Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Biscuits, gravy, and honky-tonk at The Strand Smokehouse
The Strand Smokehouse (25-27 Broadway, Astoria)
Open weekdays 5PM to 1AM; Sat & Sun 11AM to 1AM
I've been eagerly anticipating the opening of The Strand Smokehouse for about a year now, since owner Tommy Vasilis took over the former Blockbuster space on Broadway a few blocks west of the N/Q train station--a stretch of Astoria I already love because of Sanford's, Sac's Place, Pao de Queijo, and Linn. It's also a strip formerly known as The Strand, the moniker stemming from the name of an old cinema that closed during the 80s. After catching this post on WhyLeaveAstoria last weekend, I threw on my ball cap and hoodie and headed straight there to try 'em out with my favorite meal, Sunday brunch--taking along with me one of my closest friends, an NYC transplant originally from Hill Country in Texas, to verify its authenticity as a southern smokehouse.
With no wait for a table (they only opened a week ago), we were given our own communal table made of reclaimed wood, and loaded with homemade sauces and table water all served in emptied whiskey bottles. The spacious, industrial dining room is augmented by both backyard and street front patios, which promise to make The Strand a hot new beer garden in Astoria's growing collection.
Our server explained that in a space of almost the same size directly below the dining room, local musicians have been using "forty or fifty" studios for rehearsals, "building great relationships with the owner over the past year." Nightly music on the upstairs stage then features several of those bands playing sets in The Strand, mostly country, bluegrass, and rock. A few of those artists now double as The Strand's staff, making it almost like a musician's commune with a giant smokehouse and whiskey hall over a subterranean rehearsal and recording lair.
While brunch features table service by an impressively large (and uber friendly waitstaff), dinner service is offered via a meat counter near the back, where guests order brown-paper-lined trays of various smoked meats. A rotating selection changes daily, served by the pound (or half) along with sides. Here's a sample of recent evening's offerings:
All smoked meats and side dishes are prepared next door at Bakeway NYC. Whiskey is served from a long row of wooden bourbon barrels with taps, alongside a draught selection featuring, among others, several beers from Barrier Brewing Co. on Long Island.
A list of six brunch cocktails included both pictured above, which warmed us like liquid flannel: the Shelter (Whitetail caramel whiskey, hot spiced cider, and star anise) and the Bloody Steve (a Jim Beam Blacky bloody mary with smoked broccoli and sea salt). Ginger Beer and Spiced Plum soda from Brooklyn Soda Works were refreshing spirit-free options.
Although most of the smoked meats are not available during brunch service--replaced by a pretty fantastic array of breakfast comfort dishes--we were able to order the pork belly as a side. Here, it was rendered exquisitely tender, almost like smoked, candied, thick bacon.
Buttermilk biscuits (available as a side, as well) are wonderfully moist and buttery, sitting on a mound of warm southern grits, everything blanketed with thick, peppery, sausage gravy and topped with fried eggs and diced green onions. My friend and I regularly search out biscuits and gravy and have been known to travel for a good version. These biscuits and gravy are undoubtedly some of the most delicious in the city.
And would ya look at that? The Strand is no jokes when it comes to brunch. This duck leg confit was simply phenomenal, over braised greens, smoked tomato, and potato hash, crowned with an easy egg.
I can only imagine that as word spreads, each night this place is going to slowly get busier and busier. I'd highly recommend jumping on board during these cold months, when snagging a table is still a possibility. If the early weeks of service are indication of what we can expect long term, The Strand will inevitably prove to be a substantial force in the food and entertainment scene in Astoria. Welcome to the neighborhood, folks!
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