By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Still the Greek bastion of the five boroughs with restaurants, clubs and banks firmly entrenched in the area, Astoria now is attracting Manhattanites with its reasonable rents and quick commute. But a newer wave of cultures led by immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East is adding another form of richness to the cultural stew, especially on Steinway Street right off the Grand Central Parkway.
The EGYPTIAN COFFEE SHOP, for example, is like a slice of the Middle Eastwithout the violence. Here you can enjoy thick coffee while toking on a rented hookah loaded with strong tobacco. Three bucks is all you need. An oven supplies the coals that sit atop the tobacco in the water pipe. The long room has a large-screen TV playing movies and tapes of TV shows from back home. Places like the nearby AL IMAN FOOD MARKET sport barrels of dried figs, along with other reminders of home, like Halawa pistachio dessert spread, eaten on toast with tea or coffee. Cross the street and you've traveled all the way across Africa to Morocco, to a restaurant called LA KASBAH, its clay pots for cooking couscous sitting in the window. Ron M. Beigel
For most Long Islanders, Woodside is nothing more than the name of the last stop before Penn Station on the LIRR. But for those of you who change at Woodside for the No. 7 IRT upstairs, head downstairs one day. You'll find yourself in Latin America.
From its beginnings at Queens Boulevard in the west to just before Shea Stadium in the east, with the No. 7 rumbling overhead, Roosevelt Avenue is dominated by South American restaurants, stores and offices stretching from Woodside through Jackson Heights to Corona.
But that's not all in this polyglot area. Hard by the BQE, the PHIL-AM GROCERYon the corner of Roosevelt and 70th Street, across the street from the Phillipine National Bank, is crammed with produce like green wrinkled bitter melons and long melons. In back is the meat counter where you can buy delicious longanizas. These pork sausages have sweet barbecue sauce already mixed inside the casing, which oozes out as you fry them. Ensaymada or sweet bread are made in New Jersey and trucked over for local Filipinos. (Get the ones with the Monterey jack inside. It's really a Filipino cheese Danish.) Mama Sita's barbecue sauce is a dark, sweet soy-sauce based marinade perfect for soaking steaks overnight.
Not everything here is so new. THE PHILIPPINE GRILL at 69th Street and Roosevelt has anchored the community for quite a few years now, offering such new treats to Long Islanders as goat stew, deep fried pork belly with liver sauce and menudo.
Down the block, at 68th Street, you're in South America again, munching on a quick snack of churros (long cinnamon-and -sugar coated pastries) with coffee from LA URUGUAYA/LA PARAGUAYITA BAKERY.
American culture has often been hatched in Queens, and one of the most famous bits has nothing to do with the borough's deep history of jazz and jazz musicians. At the intersection of Broadway and Elmhurst Avenue is Moore Homestead Park, the former residence of Clement C. Moore, the 19th century academician destined to be forever known for "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Legend has it that Moore, a stuffy classics professor at a theological seminary in Manhattan, had a brainstorm on a sleigh ride home from Greenwich Village one evening in 1822. Ordinarily a dour academician known for his two-volume Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language, Moore was inspired not only by the chubby Dutchman who drove the sleigh that day but by Washington Irving's satires of New York's Dutch population and by a contemporaneous Christmas poem that linked Santa Claus to reindeer, according to folklorist David Emery.
Much to Moore's chagrin, Emery says, his verse, "'Twas the night before Christmas...," written just for his own six children, was published behind his back and became his only claim to fame.
The home is gone, and in its stead are swings and monkey bars. And a new era of Queens has taken root. On the corner is a branch of Asia Bank, which also has branches in Flushing and Chinatown. Next to the bank is a Long Island-style strip shopping center anchored by a Key Food supermarket. The rest of the center is a food paradise: One after another sits JOE'S SHANGHAI, PENANG TASTE, PHO BAC, TAKRAI THAI, SINGA PIZZA and PHO BANG (one of six Pho Bangs in Queens and Manhattan). Pho Bac and Pho Bang are Vietnamese soup placesperfect for a chilly day.
On the block of Northern Boulevard between 83rd and 84th streets lies the Colombian stronghold of New York. Follow the food: JAIMIE'S CORNER GROCERYplants its bins of plantains and chili peppers on the sidewalk; down the block is SEBA SEBA BAKERY(Seba stands for "selling everything baked appetizing"). ESMERALDA DE COLOMBIA restaurant features a "country platter" of grilled skirt steak, white rice, black beans, a piece of smoked pork skin, a small biscuit, a fried egg and a slice of avocado, all for $5.75. Breakfast offerings include corn-meal pancakes. For a couple of dollars, the fruity milk drink called guanabana sweetens things up.