Books

New Guide to Queens Takes Readers on a Round-the-World Food Tour

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Seven years ago, writer Andrea Lynn made a discovery that many NYC transplants miss: Queens, often misunderstood as drab, suburban, and impossibly distant, is in fact a dynamic place, packed with countless culinary gems.

Lynn, originally from Atlanta, relocated to New York for work before eventually making the jump to Queens seven years ago. Her time exploring New York’s most diverse borough has yielded a travel guide and cookbook, Queens: A Culinary Passport, in which she reveals the highlights of ethnic eats from Long Island City to Flushing.

Lynn isn’t timid: her book reveals a willingness to not only go off the beaten restaurant path, but to also get chefs to share their most prized recipes. Some, admittedly, will pose a challenge for the home cook — it’ll be tough to replicate the kare kare of Woodside Filipino spot Tito Rad’s Grill & Restaurant, for instance, if you don’t have easy access to ingredients like oxtail or annatto seeds. But the dishes, along with tips about preparation (buy feta in blocks, never crumbled, says Ardian Skenderi, owner of Astoria’s Taverna Kyclades) serve as an enticement to visit each spot.

Standbys like Thai mecca SriPraPhai and critical darling M. Wells Dinette are here, of course. But so are only-in-Queens eateries like Corona’s Tortilleria Nixtamal, where tortillas are handcrafted using an ancient Aztec method, and Rego Park’s Ben’s Best Kosher Deli, one of the city’s few remaining true Jewish delis, where photos of first-timers drinking Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda line the walls.

There are also interviews with a number of Queens food pros who give their takes on the borough’s under-the-radar best. Joe DiStefano, for instance, who leads food tours, clues readers in to Lhasa Fast Food, a Himalayan spot at the back of a cell phone store in Jackson Heights. Lynn’s done the legwork to get a true insider’s perspective on these vibrant neighborhoods, leaving readers time to focus on what really matters: good eating.

(photo by Janis Turk)

The Grilled Octopus appetizer at Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna

Yield: 4 appetizer servings

This appetizer is adapted from the dish at Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna in Astoria. To bulk it up into a meal, double the recipe and add an order of oven-roasted beets or sautéed dandelion greens, two sides served at the restaurant. Recipe courtesy of Queens: A Culinary Passport by Andrea Lynn.

1 (4- to 5-pound) octopus, cleaned
4 to 5 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 lemon, halved
31⁄2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large tomatoes, sliced
2 large cucumbers, peeled (optional) and sliced
1⁄2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, as needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed

Using either a knife or kitchen shears, remove each tentacle from the octopus head. Discard the head, and cut the tentacles into a few pieces. Add octopus to a large Dutch oven or a heavy-duty large pot, and cover with water and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, and reduce to medium-low to low heat so liquid is simmering. Let octopus cook for 2 to 3 hours until very tender. (To check, I recommend removing an octopus tentacle and cutting it with a knife to see if it’s tender.) Remove octopus tentacles from liquid, transfer to a container, and drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over it. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, in a large bowl, add tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion. Drizzle with vinegar, remaining 11⁄2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper, tossing to combine. Cut octopus tentacles into pieces. Grill until slightly charred, just a few minutes per side. If you don’t have a grill, don’t worry.

Warm a large nonstick sauté pan over high heat with 1⁄2 tablespoon olive oil and sauté until octopus is warmed and slightly charred, a few minutes per side. Divide salad between the plates and top with octopus. Serve.