Vesta Trattoria & Wine Bar (21-02 30th Ave., Astoria, NY)
With the recent explosion of restaurants popping up like wildfire throughout Astoria and Long Island City, it can be easy to let old favorites take the back burner. A few recent visits to Vesta (big sister to newcomer, Pachanga Patterson--a Mexican-inspired fusion joint by the same owners and chef), however, reminded a group of friends just how tasty this three-year-old neighborhood staple can be... especially at brunch. Brunch is a meal attempted almost everywhere, but not always executed to celebration. And while dinner crowds fill this neighborhood trattoria to the seams (the baked lasagna is killer), Vesta's brunch wins my affection for favorite meal. While the name and menu items suggest Italian cuisine, the dishes, in my opinion, are uniquely American--perhaps served up via an Italian vessel. But just as true Italian cuisine is sourced locally, varying from region to region, Chef Michelle Vido at Vesta plays with local ingredients, often through Vesta's well-known partnership with the Brooklyn Grange, Astoria's rooftop farm.
A few ephemeral treats on the brunch menu disappear from week to week, but one undeniably popular nosh seems to always remain. The pizza-lovers answer to a bloody-mary, the Hangover Pizza is a crispy wafer-thin crust blanketed with a spicy tomato sauce, adorned with pancetta, potatoes, sausage, and soft-centered fried eggs. This bad boy is an ideal starter for a table of four.
Baked in the same casserole dish as their bubbling lasagna comes the "Warm Bankie" -- one of Vesta's heartier morning options. Exceedingly creamy and custardy polenta is topped with jewels of asparagus spears, sauteed mushrooms, a drizzle of truffle oil, and fried eggs.
Another personal favorite is L'Italiano, toasted Italian bread with a smear of ricotta, thin salty slices of hot sopressata, and creamy-yolk-centered poached eggs... with tuscan home fries.
Light-as-air buttermilk pancakes arrive stacked with fresh berries and unsweetened whipped cream.
Flawless omelette selections vary from a veggie omelette with sauteed mushrooms, escarole, & mozzarella to yesterday's egg white omelette with ricotta, basil, & tomato (pictured above with home fries).
A few of the dinner items also appear at brunch under a section labeled "Everything Else". Orecchiette tossed in a light oil with artichokes, & sauteed mushrooms showcases the focus on the local ingredients.
Save room for what has become one of the most famous desserts in Astoria and appears in almost every review of Vesta. This luxuriously moist brown sugar date cake is topped with a toffee sauce and served with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. The dates, rehydrated and then pureed, offer a richness that harmonizes fantastically with the buttery sauce, delicately lightened by the cloud of cream. It's name, "Baby Jesus Cake," was allegedly born during preliminary taste tests for the restaurant when upon tasting it, a friend exclaimed, "this tastes like Baby Jesus."
Though if only choosing one dessert, the Baby Jesus Cake should be the decision, other delicious confections appear on the rotating dessert menu, including variations on bread pudding (the chocolate bread pudding is exceptional) or the limoncello tiramisu (pictured above), like a layered citrus custard with actual citrus segments... wonderfully refreshing in the summer heat.