Friday 22 November 2019
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businessinsider - 14 days ago

I spent a day in Astoria, Queens, and saw why the NYC neighborhood is one of the coolest in the world

Time Out named New York City s Astoria one of the 10 coolest neighborhoods in the world for 2019. The northwestern Queens neighborhood took the eighth spot thanks to its delectable food, fun nightlife, scenic parks, and flourishing art scene. I spent the day in Astoria to get an understanding of what all the hype is about, and left with a big smile and full stomach to show for it. Highlights included a cappuccino and cookie at Gossip Coffee, a gyro at the casual Greek eatery BZ Grill, a visit to the Museum of Moving Image, and a stroll through Astoria Park. Visit Insider s homepage for more stories. Welcome to Astoria. Astoria was recently named one of the 10 coolest neighborhoods in the world for 2019 by Time Out.

The neighborhood is located in the New York City borough of Queens, close to other popular areas like Long Island City and Sunnyside. The northwestern Queens neighborhood brushes up against the East River, giving those along Astoria s waterfront attractive views of Manhattan s skyline.

Astoria landed in the No. 8 spot on Time Out s list of the world s coolest neighborhoods thanks to its delectable food, fun bars, scenic parks, and flourishing art scene. Greek, Egyptian, Italian, Brazilian, and Irish communities call the neighborhood home, and this diversity is reflected in Astoria s offerings.

I spent the day in Astoria to find out what all the hype is about. I set out from the Insider office in downtown Manhattan ready to take in the best of what Astoria has to offer.

After taking the W train, I arrived at 30 Avenue station in the heart of Astoria. I immediately noticed that the station was clean, sleek, and modern. Colorful designs decorated the walls and strips of wood lined the ceiling.

It was clear to me right off the bat that Astoria was a mix of the old and the new. Older apartment buildings stand alongside modern residences, and the same trend persists with restaurants, coffee shops, storefronts, and bars.

Even though some areas were busy, most featured quiet, tree-lined streets with small homes and cars parked out front. It felt very residential, especially compared to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

I started my Astoria food tour at Gossip Coffee, a coffee shop recommended to me by Insider executive editor Megan Willett. Gossip Coffee had a fun and modern fa ade complete with potted shrubs.

The inside of the shop was light and airy. The patterned tiling on the floor and walls gave the interior a retro flare. I learned that, in addition to coffee, Gossip Coffee also serves breakfast, lunch, and brunch options, as well as cocktails.

After soliciting advice from the barista, as well as general manager Jonathan DeBellis, I ordered a freddo cappuccino and a peace, love, and rainbows cookie, as DeBellis called it. The coffee which features cold foam rather than hot was light and frothy but definitely packed a punch. The cookie was crispy and colorful on the outside, and doughy and cake-like on the inside.

I also checked out the coffee shop s courtyard, which was spacious and relatively quiet. DeBellis told me that the shop has live music and comedy shows in the outdoor space as well.

DeBellis then recommended that I visit Comfortland, a bakery and breakfast joint just down the street. Comfortland is a quirky, eye-catching shop known for its over-the-top doughnuts and unique coffee drinks.

I perused the doughnut display case, where each treat looked better than the last. I asked barista Chris Boecker what the most popular variety was and he pointed me towards the Nutella cr me br l e doughnut. It s the one we ve had for the longest, and people consistently want it, he added.

Jackie Legge, the creator of the Nutella crème brûlée doughnut, told me she came up with the idea when the shop first opened a year ago by channeling what my best friend eats because he loves over-the-top desserts. The doughnut was rich and decadent. The top was crunchy and, like cr me br l e, tough to break through. But once I sunk my teeth into the doughnut, it gave way to a smooth and creamy texture.

Boecker also recommended that I try the chocolate malt latte, one of the shop s most popular specialty lattes that he described as malty, chocolatey goodness. The coffee had a faint hint of chocolate, but was certainly thicker than a run-of-the-mill latte.

After finishing up my second caffeinated beverage of the day, I was ready to take the 15-minute walk to Neptune Diner. Neptune Diner, which is a neighborhood staple, once boasted a sign outside that read Best Diner in New York.

The first thing I noticed was the diner s display case of fish on ice. To me, that was the hallmark of an authentic Greek diner.

The waiter recommended I try The Lumberjack to get a feel for Neptune s breakfast fare. It came with three pancakes, two eggs, and bacon. The waiter brought out complimentary glasses of orange juice and typical diner coffee before breakfast was ready.

My friend Sam, who I recruited to help me finish the already hefty meal, ordered the French toast. It was really good French toast, actually. I m full and I m still eating it, Sam, a New Jersey native, said. This beats the hell out of Jersey diner French toast for sure.

I added some syrup to the pancakes and dug in. The pancakes were sufficiently fluffy and cooked to perfection, as the outside had a nice golden tinge. The bacon was also crisp without tasting dry, while the eggs which we ordered over easy held their own.

After lunch I decided I could use some more coffee, so I walked nearly a mile to Stellar Brews Cafe. Stellar Brews Cafe occupies the front of house at Sek end Sun, a popular Astoria bar, during the day.

The inside of Stellar Brews Cafe was surprisingly quiet and dark. The place had a rustic vibe and I could easily see why locals would want to grab a drink here alcoholic or otherwise.

I asked the barista to make me his best drink, and he started whipping up a Himalayan salted caramel espresso. The drink was made with specialty ingredients, including homemade caramel and almond milk.

While he was crafting a perfect espresso, I took a walk to the back and checked out the patio space. The neon Queens sign and distressed wood walls further contributed to the rustic feel of the place.

I then retrieved my golden-brown drink to enjoy on the go. By this point in the day, I was already significantly over-caffeinated (if you ve lost count, this was my fourth coffee before noon). Still, the Himalayan salted caramel espresso stood out to me. It was frothy, smooth, sweet, and slightly salty.

Even though I had already had a ton to eat, I decided to next check out Bahari Estiatorio — one of Astoria s best Greek restaurants. Astoria has a significant Greek population and thus has some of the best Greek food in all of New York City. Bahari Estiatorio came highly recommended to me by multiple people who live and work in Astoria.

Though my previous experience with Greek food didn t extend far beyond gyros and feta cheese, the waiter recommended I try the grilled octopus and sautéed baby shark. I took my orders to go because I was feeling a bit restless (which may have been due to the four coffees I drank earlier).

I wound up at Sean s Place, a small, shady park on 38th Street between Broadway and 31st Avenue, and decided to start with the more familiar dish of the two. Unsurprisingly, the octopus was quite chewy. To me, it tasted a bit like monkfish or lobster, both of which I like very much. I would definitely order this again.

Then, I dug into the sautéed baby shark. Prepared in a white wine sauce with jalape os, the saut ed baby shark tasted a bit like Chicken Fran aise to me. Though I thought the shark meat was more tender than chicken, it had a similar flavor to the Italian-American dish.

But I wouldn t recommend it for the faint of heart, as the spine of the shark is left in with the meat. Although I m an avid meat eater, the shark bones spooked me a bit.

While the meal was still fresh in my mind, I headed to Taverna Kyclades, another renowned Greek restaurant in Astoria. You can t really miss Taverna Kyclades, which takes up much of the block with its royal blue awnings and umbrellas. I decided to sit outside as it was a beautiful afternoon and I wanted to people watch.

Even though I was dining alone, the waiter served me an entire loaf of bread. The bread was baked with olives in the dough, doused in olive oil, and sprinkled with an assortment of herbs.

I picked a similar spread to my order at Bahari Estiatorio: grilled octopus and baby shark. The meal also came with lemon potatoes, which were perfectly crispy on the outside but melted in my mouth once I bit through. While I m not typically a fan of citrus flavors, the lemon was subtle and not too acidic.

The octopus was pretty much on par with Bahari Estiatorio s dish, but the fried baby shark — which I ordered fried this time around — was remarkable. The dish came with a garlic dip that complimented the shark s crunchy exterior, as well as its soft and flaky interior. The taste still reminded me of chicken, but this time I found it had the texture of a crab cake.

After I asked for the check, the waiter brought me a piece of baklava on the house. It was perfectly sweet and nutty, with just enough cinnamon.

Unsurprisingly, I was bursting at this point. I decided to wash all the food down with a beer at Jack Jones, a local bar. Jack Jones took up the entire street corner and had an inviting indoor-outdoor feel. People enjoyed beers and cocktails outside, while others sat at tables near the open windows.

I ordered a Jack Jones red ale at the bar and took in my surroundings. The bar itself was different than any I had seen before. Bottles of booze were displayed on wooden shelves, while quirky snacks, soft drinks, and candies were available for sale.

The large windows let in plenty of sunshine, and the hanging plants added to the bar s relaxing air. It seemed like a pretty popular happy hour spot, and DeBellis from Gossip Coffee told me it was his local.

Then it was time for more food. I decided to try one more spot — BZ Grill — to round out my Greek food tour in Astoria. Greek and American flags welcome diners to BZ Grill, which was decidedly more casual than the first two Greek restaurants I had tried that day.

Once I was inside, the first thing that caught my eye was the gyro cooking behind the counter. The smell of meat filled the air.

The chef toasted the pita, covered it in tzatziki sauce, then piled in lettuce, tomato, onion, and chicken. It was, without question, the best gyro I d ever had. The fries that came with it were incredible as well.

Trestle, a bar recommended to me by a friend, was not too far away, so I decided to walk over to check it out. Like Jack Jones, Trestle occupied the entire street corner and had both indoor and outdoor seating.

Founded by a construction manager, the bar is designed to make patrons feel as though they re dining under a trestle. Much of the decor reflected the founder s construction roots.

Manager Jackie Kelly told me that the bar offers beers brewed in every borough of New York City. Despite its wide selection, I decided against having another beer.

Kelly recommended that I instead try the frosé. She said the frosty beverage, sold throughout the year, is the best in the city.

I wasn t sure if it was even possible to fit anything else in my stomach, but still ventured to my final planned meal of the day at Milkflower. The sign outside Milkflower promised wood-fired pizza, and I was pumped.

It was clear Milkflower s wood-fired oven was being put to good use. Employees pulled pies of all different varieties in and out of the oven faster than I could say table for one, please. The hostess seated me near the kitchen so I could watch the pizza masters at work.

They put on quite a show. This pizza chef was rhythmic in his pizza tossing, probably because he was wearing his AirPods while he worked.

The waitress recommended three pizzas to me and I settled on the Van Dammer, a mozzarella-based pizza topped with black pepper, brussels sprouts, egg, and truffle. Despite the copious amounts of food I had consumed throughout the day, I was tempted to eat this entire pizza. It was that delicious.

Phew! I had finally finished my food tour — or so I thought. As I walked back to the subway, I came across a storefront with a long line. Oh no, I thought. Not more food.

But Chip, a New York-based cookie and dessert chain born in Astoria, was too tempting and delicious-smelling to resist. I finished the day the same way I started it, with a cookie so delectable and fluffy that it tasted like a cake hybrid. The chocolate-chip treat was a melty and delicious dream.

Although food was a major highlight of my day in Astoria, the neighborhood isn t just about that. Walking around the neighborhood, it became clear to me that Astoria has a ton of activities to offer.

The Welling Court Mural Project is a stretch of road near the water in Astoria that s lined with beautiful, colorful works of art. According to the project s website, there are more than 140 murals in all.

The Socrates Sculpture Park is filled with pieces of all shapes and sizes. Many of the sculptures were under construction while I was there, but I did get the chance to watch a number of artists at work.

I also checked out the Museum of Moving Image. The museum honors the art and science behind television, film, and digital media.

The inside of the museum was open and airy, with a modern feel. There was also a courtyard in the back of the museum that would make a great spot to enjoy some coffee on a sunny day.

I walked through the Jim Henson exhibit, which showcased the works of the famed puppeteer behind The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street. I loved that many of the exhibits in the museum were interactive, which kept me engaged throughout.

I also saw the museum s core exhibition, called Behind the Screen. The exhibit focuses on the technical process of producing, promoting, and presenting films, television shows, and digital entertainment, and features more than 1,400 artifacts, according to the museum s website.

Astoria also has some prime spots for sneaking in some retail therapy. I walked off all the good food with a little shopping.

Lockwood is a series of three stores: One is devoted to cl another to paper, notebooks, and and the third to knickknacks and home goods. I was overwhelmed by how much there was to sort through and spent a significant amount of time inside.

I couldn t resist the urge to splurge, and walked away with quite a haul. I don t live anywhere near Astoria, but I was still tempted to become a rewards member at Lockwood.

I ended my day with a stroll through Astoria Park, which borders the East River. Astoria Park is known for housing the oldest and largest public pool in New York City, but the park has much more to offer with tennis and basketball courts, a running track and trails, and views of the Hell Gate Bridge and Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

Before heading out for the day, I reflected on my time in one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world with a gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Yeah, I think I ll make the trek back to Astoria soon. Read more: 28 cities that you didn t realize you re mispronouncing A shelter celebrated its pregnant pit bull with a maternity photo shoot and the pictures are adorable The world s first Instagram sleep influencer told us about his life of snoozing in luxury hotels and jet setting across the globe We tried Pumpkin Spice Lattes from 4 major chains, and 7-Eleven was the clear winner

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