A Multicultural Feast in Astoria
With two weeks until my departure for Sonoma, I am still working through my NY “bucket list” of things to do and places to go that I’ve been meaning to get to in the last 18 years. One of those things on my list was to explore the diverse food scene in Astoria. I think I have some sort of a Brooklyn-based mental block about Queens and I just can’t seem to ever myself to my neighboring borough. When I received a gift certificate for the Institute of Culinary Education, and I saw a culinary walking tour in the brochure, I was in!
Today was a hot, clear July day and it was perfect for the leisurely stroll through the neighborhood. We gathered at a Greek pastry shop called Omonia (pronounced like ammonia, which kept giving me a little shiver at the thought of ammonia and pastry together.) We got little shots of insanely strong Greek coffee, ordered to your preferred sweetness level, with an tantalizing array of sweet treats (pictured below).
From there we headed a few blocks away to a Bosnian cafe that specialized in Burek, a stuffed filo pie, with fillings like spinach and cheese, spiced beef, and cheese. They were crisp on the outside and almost egg-y, and heavy with delicious butter. We were advised to pace ourselves, which turned out to be VERY good advise. While we ate, Stacy took the opportunity to tell us a little about the history of Astoria and how it came to be such a cultural and culinary melting pot. Interesting stuff, but I’m not going to go into it here because there’s too much food to talk about!
Full with burek, we were off to do some shopping at Mediterranean foods, an excellent Greek grocery. We were thrilled by the large selection of feta and were even more delighted at all of the little tastes we got of it. There was a smorgesboard of olives, that we could sample, so we did so and then purchased about 10 different kinds to nibble upon later.
We popped into Sweet Afton next, a hipster bar/gastropub across the street, where we were given a liquid boost in the form of a shot of Powers whiskey with a “pickle back” shot of pickle juice and a side of fried McClure’s pickles. Who knew that this combination could be so good for the digestive system (and one’s mood, in general!) The bar is a recent addition to the neighborhood and has beautiful handcrafted touches and a welcoming, warm feel. The ceiling was made from olive barrels and has a soft wooden gleam. I wanted to stay and get to know the locals a little better, but mozzarella called us to our next stop.
We met Joe, the owner of the oddly-named Dave and Tony’s Salumeria(35-18 30th Ave), who offered us some treats from his store, including house-cured large green olives with red chile flakes that were delicious. He also showed us how he makes their fresh mozzarella. He poured boiling water on the curds and then used a well-worn paddle and his bare hands to stretch and pull the mozzarella curd into tender balls of sweet deliciousness.
Our final lunch destination was Mombar (25-22 Steinway Street), a feast for the eyes and the senses. The petite restaurant is chock full of paintings and elaborate flourishes, from the hand-lain marble floors to the mosaic tiles on the wall (complete with a whole Thanksgiving turkey platter as part of a wall mosaic in the kitchen. You have to love the cross-cultural references.) The air in the restaurant was filled with the smell of exotic spices. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, with so much to take in at once. We started with tart, ruby-red hibiscus iced tea that was blissfully cooling and refreshing. The owner of the restaurant, El Sayed, greeted us and brought us a lovely mezze platter with smoked eggplant babaganoush, foul dip, and hummos.
All were velvety and seasoned perfectly. Our main course was Kefta, (Egyptian beef and lamb meatballs), cooked with sour cherries, and koushry (spiced lentils and rice), formed into a pyramid, along with some sort of carrot, pea, green bean mix with lots of spices. I loved the sweet-tart fruit compliment with the tender and delicious meatballs. We left feeling completely sated.
If this intrigues you, check out the ICE catalog for Stacy’s tours or you can contact her directly at StaceyOrnstein@gmail.com (www.allergictosalad.com)