BEST PLACES TO HELP REMIND US OF BETTER DAYS
by Nick D'Arienzo
Apr 22, 2009 | 10499 views | 1 1 comments | 83 83 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sal Croce of Croce Entertainment (c.) presides over his monthly Golden Oldies Dinner Shows at O’NEILL’S with an attention to detail that ensures patrons an exceptionally memorable night out (and some fantastic entertainment!)
Sal Croce of Croce Entertainment (c.) presides over his monthly Golden Oldies Dinner Shows at O’NEILL’S with an attention to detail that ensures patrons an exceptionally memorable night out (and some fantastic entertainment!)
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“IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” epitomizes the charm of this Forest Hills confectionery, KRAUSE’S CANDY KITCHEN aka AIGNER CHOCOLATES, where husband and wife Peter and Pia Aigner have rightfully earned a reputation for some of the finest chocolates and candies around.
“IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” epitomizes the charm of this Forest Hills confectionery, KRAUSE’S CANDY KITCHEN aka AIGNER CHOCOLATES, where husband and wife Peter and Pia Aigner have rightfully earned a reputation for some of the finest chocolates and candies around.
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Thanks to The Notaro Family and LA GULI PASTRY SHOP, Astoria residents have been enjoying some of the best cannoli, cookies, and ice cream in town for more than 70 years at the same Ditmars Boulevard location.
Thanks to The Notaro Family and LA GULI PASTRY SHOP, Astoria residents have been enjoying some of the best cannoli, cookies, and ice cream in town for more than 70 years at the same Ditmars Boulevard location.
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Brooklyn’s DESTEFANO’S is as much a celebration of some fantastic cuisine as it is a celebration of days when, as proprietor Joseph Donatelli puts it, “we thought we had so little, yet had so much.”
Brooklyn’s DESTEFANO’S is as much a celebration of some fantastic cuisine as it is a celebration of days when, as proprietor Joseph Donatelli puts it, “we thought we had so little, yet had so much.”
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Roberta Gray at GRAY’S BICYCLES has been mending Kew Gardens youngsters’ flat tires, handlebar brakes, banana seats, etc. (and thus, their broken hearts, too) for almost 50 years now, and is still going strong!
Roberta Gray at GRAY’S BICYCLES has been mending Kew Gardens youngsters’ flat tires, handlebar brakes, banana seats, etc. (and thus, their broken hearts, too) for almost 50 years now, and is still going strong!
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As much as we love the food at WOODSIDE CAFÉ (especially the Irish Breakfast), we’re also really impressed by its timelessly classic décor and ambience, as well as their smart-looking kitchenware!
As much as we love the food at WOODSIDE CAFÉ (especially the Irish Breakfast), we’re also really impressed by its timelessly classic décor and ambience, as well as their smart-looking kitchenware!
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World changing way too fast, right? And most of the time not for the better. Well, it’s always nice to know that there are a couple of places we can always count on, right? Or some places who see the significance in rekindling some of the values from a better time and re-introducing them to an entirely new generation. Anyway, we’ve definitely been paying attention here at “BEST OF THE BEST,” and here’s a couple of places we wanted to draw your attention to, just in case you don’t already know about ‘em.

Long Island City

NEW YORK DINER

49-09 Northern Boulevard

(718) 626-8857

Remember when your favorite diner was shaped like a railroad car? You probably thought there weren’t any more of those around. Well, get yourself over to Northern Boulevard then, a stone’s throw from BEST BUY, and check this one out for yourself. Besides incredible ambience – booths on the left, counter on the right – you’ve got some of the best potato ‘n’ egg breakfast dishes in Queens here (and so reasonably priced!) as well as some fantastic pancakes and waffles that are sure to make you a regular. But our favorite thing about the place really is the way patrons are greeted upon arrival and welcomed as if they’ve just entered your home. Now if that doesn’t remind you of better days, folks, I’m not sure what will.

Maspeth

WALTER’S DELICATESSEN

70-11 Grand Avenue

(718) 429-6749

Far too many places seem to have forgotten, that aside from being fresh and delicious, your neighborhood deli ought to be clean and friendly, too. Well, WALTER’S DELICATESSEN hasn’t forgotten – in fact, they’ve been upholding the same high standards for 80 years at this point. Proprietor Robert Reiersen sure does have a lot to be proud of, because whether it’s Melanie, Joe, or Marie (47 years and counting!) taking care of you, rest assured you’re getting some of the most affable, congenial service around – something that’s much needed, and much appreciated, during these difficult times we’re all going through. But of course, for any place to be truly successful, it’s really gotta be about the food. So what can we tell you, we absolutely love the sandwiches here at WALTER’S, especially the ones served on their fantastic Black Bread – like the Bleecker Street (Roast Beef and Sweet Peppers) and the Black Forest (Pastrami with Melted Mozzarella). Then there are not one, not two, but three! kinds of Potato Salad to choose from – German, Mayonnaise, and Penn-Dutch – something which always takes us just a little bit extra time to decide. Oh and one last thing, after just one taste recently (our first ever!) of a little something called Muffin Pudding, you can bet we’ll be heading back to WALTER’S again real soon. Well, just as soon as this stupid diet of ours is over, anyway…

Ridgewood

NAGENGAST HARDWARE & HOBBY

68-16 Fresh Pond Road

(718) 821-1319

Readers of a certain age may recall that NAGENGAST HARDWARE (now well represented on the web as NHSHobbies.com!) was absolutely the place to go for all of your scale modeling needs, slot car racing, HO and N-scale trains, etc. In fact, this was where you could get some expert advice, for example, on who had the better paints TESTOR or TAMIYA? Well guess what, folks – you still can get that advice here (and the paints, too!) And while their focus these days is primarily on model trains and stock car racing, as other similar establishments have long gone the way of the AMC Pacer, NAGENGAST still remains the gold standard in such matters. On a recent visit, we couldn’t help but remark – well, it couldn’t be, but didn’t the store used to be bigger? “Nope, same size,” was the matter of fact reply. And then after a long, but no doubt familiar, pause, “But you were probably smaller.” Ah, yes, those were the days.

Williamsburg

THE BLUE STOVE

415 Graham Avenue

(718) 766-7419

In a neighborhood that seems always to be about the future these days, Rachel McBride’s BLUE STOVE is an oasis of calm along bustling Graham Avenue, and one of the more charming little cafes we’ve ever encountered. Named in honor of the depression-era Royal Windsor stove that once belonged to her great-grandmother (the first to instill a love of baking in the young Rachel), the BLUE STOVE CAFÉ’s got a country farmhouse ambience to it that stays true to McBride’s upstate New York roots. More to the point, though – as delightful as that stove is, that ceiling, the tile floor, etc., this is absolutely the place to come for some of the most enticing baked goods around. Muffins, Cookies, Brownies, Carrot Cake, Scones, and of course, the raison d’etre for BLUE STOVE CAFÉ, their exquisite seasonal pies… Apple… Peach… Key Lime… Rhubarb. Because as delightful as the atmosphere is here – and we’re pretty certain of this – those are what’ll keep you coming back again and again.

Forest Hills

LILLIAN PIZZERIA

96-01 69th Avenue

(718) 520-8749

Looking for a pizzeria that doesn’t make a lot of fuss over all this crazy nuova cucina talk? How’s about you step inside LILLIAN PIZZERIA in Forest Hills, where the Calabrese Family have been plying their trade since 1971. We’re talking fantastic red sauce here, and it goes without saying – they’re a pizzeria, after all! – but they really know how to melt cheese perfectly here, especially with their Sicilian slice. (And regular readers of these pages know just how much we like our melted cheese, don’t they!) Anyway, you’ll also be pleasantly pleased by the Chicken Rolls, the Broccoli Pinwheels, and the oh-so-munchable Garlic Knots here. An additional bonus: this little enclave at the corner of 69th Avenue and Harrow Street has quite a bit of seating, and ample room for your little ones, too. Hey, if it’s good enough for Ray Romano, right? (Romano grew up nearby and even based his sit-com hangout NEMO’S on life-long favorite LILLIAN.) Seriously though, you can ask entire generations of Forest Hills residents and ex-residents, even if they haven’t been around in a while… Everybody Loves Lillian!

Corona

THE LEMON ICE KING OF CORONA

52-02 108th Street

(718) 699-5133

If you grew up anywhere near Forest Hills, Rego Park, Corona, let’s say – odds are your trip down Memory Lane is going to include 108th Street. Looking for a taste treat that will instantly take you back to a better time? Surely, you remember THE LEMON ICE KING OF CORONA, easily one of the absolute best at it (and one of the first, too). The Bonfaremo Family have been making Italian ices since the 1940’s and continue to distinguish themselves not just by their extensive variety of flavors, but the fact that their ingredients are so fresh and pure. Like their Cantaloupe, or their Watermelon, or their Pina Colada, for sure – but especially their Peanut Butter (one of our favorites) which has little specks of peanuts on top. By the way, we also happen to like the exotic flavor of their tangy Licorice and, of course, their classic Lemon, but rest assured, you’re going to have more choices here than just about anywhere else. Please bear in mind, you will have to stand – there’s still no seating – but it’s definitely a small price to pay for such a one-of-a-kind experience.

Forest Hills

KRAUSE’S CANDY KITCHEN

aka AIGNER CHOCOLATES

103-02 Metropolitan Avenue

(718) 544-1850

The wooden sign above the counter showcasing their sumptuous chocolates reads, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and if you know anything about that timeless Capra classic, it definitely epitomizes the charm of this old-style confectionery. Husband and wife Peter and Pia Aigner put so much love and care into this place, your glance will quickly meander about from section to section as you step inside their cozy and intimate shop. There are Truffles beyond compare, Fruit Slices shaped like lemons and oranges that are literally “eye candy,” and lollipops in drawers just like you might have found in the “General Store” back in the day. But make sure you also take a gander at some of the toys available here. Smartly displayed on wooden shelves to approximate what they’d look like back in your home, they’re some of the more wholesome and creative books and playthings you’re going to see just about anywhere. Needless to say, one of the perfect places to go when a smile is sorely needed on the faces of our young ones, or even just those of us who are young at heart.

Maspeth

GOLDEN OLDIES DINNER SHOWS at O’NEILL’S

64-21 53rd Drive

(718) 672-9696

“It’s the music that’ll never die,” says Sal Croce, Jr., who with his father Salvatore, Sr. helps spearhead the impressive lineup of Golden Oldies Dinner Shows that have been gracing the stage at O’NEILL’S every month. Not only that, though, for just $65, your ticket includes a gourmet dinner, too, with entrée choices like Maine Lobster, Filet of Sole Stuffed With Crabmeat, Prime Sirloin Steak, or O’NEILL’S Famous Porterhouse. John Kuse & the Excellents (“You Baby You” and “Coney Island Baby”) are here Saturday, April 25th, so you’d best get your tickets soon, as these Golden Oldies shows usually sell out pretty quickly. (For more info, including an upcoming show featuring Shirley Alston Reeves, original lead singer of The Shirelles (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”), please visit www.CroceEntertainment.com.)

Astoria

LA GULI PASTRY SHOP

29-15 Ditmars Boulevard

(718) 728-5612

A great deal of the appeal of LA GULI is that the Notaro Family have been doing business from this charming and intimate storefront in Astoria since the glory days of the 1930’s. One of the most authentic Italian pasticcerias around, LA GULI makes some of the most delectable cannolis you’re ever going to taste. Similarly, their pignoli cookies are quite memorable, and you’re advised to take special note of an assortment of traditional cookies so numerous that there are not one, but two! display cases needed to show them off, each variety specifically numbered for identification. You can also get a terrific cappuccino here, one you can take to the back and sit with for a while, but if you ask us – especially with spring and summer just around the bend – what we’ll be coming back for again and again is their unparalleled Tortoni, a frozen custard that was definitely a staple of our youth, but alas, is a lost art now, one we’re pleased to know LA GULI is proudly upholding.

Middle Village

BAUER’S BAKE SHOP

64-59 Dry Harbor Road

(718) 326-1579

One of the best bakeries in Queens, where BAUER’S proves most reliable is in the authentic flavor and top-notch quality of every single item it offers. For proprietors Ernie and Anita Wunsch, this originates with two ideals: pride of ownership in a neighborhood institution that’s been in the family since 1933, and an emphasis on the freshest ingredients and most time-honored recipes around. Not only that, but whether it’s a Cheese Danish, an Apple Streudel, a Pretzel Roll, or even just a cup of coffee you’re enjoying here, the friendly service you get from Christa, Chantal, Megan, Veronica, Lauren,  or any of the many other BAUER’S girls behind the counter, is easily some of the most charming and personable you’ll find anywhere, something far too many other such establishments lost sight of long, long ago. But not BAUER’S!

Woodside

DONOVAN’S PUB

57-24 Roosevelt Avenue

(718) 429-9339

Nothing fancy about this traditional Irish Pub, and there haven’t been too many changes since they first debuted here in 1966. Something we all ought to be fantastically thankful for, because DONOVAN’S remains one of the quintessentially charming Irish pubs in Queens, a borough which, needless to say, has quite a few of them. And not only are your barkeeps and waitresses among the most engaging you’ll encounter anywhere, but this is arguably one of the best burgers in New York City, perfectly cooked through and through and yet perfectly juicy and cheesy, too. And at under $10 – especially during this horrific economic climate – that’s quite a blessing, as well.

Williamsburg

BAMONTE’S

32 Withers Street

(718) 384-8831

What can we say about BAMONTE’S that hasn’t already been said? Well, for one thing, they serve arguably the best Italian red sauce you’re ever going to have. And the ambience? It’s the kind of atmosphere you usually see in the movies, really. (So you can certainly understand why a great many location scouts are always suggesting the place for filming on the one day of the week it’s closed – Tuesdays!) A favorite of ballplayers as legendary as Joe DiMaggio, Mike Piazza, and many others, the enduring appeal of this establishment has more than anything to do with the fact that the oh-so-hospitable Bamonte family have been running it for more than 100 years at this point. And running it pretty darn well, if you ask us. Not too many places that can make that lofty claim these days!

Forest Hills

EDDIE’S SWEET SHOP

105-29 Metropolitan Avenue

(718) 520-8514

Not sure how Forest Hills cornered the market on this kind of nostalgia (or Metropolitan Avenue, for that matter!), but if it’s ice cream you’re partial to, then you’re definitely going to want to make sure you stop in at EDDIE’S SWEET SHOP. The kind of ice cream parlor you’re used to seeing in the movies, they still make ice cream the old-fashioned way here, with real walnuts and real bananas, and in big generous scoops, easily the freshest, and creamiest around (we love the butter pecan and the rum raisin especially). More to the point, though, this is a place for malts and milkshakes and sundaes (with some fantastic whipped cream on top!), on a par with those we remember from our youth, and all served in those vintage stainless steel pedestal dishes that remind us that the Triple-Scoop Banana Sundae we’re enjoying is a timeless classic.

Woodside

WOODSIDE CAFE

60-06 Woodside Avenue

(718) 899-3499

Remember when your favorite coffee shop looked clean and tidy, with an emphasis on the kind of fun and eye-catching design that made 50’s and 60’s era diners so popular? Well, in a neighborhood with not all that much light thanks to the elevated 7 train thundering overhead, one of our newest absolute faves, Jimmy O’Sullivan’s WOODSIDE CAFÉ, is an airy oasis of calm amid the hustle and bustle of a neighborhood constantly on the go. We’ve no doubt you’ll be as charmed as we were by the immaculate layout and design of the place, even the aesthetic appeal of the very cups, dishes, etc. your food and drink are served in. But more to the point, the thing that really makes the WOODSIDE CAFÉ so special – this is some of the best comfort food around. We really like the Woodside Burger and the Shepherd’s Pie, but take special note, too – in the mornings, when the light first starts creeping through that bay window on Woodside Avenue, you may not find a better Irish Breakfast in town than right here.

Ridgewood

KARL EHMER MEATS

63-35 Fresh Pond Road

(718) 456-8100

We got the backstage tour at this venerable butcher shop on Fresh Pond Road recently (now an empire, quite frankly), and it instantly reminded us how some of the most magnificent success stories can arise from the humblest of origins. All it takes is high standards, exceptional personal service and attention to detail, and a commitment to continued excellence. All of which are hallmarks of KARL EHMER MEATS and have been since Karl Ehmer himself first founded the company in Depression-era Manhattan, re-locating operations to Ridgewood’s thriving German-American community shortly thereafter. Now that Ehmer’s grandsons run the company, the very same standards of high-quality are upheld on a regular basis, still serving Ridgewood and others the very best ham around, the very best sausage, the very best ground beef, as the legendary facility on the corner of Fresh Pond and Menahan continues to supply more than 30 retail outlets in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and even Florida, yet still remains “The Best Butcher On The Block.”

Williamsburg

DE STEFANO’S

89 Conselyea Street

(718) 384-2836

Maybe it’s the photo gallery of Brooklyn icons lining the entrance-way that will first charm you. Or perhaps the exquisite chandeliers in the dining room and that oh-so-nostalgic authentic copper ceiling. Or could it be the neon DEE’S CORNER sign hanging in the window, reminding you that this very location was once a candy store, a pool hall, a social club. Whatever it is that grabs you first, rest assured you’re in the perfect place for not just a trip down memory lane, but also a great new dining experience. The Veal Chops, Porterhouse, and Skirt Steaks here easily rival anyone’s in the city, and you’ll definitely want to finish with a Ricotta Cheesecake that just might even rival Grandma’s. And yet, in our humble opinion, perhaps the number one ingredient for ensuring that your dining experience at DE STEFANO’S is a memorable one, is the avuncular charm of its proprietor (and your host!) Joseph Donatelli aka Joey Dee, who prides himself on tremendous attention to detail and a level of personal service that far too many restaurants lost sight of long, long ago.

Maspeth

ISABELLA’S ITALIAN ICES & ICE CREAM

55-01 69th Street

(718) 205-ICES (4237)

We really dig what Nick Bamonte is building here (in honor of his daughter Isabella), and we just can’t wait for the weather to start cooperating full-time so we can witness it (and sample it!) in all its glory. In a tremendous throwback to the simple joys of yesteryear, the corner of 69th Street and 55th Avenue is sure to become your spring/summer must-visit destination with those decidedly nostalgic SABRETT Hot Dog outdoor umbrellas luring you inside, some delightfully creamy Soft-Serve ice cream, old-style SuperPretzels, and just about the best Old Fashioned Egg Creams we’ve tasted in a good long while. Not only that, but make sure you visit ISABELLA’s when they’ve got some sidewalk chalk on hand, so you and your little ones can get downright creative on our Maspeth streets.

Kew Gardens

GRAY’S BICYCLES

82-34 Lefferts Boulevard

(718) 441-9767

Just about every day, Roberta Gray has someone come up to her and tell her that GRAY’S BICYLES is where they got their bikes fixed when they were kids. Most often, it’s someone bringing their own kids in for the first time, to get that flat looked at, those brakes adjusted, etc. etc. A veritable Kew Gardens institution, and in a neighborhood that has season more than its share of change, GRAY’S has been around since 1960, thanks largely to the staying power of the timelessly charming matriarch overseeing it all, Roberta, who after the death of her much-loved husband Edgar aka “Eddie” in 1970, made sure that GRAY’S would continue to serve the community’s young people for years hence. Count us among the lucky ones eternally grateful for that, even if only to know that that patch of familiar concrete out front on Lefferts, just a block up from Metropolitan, is still one of the sunniest and most cheerful patches of real estate we can remember.
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Ann Marie Trupiano
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August 11, 2013
The original Greenpoint Star came out every Thursday back in the 40 & 50's.