If you live in the Ditmars section of Astoria, you’re probably familiar with the work of Berch Augustine—whether you know it or not. Many of the local businesses have hired him at some time or other to paint their windows or walls. He’s quite prolific, and lately I’ve been snapping shots of his painting as I’ve run across it. This mural, done for 36th Street Animal Clinic just off Ditmars, had a warm glow to it just before sunset, which complimented the colors of the lettering. You can read more about Mr. Augustine on Nancy Ruhling’s “Astoria Characters” blog.
Today I learned that the “ASW” building, the large, incongruous factory-type building on 23rd Avenue near Steinway, is the former Astoria Silk Works factory. From a quick Google search, this excerpt from The Encyclopedia of New York City:
"Factory in Astoria, Queens, established in 1820. Part of the West Point foundry owned by Gouverneur Kemble, it was one of two factory sites; the other was in Cold Springs, Long Island. Astoria Silk Works was owned by investors that included Jacob Ruppert and William Steinway. The mill was located on Steinway Avenue (now Street) near Potter Avenue (now 23rd Avenue). It was composed of brick buildings, marked by ‘ASW,’ that still stand today. A fire in 1914 closed the factory permanently."
Today it’s home to various businesses, including a dance studio, a photographer, a tattoo shop, Astoria Sound Works (which makes good use of the old initials), and more.
Out of all the neighborhoods you could have chosen from within New York City proper, why Astoria? Why open where most of the best Greek food is? I knew that writers were going to compare us, and that it was going to be controversial, and that there would be Greeks judging it…
Has there been? I’m sure there has, and I just like that too, it’s just who I am. No matter what there’s still a little wise-ass in me. I wanted to come back to a place where I can say, “This is the mecca of Greek food.”
You’ve got a reputation and a history now. Does that put a particular pressure on now? I don’t necessarily sense pressure like that. I guess so, yeah. I think that sometimes people like controversy—I am controversial by nature, it’s just who I am—it probably would have been easier or safer or more practical to open in Manhattan I guess. But I had to open in Astoria. I just had to.
What are your hopes for this location? This restaurant is a reflection of being proud of being Greek. I pay more honor to my mother and my father by taking what I learned from them and doing what I’m doing now than just doing what they were doing. Greeks are very proud, and it’s very hard for us to let people in and to change. And I think that’s what continues to hold us back. We, as a group, have to band together. And if it’s going to start, it has to start in a place like this.
This lobster roll was insanely delicious, so fresh, so perfect. You can see one of the enormous claws, and there was a second one, plus the whole tail, and knuckle meat, too. Plenty of butter and a hint of lemon-mayo with herbs. The best lobster roll I have had to date. The hand-sliced homemade chips were a great touch. Off the Hook * 28-08 34th St, Astoria * (718) 721-2112
I recently ate (with three fellow Queens Love colleagues, actually) at The Shady Lady, a new “global comfort food” restaurant on Astoria’s 30th Ave. By far, this Reuben Roll was a favorite from that meal. It’s a tightly rolled sandwich made with corned beef, sauerkraut, gruyere, and caraway. It sits on top of a layer of Russian dressing. It’s totally yummy and I am counting the days until I can get back there and eat another one.
The Shady Lady, 34-19 30th Ave., Astoria, New York 11103, (718) 440-9081
The niku man buns at HinoMaru Ramen are simply delicious. They come with either pork belly, shrimp, soft shell crab, or kani (pictured). HinoMaru Ramen * 33-18 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria * (718) 777-0228 * http://hinomaruramen.com
Never was there a dreamier donut than this PB&J donut made by Montana at Queens Comfort. It’s a cake donut with whole strawberries swirled into the actual batter, like little bites of preserves mixed in with the cake. And they put the donut hole back in before serving it! Only available on the weekends. www.queenscomfort.blogspot.com
Be sure to ask about the brick oven pizza specials at Via Trenta (Italian for 30th Ave), like this fantastic rustic flatbread with garlic, truffle spread, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, and basil. And remember at lunch, even if you don’t order one of the weekday $10 pasta/panini/pizza specials (the margherita pizza is always one of the options), you still get soup or salad with your entree. Via Trenta | 36-19 30th Ave, Astoria | (718) 545-2090 | viatrenta.com
The Queens Kickshaw introduces its new dinner menu tomorrow! Above are the kimchi dumplings, stuffed with shitake mushrooms and vermicelli, in a kimchi consommé. There’s also a kimchi lasagna, arancini (deep fried fritters of cider risotto and fontina), homemade beet pasta alfredo, bibimbap with quail eggs and rice cooked in whey, and tortilla manicotti stuffed with ricotta and poblanos. This menu is out of this world! The Queens Kickshaw, 40-17 Broadway, Astoria, (718) 777-0913, www.thequeenskickshaw.com