpiece at $11.95, for those not watching their waistline. The pasta dish is a mix of pecorino cheese, a creamy sauce and bits of bacon.

The chicken cordon bleu, at $14.95, is a hefty meal with big pieces of tender chicken, served with mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

Desserts on the menu include an Italian cheesecake with ricotta cheese and tiramisu, along with other Italian classics. And of course wines, such as merlot, are on the menu as well.

With Zampitelli’s return, some of his long-time customers have followed him to Osteria. He believes it’s because of the quality of his food and the friendly way he treats his patrons.

“Everyone who comes here we treat like family, that’s why they’ve follow me for many, many years,” Zampitelli said.

Osteria Italiana
57-57 61st Street, Maspeth
718-894-4391
Hours: Monday-Sunday Noon-11 p.m.
Cash only
Wheelchair accessible
Delivery

 

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Cavo: A little bit of something for everyone


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

It is a juicy hamburger stuffed with decadent, velvety foie gras—like a gigantic beef ravioli nestled on fluffy brioche.  It sits on a bed of crumbled feta and is topped with a ribbon of kefteri cheese and pickled onions.  It is the filet mignon of burgers, and it is just the tip of the iceberg at CavoAstoria’s premiere restaurant, complete with garden, lounge and club.

For years, Cavo has been serving elevated Mediterranean cuisine in one of the most sophisticated dining rooms this side of the Hudson—and the current menu is certainly no exception.  A front bar splits off to additional seating areas on the side, before opening up to a vaulted dining room with giant cloth-covered chandeliers.  Beyond that, steps descend into a sunken garden with waterfalls and foliage cascading down two-story walls.

Cavo showcases a lovely blend of favorite dishes primarily from Greece and Italy intermixed with accents from all over the world—under the direction and expertise of Omari Dacosta, most recently of Danny Meyer’s barbecue hot spot, Blue Smoke.  Dacosta has also worked in the kitchens of Trestle on Tenth, Pera Mediterranean Brasserie, and Red Rooster in Harlem.

At Cavo, the Greek influences are certainly the most pronounced.  Ravioli is stuffed with Greek cheese and arrives under a blanket of creamy feta with white truffle essence. Exceptionally tender octopus is charcoal grilled with lemon and extra virgin olive oil, presented simply, yet still an outstanding dish.  Jumbo lump crabmeat is forked into hearty cakes, and stacked with fennel shavings and celery root puree.

A watermelon salad sings with tomato and feta, and jumbo shrimp arrive wrapped in phyllo dough.  Entrees range from plates of pasta loaded with fresh seafood, to an artichoke feta risotto, Chilean sea bass, and even a filet mignon with lemon potato gratin.

Desserts are equally sublime.  A granita of strawberries sits on a Greek yogurt panna cotta, dressed with shavings of lime zest. Nutella crepes are stuffed with walnut banana compote.

Cocktails range from Cavo’s famous sangria, to a cucumber basil Collins or lychee martini.  Sweeter spirits range from a chocolate martini to a sparkling raspberry watermelon diva martini.

From start to finish, dining at Cavo will leave you wanting to return.  Perfect for an intimate weekday dinner or a weekend evening of dancing, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Cavo
42-18 31st Avenue, Astoria
718-721-1001
Closed Mondays
Open daily at 5 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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‘Blend’ to perfection


| editorial1@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Blend LIC

The menu at Blend in Long Island City has something for everyone. Latin fusion cuisine, inventive tapas, and homemade sangria – the list is never-ending. Combine this stellar menu with a chic atmosphere and brilliant location, and you’ve found a true culinary gem. Whether you’re looking for a quick after-work bite or a luxurious Sunday brunch, you won’t be disappointed.

Begin your meal with a glass of the house sangria and some “tapatizers” – Blend’s modern take on classic tapa dishes such as calamari, camarones and empanadas. The maduros con queso combines sweet, yellow plantains with cotija cheese and a heap of sour cream. If you prefer tacos, order the taco trio. Chicken, tender braised beef and fresh pico de gallo, a modern, aesthetic take on classic comfort food. For a taste of the most popular tapas, order the tapatizer sampler – complete with chicharrones, crispy calamari, tender maduros, shrimp and empanadas.

Entrees at Blend utilize classic ingredients, yet delicately infuse aspects of modern Latin cuisine. The churrasco is served with white rice, black beans and mixed salad. The presentation is just as impressive as the quality of the food. The pernil combines tender roasted pork with “blend sauce” served over a bed of yellow rice and black beans. If you prefer seafood, order the paella, with yellow rice, shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, chorizo and peas. I’m not sure if it was the mix of fresh, quality seafood, the memorable combination of flavor or the stunning presentation, but I am sure I will order this dish again.

Side dishes are reasonably priced and represent staple culinary items such as yucca fries, sweet plantains and tostones. If you’re eating light, Blend offers an abundance of salads including the Queso de Cabra, mixed greens, spicy pecans, crispy goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette- very tasty. All salads are available with avocado, chicken or shrimp for a small fee.

The atmosphere at Blend is truly unforgettable, combining deep, rich mahogany with a rustic brick backdrop. Walls are lined with imaginative, modern paintings and there is a contemporary, sizeable bar. Latin American cuisine, tropical cocktails and a sultry atmosphere all come together to create an enjoyable, memorable dining experience. Make sure to stop by Blend on Vernon Boulevard for a delicious, homemade meal in an atmosphere you won’t forget.

Blend

47-04 Vernon Boulevard

Long Island City, NY 11101

Open every day

11 a.m. -10 p.m.

Lunch, brunch and dinner

718-729-2800

www.blendlic.com

Wheelchair accessible

All major credit cards accepted