My new favourite place for dining out is Queens. Yes, the land of Frank Costanza, Vincent Chase, 50 Cent, and Fran Drescher. What it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in character. And what it lacks in cool factor, it more than makes up for in actual culture. While in Manhattan, I may end up cramped at a tight table with tourists and an expensive cocktail; in Brooklyn, with Edison bulbs and a kale salad; in Queens, I’m cramped with a grandmother cooking in the back and a $15 tab. Sweeping generalizations, I know, but sometimes true. I get excited in this city when I feel like I’m on a movie or TV set, and I’ve felt a lot of that in Queens. There is an electricity to some of the main drags there that give me “pinch me, I live in NYC?” tingles. I’m not saying anything new by fawning over the treasure trove of ethnic enclaves that exists in Queens. Doubly so by fawning over what can be much, much more friendly dining prices. Yes, there’s a long train ride. But, there are long train rides to Brooklyn, too (I’m sure the Bronx and Staten Island are somehwhere in my future). In any case, I can always use an excuse for reading.
Gregory’s. On the corner of 26th street in Astoria. A friend and I had scoped this place out via online reviews as the place we would have a Greek feast. Decked out in seaside tchotchkes, Gregory’s can feel like an homage to a much-loved homeland as well as a worn-in family dining room. But you’re quickly reminded of your custom as your tablecloth is covered with a fresh sheet of paper.
Feast, we did. Missing from these photos are the loaf of warm bread we were immediately served (which went with the olive spread) and our half-litre, $10-bottle of Retsina.
Also missing are the old Greek men who tucked themselves into the corners of the place as the night wore on, the couples young and old, the man who told us inappropriate jokes as he waited for his takeout, and the charming waitresses whose lipstick was maybe just a bit too pink. The octopus was tender, yet meaty. Those smelts were like french fries. The dips all perfect on the pita or used like ketchup for those fishy chips. The potatoes became a sneaky favourite because you think that you could make them at home, but then you remember that you’ve never actually been able to achieve such texture. It was hard to stop. Especially when pieces of honey-soaked semolina cake were brought gratis with the bill. We didn’t realize that the greens were served cold. They would not make the cut next time. But there will be a next time. I want the grilled sardines. The stuffed grape leaves. The possibility for more old man inappropriate jokes.