Thursday, March 25, 2010

Graduating from PB&J: Il Bambino

Il Bambino (34-08 31st Ave., Astoria)

My Grandpa Peterman used to work at the Wonder bread factory in Indianapolis, and as my mom's entire side of the family will wholeheartedly attest, not much in the world tastes better than a warm loaf of classic white bread fresh from the oven. I say "boo" to the naysayers who preach of the perils of white bread.  You're lying to yourself if you believe you actually prefer that grainy puck in the breadbasket over a luminous loaf of sourdough.  I smile and think of grandpa every time I toss one of those red, yellow, and blue polka dotted bags into my grocery basket.

Each Thanksgiving, Grandma Peterman slaved relentlessly over roasted turkey and honey-glazed ham, jell-o parfaits, chicken with hand-cut noodles, meatloaf, cinnamon rolls, buttery mashed potatoes with homemade chicken gravy, pecan pies, and angel food cake with strawberries from the garden.  The real star of Thanksgiving, however, actually came after the main feast, when one-by-one the cousins would wake from our tryptophan-induced post-meal naps.  Careful not to awaken the adults who could strong arm us out of our snack, we'd sneak into the kitchen to grab fresh slices of Wonder bread, leftover turkey, yellow mustard, with a bit of cheddar cheese to zap in the microwave for the yummiest sandwich on Earth.

One of the simplest meals to execute, sandwiches are the culinary star of so many childhood memories.  Don't you recall some of the finicky preferences of you or friends?  Perhaps my favorite sandwich of all time was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, given the correct ratio of Smuckers to Jif: there must be at least twice as much raspberry jelly as peanut butter (creamy, not crunchy).  Furthermore, the pieces must be cut at the diagonal, and the crust removed.  As my parents refused to pay a premium price for popcorn every time we went to the movie theater, more often than not mom would open her purse as the lights dimmed, and pass down Ziploc baggies of those delicious PB&Js.

Of course we were exposed to more sophisticated versions of the sandwich.  For the Indy 500, we'd tote ham sandwiches on pumpernickel with pepper jack and alfalfa sprouts.  New Year's Day absolutely demanded corned beef and sauerkraut with Russian dressing and swiss on marble rye.  The signature Hawks household hot sandwich was a sausage, mozzarella, and marinara stromboli on Italian bread, wrapped in aluminum and baked in the oven.  Mom even had a coding system worked out in Sharpie shorthand on the foil to indicate which sandwiches had bell peppers or not.

When I moved to New York City, the land of bagels and pastrami at world famous Jewish delicatessens, I knew I'd find new loaves of love, but remained skeptical that anything could outshine those childhood gems.

And then I stumbled upon Il Bambino in Astoria last week.  I probably should not admit this on the world-wide web, but I found my feet carrying me back there again and again (I actually ended up eating  there three times in just four days!)

Rumor has it that fanatics make pit stops at Il Bambino when traveling between LaGuardia airport and Manhattan.  I don't doubt the obsession even the slightest.

This delightfully cozy restaurant boasts a phenomenal fusion of Spanish tapas and classic Italian sandwiches, as well as a generous selection of wine and beer... all served by one of the friendliest waitstaffs in all of NYC.  With tapas and 'nini's (the sandwich, not the Atlanta housewife) ranging from $4.50 to $8.50, you can enjoy an unbelievably satisfying meal for under $10.

The bread is baked fresh daily specifically for their panini and crostini just up the street at a local bakery. If you are unsure of the names for the various cuts of meats, just glance at the diagram of a pink cartoon pig in the entryway labeled for that specific purpose. 

If you still don't know what to try, just close your eyes and point.  I'd guess it's safe to assume everything at Il Bambino is equally fantastic.

Crostini of tomato, rosemary ricotta, and kalamata olive oil.

Smothered tomato stuffed with fresh tuna, Marie Rose, and preserved lemon sauce.

Egg salad crostini with truffle oil and shaved speck.

I [heart] this panini in particular (which I opened up to show the fixins): soppressata with garlic butter, red onion, and peccorino cheese.

For just $1, you can add a house made sauce on the side.  Their herb pesto lusciously complimented almost everything we tried.

A simply perfect salad of baby arugula with shaved egg, smoked bacon, and a mimosa vinaigrette.

Their back dining patio was perfect for our first outdoor brunch in the gorgeous spring weather this last weekend.

My roommates and I grabbed mimosas and... read this with envy... Nutella hot chocolate!  We also took a peek at the yard next door, where it appears a Chinese family is attempting to build a time machine (trust me... you'll laugh when you see the debacle of chaos beyond the neighboring fence).

The cheese flight is accompanied by warm crostini and a sweet fig spread.

Brunch panini are offered on the weekends from 10:30 to 3:30, featuring options such as the Piggy Got Back, Weekend Debris, and my personal favorite (pictured above), Ya Big Pig (sopressatta, mortadella, scrambled eggs, fontina, and basil pesto....)

Whether you enjoy an outdoor brunch, a quick crostini and Limonata, or an evening cheese flight and glass of wine... the bottom line is this: treat yourself.  Il Bambino is deliciously wonderful, unpretentious, and affordable.  No contest, the best panini around.

Il Bambino on Urbanspoon


Earth Mama said...

I live in San Diego but my sister lives in Astoria. She took me to Il Bambino last August while I was visiting & I had to return again on my visit. Still, all these months later I dream about it! Simply the best!

C. Smith said...

Nice photos! Very appetizing...

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