(prosciutto & fig blossoms at Basil Brick Oven)
The following is an extension of the article printed in the August issue of Boro Magazine. I have added a few images and descriptions for the readers of Amuse*Bouche.
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If Midtown West is notoriously known as Hell’s Kitchen, then Western Queens could quite easily adopt the moniker of World Kitchen. While Queens has longtime been famous for its ethnic culinary diversity, a recent boom in restaurant openings has fervently affirmed that claim. In fact, on Urbanspoon, Astoria and Long Island City have more restaurant listings than Hell’s Kitchen and Williamsburg combined. Read on for a spotlight on four recently opened neighborhood heavy-hitters, as well as a preview of several more that have already or are scheduled to be open within the month.
(Caprese Salad at Basil Brick Oven)
Basil Brick Oven -- 28-17 Astoria Blvd, Astoria (718-204-1205)
“The pizza was invented in Naples, and then we developed it in the North,” grins Danielle Balbos, pizzaiolo and executive chef at Basil Brick Oven Pizza. Owned by Joe Giannola (who also owns neighbor Twirlz Yogurt Bar), the pizzeria features an astonishing pizza menu, along with a few antipasti, pastas and panini inspired by Chef Danielle’s home in Piemonte, Italy.
“When you truly, really love doing something, how can you possibly go wrong?” asks the owner of his talented pie-master.
Similar to a true Neapolitan pie, the wood-fired oven is kept piping between 850 and 900˚F, the ingredients are imported from Italy and the mozzarella is made fresh daily (60 pounds of it a day, to be exact). So what makes the pizza at Basil Brick Oven different from the Neapolitan “artisan” pies that have taken the city by storm?
“Those pies cook in 90 seconds,” explains the chef, “and are not built for toppings – they can get really soggy.” Using a special recipe that yields a stronger, less doughy crust, and by baking each pie for 4 minutes, his Northern Italian pies are able to properly hold a variety of gourmet ingredients while still bragging a crisp, thin crust. Exotic combinations include smoked prosciutto with brie, yellow fin tuna with caramelized onions, mussels with roasted garlic and parsley and Williams pears with gorgonzola.
(Il Polpettone panini at Basil Brick Oven)
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The Lunch Box -- 25-17 Astoria Blvd, Astoria (718) 932-4400
When childhood little league buddies get together to launch a restaurant in their hometown, what concept could be more fitting than The Lunch Box? Featuring a throwback to classic all-American favorites – like fried chicken with mac-and-cheese and a loaded pastrami sandwich – Lou Romano Trujillo and Louie Diaz have struck a winning combination. The “All-In” Burger could rival, if not topple, the top contenders on any “Best of” list, with a juicy, charred 9 oz. ground steak patty loaded with barbecued onions, smoked cheddar, crispy bacon, fried egg and a dollop of guacamole on a toasted brioche. The Lunch Box, whose front window is a mini museum of lunchbox memorabilia, also offers lighter fare, like a grilled fish wrap, watermelon-blue cheese salad and a full juice bar with smoothies and shakes. The joint feels like a real New York neighborhood hangout – high quality, no-nonsense food with a backyard patio featuring a small stage for local performers and a mounted movie screen for televised sporting events and special features.
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(Muffuletta at SugarFreak)
SugarFreak -- 36-18 30th Ave, Astoria (718)-726-5850
It has been a long haul for husband and wife owners Al Lau and Michelle Addeo, but despite a few significant road bumps (including a neighborhood organization protesting their liquor license), Sugar Freak has officially opened its doors, revealing one of the most lovingly designed interiors along 30th Avenue.
(Charming design details, even in the bathrooms)
Antique milk bottles serve as sconces, patchwork pillows provide seat cushions, retro desks are mounted to walls for bar high tops and an old TV hutch houses Tabasco and polished stemware.
(Crawfish Boudain Balls)
The menu is Louisiana-style, and the reviews are rave. Boudain balls arrive at the table like Cajun arancini – golf ball-sized rice jeweled with crawfish, breaded and deep-fried. Hurricanes with mango rum get your toes tappin’.
(Fried shrimp po' boy)
Tables gawk over catfish po’ boys and a steaming skillet of crab and head-on prawns. And while the culinary team has recreated several N’Awlins favorites, the real gems come from Addeo’s handiwork herself, like the Chess Pie.
Don’t plan on sharing this little mason jar lined with a buttery crust and filled with velvety fudge pudding and peanut butter crumbles. It’s reason alone to return. Rumor has it a smaller bakery will soon be opening around the corner, featuring even more of Addeo’s baked confections.
(Classic N'Awlins Jambalaya)
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("Crack" & Cheese at Salt & Fat)
Salt & Fat -- 41-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside (718) 433-3702
Despite the attention-demanding name, this Sunnyside hotspot features inventive new American small plates, all created at the creative whim of Sunnyside native Daniel Yi. Dinner service starts with a bag of bacon fat-popped corn, but ends with mini jugs of cran-yogurt probiotics.
(Scallops with roasted carrot puree & truffled golden beets)
Of the 17 menu items, only four creep above ten dollars, though each dish combines reasonable quantity with exceptional quality. Grab a group of adventurous friends and enjoy a hand-tailored sampling.
(Hampshire Pulled Pork Sliders)
Crack & Cheese is one of the most popular dishes, with deep-fried potato gnocchi, béchamel cheese sauce and salty bits of bacon. Plump mussels arrive with Chinese sausage in a Thai oyster sauce. Hampshire pulled pork sliders with a sweet and spicy sriracha BBQ kick arrive three to a plate for $9.
(Lime Panna cotta with avocado ice cream)
And be sure to save room for equally unique desserts, such as the lime panna cotta with avocado ice cream.
On the Radar:
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Alobar—With craft beer, old and new world wines and an extensive charcuterie list, this highly anticipated addition to Vernon Boulevard looks deliciously promising. 36-42 Vernon Blvd, LIC.
Bareburger Ditmars—23-01 31st street will soon be the newest outpost of this neighborhood favorite, which really needs no introduction. People go nuts over it, and it’s easy to see why.23-01 31st Street, Astoria.
Butcher Bar–-BBQ and Smoked organic meats, natural charcuterie and local butchery. A return to local natural and organic eating. 37-08 30th Ave, Astoria.
Claudio’s Café—Mango cheesecake, beef pastelitos, tamales and empanadas headline the menu at this intimate little Latin café recently opened on Astoria Boulevard. 23-03 Astoria Blvd, Astoria
Junko Sushi—According to its Facebook page, the new inhabitant of short-lived Moonstruck diner’s former space will be offering authentic sushi in the $10-$30 range. 33-02 Broadway, Astoria.
Just Burgers—Got an after-hours build-it-yourself burger craving? This Ditmars kitchen is open until 6am on weekends. Jump in to add basil pesto aioli or caramelized onions to your patty, frank or quinoa veggie burger with a side of sweet tater fries. 33-01 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria.
Manila!Manila!—Now open at 47th St and 30th Ave. in the space formerly occupied by Les Minots Bistro, this spot features Filipino comfort dishes, including grilled isaw and bistek tagalog. 47-16 30th Ave, Astoria.
(Ground Pork Lumpia at Manila!Manila!)
Malu—With dulce de leche ice cream and watermelon sorbet to chocolate covered pretzels and Swedish fish, this new “mom and pop shop” in the heart of LIC is a can’t-miss. 12-09 Jackson Ave, Hunters Point.
Side Door—Bistro 33 has officially split into two distinct locations, with the bistro focusing on French-inspired cuisine, while new sister restaurant Side Door explores fusion sushi like the apple jack roll (with shrimp, apple and cinnamon), or the orange curry scallop roll, along with other Japanese classics. 19-33 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria.
Skinny’s Cantina—The Lee brothers, who brought us Asian hot spot Shi, have turned their focus on their newest venture, this time with a Mexican flare. 47-05 Center, Blvd, LIC
William Hallet—Feels like a New England tavern with a uniquely new american menu. 36-10 38th Ave, Astoria.
(Foie Gras Sliders at William Hallet)