Vacation in Astoria
This post doesn’t feature a recipe, but there’s a lot of food talk and recommendations. I visited my darling daughter Allison and her charming fiancé Michael on vacation in Astoria, New York last week. Among the busy and exciting visits to legendary shops and attractions, we nourished ourselves with many amazing foods. I wanted a couple of this things during this visit: to be able to cook using ingredients from the Union Square Greenmarket, and get to know Astoria a little better. And we did just that.
Tight connection time in Atlanta meant coffee before I left and two Kind bars were all I had before supper that evening. Allison suggested Bareburger and we dined outside. Not only does this up-and-coming chain feature all manner of interesting proteins for their burgers, they feature a wrapper that’s paleo all the way: collard greens! I’m definitely going to steal this idea for a post. Let’s face it. Eating a burger with your hands is half the enjoyment. Knife-and-forking-it isn’t the same experience. And the lightly steamed greens were milder than I expected them to be and proved to be an inspired alternative to the ever present bun. I sure would love to see a Bareburger in Lafayette!
Astoria is becoming a mecca for hip shops and lots of new and interesting restaurants. Allison explained that even just a year ago, most every block contained one or more dollar stores. On our way to the subway, we stopped at the Brass Owl. Owner Nicole Panettieri was there and has a lovely selection of shoes, accessories, beauty products and more. Plus she’s a savvy business entrepreneur who keeps in touch with her customers, closes the shop for customer-group showings and treats her guests to wine and delicious nibbles.
The subway from Ditmars Boulevard is excellent. Since it’s the end of the line, there’s always a seat when you arrive. And the route is super convenient. We didn’t have to change trains to get to all the places we wanted to see in midtown Manhattan. The cars are clean and quiet and it’s a great way to get around the city.
The Union Square Greenmarket is a cook’s dream. Yes, you can find a restaurant with any—and I mean any—type of cuisine or dish you want in New York City, but this market makes you want to get in the kitchen and start swinging your blades. If you are staying with friends or family, don’t miss the opportunity to shop here.
We found chicken, pork, eggs, every sort of vegetable that’s growing right now, flowers, herbs, fruit: all of it lovingly raised and freshly picked. I adore cooking with my daughter. We play well together. And the meal that night was great. One ingredient we didn’t get at the market was Michael’s Maple Bourbon Bacon. Oh my lord! The man is a smoking genius. Allison makes all sorts of preserves and pickles from her CSA share, the farmers markets and their own courtyard farm. We had several varieties of her delicious combinations. While we were out, Michael started his late-summer beer brew. These two are amazing!!
We made roast herbed chicken, corn maque choux from late summer sweet corn (I figure if it is edible it raw, it’s paleo to me), and green beans with tomatoes and Michael’s bacon. And for dessert there were peaches and Eton Mess. I’ve linked Nigella Lawson’s “recipe,” it’s so easy you hardly need directions. We found strawberries and meringues at the Greenmarket. There is sugar, but not a lot and you could use honey instead. There’s heavy cream as well, but you could substitute the top layer from a can of coconut milk. It was excellent.
Yeah. So these two don’t just grow their own food, make their own bacon and pickles and sundry other fabulous foods, Allison is a ceramist and makes their own damn plates!
The next day we went to the Museum of the Moving Image. What a cool place! From displays of decades of movie cameras and televisions to interactive exhibits featuring sound editing to special presentations on the Mad Men and How Cats Took over the Internet, this is a museum that’s fun for everybody.
Afterwards we brunched al fresco nearby at Pachanga Patterson.
We enjoyed a Hibiscus Margarita on a warm sunny day and like so many authentic ethnic restaurants there were many, many interesting choices that didn’t mean I had to have to have the ubiquitous salad. If you’re following a gluten-free or paleo-esque diet, often the options are severely limited. Here it was hard to choose and everything was so delicious!
That night we opted for a light supper and watched the The Hundred-Foot Journey. Well come on now! You can’t expect a couple of knife-wielding cooks to watch something else can you? We do watch other things, too. But I hadn’t seen this film and it was a gem.
We found supper at Astoria Bier and Cheese.
There was cheese, of course, try the Ewephoria if you eat dairy, and one of the many patés and salumi, regardless. Coupled with Allison’s summer squash pickles, this was a memorable meal. I also had a gluten-free beer. It tasted just like the real thing!
The next day we went shopping. We did pick up a few items, but mostly we wandered and marveled. On our journey we found:
Kalustyan’s spice shop. If ever you have wanted any kind of spice, herb, condiment or specialty item to cook with, this is the place. They’re in the process of remodeling and expanding and around every corner is a new trove of treasures. We found plum bitters, chestnut flour, saffron, five kinds of cinnamon and the offerings are not limited to shelf stock. There’s an extensive line of refrigerated and frozen foods, too. It is flat out incredible. One of Allison’s favorite haunts, it’s worth a trip just to be astounded by the vast array of offerings.
Katagiri Grocery is the oldest Japanese market in the U.S. I love the flavors of Japanese food. And this tiny store is a jewel box of ingredients and foods.
ABC Carpet and Home is a high-end store featuring furniture, rugs, home décor and just about anything you might use or display in your house.
For something completely different, there’s the whimsical store Flying Tiger. The store is set up like a walking maze, taking you through imaginatively designed home wares, office supplies, toys and more. Funny and hip, this is a spot for getting unusual gifts to bring back home.
Also during the trip was a foray into Kleinfield’s, famous for the TV show, Say Yes to the Dress. They were filming when we were there and oh my! So many dresses. We’re not sure about saying yes to one particular dress. But it was spectacular and a super fun experience. The store is all you’d expect it to be. I was surprised at how many people it took to film the show considering there’s only one spot to film.
We fortified ourselves beforehand with gelato from the nearby food emporium called Eataly. If it’s Italian and you can eat it, they have it. From vast displays of seafood and pasta, immense collections of cookbooks, produce, confections, and wine to dining areas all around this enormous space, there’s a mini-Italian vacation right here.
Finally after walking for miles over a couple of days, we dined outside at one of my favorite restaurants, Taverna Kyclades. The food is fresh and seasoned perfectly. We started with grilled sausage and grilled octopus. I’d always wanted to try octopus, and it has the flavor and texture of lobster tail. With it we had salad and split an entrée of Greek-style shrimp with tomatoes and peppers. It was a lovely night and even though we were on the main thoroughfare of Astoria, the neighborhood atmosphere was relaxed and relatively quiet. This is a must-visit place in Queens, you won’t be disappointed.
It was a busy, happy trip. I’m so thankful I had a chance to be with my cherished daughter and am looking forward to Michael’s being an official part of the clan.