New Noshes For The New Year
As Western Queens enters the New Year, the culinary momentum it has built appears unlikely to slow down anytime soon. In fact, the edible playscape continues to broaden, with newcomers bringing flavors from as far as Australia and Vietnam, Texas and Italy. Read on for a roundup of a few of the noteworthy recently opened kitchens certain to make their mark in coming year.
Quench Your Aussie Cravings at The Thirsty Koala
What do you get when you cross an NYPD Fire Chief, a Greek mixologist and an Aussie financial adviser? Answer: the dream combination for one of Astoria’s most highly anticipated openings, and its first Australian restaurant: The Thirsty Koala. As Katherine Fuchs, the former-fire-chief-turned-Executive-Chef, explains: “There are only maybe a handful of Australian restaurants in the city, and none really in Queens.”
Fuchs is joined by Astoria native Alex Styponias, who runs the front of the house, and Christine Chellos, who offers financial and tech wisdom. “She’s also the authenticity,” adds Fuchs.
Other than the blonde onyx bordering the lower walls – which was already there – the team of three mates have entirely renovated the space formerly occupied by the Asian-Indian fusion restaurant, Spiced. The new incarnation showcases authentic aboriginal artifacts, including a didgeridoo and boomerangs displayed amongst new backlit pinewood planked walls and reclaimed wooden tables with industrial pipes for legs.
According to Fuchs, the menu features “dishes that are familiar, but with an Australian flare,” which she describes as an international mix of influences, including British and Asian notes. Featured items include lamb lollies, crostis (crostini), jaffles (Australian pressed sandwiches) and boomerang tacos. Meat for the barbie will be sourced directly from Australia, seafood from Hunts Point and a few cheeses will be made by Fuchs in-house. Down Under desserts (pavlova and lamingtons) and beer (Fosters and Coopers on tap), wine (from Oz and New Zealand) and Aussie-themed cocktails round out the experience.
The Thirsty Koala
35-12 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria
The Strand Smokehouse Makes a Blockbuster Debut
When the Blockbuster Video disappeared from Broadway last year, Astorians watched curiously as the space gradually transformed into what appeared to be an indoor luxury picnic area, with communal wooden tables and bourbon casks behind a bar that stretched half a city block. Just over a year later, The Strand Smokehouse opened its doors to eager patrons ready to embrace a new beer hall and BBQ mecca. Situated on a portion of Broadway formerly known as “The Strand,” the new smokehouse is named in honor of an old cinema that closed during the 80s.
Patrons are greeted by a host and guided to communal wooden tables loaded with emptied whiskey bottles serving as water jugs, along with a myriad of homemade sauces and spices with which to accentuate meats. A rotating selection of smoked entrees are ordered by the half-pound or pound from the front bar and piled onto paper-lined-trays alongside southern sides like yams, stuffing, mac and cheese – even andouille shrimp stew. Beer and seasonal cocktails are sipped from mason jars. Brunch service offers actual table service with a wait staff that serves up a breakfast menu that includes a drool-worthy rendition of biscuits and sausage gravy over grits.
The only thing drowning the overhead song of banter and camaraderie is the bluegrass, country and rock music played on a small stage, with changing artist sets at night. How on earth did owner, Tommy Vasilis, so quickly draw up a roster? What curious Astorians couldn’t see over the past year were the over 40 subterranean music studios beneath the space, often utilized by local bands for rehearsal.
Also behind the scenes: food is prepared next door at Bakeway, which just so happens to share the same owner.
The Strand Smokehouse
25-27 Broadway, Astoria
A New Kind of Spice
You may think you know Spice Thai from its several locations in Manhattan. The Long Island City version, however, aims to steer in a more authentic direction, according to management. Steamed buns stuffed with homemade lemongrass sausage appear as specials, and dumplings range in shape, size, filling and preparation. Guests should be warned to clearly indicate their desired heat intensity, as authentic renditions live up to the restaurant’s name.
Despite the decided effort to serve true Thai, the menu remains user-friendly and accessible to newcomers. Pad See Ew, for instance, is simply called “Broad Black Noodle with Beef” on the lunch menu, though it features the traditional pappardelle-like rice noodles sautéed in garlic and soy sauce with egg, Chinese broccoli and thinly sliced strips of tender beef. But don’t let the simple names fool you. Fried Vietnamese Rice arrives in a sticky and delicious dome, studded with tiny cubes of smoked pork belly. And best of all, Spice serves up tasty Thai cuisine at reasonable outer borough prices.
47-45 Vernon Blvd, LIC
Just What LIC Has Been Looking Pho
Long Island City may boast Japanese, Chinese, Thai and a handful of other delicious Asian restaurants, but what the ever-evolving waterfront scene has lacked is a spot for a savory bowl of pho or a crunchy and tangy banh mi. Filling the void – not just in LIC, but for most of Western Queens – comes Cyclo, the Vietnamese sister restaurant to the popular Thai eatery Tuk Tuk.
Named in honor of Tuk Tuk’s original chef, Hoang Lieng, original Vietnamese recipes serve as the inspiration for Cyclo’s diverse menu. Flaky baguettes are loaded with Vietnamese ham, ground pork, pate, cilantro, carrots, daikon and sriracha. Oxtail broth arrives steaming with savory noodles, spices and a myriad of veggies. Fantastic lunch specials ranging from $6.50 to $7.50 include soup or salad along with a choice of entrée. Dinner plates run the gamut from shrimp and corn fritters to clay pot rice dishes and vermicelli noodle salads.
5-51 47th Ave, Long Island City
Other Newcomers Worth a Nibble
From provolone-stuffed meatballs to Old Fashioned Grandma Style square pies, Antika Pizzeria is dishing out some of 30th Ave’s tastiest Italian-American cuisine.
36-08 30th Ave, Astoria
The dramatically renovated space at the former location of Mix Lounge, La Bottega features one of the most diverse sandwich menus in the area, alongside Italian bistro favorites like bruschetta, linguine with clams, salmon with white wine and gelato.
40-17 30th Ave, Astoria
From the same Bronx bakery factory that supplies Crumbs, Starbucks and Dean & Deluca – just to name a few – comes Leli’s Bakery, where you can watch Leli himself prepare treats ranging from gourmet cupcakes and rainbow cookies to Maltese pizzas and artisan breads.
35-14 30th Ave, Astoria
Mezze Place gracefully and swiftly took over the former Mundo space, leaving a nod to the prior owners in both ambiance and menu, but successfully bringing a deliciously fresh approach to Mediterranean cuisine.
31-18 Broadway, Astoria
Chef Hugue Dufour and wife Sarah Obraitis have done it again with their sophomore eatery, M. Wells Dinette. Designed like a classroom in MoMA’s P.S. 1, old favorites from the former diner – including hearty meat pies and foie gras – are joined by bold new creations like rabbit terrines and inventive crudo for an experience that still packs ‘em in from all corners of the city.
22-25 Jackson Ave, LIC
A true family operation inspired by a grandmother’s recipes – and cooked personally by her each day! – Seoul Fusion Eatery offers everything Korean, from bibimbap and spicy rice cakes to bulgogi burgers and ramen.
24-06 34th Ave, Astoria
A sweet little Asian café, Tapioca Story offers an array of bubble teas with tapioca pearls and lychee jelly cubes, along with a selection of homemade dumplings, steamed buns and cookies.
27-22 30th Ave, Astoria