BoroMagazine Fri, 12 Jun 2015 20:20:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The secret garden of Floresta Fri, 12 Jun 2015 20:20:14 +0000 IMG_0327

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The shop is part museum, part fairytale, part secret garden and part imagination. It’s very much a workshop for the design of hope, gratitude, appreciation and, most of all, love. Dried flowers dangle from a tin rocket wired to the ceiling. The walls are adorned with multicolored bottles of every shape, color, thickness and size. The flowers all take slightly familiar shapes, though it’s as if they have been dredged through some mystic filter of daydreams and reverie.

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Juan Carlo Bermudez is lovingly placing deep violet and white anemones in a vase amidst cream-colored roses. He grins at me as if he knew I was coming, and pulls a rose from the vase. “Here, you have to smell this,” he says. Though I momentarily seize up in a horrifying flashback of the last time my brother spoke those words, I instantly know that anything coming from this place must be beautiful and pure—and so I inhale what is quite possibly the most delicious bouquet of flowers I have ever smelled.


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Carlo, as his niece calls him, waits for me to return from my dreamy state, and then he gestures toward the door. “Let us go grab a coffee and sit and talk,” he says. We stroll a few blocks in the crisp spring air, and find ourselves on the patio of Café Henri, where he orders me a latte and a crepe doused in Grand Marnier. We relax as he shares with me the story of his flower business.

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The third generation of florists in his family, Bermudez remains grounded in the history of his Colombian grandfather who grew orchids. When he decided to begin his own flower business, he flew to France and rented a car, visiting flower shops throughout the country for the better part of a month. “I collected ideas, colors, and thousands of little things that came together in a beautiful way,” says Bermudez. “It is unique, because it’s full of tiny distractions from everywhere.”

Bermudez is also deeply invested in the education of his niece. He even offered his services at the New York Flower Academy in exchange for her education and training. The two now collaborate and work together daily.

During coffee, we are perpetually interrupted by the unbelievable amount of people who know Carlo, simply swinging by to say hello. Even the man delivering his avocados to the restaurant knows Carlo by name and stops by to chat.

Only an independent florist for five years, Bermudez has been hired to arrange flowers for some of the most prominent museums in the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Something about Bermudez is magnetic and inviting, beyond what is considered average charisma. He lives and breathes a gratitude for life, and displays the willingness and ability to find beauty in unconventional places. That marriage of dark and light is evident in his arrangements, which is why his customers can see a bit of themselves in his work. And that is a gift that is breathtakingly unique.

51-02 Vernon Blvd, LIC
(347) 642-8108

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Beer and munchies at Chela & Garnacha Fri, 12 Jun 2015 20:09:35 +0000 Carne Asada

Chela & Garnacha are slang terms for beer and munchies, which makes the pairing the perfect name for Astoria’s newest taco spot. “The name was actually inspired by a very vulgar song by a Mexico City band called Café Tacuba,” explains Jordin Loaeza, who co-owns the space with his parents, Jorge Loaeza and Marlene Guinchard. “I was listening to it with my dad one day, and he was like, ‘That’s it! That’s our name.’”

Fans of Chela & Garnacha began accruingaccumulating fans a few years before the actual restaurant took roots in Astoria, however. The storefront also provides the food for the popular New York City food truck, Mexico Blvd. Jordin remembers the first day the truck was on the street selling food like it was yesterday. “It was four years ago,” he recalls, “and we were at 46th and 6thSixth, and it started pouring down rain at 11:30 a.m. right as we were opening.” But the rain didn’t dampen the pedestrians’ appetites, and soon there was a line down the block.

“I started freaking out, and hollering to my dad to make more guac,” Jordin laughs. “We immediately had to cut our menu in half just to simplify production.”

Born in Mexico City, Jordin and his family moved to Tuxedo, New York, when he was thirteen13. When he was ready to live on his own, he bounced between apartments in Woodside and Astoria, finally ending up on 34th Avenue. When his family was finally ready to open a brick and mortar eatery, Jordin had already fallen in love with Astoria.

Though the restaurant has allowed them to develop a more elaborate menu and offer a selection of beer and wine, the food selection is lovingly edited. And these are not your typical tacos, by any stretch of the imagination. Tortillas are sourced from Poblanita in the Bronx. “Nixtamal’s tortillas were almost too pure for us,” admits Jordin says. “In Mexico City they never taste like that—these have more flavor.”

Fried cheese is the initial topping on these tacos

The warm, palm-sized pastries are first layered with a delicate golden frico of Chihuahua cheese, called a costra de queso, or ‘“scab of cheese.’” Fillings then range from wild shrimp grilled with grapefruit and chiles to fried wild cod with baja slaw, carne asada with caramelized onions, grilled cactus with panella cheese, and garlic toasted mushrooms.

Jalapeno Margarita

Other menu options range from an array of quesadillas and ceviche, to a family specialty known as ‘“iIntrincadas.’” “My grandmother invented these crispy masa patties blended with cheese and potatoes,” explains Jordin, “then topped them with guacamole, chipotle adobo, and fried squash blossoms. When my grandfather asked what they were, he listened to her lengthy explanation, and simply decided to call them intrincadas, which means intricate. They were an instant success.”

Despite the beer and wine license, Chela & Garnacha serves a delicious Daisy (or margarita), using a generous portion of agave wine to replace the tequila. “And it won’t give you a hangover either,” laughs the young owner says.

The walls are covered in reclaimed wood, with wooden crates stacked above the counter, and tealights illuminating the lime green tabletops. Service is exceptionally friendly, and everyone seems like family. “We have a lot of customers who come here at least once a week, sometimes again at brunch,” laughs Jordin says. Certainly, tThe food is reason enough to get addicted. I could certainly envision myself coming here far too often.

33-09 36th Ave., Astoria, NY 11106
(917) -832-6876
Dinner Tuesday –through Sunday @at 5 p.m.
Brunch Wweekends at 11 a.m.

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Pachanga Patterson: Fit for a Saint Mon, 08 Jun 2015 21:08:52 +0000 Avocado Toast con Chicharrones

The wall along the back dining room at Pachanga Patterson is a decoupage tribute to many of the great Mexican lechadores, including several black and white snapshots and clippings of El Santo, “The Saint.” Just before the entrance to the light-strewn back patio, a beaded Santa Maria dangles, guarding the partition between the dining room and the baño. Across the room, a papier-mache Dia Los Muertos skull grins over feasting patrons.

If the room’s décor pays homage to so many saints, perhaps Chef Peyton Powell is on his way to his own culinary christening as a saint. His take on traditional Mexican cuisine infuses knowledge and experience with tradition, family and good old-fashioned raw talent.

Chef Peyton Powell

At brunch, a tlayuda arrives first. A house-made masa crisp rendered with duck fat serves as a pedestal to a slathering of black bean puree, house-made chorizo, house queso fresco, spicy radishes, cool crema and a shining sunny-side-up egg. “This is a classic Oaxacan dish that I picked up in the mercados there,” explains Powell of the breakfast treat. “I saw everyone eating these huge tortillas that resembled pizzas and fell in love.”

Tender grilled lengua (beef tongue) arrives with a tangy ramp chimichurri, huitlacoche puree, juicy medallions of charred daikon radish, and pickled ramps.

The dishes are fresh, light, bright and simply transcendent.

On shelves overhead, beautiful hand-carved and painted wooden figurines of what look like fantastical insects seem to clap in approval. Called alibrijes, these brightly colored creatures are like cartoonish renderings of grasshoppers and praying mantises. They were collected on a trip to a small village in Oaxaca known as Arrazola, where most of the city crafts the statues.

Next, a tostada arrives with mashed spring peas and uni (sea urchin). “I believe that peas and uni have a nice compatibility,” says Powell, “so I cooked peas with garlic, cream, chile arbol and the magical hoja santa, chilled it and put it on a tostada topped with sea urchin and a couple dots of sweet garlic aioli.”

Oyster Mushroom Tostada

With peas presently in season, the chef also combined them with charred poblano peppers and cilantro for his latest seasonal salsa, dusted with house-made vadouvan, a French-Indian curry spice Powell finds amazing with vegetables.

Of course, brilliance is rarely a solo feat. His wife, Priscilla Luna-Powell, and her family have played a pivotal role in Powell’s development as a chef.

“Being a cook and taking many trips to Mexico will influence you no matter your background,” says Powell. “The sights, smells and flavors are magically irresistible.”

“I will put barebones Mexican food up against any European cuisine any day,” exclaims the chef. The complexity and flavors are unrivaled and maybe only comparable to India and some parts of Asia. In Latin America, Mexico is king. Many recipes go back to the Mayans and Aztecs to name a few.”

When asked about any specific impact on his own cooking, he explains, “[My wife’s] family taught me their abuela’s chorizo recipe, how to make tamales, micheladas and salsas—and I learned what real Mexican is. Most Americans think they like Mexican food, but it is about as different as real Chinese and your American Chinese down the block. No burritos! No nachos! No fajitas! And nobody outside of Puebla celebrates Cinco de Mayo!”

Pickled Soft Egg Taco

With such inventive flavor featured on the menu at Pachanga Patterson, it only seemed natural to inquire about Powell’s desired response. “I would like patrons to shake off any preconceptions,” he answers, “because Pachanga is a seasonal, market-driven spot influenced by Mexico. I am not out to replicate the staples, but to try to tap into the creative current of all the influences Queens has to offer—all with the soul of the great cuisine of Mexico. I want people to try new things and keep them interested. On the same token, it should be comfortable and in no way pretentious. At the end of the day I want to make creative food that people crave.”

“My wife and I always judge a restaurant,” he continues, “by asking each other if there was something we ate that during the following weeks we are both craving?”

Whether it is a soft taco filled with a pickled soft-centered egg and sweet charred tomatillo, foie gras paired with juicy pineapple and beets, or broken angel hair stewed with seafood in a clay pot, practically every dish at Pachanga Patterson is one you will not soon forget.

33-17 31st Ave., Astoria, NY

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A look inside The Art of Fitness Mon, 08 Jun 2015 20:34:12 +0000 IMG_1393



“Up a steep and very narrow stairway, to a voice like a metronome…”

– “At The Ballet,” from the Broadway musical “A Chorus Line”

These lyrics did indeed echo in my head as I climbed the stairs to The Art of Fitness, Astoria’s only studio dedicated solely to dance-based fitness. Though this was my initial visit, I was instantly transported back to that daily pattern so many dancers live as they are growing up. As I stepped into the studio, the feel of the floor, the mirrors, the barres, even the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking down onto the street below – it felt like home. As I scanned the space, I saw the Pilates equipment, mats, yoga props and the reason for my trip: brightly colored aerial silks suspended from the ceiling. While The Art of Fitness delivers a schedule jam-packed with classes for varied interests, I was here to take their popular Cirque Fitness class, a foray into ground and aerial circus arts.

As everyone filed into the studio, I was really struck by the open, friendly and welcoming nature of the members. Clearly owner/instructor Kristine Petrucione has created an atmosphere of camaraderie and enjoyment. From the floor and standing warm-ups, through partner acrobatic practice and aerial instruction, these lovely students couldn’t have been more helpful and encouraging. I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face the entire hour. If you ever wanted to try this style of class but felt like it would be intimidating or daunting, this is the studio for you. Kristine is a beautiful aerialist herself, and is a clear and precise instructor. The class was a group of mixed experience and abilities, yet by the conclusion of class, we were all able to perform the holds and climbs taught. I do have a dance and gymnast background, and I like to climb anything, but I cannot stress enough what a fantastically fun day we had. I truly hope to clear some time in my schedule to get back for more.

The studio

Five years after opening the studio Pilates in Astoria, Kristine expanded to open The Art of Fitness. Her intention was to provide a place where she could share all the different fitness mediums she has studied throughout her long dance career. She wanted to create an environment where students wouldn’t feel intimidated by being new to the space or trying something different. She has built a community where everyone knows each other’s names, background and interests. She has even ended up hiring several advanced students. The close relationships are very apparent, and I was quickly welcomed into the circle. They are quite unique in this way, not only in being the only dance-focused fitness business in the neighborhood, but also in that it feels much more than a place to work out—it’s more like a creative community.


The classes

The Art of Fitness offers dance-based fitness classes for men and women of all levels and abilities, designed to help you to find your healthiest self in a fun, judgment-free environment.

Some offerings include the following:

Cardio Ballet Blast – Beginning at the ballet barre, then moving to center floor for an intense cardio burn, this class provides an aerobic workout based on ballet technique.

Deep Stretch – This class is comprised of slow, deep, dance-style floor stretches for all areas of the body.

Hula Hoop – Not only will you learn the basics of hooping, this class allows the student to explore moving with the hoop, utilizing various body parts, as well as intricate advanced technique.

Cirque Fitness – This signature class combines acrobatics, Pilates and ballet with ground and aerial circus arts.

NIA Dance – Designed to increase range of motion, strength, agility and stability, NIA combines dance arts, martial arts and the healing arts.

Zumba – The fitness trend that is here to stay, Zumba fuses Latin rhythms with easy-to-follow dance moves for a fun, energetic workout.


The woman behind it all: 

Owner/instructor Kristine Petrucione began her career as a professional dancer. She has enjoyed dancing on stage and screen in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Las Vegas. Kristine has worked with such notable artists as Bjork, Fat Boy Slim and Spike Jonez. Early in her dance career she began Pilates as a means of improving strength and enhancing technique. She went on to study Pilates intensively and began teaching in 1995. Kristine has since trained with many fitness experts over the years, studying cardio ballet, aerial fitness, stretch and contortion.


The Art of Fitness is located at 32-32 Steinway St. on the third floor.

For more information, including schedule, staff bios, picture gallery, directions and pricing, visit or email Find The Art of Fitness on Facebook as well as Twitter (@ArtofFitnessNYC) and Instagram (@Artoffitnessastoria).

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Impact Astoria: CIANA Mon, 08 Jun 2015 20:03:01 +0000

By Gabrielle C. Sherb

Gabrielle is a fundraising and development professional in Manhattan, keeping her finger on the pulse of philanthropy. Contact her at or on Twitter at @philanthropchic.

America is a melting pot, and Queens represents its abundance of flavors. Of the 800 languages spoken throughout the borough, over 140 are represented in western Queens, reflecting the rich, diverse and ever-welcoming community for immigrants that we are. However, the path to integration of our new neighbors is not always as smooth as we might hope. That’s why the Center for Integration and Advancement of New Americans (CIANA) is a vital organization for all who want to take full advantage of the American dream.

The mission of CIANA is to prevent the growing marginalization of new immigrants and refugees from highly traditional societies through special transitional services, leading to their successful integration into the socio-economic and civic life of America while continuing to maintain pride in their cultural heritage. CIANA was founded in 2006 by Emira Habiby Browne, who after 9/11, recognized the importance of providing services for the underserved and often targeted immigrant population. Today, CIANA provides a myriad of services for a new immigrant population, primarily women from conservative backgrounds, to ensure they have the resources, information and support to fully exercise their new opportunities in a new land.

CIANA offers a wide spectrum of programs and services. From English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to free legal immigration services, CIANA is there to help anyone who needs it. “[CIANA] is able to help people in their own language,” says Browne. “Many of these women [between ages 30 – 70] did not speak any English and can now communicate, go to stores without help and are [increasingly] independent.” CIANA is also unique in that it allows women to bring their children to classes. CIANA prides itself in providing a children’s area to play in. “Without [this], these women would not be able to leave home,” says Shalma Akhter, CIANA’s program manager.

Browne believes in proactive outreach to the community. The organization has gained recognition by city agencies, including the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal. CIANA reaches out to immigrants immediately upon their arrival so they can begin to understand the basics of the law early on in the process. “We reach out to find the families,” says Browne. “[We] don’t want them to have to wait to find out what they need.” Outreach also includes engaging the schools, other community organizations and religious institutions.

CIANA involves a robust group of volunteers who generously give their time, skills and resources to the organization. Ayuna Vogel, a volunteer who focuses on fundraising and communications, sees the impact on the clients they serve who “feel very isolated” and now have a comfortable environment to come to. “People are out on their own, trying to make a living [and] put food on the table,” says Browne. “[However] America is a land of opportunity, so [we encourage our clients to] never give up. [With] the support and guidance they can make it.”

Here are three easy ways that you can help a new generation of immigrants with CIANA:

1. Share your professional skills: CIANA welcomes volunteers with refined professional skills, including teaching English, helping with legal services, administrative work and organizational capacity building.

2. Spread the word: If you know someone in Queens who is new to the country, direct them to CIANA and let them know there are services available to them.

3. Donate: CIANA wants to expand its support from more individuals, companies and caring communities.

To learn more about CIANA, volunteer and give, visit, like them on Facebook at, follow on Twitter at @CIANAINC, email, call 718-545-4040, or just stop by 31-09 Newtown Ave. Suite 411, Astoria, NY.

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Astoria: Our own backyard Fri, 05 Jun 2015 20:37:48 +0000 IMG_2821


Ask any Astoria natives about their experience growing up in the area and they will most likely evoke images of a quiet, family-oriented neighborhood. They talk of mom and pop drug and hardware stores, tree-lined blocks where residents knew each other by first name, an ethnic haven for Greek and Italian families, and a neighborhood brimming with the close-knit qualities of a small town, housed within one of the largest metropolises of the world.

Over the past two decades, Astoria has become a hub for young professionals and urbanites, drawn to the area for its proximity to the city, less expensive housing (when compared to Manhattan), effervescent night life, and eclectic restaurants and cafes. As the neighborhood gentrified over the years, many native Astorians left, moving to suburban areas for the promise of bigger space, arguably better public schools and more affordable housing. Yet many have remained, devoted to a place that they have called home for most of their lives while attempting to hold onto the sense of solidarity and community that they once knew.

“You used to know your neighbor. Now, you don’t’ know who he is,” lamented Gustavo Hernandez. Gustavo, owner of H2 Environmental Pest Management on Astoria Boulevard, was born and raised in the area. He took over his father’s business 13 years ago and still lives in Astoria with his wife and two young children. Currently, he is looking for a home on Long Island due to the unaffordable housing market in Astoria, and the dramatic increase in the cost of living here. This, he feels, is a problem that has become all too pervasive.

“People from Astoria can’t afford Astoria anymore and can’t enjoy it,” he explained. Gustavo went on to describe friends who have moved to areas like Maspeth or Ridgewood for their more affordable rents. This sentiment was also shared by Stephanie Gordon, a homemaker who spent nearly all of her life in Astoria. She resides with her husband and two children on 21st Avenue, near Ditmars and Steinway Street.

Stephanie expressed concern over Astoria’s crowded living conditions, in which multiple people cram into a single apartment, and also described the inconvenience of having to travel outside of the neighborhood for basic necessities. “For the rent that people are being charged, we lack so much [and] you have to go everywhere else to get what you need. Astoria had everything at one point; there were shoe stores, clothing stores, furriers, all different kinds of bakeries.”

Although some residents find fault with its high rents and limited retail options, others welcome the effects of Astoria’s transformation with open arms. “The food and culture has boomed within the last few years, which is awesome,” raved Elizabeth Carlsen, an actress who has lived on Upper Ditmars since birth. She also noted the wider availability of health food stores as an added benefit, as well as the rising bar and club scene, which deters her from having “to travel far for a night out with the girls.”

Some residents say that the growing diversity of the neighborhood is yet another advantage of Astoria’s recent transition. Eva Pikramenos, who grew up just a few blocks away from Astoria Park, feels the influx of various ethnic groups and people has invigorated the area. “The different cultures all around you shown in the stores, the hundreds of restaurants… I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” she said. Eva also pointed out that many young families are inhabiting Astoria, creating a foundation for future generations.

While natives may differ in their views of their town’s revitalization, nearly all of them can agree that Astoria still houses some well-hidden gems that newcomers may not be privy to. Gustavo listed Alba’s Pizza on Ditmars and Angelo and Son’s Bakery on Astoria Boulevard as staples of the neighborhood. Pizzerias and other eateries were indeed popular choices, as Stephanie discussed her affinity for Rose and Joe’s Pizza off 31st and Ditmars and Piccola Venezia restaurant on 28th Avenue. Elizabeth cited Jackson Hole Diner on Astoria Boulevard as one of her favorites, though she wistfully bemoaned the neutral accents of the servers. “People with heavy accents used to serve me 10 years ago, but that ‘New Yawk’ twang is growing silent.”

As they reminisce and ponder their neighborhood’s evolution, these Astorians share vastly different views of its future trajectory. “Everything is so transient,” said Stephanie, who felt many of Astoria’s young urbanites lived here as a steppingstone into Manhattan. Others, like Elizabeth, were more optimistic, and at the end of the day remained grateful to live in a thriving locale. “Astoria is the backyard for the most extraordinary city on this planet,” she said. “From here, the [Manhattan] skyline can almost fit in your hand.”

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Hidden gem at Silver Age Comics Fri, 05 Jun 2015 20:21:53 +0000 IMG_3936

Silver Age Comics has been hidden in the back corner of the Ditmars Blvd. subway station for the past two and a half decades. Beyond row after row packed with every vintage comic book available, glass display cases are lined with Spider Man gelatin molds, superhero Pez dispensers, Star Wars action figures and even VHS cassettes of E.T. and Monty Python.

It’s a wonderland for the kid in every adult and a veritable treasure chest of perhaps the best selection of vintage comic books in New York City.

As I twirl a carousel stocked with issues of Archie’s Funhouse Comics Digest, another gentleman flips through a box of baseball cards, comparing cardboard trading cards of Mickey Mantle to images he’s pulled up on his smart phone.

“What can I help you with?” asks a kind-faced man about 10 years older than I am. A quick conversation reveals his identity as Gus Poulakas, the store’s owner.

Next year, Silver Age Comics will be celebrating its 25th year in Astoria. Poulakas still has the original bright pink flyer he distributed years ago to advertise his shop to the neighborhood, and he pulls it from behind the register to show me.


Born in Astoria, Poulakas’ father was a shoemaker down the street, and Gus worked for years at Key Food and the old Shop Rite. “This is where I was born and raised,” Poulakas says.

“I used to make money, back when I was ignorant and had balls,” laughs Poulakas, reminiscing about a younger Astoria.

Next, a customer arrives, and the employee behind the register begs him to make a run to get a frappe. After a few minutes of heckling banter, he asks Poulakas if he would enjoy a cool refreshment, as well. And then he disappears again into the subway stairwell before returning moments later with three frozen caffeinated drinks.

“Everyone here is a regular,” Poulakas says, stepping back behind the counter. “And we are not Midtown Comics, obviously, but I would say we have a better vintage selection than they do.”

Two kids run in as they leave the train after school and start perusing the corner that is loaded with new arrivals.

I have never been to this store before, but instantly, I can feel their excitement.


2255 31st St. #208, Long Island City, NY


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Burgers and arcade games at Flattopp Burgers Thu, 04 Jun 2015 18:13:37 +0000 The Schnook

Stroll by 30th Avenue and 41st Street on any given weekend, and you will undoubtedly witness the hoards of hungry brunchers gathered on the sidewalk in front of Queens Comfort, rain or shine. Whether you enjoy Chef Hernan’s whimsical empanadas, Montana and Nick’s delectable doughnuts, the selection of comic books, the vintage toys strewn along the walls, or simply the decadent takes on comfort cuisine, any fan of the famous Astoria brunch spot can attest to owner Donnie D’Alessio’s affinity for a creative burger.

“For me, New York cuisine has always been Italian American, Chinese takeout, and fast food burgers,” D’Alessio says.

While his poetic patties have steadily maintained their own corner of the menu, Donnie recently shared with BORO that he plans to open a new location devoted to these gourmet griddle gems, called Flattopp Burgers.

He recently debuted a few of his brawny beef burgers with a pop-up on Queens Comfort’s night off to showcase the new concept.

“We will be serving elevated greasy spoon fair like brisket dry aged beef blend burgers, deep-fried sour cherry apple pie, milkshakes and cheese fries,” D’Alessio explains. He affectionately compares his bad boys to New Jersey’s White Manna Hamburgers, but with wild toppings.

One of the burgers, “The Flying Guillotine,” is marinated in Hoisin BBQ, topped with an egg roll stuffing of shrimp, duck bacon and a l’orange reduction. Another burger, “The Schnook,” is topped with fried mozzarella, grilled pepperoni and vodka sauce.

But the standard Flattopp classic is all it takes to get hooked. “These are the burgers I grew up with,” D’Alessio says. “My dad would pan-fry them for us. And when you cook those onions in the actual burger fat, something magical happens.” Magical, indeed.


The menu for the pop-up featured only a handful of Flattopp’s brick and mortar menu, but was a certifiable great time, complete with old-school Shaw Brothers kung fu movies playing on the back wall, and a DJ spinning old-school ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop.

Most of the menu won’t be unveiled until closer to the opening of the permanent location, coming this fall at a soon-to-be-revealed site. But besides the great menu, there will be 20-plus vintage arcade games and pinball machines, 20 craft beers on tap and a full cocktail list.

“[At Queens Comfort], we have developed our own style and aesthetic,” D’Alessio says. “But now we can grow and expand with something a little bit different.”

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The original brunch at MexiBBQ Tue, 02 Jun 2015 19:50:49 +0000

Exposed brick walls, a mix of candlelight and the warm amber glow from the filaments of enormous, cartoon-sized lightbulbs on the ceiling, and an über-attractive staff styled in denim and plaid, like tequila-wielding Gap models, make MexiBBQ feel like a hip, sexy, urban cowboy saloon.

Overhead, a refreshingly diverse and enjoyable playlist croons tunes ranging from Regina Spektor to the Eagles that harmonizes pleasantly with the low hum of laughter and banter throughout the room. In a corner, a large group shares assorted guacamole dips jazzed up with chicken cracklins and spicy crab at a Mexican picnic table. The table sits under an abstract, luminescent, wagon-wheel chandelier by a flat-screen television mounted behind a waterfall that runs from ceiling to floor. Just beyond a row of intimate, dark-planked booths with steel-plated tabletops, singles mingle at the main bar, taking full advantage of the proximity to the dozens of taps featuring craft beers, flat-screens broadcasting sports, and the temperature-controlled tequila dispenser.

Besides the craft beer selection, a colorful cocktail list boasts inventive concoctions with a myriad of tequilas and bourbon.

But perhaps some of the most exciting bites and drinks come at brunch. MexiBBQ was one of the trailblazers on the brunch scene in Astoria, and its patio has been a beacon for the popular weekend midday meal for the past five years.

The French toast, one of the tastiest renditions in the neighborhood, is crusted with frosted cornflakes and adorned with fresh berries.

They take eggs Benedict to a whole new level, topping jalapeno goat cheese bread with BBQ brisket, a poached egg, and chipotle hollandaise—a devilishly delicious blend of sweet, savory and tangy.

Of course you can devour the MeiBBQ Burger topped with a fried egg, which joins a crown of chipotle aioli, cheddar and a haystack of fried onions on a soft brioche roll.

But the real award-winner here is the Hangover Cure, the restaurant’s take on chilaquiles—which are more like wonderfully sloppy breakfast nachos, which could even be enjoyed as a shared appetizer by the whole table. Crispy corn tortillas are simmered in spicy salsa verde and salsa roja, layered with sliced grilled chicken and chorizo, then topped with two soft fried eggs.

During that slow-paced window between brunch and dinner, MexiBBQ will now be offering selections from a brand-new taco bar complete with a curbside window for sidewalk pick-up. Over half a dozen varieties will be offered in pairs, to be available between 3:45 and 4:30 (and hopefully lunch during the warmer months, as well).

At dinner, the Fiesta Nachos are actually an eight-layer dip served with tortillas for scooping as well as several blue and yellow corn strips as a garnish. With each bite comes a wonderfully different flavor and temperature combination, as it is nearly impossible to gather every ingredient with each scoop. Cool and velvety guacamole with salty green olives, spicy jalapenos, warm and creamy refried beans, sharp cheddar cheese, savory seasoned bite-sized cubes of chicken, mexican cream and garden-fresh pico de gallo. Another dish perfect for sharing with the entire table.

Though they’re listed as a side dish for only $5, the fried pickles make a perfect appetizer as well. Long spears of tart and tangy pickles are beautifully coated in a crispy and golden breading that miraculously holds on to each pickle with every bite. Be sure to dip them in the shot glass of southwestern cream that accompanies the pickles. It’s one of the best deals on the menu.

Outstanding food, innovative cocktails, exceptional service and a vibrant atmosphere are what you can expect at MexiBBQ. Five years in, it’s a crazy-explosive-comfort-delicious blend of the American deep south and Mexico that really just feels a whole lot like home.

37-11 30th Ave., Astoria

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Loafing around at Il Bambino Mon, 01 Jun 2015 18:41:23 +0000 Tuscan Caviar and Mortadella

My grandfather, Grandpa Peterman, used to work at the Wonder Bread factory in Indianapolis, and as my mom’s entire side of the family will wholeheartedly attest, not much in the world tastes better than a warm loaf of classic white bread fresh from the oven. I still smile and think of grandpa every time I toss one of those red, yellow, and blue polka dotted bags into my grocery basket, despite what I know to be the perils of white bread. Sometimes, nostalgia just wins.

Each Thanksgiving, Grandma Peterman slaved relentlessly over roasted turkey and honey-glazed ham, Jell-O parfaits, chicken with hand-cut noodles, meatloaf, cinnamon rolls, buttery mashed potatoes with homemade chicken gravy, pecan pies, and angel food cake with strawberries from the garden. The real star of Thanksgiving, however, actually came after the main feast, when one-by-one the cousins would wake from our tryptophan-induced post-meal naps. Careful not to awaken the adults who could strong arm us out of our snack, we’d sneak into the kitchen to grab fresh slices of Wonder bread, leftover turkey carvings, yellow mustard, with a bit of cheddar cheese to zap in the microwave for the yummiest sandwich on Earth.

Sandwiches, one of the simplest meals to execute, are the culinary star of so many childhood memories. Don’t you recall some of the finicky preferences of you or your friends? Perhaps my favorite sandwich of all time was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, provided the correct ratio of Smuckers to Jif—there must be at least twice as much raspberry jelly as peanut butter (creamy, not crunchy). Furthermore, the pieces must be cut at the diagonal, and the crust removed. As my parents refused to pay a premium price for popcorn every time we went to the movie theater, more often than not mom would open her purse as the lights dimmed, and pass down Ziploc baggies of those delicious PB&Js.

Of course we were exposed to more sophisticated versions of the sandwich. For the Indy 500, we’d tote ham sandwiches on pumpernickel with pepper jack and alfalfa sprouts. New Year’s Day absolutely demanded corned beef and sauerkraut with Russian dressing and lorraine swiss (with those tiny holes) on marble rye. The signature Hawks household hot sandwich was a sausage, mozzarella, and marinara stromboli on Italian bread, wrapped in aluminum and baked in the oven. Mom even had a coding system worked out in Sharpie shorthand on the foil to indicate which sandwiches had bell peppers or not.

When I moved to New York City twelve years ago—to the land of bagels and pastrami at world famous Jewish delicatessens—I knew I’d find new loaves of love, but remained skeptical that anything could outshine those childhood gems.

And then I stumbled upon Il Bambino in Astoria. I probably should not admit this, but I found my feet carrying me back there again and again. I actually ended up eating there three times in just four days. That was nearly five years ago. Since then, it has become a staple, and friends from Manhattan even request their favorite paninis and salads now when I travel into town.

Keep your eyes peeled, Manhattanites, because the Il Bambino team is already at work in Greenwich Village preparing the second Il Bambino, which is expected to open early this summer.

Rumor has it that fanatics make pit stops at Il Bambino when traveling between LaGuardia Airport and Manhattan. I don’t doubt the obsession even the slightest.

This delightfully cozy restaurant boasts a phenomenal fusion of Spanish tapas and classic Italian sandwiches, as well as a generous selection of wine and beer—all served by one of the friendliest wait staffs in all of NYC. With tapas and ‘nini’s all reasonably priced, you can enjoy an unbelievably satisfying meal without breaking the bank.

The bread is baked fresh daily specifically for their panini and crostini just up the street at a local bakery. If you are unsure of the names for the various cuts of meats, just glance at the diagram of a pink cartoon pig in the entryway labeled for that specific purpose.

If you still don’t know what to try, just close your eyes and point. I’d guess it’s safe to assume everything at Il Bambino is equally fantastic.

Crostini arrive Noah’s ark style—two to an order—unless you go for the gold and order a PuPu platter to share with the table. The egg salad crostini with truffle oil and shaved speck is a personal favorite. Panini are more substantial fare, and the porchetta with spicy pickle slaw and the meatloaf with onion jam and provolone are the kind of sandwiches of which legends are made.

For just $1, you can add a house made sauce on the side. Their herb pesto lusciously compliments almost everything. Or try one of their house made soups when in season, as they are accompanied with a slice of pesto bread perfect for dunking.

Fingerling Potato Salad

Someone at your table simply has to order the potato salad. Fingerlings are diced into coins, tossed in truffle aioli, sprinkled with fried shallots, before being drizzled with chive oil and blanketed beneath a snowfall of shave pecorino.

The back dining patio is perfect for outdoor brunch in the soon coming gorgeous spring weather. Brunch panini are offered Friday through Sunday from 10:30 to 3:30, featuring cleverly named panini such as the Cheese Us Christo, Sir Oink-a-lot, Lard Have Mercy, and Weekend at Bearnaise.

Always save room for a sweet ending, as their brownies and panna cotta are reason alone enough to return.

Panna Cotta

Whether you enjoy an outdoor brunch, a quick crostini and limonata, or an evening cheese flight and glass of wine, the bottom line is this—treat yourself. Il Bambino is deliciously wonderful, unpretentious, and affordable. Beyond doubt, it’s some of the best panini around.

34-08 31st Ave
Astoria, New York 11106
(718) 626-0087

48 W. 8th St.
New York, NY 10011

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