Fatty's Cafe (25-01 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria)
Inconspicuously tucked into the corner of a block of Greek homes adorned with pristinely manicured front lawns and chrome gateways sits Fatty's Cafe, a restaurant with a storefront that indicates not even a hint of the oasis waiting beyond the front doors. Inside, you are likely to find an eclectic myriad of Astorians most likely chatting casually over a mojito with Suzanne or Fernando, the couple who own and run this off-the-beaten-path gem.
Contrary to the misleading name, the website describes Fatty's as a healthy grill... a place to chill... Apparently the name is derived from a term of endearment between Suzanne and Fernando. Though a Latin-driven menu, Fernando explained to us that if he sees a recipe he likes, it will probably appear on the menu, whether Latin, Asian, or any other culinary influence. 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.
When we walked in yesterday, it instantly reminded me of one of the numerous laid back island bars of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a casual yet attentive server, a laughing bartender, and a staff that seemed to know the entire clientele. While we browsed over our menus, the bartender/owner approached our table with a box of chocolate dusted truffles. "You have to try one of these... my sister brought them from Paris, and they're delicious!"
It was as if we had stumbled onto the familiar beach patio of a longtime friend, and every single care in the world had blown right out the door on the cool spring breeze that was dancing through the dining room to the silky croonings of Sade overhead (they played an entire Sade album, as a matter of fact, while we enjoyed our chill lunch.)
The menu isn't entirely the same as that on the website (I often arrive at a new restaurant with at least an idea of what will tempt my taste buds), so we asked our server for suggestions. He steered us in an absolutely perfect direction, although I can't imagine anything at Fatty's would have disappointed.
This trio of empanadas (chicken, beef, & cheese) were some of the best around... crispy yet moist, with deliciously seasoned, juicy fillings.
The croquetas were golden crispy fingers of fried potato with cubed ham and cheeses, accompanied by a summer salad with carrot tahini dressing.
Not your conventional sandwich, the chorizo burger with poblano pepper mayo on a scrumptiously fresh kaiser accompanied by sweet potato fries literally made us giggle... absolutely delicious.
Someone at your table simply has to order the contraband chicken. Tender breasts of chicken stuffed with pico de gallo and chedder, 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 chocolatey, tangy, and smokey, but not a hint bitter as so many of the moles I have tried. 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... everything at Fatty's made us smile and feel like a kid on vacation, 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.