DiStefano, a food writer and the man behind the popular blog Chopsticks and Marrow, has been writing about the Queens food and cultural scenes for 20 years.
His editor, Karen Seiger from German publishing company Emons, reached out to him about writing a book specifically about Queens, and he did not hesitate in saying yes.
“To some extent, it feels like after more than 20 years of living here, I feel like I’ve been doing this research already,” DiStefano said. “I love Queens and this was a really fascinating project.”
In the book, there is everything from the 7 train, the first entry into the borough, to Buddhist and Sikh temples, to a zombie gnome bench in Long Island City. The bench features a quote by poet Charles Bukowski and is surrounded by wacky garden gnomes, which transform into zombie gnomes on Halloween. The bench was originally created by a man for his wife but everyone is now welcome to sit on it.
“The criteria for choosing the places was that they were interesting and sort of funky, off the beaten path places,” DiStefano said. “I’m a Mets fan, I love Citi Field but Citi Field is not in the book.”
“What is in the book, which I hope sticks around so people can see it, is the Iron Triangle otherwise known as Willets Point, which is in the shadow of Citi Field,” he added. “I find it to be a very fascinating aspect of Queens, and people don’t really go there and explore and it doesn’t get talked about that much.”
In Eastern Queens, there are places like the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch in Cambria Heights where in which the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, are buried.
In Hollis, DiStefano visits the Jam Master Jay Memorial Mural which is located not too far from where Run DMC got their start in Hollis Park. In Jamaica Estates, you can find the house that President Donald Trump once called home.
Even within neighborhoods that are well-known, there are interesting places hiding in plain sight. For instance, in Forest Hills, a memorial mural for the Ramones is located in the same ramp where the band used to hang out as teenagers. And in East Elmhurst, not far from LaGuardia Airport, sits the house where Malcolm X lived in before he was assassinated.
“Maybe everyone knows Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, but they might not necessarily know that there’s a Nepalese Buddhist monastery in a converted church over there, otherwise known as the United Sherpa Association,” DiStefano said.
The book certainly delivers when it comes to DiStefano’s food background. Mentioned in “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss” are places such as the Muncan Food Corp. in Astoria, an old-school Romanian sausage maker, and the Golden Shopping Mall in Downtown Flushing, an authentic Chinese food court.
With the book, DiStefano found some challenges, such as balancing the amount of natural wonders, cultural touch points, religious institutions and architectural highlights within the book. Keeping the list narrowed down was also a challenge.
“One of the most challenging things beyond doing the research and going to visit places was trying to keep the list to only 111 places, because if it was up to me there would be at least 50 more food places,” he said. “This could’ve easily been a book about 222 places.”
“111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss” is part of publisher Emon’s “111 Places” travel guidebook series. The publisher is based out of Cologne, Germany, where the number 11 is considered a lucky number. For a more comprehensive guidebook, Emons decided to publish “111 Places” guidebooks. Other “111 Places” guidebooks include New Orleans, Edinburgh, Paris, Baltimore and Hong Kong.
“111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss” will be available for purchase on Amazon on January 21 and costs $19.88.