FOR FOOD­IES, LONG FOR­GOT­TEN QUEENS NOW THE PLACE TO GO

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

Food­ies are flock­ing to Queens, the New York bor­ough that has long lived in the shadow of glitzy Man­hat­tan, as it emerges as a trea­sure trove of good eats.

From gas­trop­ubs pop­ping up all over the place, to Miche­lin-starred cui­sine, the hot new food scene re­flects the steady gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in the area.

Peo­ple in the know are trekking across the East River to ex­plore this new culi­nary hub.

Some­thing changed in Queens one evening in Oc­to­ber 2015 when Lady Gaga, wear­ing a pink dress, walked down the street in the As­to­ria neigh­bor­hood to at­tend the open­ing of The Pomeroy, a hip restau­rant run by a child­hood friend, chef Bo O’Con­nor.

Her ap­pear­ance helped New York­ers re­al­ize that Queens had erased its image of hum­drum sub­ur­bia.

As­to­ria — the Queens neigh­bor­hood clos­est to Man­hat­tan — is at the cut­ting edge of this move­ment.

“A new restau­rant and bar is open­ing al­most ev­ery month,” says Dixie Roberts, a free­lance jour­nal­ist who works for the web­site “We Heart As­to­ria” and lives close to The Pomeroy.

“Five years ago, there wasn’t that many places,” says O’Con­nor. “This area def­i­nitely hadn’t de­vel­oped. But in the past two and a half years, it’s re­ally been in­cred­i­ble.”

A chang­ing scene

Gas­trop­ubs — a Bri­tish im­port — are crop­ping up along main streets and of­ten sport a sim­i­lar look: a bar, min­i­mal­ist decor, de­signer tables and chairs, in­ti­mate light­ing and par­quet floors.

The food is chang­ing too, with new restau­rants try­ing to of­fer some­thing dif­fer­ent to the op­tions tra­di­tion­ally avail­able in the area.

“The menu you see here you won’t ac­tu­ally find any­where else in Queens. Ev­ery­body else in Queens is serv­ing the same ex­act tra­di­tional cui­sine,” says Sonny Solomon, owner of an In­dian place called Kurry Qul­ture.

He used to be af­fil­i­ated with Devi and Tulsi, In­dian restau­rants in Man­hat­tan that earned Miche­lin stars.

“We’re try­ing to el­e­vate Viet­namese cui­sine,” says Louis Le­ung, co-owner of Dis­trict Saigon, praised in a re­view by The New York Times in June just four months af­ter open­ing.

At The Pomeroy, O’Con­nor serves Amer­i­can cui­sine with a hint from South Korea, where her fam­ily is from, and lots of daily spe­cials.

Queens is work­ing-class, so while the new restau­ra­teurs charge higher than av­er­age prices, they also try to stay af­ford­able.

“There’s just so many op­tions,” says O’Con­nor, whose of­fer­ings in­clude small dishes that can be shared.

At Kurry Qul­ture, the av­er­age check is 45 to 50 dol­lars a head, “which is de­cent for the qual­ity of food and ser­vice you’re get­ting,” says Solomon.

“When you come here, it’s not only for food. It’s about see­ing and be­ing seen,” he adds.

Be­fore this in­flux of chefs and en­trepreneurs, the best known restau­rants in Queens were ei­ther Ital­ian or Greek — two com­mu­ni­ties that still have a strong pres­ence in the bor­ough.

At Tav­erna Ky­clades, a well­known Greek place that has been a sta­ple for decades, owner Ar­dian Sk­enderi says he has no prob­lem with the move­ment. “There is no com­pe­ti­tion,” he says.

“Ev­ery­one knows each other. Ev­ery­one sup­ports each other. We all do, like, a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent thing,” says O’Con­nor.

“Tav­erna Ky­clades is an in­sti­tu­tion and noth­ing can touch Ky­clades,” says Roberts.

Oth­ers worry about the deep trans­for­ma­tion that Queens is un­der­go­ing — sim­i­lar to what hap­pened in Brook­lyn — with the food frenzy just the tip of the ice­berg.

In the northwest part of Queens, which in­cludes As­to­ria, av­er­age hous­ing prices have shot up 58 per­cent in five years, ac­cord­ing to the real es­tate firm Dou­glas El­li­man.

Dan, who be­longs to a group called the Queens Anti-Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion Project and de­clined to give his last name, be­lieves it is pos­si­ble to pre­vent the bor­ough be­ing over­hauled by de­vel­op­ers.

The group man­aged to de­feat a planned real es­tate project in the Sun­ny­side area af­ter mo­bi­liz­ing peo­ple and law­mak­ers.

But it comes down to how much peo­ple care about pre­serv­ing things, he says, adding: “I don’t think there’s a lot of re­sis­tance to de­vel­op­ment in As­to­ria.”

Some want to think Queens will re­tain its fab­u­lously mixed fla­vor in terms of its cul­tures and peo­ple.

Solomon says: “I hope it stays this way. It will be a lot of fun.”

PHO­TOS BY ED­UARDO MUNOZ AL­VAREZ / AGENCE-FRANCE PRESSE

A man walks by Tav­erna Ky­clades, a Greek restau­rant in As­to­ria in the Queens bor­ough of New York.

Bo O’Con­nor

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