Tag Archives: Queens restaurants

There’s a new Nosh in town


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Jinhee Park and Johney Han recently got engaged, and then they decided to open Nosh Borough.

“When we can make this restaurant work, we will set a date and make our marriage work,” laughs Park.

“For right now,” her fiancé interrupts, “we are just trying to do great slow food cooking — served fast.” They are no strangers to the restaurant scene in New York, and finally parted ways with their last kitchen to open their first independent endeavor.

Slow food is the antithesis of fast food. At Nosh Borough, their brisket is smoked for 12 to 13 hours, and they brine their chicken for two days in a special sugar and salt solution. Burgers are a house blend of brisket, ground chuck and sirloin — and they knock ‘em out of the park. Order one banh-mi-style and savor a marinated beef patty topped with a choice of sweet roasted garlic or tangy onion white sauce with lettuce, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots — or just try the Nosh Burger with cheddar, caramelized onion and bacon marmalade.

Chicken, pork belly and brisket are available as entrees served with side dishes and a biscuit, or you can have your meat served as a “wafco” — like a taco that uses a paper-thin waffle as a shell.

As supporting characters, roasted brussels sprouts with crumbles of bacon are fantastic, and so is the decadently velvety havarti and cheddar mac and cheese. Southern-style dirty rice is speckled with piquant sausage, collard greens are braised with salty bits of ham hock, and corn-on-the-cob is slathered with mayo and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

A creamy country-style sausage gravy can come on a buttermilk biscuit, or you can have it slathered on a pile of French fries and topped with pico de gallo. Now that’s a whole new kind of disco.

And they are also serving a pretty killer chicken pot pie, with the typical pastry crust replaced by a buttery crown of warm buttermilk biscuit.

Vegetarians will return for the vegetable tamales, which are built with masa and potato, a blend of poblano and guajillo peppers, earthy mushrooms, sweet onions, a dollop of crema, and pico de gallo.

Homemade desserts include a smooth, light and creamy cheesecake topped with seasonal fresh fruit — we devoured a slice loaded with fresh mangoes — or a crazy tasty peanut butter and chocolate tart which arrives like a Reese’s Cup on steroids, built on a blonde cookie crust.

If their first month is any indication, this sweet little shop on Astoria Boulevard between 21st and 31st streets is poised to score a grand slam, with an inventive all-star menu that changes monthly.

There is ample seating if you want to settle in after ordering from the counter. You can also order delivery from eat24hrs.com. They are even open for lunch. But however and whenever you do, we recommend you stop by and check ‘em out and show ‘em some love.

Nosh Borough
25-17 Astoria Blvd., Astoria
347-813-4677

 

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Something for everyone at O’Neill’s of Maspeth


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

SALVATORE LICATA

It is truly difficult to cater to all tastes in a borough with a burgeoning food scene and harder still to deliver high quality and professional service at the same time.

But it’s no problem for O’Neill’s of Maspeth. It is as if it was met with this challenge and simply said, “Bring it!”

O’Neill’s has five separate rooms, including three party rooms, a grill room and a main dining room. It offers outdoor seating and has a full bar, which complements the more than 50 televisions throughout the restaurant. This makes it a great spot to watch all types of sporting events with that sports bar vibe. But if you aren’t a sports fan and want a peaceful sit-down meal, it has a room for you. The main dining room is free of televisions and has a fireplace to give you that upscale restaurant scenery but with reasonable prices.

If this isn’t enough to pull you in the food surely will. From its top-end steak cuts to its raw bar, each piece of food you eat is well worth its affordable price. Oh yeah, and don’t forget its brick oven pizza, cooked by the talented Joe Grassadonio, who has worked as a pizza chef for more than 40 years. There is a wide variety of pies, and each one is cooked to perfection with a crisp crust that will have you going back for more.

To accommodate even more people, O’Neill’s also has a large back room that can be used for parties and special events, including wedding receptions.

Specials abound. Stop by for wing night on Mondays or Taco Tuesdays.
And O’Neill’s does catering if you want to have your party at home.

O’Neill’s was destroyed two years ago from a fire in the kitchen, but like anything with a New York attitude, the owners and staff overcame the situation and the restaurant is now better than ever.

Co-owners George O’Neill and Danny Pile are committed to keeping the restaurant up to speed with the evolving food scene in Queens.

O’Neill’s of Maspeth
64-21 53rd Drive, Maspeth
718-672-9696
Monday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

 

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44 years of deliciousness at The Family Restaurant


| padler@queenscourier.com

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For decades, whenever I go to Forest Hills I head to The Family Restaurant, offering Italian cuisine and crispy-crusted pizza, on bustling Queens Boulevard for lunch and dinner, and I’m happy to report to you that it is as good as ever.

The wood-paneled decor with linen-covered tables is warm and inviting. On one wall are the pizza ovens and on another is a fully stocked bar with a large selection of wines and beer for every taste and budget. The well-spaced tables with flowers make the room intimate. In the rear is a private room for parties of up to 50 people.

But as with any restaurant, the food and ambiance are important, but the welcoming staff is critical. This restaurant has it all. The owner, Robert, can be seen greeting guests many evenings and the manager, Peter, there for decades, ensures your comfort. The professional waiters have also been in place truly making you feel like they’re extended family.

They have survived the very fickle restaurant industry trend of turnover and short life by providing consistently excellent food for 44 years!

The day I visited I sampled their crispy thin-crust pizza made with creamy mozzarella cheese and luscious rich tomatoes. There are multiple choices for toppings but I’m a purist and like it this way. But they offer a “pizetta” size so each guest can have his or her personal favorite. My friends had the meatball with mushrooms and onions. Both mouthwatering.

But that’s just the start. I chose my favorite entree, salmon filet grilled and prepared just how I like it, medium rare and accompanied by my choice of vegetables. Most of the entrees are offered with salad or pasta. There are over a dozen different pastas to choose from and in fact my guests chose rigatoni and fagioli and linguine in a vodka sauce with shrimp as their main courses. Each one was perfectly prepared and so large a portion that each of them took home the leftovers.

From steaks to poultry to veal to fish there’s something for everyone at reasonable prices. For a more informal meal, there are overstuffed hero sandwiches starting at $6.50 and the whole pizza starts at $6.00 with a large Sicilian pie at $16.00 that a whole family could share. They even offer customized pizza by the slice.

Of course no meal is complete without dessert, and here they offer their famous homemade cheesecake, cannoli and rum cake. For the tartufo fans they serve it surrounded by rich whipped cream. There is also a selection of sherbets, too. A delicious finish to an authentic Italian meal.

For those living within a few miles there is free delivery available and curbside delivery of take-out orders. Although it’s a challenging area for parking they solved the problem with valet parking Monday through Sunday. They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. and weekends until midnight. So try it, you’ll love it, too.

The Family Restaurant
110-80 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills
718-520-1123

 

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Endless summer — and drinks — at Mojave


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS 

Bottomless and outdoors are two words that, when combined, always cause a stir. Keep your pants on — we aren’t suggesting dropping your trousers. We are talking about the new bottomless brunch at Mojave on 31st Street near Ditmars.

The recently renovated space features a fantastic new bar stretching a majestic span up by the front windows, which is the source of mimosas, Bloody Marys, sangrias and margaritas that can flow endlessly for an hour and a half of your choosing on the weekends between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Step beyond the bar and the expansive candlelit dining room, wave at the chef as you pass the kitchen, and get ready for one of the most beautiful and spacious gated patios in the neighborhood. Seating is available in the thatched hut shade, or gulp up your Vitamin D direct from the source. On a sunny day alongside the water fountain, the drinks and the decor will transport you to a south-of-the-border getaway, but the real gems are the plates that come from the kitchen.

Guacamole is prepared en molcajete, but you can add lumps of crabmeat or even tiny bits of diced mango, pineapple and habanero.

Or choose your egg-zact favorite preparation of uovo, with the crab benedict, huevos rancheros, or the hash brown benedict — which arrives swimming in sweet tomatillo and crowned with a dash of avocado and mango relish.

Service is exceptional, and drinks are refilled often without request. You can order a single cocktail for $16.95, or endless drinks for $27.95, both of which include coffee or tea.

The dining experience beyond brunch is certainly no less of a fiesta, beginning with an order of tequila-infused queso fundido. Sizzling skillets of bubbling cheese are laced with crabmeat, chorizo, or spinach and mushrooms. Homemade empanadas are available in everything but the typical combinations, like the roasted plantain with a trio of cheeses and black beans.

Tacos teeter on the unique end of the spectrum as well, with blue-corn-crusted fried oysters stealing the spotlight, brightened with a pina salsa and chipotle crema. The pasilla chili-braised short rib taco with queso Oaxaca and pico de gallo is a close second.

The dinner entrees are where Mojave shines the brightest, from the mole-kissed duck enchiladas topped with cactus and tequila cream to the ridiculously tender beer-braised short ribs and the yellow mole-blanketed salmon served with roasted corn mash. My go-to favorite, which has endured several menu changes, is the playfully delicious shepherd’s pie. Corkscrew spirals of cavatapi are tossed in a spicy blend of tender pork and medallions of beef that have been braised in wine, and layered with golden crusted jack cheese.

But do not forget the Serranito Burger. Ten ounces of grilled sirloin is stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese, serrano peppers, cilantro and chihuahua cheese, all garnished with lettuce, tomato and a rich Gorgonzola cream.

Now that is the kind of fiesta that is usually followed by a sweet siesta.

Mojave Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar
22-36 31st St., Astoria
718-545-4100

 

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N’Awlins in Bayside


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

ShortRib

CHRIS BUMBACA

While Bell Boulevard does not resemble downtown New Orleans, the eatery Bourbon Street, located at 40-12 Bell Blvd. in Bayside, provides the opportunity to indulge in delicious Cajun cuisine in the heart of Queens.

Stepping into the restaurant is like being teleported from the concrete jungle of New York to Bourbon Street itself. The color scheme of the interior, with purples and greens, reminded me of Mardi Gras. A spacious bar area with several televisions provides a pleasurable atmosphere to take in a game.

For the appetizer, the lobster sliders were fantastic. Bits of chopped lobster were covered with a creamy sauce, highlighted with tomato, that enhanced the flavor between two grilled buns. Two of these sliders were served along with a helping of homemade potato chips. The chips had tremendous taste with a minimal amount of salt, making them truly delicious and light.

The second course featured fried scallops served over traditional rice and red beans. The rice had a zesty kick and was the perfect complement to the scallops. The scallops were light yet substantial, and were topped off with a peperonata sauce. The peperonata sausage was delightful, adding a different component to the dish. The sauce contained green and red peppers, adding a spice to the scallops. The sauce also added flavor because of the hints of white wine, cilantro and basil in the sauce.

The seafood paella sushi is the quintessential item on the menu for sushi lovers. Even if you are not into sushi, I’d still recommend the dish because it is a mixture of crab meat, chicken and roasted red peppers. The sushi is flash fried, crisping the exterior of the sushi, making it easy to eat and providing a change in texture from the softer interior filled with white rice. A saffron aioli was served on the bottom, and the sushi was topped off with a zesty, orange chipotle sauce. An ample portion of six pieces was served, definitely filling me up.

Dessert was traditional and delectable, and consisted of a trio of cakes and pies. The freshest piece of chocolate cake I’ve ever had was served with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries. The key lime pie was tangy and pleased the taste buds. The carrot cake was fluffy with a sweet filling and frosting.

The drink menu is seasonal, and daily specials vary.

Overall, Bourbon Street provides a delightful experience featuring mouthwatering Cajun cuisine, so bring your appetite!

Bourbon Street
40-12 Bell Blvd., Bayside
718-224-2200
Lunch: 12pm-4pm Monday-Friday
Dinner: 4pm-11pm Sunday-Thursday
4pm-12am Friday & Saturday
Saturday & Sunday Brunch: 12pm-3pm

 

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Fatty’s 2.0


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS 

When Fatty’s announced it was moving almost a year ago, Astorians — and New Yorkers in general — were devastated, and also worried that a reopening would not, in fact, happen. Last month, however, Suzanne Furbota and Fernando Peña proved everyone wrong when they opened the doors to their new location.

The new space maintains all of the chill island vibe of the former, with just a little more panache. Stereo speakers form a wall separating the front bar from the main dining room, which is lined with funky pieces of art. A patio is expected to open soon, where guests can be transported to an island getaway.

Contrary to the misleading name, the website describes Fatty’s as a healthy grill … a place to chill. Apparently the name was derived from a term of endearment between Suzanne and Fernando. Though a Latin-driven menu, Fernando explains that if he sees a recipe he likes, it will probably appear on the menu. If he likes it, he makes it. Because he’s built a menu around recipes he loves, you most definitely taste that in the food, and feel it in the air.

A trio of empanadas (chicken, beef and cheese) were some of the best around … crispy with a moist interior, with deliciously seasoned, juicy fillings.

Someone at your table simply has to order the contraband chicken. Tender breasts of poultry are stuffed with pico de gallo and cheddar, wrapped in crispy bacon, blanketed with cheese and a mole barbecue sauce. Hands down, the most delicious, sweet, yet savory mole I have ever enjoyed. With the fusion of barbecue sauce, it was chocolaty, tangy and smoky. The caramelized plantains were crisp to the bite, yet beautifully tender and sweet inside.

The chocolate tres leches was an absolute slice of sweetened milk heaven. My lunch date laughed when I likened it to a gourmet twist on Count Chocula cereal, but it was like a childhood memory soaked up into a cake with a glistening ruby cherry on top. Everything at Fatty’s made us smile and feel like kids on holiday, from the food to the jovial atmosphere.

Any time I can’t afford a trip to the Caribbean but am craving a relaxed vacation meal, you can certainly bet I will be walking a few blocks out of the way to stop by Fatty’s Cafe. If it were any closer to my apartment, I would absolutely be a regular. While we miss the talented staff of Stove, the former tenant, we know they have passed it on to some wonderful new owners who have made it their own, and will welcome you as if it is yours also.

Whatever you do, try the mojito or add on one of the drunken sticks of fruit to your beverage. Those drinks are a vacation all by themselves.

Fatty’s
45-17 28th Ave., Astoria
elfatty@fattysastoria.com
718-267-7071
Open weekdays at 2 p.m.
Open weekends at 11 a.m.

 

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An old world organic kitchen


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

Alexander Dimitrov, the chef-owner of Trakia, which recently opened in Astoria, is hoping guests will come for the organic pizza, but then return for one of his authentic Mediterranean dishes roasted in the brick oven — or for the pizza again. There is a whole lot going on in this new kitchen, and Dimitrov is no newcomer to the industry. He is the owner of Mehanata on the Lower East Side.

While Trakia has no aspirations of becoming a Bulgarian nightclub and vodka-tasting den, it does plan to showcase a laid-back, brick oven approach to cooking far more than just pizza.

The intention for Trakia is simply to bring organic, authentic, casual Mediterranean cooking to 30th Avenue, in a relaxed setting with a somewhat eccentric atmosphere. The décor features much of Dimitrov’s own woodwork, as well as a hand-sculpted aquarium built into the wall, which showcases a mosaic of tchotchkes, running from a miniature Tinker Bell figurine to a manger scene with Mary and Joseph. Three wise monkeys sit perched at the top.

The real object of our affection is the extensive range of menu items. Marijan Begani heads up the pizza station, where pies are topped with everything from homemade pockets of chicken ravioli, to a dessert pie smeared with Nutella and topped with grapes and a blend of berries.

Though Dimitrov is Bulgarian, the restaurant name is a reference to a United Europe, as the menu reflects. Stoneware dishes are used to bake shopski salads — like a Greek salad topped with creamy feta and a whole egg. Lahmacun and pides come steaming from the oven — pastry boats filled with a variety of ground meats, including traditional ground lamb. Whole eggplants and butternut squashes are lightly brushed with oil, dusted with salt and slow-roasted near the open flames. Mici (called Meech on the menu) arrive like Romanian sausages tucked into a warm pocket of lapinja (a Bosnian bread) that has been freshly made and hand-dipped into bone broth before being baked. Sasljik (shishkabobs) arrive on a wooden stand that displays the grilled meat and vegetables like dueling swords.

Oh, and they are making a Caesar salad pizza, and a taco pizza, as well.

“We have a lot more ideas we want to try out,” chuckles manager A.J. Dracic, who hopes they will sell enough pizza and Mediterranean food to sell both. So far, clientele seems very Eastern European, which comes as no surprise on a ten-block stretch of 30th Avenue that averages a pizzeria on every corner, including a few brick ovens. “But no one else is selling organic, gluten-free options,” explains Dracic. “Ideally, we want to be accessible to everybody.”

If you cannot find a chance to stop by their storefront next to Mini Star Diner at Steinway and 30th Avenue, they have a whole brick oven set up all summer long at the LIC Flea, where guests can order their wood-fired pizzas.

Trakia
38-14 30th Ave., Astoria
347-813-4709

 

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Global lime shortage squeezes Queens bars, restaurants


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Sophia Rosenbaum

SOPHIA ROSENBAUM

Brother, can you spare a lime?

Frequent customers at El Rey Del Taco truck may be confused when they open the Styrofoam container with their tacos to find a wedge of lemon, instead of lime, in their trays.

Limes are too expensive for the taco truck to afford right now, as a global lime shortage is affecting restaurants and bars throughout Queens. Most of the limes used in the U.S. come from Mexico, where heavy rains and an infectious tree disease affecting the lime crop have forced lime prices to quadruple over the past few months.

“Unfortunately, Mexico received some heavy rains that destroyed a large amount of the lime crop, so with limited supplies, we are seeing lime prices skyrocket,” said Lindsey Pope, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Agriculture.

At local supermarkets like Key Food and Trade Fair, three limes cost $3. Three months ago, customers could buy a dozen limes for the same price. In the past few months, prices for 10-pound cases of limes have gone from about $30 to about $120.

While the taco truck can get away with replacing limes with lemons, some businesses are not afforded that option.

“We do a lot of custom cocktails, so not using fresh juice just isn’t an option for us,” said Vincent Vee, the beer and event manager at Station House in Forest Hills.

Vee said it’s common for prices of fresh fruit to fluctuate, especially when natural disasters like droughts affect Mexico, but that this lime shortage has been especially long.

“[The prices are] staying up a little longer than normal this time,” he said. “We’re hoping they come down soon.”

Like other restaurants and bars, Station House is limiting its lime garnishes and ensuring that its employees use the limes in the most efficient way possible.

Limes are an integral part of many Mexican dishes. Fresh lime juice makes up a third of most traditional margarita recipes.

Mojave, a Mexican restaurant in Astoria, is trying to limit its use of limes to the bare minimum.

“We’re just trying to compensate,” said Maya Stephanov, a bartender at Mojave.

Stephanov said that limes are a staple at almost every bar in the city, as a slice of lime is often paired with vodka cranberries, gin and tonics and other specialty drinks.

 

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Alobar springs into spring


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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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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It takes a (Burger) Village


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

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SHEILA DIAMOND

There’s a new burger place in town where you can eat healthy.

Normally, you wouldn’t put these two ideas together, but organic is the new healthy and Burger Village in Great Neck does it in style.

We were first tempted to give it a try as the aromas just beckoned us through the front door. The advertised organic meals closed the deal.

Brothers Nick and Vick Yadav were raised in the restaurant business and opening their own restaurant has been their dream. They proudly discuss the menu, featuring 100 percent all natural ingredients – USDA certified organic, cage free, grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free meats and non-GMO produce grown locally, with no herbicides or pesticides.

“At Burger Village our products do not come from a factory,” Nick said. “They come from farms and dairies that are mostly family owned and operated. The livestock and produce are nourished and cared for in a natural and humane way.”

You know the brothers are serious in their commitment to quality organic dining when you sit in the comfortable dining area, paneled in recycled wood. Reading the extensive menu is absolute confirmation.

Your choices include turkey, bison, ostrich, elk, wild boar and lamb in addition to beef (patties or on salad) as well as black bean, mushroom and veggie burgers. Chicken for tenders and sandwiches are humanely handled and raised.  Amazingly, with prices from $9-$13, the value is healthy, too. Even the hot dog, grass-fed Kobi beef, is only $7.

Your burger can be nestled in a brioche or multigrain bun, or even lettuce for the carb-averse.  Gluten free buns and whole wheat wraps are also available. The many toppings and sides include:  regular or seasoned fries, onion rings, sweet potato fries, goat cheese, shaved aged parmesan, arugula and lots more.

Even the soft drinks are healthier than you would expect and organically sourced. Sodas are caffeine-free, cane juice sweetened, 100 percent all-natural, hand crafted by the Maineroot Company. Then again, you can get some healthy anti-oxidants in a glass of very nice red wine.

If you have room, dessert awaits. Their shakes are made with organic ice cream and include strawberry, raspberry and blueberry, banana and even peanut butter, in addition to the old standbys, vanilla and chocolate.

The flourless chocolate cake is simply amazing and all I can say about their vanilla bean cheese cake is that it’s beyond the beyond.

So if you’ve been craving a juicy, flavorful burger or a really healthy salad—or you just want to go to town on an old-time ice cream float, head to Burger Village.

Burger Village
66 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck
516-321-9177
Open 7 days 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Master, Visa, Amex, Discover cards accepted
Metered on street parking
Muni lot around corner (Gussack Plaza)

 

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Design your own sushi roll


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

BRADLEY HAWKS

The Queens Courier recently got a chance to visit Pink Nori, Astoria’s brand new “make your own sushi bar.”  We were fortunate enough to get an intimate afternoon alone with Jesse Tang, the 22-year-old owner.  The most surprising thing he revealed is the fact that as a child, he didn’t even enjoy seafood and he didn’t clam up – he said he still doesn’t even enjoy shrimp very much at all, although shrimp appears all over the menu at Pink Nori (we counted at least 20 shrimp items).  But what he enjoys has very little to do with the menu at Pink Nori, where Jesse describes himself as the “X factor.”

“I know the business, marketing, and social media aspects,” he explains.  And that is the very thing that won him $10,000 in the Long Island Entrepreneur Challenge.  That money was just a tiny fraction of what has been invested into the company in total.  There are actually several investors, including Tang’s parents and brother, along with his executive chef.  It sounds like there are a lot of people to answer to.  Tang disagrees.

“My customer base is the real boss,” smiles Tang. He has surrounded himself with people who know Japanese food, restaurants and service much better than he does.  Take his head sushi chef, Andy Tan, for example.  Tan has over 25 years of experience, including significant time at such notable restaurants as Morimoto, Gari, and Nobu.  Put quite simply, the man knows his stuff.

Jesse Tang’s mother, Shirley, and father, Danny were born in Taiwan and Hong Kong, respectively.

So what, precisely, keeps drawing customers in?

“It’s the ‘make your own sushi,’” explains Tang.  Customers can choose from a whole list of unique ingredients to instruct the chef as to how to prepare the rolls.  Ingredients include taro chips, guacamole, jalapeños and mangoes, and several varieties of seafood and other veggies.  The theory is that someone can personalize their own roll, and return to have it again, or try something new.  But that’s all merely the hook to get people to come.

The hope is that guests will try building a roll, and then return for all of the other unique dishes, like Peking duck sliders, filet mignon tarts, and a whole range of homemade dumplings.  They even have a line of “New Style Sushi” also called “sushi with flavor.” It features single pieces with combinations like amber jack with yuzu jelly and potato chips, or octopus with a vinaigrette jelly.  It is dishes like these which Tang hopes inspire guests to become returning patrons.

“In many Asian restaurants,” explains Tang, “guests just come in, eat, and leave.  I want to get people involved.”

Then there is the restaurant itself, decorated with pink walls, white furniture, and neon accent lighting.  Everything at Pink Nori is shiny and new—from the ambiance, to the ingredients, to Tang’s promising, budding career.

Pink Nori
36-06 30th Ave., Astoria
718-685-2365

 

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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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C’est magnifique


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks

French cuisine is oddly one of the most difficult cuisines to find in Astoria, especially when it comes to table service. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that until last month, one solitary restaurant served a croque madame. Luckily the opening of Francis Café marks the second bistro in Astoria, presently open for lunch, dinner, as well as petite dejeuner, so I took a chance to swing by.

Francis Café is actually an outpost of Francis Staub — owner of Le Gamin in Williamsburg and Ft. Greene, as well as Staub cookware. So considering his famous association, I decided it would be well worth our time to see what he has cooking.

There is nothing particularly extraordinaire about the menu itself, beyond several classic French dishes, especially during breakfast and lunch — just simple sections with a few offerings under each. Breakfast dishes include a few varieties of omelettes, quiche, even a pain perdu. The success at Francis Café lies in the quality (and quantity) of each dish, as each is superbly executed as if to create a postcard to French cuisine.

Moules Frites are extremely tender. Crepes are exquisitely folded and tucked onto the plate as a culinary gift. Dry-aged steak frites is so juicy it falls apart at a prodding.

On one occasion, I made the mistake of ordering a croque monsieur accompanied by a side dish sampler of haricot verts, au gratin potatoes and a morel risotto. When the first of the plates arrived at the table, I gasped at the portion. But as I began to attempt to tackle even a fraction of each section of my meal, the food drew me in until suddenly there was hardly anything remaining. My will power faded, rendering me helpless.

Be prepared, as the cuisine here is actually that excellent. Desserts arrive and last seconds before they are devoured. There are glistening pear tarts, soufflés and brulees. Coffee is as excellent as it should be in any French restaurant.

The menu transition between lunch and dinner is profound, rendering dinner service an experience entirely unique to lunch. The sandwiches are dropped along with the quiches for rich, savory stews and dishes cooked over a span of time, like bouillabaisse or coq au vin. A pappardelle pasta one afternoon was exceptional, rich with rabbit ragout. It is the sort of restaurant where you want to try everything, and find yourself returning to do precisely that.

When you arrive, take a moment and focus on the menu as though you were going to devour absolutely everything on it. And then simply order one entrée, followed by a dessert and a café au lait. Trust me, you will not regret it. And then return again and again and again, as if each visit were your very first. Everything is truly that good.

Francis Café
35-01 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria, NY 11105
718-606-6532

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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Ben’s Best: A New York classic


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

While many kosher delicatessens around the country have come and gone, Ben’s Best in Rego Park has remained a staple in the neighborhood for nearly 70 years, using one simple rule.

Owner Jay Parker, a Rockaway native, makes certain the restaurant is a master of one trade. The menu at the eatery has not changed much since his father, Benjamin, opened it in 1945 and they have not tried to branch off into other areas of the food industry.

From day one, Ben’s Best has produced high-quality kosher deli sandwiches, sides and classic entrees.

“You come here for a particular item,” Parker said. “People step through the door, they want to step back in time. They want to remember the old days.”

Parker assumed control of the restaurant after his father passed away in 1984. When he was younger he didn’t want to own the deli.

Parker was a bond trader on Wall Street, who was let go after his company was sold. It was then that he had an epiphany and turned down offers from other Wall Street companies.

“I remember walking out of that building and I said I will never ever place myself in a position where somebody else will decide whether or not I make a living,” Parker said.

The deli offers all kinds of kosher overstuffed sandwiches including flavorful pastrami, turkey, roast beef and bologna, among other meat selections. For about 35 years Parkers has been buying these meats from the same vendor.

Crunchy pickles, coleslaw and thick-cut french fries, golden brown to perfection, are popular sides on the menu.

The deli has various soups, such as old-fashioned chicken soup, which are made fresh from scratch every day.

The deli also serves wraps, salads and various entrees, including salmon and steak, but sandwiches are its specialty. In fact, it has unique sandwiches named after community leaders, such as former Congressmember Gary Ackerman, which is corned beef, turkey and onions with a Russian dressing.

The restaurant even offers a special sandwich-eating challenge for really hungry customers or people looking to push their stomachs.

The Ben’s Best Challenge is a whopping pound of deli meat– corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, turkey and salami– on a club roll, a 20-ounce bowl of matzo soup, a half-pound of coleslaw, two pickles and two orders of french fries.

Anyone who finishes the entire meal will receive a mug, be entered in a raffle to win a $100 Ben’s Best gift certificate, and have their picture on the wall of the restaurant and its Facebook account.

Ben’s Best
96-40 Queens Boulevard
718-897-1700
Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
And 9 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Wheelchair accessible

 

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O’Neill’s: Classy, right outside your door


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

Revitalized O’Neill’s restaurant and bar is ready to serve all lads and lassies looking to O’verindulge.

After reopening in September following a devastating fire two years ago, the Maspeth neighborhood favorite has increased its fine dining options, and brought in world-renowned chef Richard Burns.

Restaurant owners rebuilt the beloved bar section, but expanded areas for fine dining and private parties with a range of tasty and classy offerings on the menu.

“In this economy, in this day and age, we can target different areas from steak house, fine dining to a sports grill,” manager Danny Pyle said. “Put that all together and it’s just a fun, happening spot.”

The bar at O’Neill’s, which is known for its stellar wings and burgers, has many TV screens to catch the biggest sports moments and numerous beer offerings for any fan to enjoy.

But beyond the bar is a room for formal dining, which has more space between tables, softer lighting and no TVs, providing for a fine dining atmosphere much like some of the top eateries in the city.

Everything from appetizers to entrees, to soups and drinks, bring a level of dining not usually found in the neighborhood.

Appetizers include thick slices of applewood smoked slab bacon drenched in a sweet sauce, Maryland crab cakes with seaweed and irresistible roasted garlic bread blanketed by aged Gorgonzola cheese. Soups, such as a savory New England corn clam chowder and rich lobster bisque, are also on the menu.

Entrees range from salmon to steaks. The mouth-watering salmon is served on top of sautéed leaf spinach, while tender and sweet prime rib lamb chops on the bone are served with crunchy vegetables and hash brown potatoes. And to top the menu are thick cuts of succulent porterhouse steak with onion rings, potato and creamed spinach on the side.

“I thought about what did people like about O’Neill’s, what were the best things about O’Neill’s, and decided ‘let’s bring that back. And what else new can we add to the table?’” Pyle said, “That’s the fine dining.”

O’Neill’s
64-21 53rd Drive, Maspeth
718-672-9696
Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. and
Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.

 

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