Everyone knows New York City is the culinary epicenter of the United States. And while Manhattan gets Michelin stars and Brooklyn gets blogger hype, real culinary fanatics know that authentic ethnic food experiences happen in the restaurants of Queens. There, New York's celebrated ethnic diversity is the most potent, with more than one million foreign-born residents. This means food lovers can travel the globe without using any vacation time: take a culinary tour of China, sip a frappe in Greece, dine on authentic Italian sausageall without ever leaving Queens!
Queens: A Culinary Passport welcomes visitors to the borough, serving as your guide to more than 40 hand-picked ethnic restaurants and food stands, complete with chef profiles and recipes for recreating signature dishes at home. Also included are highlights of not-to-be-missed hidden spots, like ethnic grocery stores stocked with multicultural essentials, fresh-from-the-sea fish markets, and delis that turn out freshly made mozzarella and sopressata.
For Queens novices, the book includes easy-to-follow subway directions and even detailed neighborhood walking tours, ensuring that your next trip to Italy, India, Greece, Latin America, and China is only a borough away.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
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Queens: A Culinary Passport
Exploring Ethnic Cuisine in New York's Most Diverse Borough
By Andrea Lynn
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Andrea Lynn
All rights reserved.
One of the zippiest subway rides from Manhattan, Astoria is probably the first neighborhood in Queens a Manhattan resident might get a taste of, an experience that usually takes place in a beer garden. But Astoria's cultural beauty is far deeper and more complex than what you might find in a beer garden. When I first moved to Astoria, I held a special fondness for the European feel of the neighborhood. In nice weather, the outdoor tables at Athens Café are crammed with Greeks and non-Greeks sipping frappés. In the summer, elderly Italian ladies dig through the sale rack of the fruit and vegetable stands across the street looking for less-than-perfect tomatoes for their sauces. The checkered outdoor tablecloths and straight-from-Greece carafes usher in a Mediterranean feel at Gregory's 26 Corner Taverna. While slowly devouring the restaurant's divine octopus appetizer one day, I chatted with two girls who were visiting New York City (and Astoria) just because they had heard it would be so similar to the tavernas they had frequented in Greece. And it was, they swooned, as they ate gyros and sipped the strong Greek coffee.
But Greek isn't the only ethnicity represented in Astoria. A stretch of Steinway Street is referred to as "Little Egypt" due to the North African concentration. Astoria's Little Egypt is highlighted by Kabab Café, opened by chef Ali El Sayed in 1987, whom Anthony Bourdain described as "a legend among hard-core foodies; reason alone to go to Queens." The area is also home to many Italians, who flock there for homemade mozzarella, homemade sausage, and imported Italian goods at Sorriso Italian Pork Store and Italian sweets from Gian Piero Bakery across the street.
Yield: 1 serving
Hailed as the national coffee of Greece, the frappé is a frothy concoction of coffee granulates and water, made foamy thanks to a frappé machine. The drink can't exactly be replicated without the machine, but you can come close by putting the drink into a container and shaking it, a lot! The Greek Nescafé Taster's Choice is stronger than its American counterpart. If you can find it, Athens Café suggests using South African Nescafé, which also has a more robust feel. Instead, I just use more of the easier-found American version. If you find yourself verging on a frappé addiction like I do, machines can be bought at the Greek mecca, Titan Foods. Recipe adapted from Athens Café.
1 tablespoon Nescafé Taster's Choice Instant Coffee
½ cup water
3 to 4 ice cubes
Milk or heavy cream, if desired
In a 2-cup or 4-cup container with lid, add coffee, water, sugar (optional), and ice cubes. (I've found a 2-cup Mason jar ideal for making these.) Tighten lid, and shake, shake, shake until the ice cubes are mostly dissolved. Pour into an 8-ounce glass, and serve. Note that the larger the container you use to shake, the more foam you will have.
Info: 32-07 30th Ave., Astoria; 718-626-2164; athenscafeny.com
See You There: Take the N or Q train to the 30th Ave. stop
A quick way to begin an argument between Astorians is by asking them to choose their favorite Greek restaurant, a difficult task since Astoria is the Greek food capital of New York. With so many Greek restaurants to choose from, when I'm forced to pick between neighborhood faves like Agnanti and Stamatis, just to name a few, I'll profess to being a Kyclades gal.
The restaurant name is derived from the "Cyclades," a group of Greek islands south of the mainland. With its turquoise interior and seafood-heavy menu, this restaurant has an authentic Greek vibe. Restaurant patron Larry Finkelstein said it best when he labeled Kyclades as "the BMW of restaurants" due to the huge portion sizes, the fact the restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine, and the owner's magnificent character in customer interactions.
Owner Ardian Skenderi thinks the key to the restaurant's popularity is its consistency. "Well, this is quality food, and the portions are big enough. Every time you come, it's the same. You come here six months later, and we always keep it the same. People like that and appreciate it." The portion sizes are indeed huge and, in fact, Kyclades is one of the best examples I can use to illustrate the superiority of Queens portions to Manhattan portions. (Expect lots of leftovers!)
Popular menu items, according to Ardian, are the grilled octopus, calamari (grilled or fried), and the ever-requested Greek salad, which is also one of Ardian's steadfast daily eats, along with chicken kebabs, and something from the ocean, like fresh sea bass or scallops. And who can argue with the healthy appeal of the Mediterranean diet? Ardian thinks it adds to the restaurant's popularity.
Another not-so-secret slice of their success is high-quality ingredients that aren't barraged with non-necessities—jumbo shrimp or whole fish like branzino are grilled and drizzled with nothing more than Greek olive oil, dried oregano, and sea salt. "You have to make sure the fish is fresh all the time. That's why I go to the market myself," he says. Ardian also believes in another fundamental to the success of the restaurant, which I think is a good motto for life (as well as the restaurant business). "I love what I do," he says. "Basically you don't have to know too many things. If you know how to do two or three things, and you do them correctly, you'll be successful."
Info: 33-07 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria; 718-5458666; tavernakyclades.com
See You There: Take the N to Queens to the last stop, Ditmars.
For an Authentic Experience: Ardian recommends a Greek Salad, Grilled Octopus, and the Pan-Fried Greek Cheese for appetizers, finishing with whole fish as the main course. Don't bother asking what the fresh fish of the day is because if it's in stock that day, it's fresh.
Yield: 4 servings
"You've got to understand how to work with the salad," advises Kyclades owner Ardian Skenderi. "When you make a Greek salad you start with the lettuce, red onions, and tomato, so the color is right there." But don't get the wrong idea—the iceberg lettuce is only a small component of the salad rather than the overriding ingredient. Also, the restaurant uses feta straight from Greece. Ardian says the organic grazing of the sheep make for a better cheese product, and that it's best to buy feta cheese wedges instead of the crumbled varieties. "When the cheese is crushed up, you don't know how good it is," he says. This recipe is adapted from Ardian Skenderi's.
2 cups chopped iceberg lettuce
2 large cucumbers, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
4 medium tomatoes, sliced
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
¼ small red onion, sliced
8 to 10 pepperoncini peppers
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 (¼-pound) wedges feta cheese
In a large bowl, add lettuce. Then, top with a mixture of tomatoes and cucumbers. Decorate with olives, red onion slices, and peppers. In a small bowl, add ¼ teaspoon oregano, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Using a fork, whisk together ingredients as you pour the oil into the dressing to emulsify. Pour dressing over salad. Top with feta wedges, and sprinkle with remaining ¼ teaspoon oregano.
Broiled Whole Fish with Oregano and Lemon
Yield: 4 servings
Enter my new favorite way of cooking fish, thanks to this recipe from Taverna Kyclades: Just slap it on a baking sheet with spices and lemon, place it under the broiler, and dinner is ready in mere minutes. Ardian stresses that the key is buying good-quality fish. He can walk into a fish market and tell what is fresh, simply by looking at it. For less experienced fish buyers, he recommends asking to touch the fish: If it's fresh, it will be firm. If it's not, it will be mushy and your finger will sink when touching it. The whole branzino is the most popular fish request at Kyclades, but any whole fish of the specified size (1 ½ pounds) will do. For this recipe, one fish feeds two people. Recipe adapted from Ardian Skenderi.
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 (1 ½-pound) whole fish (like branzino, red snapper, or trout), cleaned, scaled, rinsed, and dried with paper towels
Olive oil, as needed
6 garlic cloves
2 lemons, sliced
Preheat the broiler. In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, and oregano.
Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with foil, and then coating it with cooking spray. Place both fish on the baking sheet, positioning the fish so the head is to your left and the cavity opening is facing you. On the top of the fish, make 3 to 4 diagonal slices down the length of the fish, about ½- to 1-inch deep, and about 1½ inches apart. Generously drizzle oil inside the fish cavities and on the top of the fish. Then, divide each oregano-salt mixture between both fish, sprinkling it inside the cavity and on top of the fish again. Stuff each cavity with 3 garlic cloves and as many lemon slices as will fit. Reserve remaining lemon to serve with fish.
Place the fish under the broiler, and cook 3 minutes. Turn the baking sheet 180 degrees, and continue to cook until skin is browned and fish flesh can be flaked with a fork, about 3 to 4 more minutes. Remove from oven, use a spatula to transfer fish to a plate, and serve with the Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes.
Substitution Can't find whole fish? Just substitute with another Kyclades favorite: jumbo shrimp. Sprinkle 1½ pounds of cleaned, butterflied jumbo shrimp with salt, pepper, oregano, and olive oil. Place on a foil-lined and greased baking sheet and broil for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes
Yield: 4 servings
With a lemony flavor that walks the line of almost being too tart, creating these potatoes became an obsession of mine when I first moved to Astoria. I marinated, roasted, and boiled the potatoes in a hefty amount of lemon juice, never happy with the subpar results. So when I started this Queens cookbook, I knew I had to delve into the secret of the lemon potatoes. In talking to a few Greek restaurants, a couple common denominators became apparent. The first is that the potatoes must cook in an even layer of the lemon juice mixture, almost braising in the liquid.
Overcrowding ruins the results because the potatoes can't soak up the lemony goodness, which I realized had been one of my fatal flaws. The second factor was that everyone agreed chicken concentrate (vegetarian or not) is a must, although I couldn't ever get a reason why. This recipe, based on the Taverna Kyclades' recipe for lemon potatoes, is to be served with the Broiled Whole Fish with Oregano and Lemon. For intensely lemony potatoes, use the high end of the recommended lemon juice amount—¾ cup (which is my preference); for a less lemony flavor, go for the lower end of ½ cup. Sometimes I crank the oven to 450°F during the last 15 minutes to ensure extra-browned potatoes. Recipe adapted from Ardian Skenderi.
4 large Russet potatoes (about 2 pounds) or 8 medium Russet potatoes
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more for garnish
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup boiling water
1 chicken bouillon cube
½ to ¾ cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 to 6 lemons)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel the potatoes, then, cut each potato in half lengthwise, then cut each half into quarters. (If you're using medium potatoes, just peel and quarter each potato.) Add potatoes to a large Pyrex or roasting pan, making sure the potatoes are in a single layer. (If they won't fit into one layer, divide potatoes and liquid between 2 pans. They won't cook properly if not in an even layer.) Sprinkle the potatoes with oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Using tongs or your hands, toss potatoes to coat with oil and spices.
In a small bowl, add water and bouillon cube, whisking with a fork until the cube dissolves. Pour over the potatoes, along with the lemon juice. Tightly cover the pan with foil, and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. If the lemon juice mixture is evaporating too fast, add ¼-cup increments of water during the cooking process. Remove the foil, and continue cooking until potatoes are browned and fork-tender, about another 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, garnish with additional oregano if desired, and serve with a spoon (the better to get the lemony sauce with the potatoes).
Kopiaste reflects another Mediterranean cuisine, Cypriot, which has almost as many similarities as differences in relation to Greek food. An island in the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus is famous for food with a high concentration in pork, coriander, cumin, and parsley. Kopiaste began getting an onslaught of customers after reviews in the Wall Street Journal and Village Voice touted their Cyprus mezze, a food tour through the country through mini shared plates for the steal of $22. "Ninety-five percent of people eat the mezze," says owner George Georgiou. "They say it's amazing. They take it home because it's so much food they cannot finish it." (Notice the pattern of leftovers in Queens restaurants?)
Another popular Cyprus specialty available at the restaurant is the sheftalia, homemade Cypriot sausage made from ground pork, parsley, and onions rolled in caul fat. "It's delicious," says George. "It's very unique and very popular in Cyprus. We sell hundreds of these. People come and they say, 'Give me one hundred for a party.'" Kopiaste isn't trying to compete with the Greek establishments in the area—and, in fact, the owner helmed a popular Astoria Greek restaurant in the early eighties—but rather spread a little foodie knowledge about Cypriot cuisine. And that he does through the mezze offerings like Taramasalata (an airy version of fish roe spread), Koupepia (the Cypriot way of stuffing grape leaves, pork included, of course), Keftedes (pork meatballs), and more.
Info: 23-15 31st St., Astoria; 718-932-3220
See You There: Take the N train to Queens to the last stop, Ditmars. The restaurant is between 23rd Ave. and 23rd Rd.
For an Authentic Experience: There's a reason why a majority of the clientele order the Cyprus mezze—because it's a culinary walk though Cyprus. However, if going the entrée route, George recommends the Stifado Kouneli, a rabbit and onion stew braised in vinegar, for a taste of a Cypriot meal.
Red Wine Pork (Afelia) with Cracked Wheat Pilaf (Pourgouri)
Yield: 4 servings
Both the Afelia and Pourgouri can be served as mezze options in Cyprus or as a main meal, as done in this version. The red wine–braised pork came out slightly more red-tinted than the restaurant's version, so be prepared. There's something unglamorous yet comforting about this recipe—it seems outwardly plain, but when I eat it or make it for company, it's completely devoured.
Kopiaste cook Paraskevi Roussopoulos, from whom the recipe is adapted, says the key to the cracked wheat pilaf is to cook the vermicelli until it's golden brown, so it isn't the same color as the bulgur wheat. The restaurant makes the pilaf completely off-heat, letting it steam for 90 minutes; but I sped up the process.
Excerpted from Queens: A Culinary Passport by Andrea Lynn. Copyright © 2014 Andrea Lynn. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Gregory's 26 Corner Taverna
Food Shop: Titan Foods
King of Falafel and Shawarma
Astoria Walking Tour
Queens Food Pro: Meg Cotner
Long Island City
Food Shop: Slovak Czech Varieties
M. Wells Dinette
Sage General Store
Long Island City Walking Tour
Forest Hills/Rego Park
Ben's Best Kosher Deli
Eddie's Sweet Shop
Forest Hills/Rego Park Walking Tour
Queens Food Pro: Famous Fat Dave
Tony's Pizzeria & Restaurant
Corona Walking Tour
Queens Food Pro: Myra Alperson
Salt & Fat
Food Shop: Butcher Block
Natural Tofu Restaurant
Queens Food Pro: Max Falkowitz
Tito Rad's Grill & Restaurant
Food Shop: Ottomanelli & Son's Prime Meat Shop
Food Shop: Phil-Am Food Mart
Queens Food Pro: Katrina Schultz Richter
JoJu Modern Vietnamese Sandwiches
Food Market: U.S. Supermarket
La Esquinita del Camaron Mexicano
Elmhurst Mex Grocery Company
Elmhurst Walking Tour
Queens Food Pro: Lesley Tellez
Food Shop: Patel Brothers
Jackson Heights Walking Tour
Queens Food Pro: Jeff Orlick
Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan
Golden Shopping Mall
Flushing Food Shops
Chung Fat Supermarket
Jade Asian Restaurant
Fang Gourmet Tea
Soy Bean Chen Flower Shop
Flushing Walking Tour
Queens Food Pro: Joe DiStefano