BEST OF THE "BEST OF THE BEST"- 2008
by Nick D'Arienzo
Dec 30, 2008 | 8635 views | 0 0 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DE STEFANO’S
DE STEFANO’S
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UVARARA
UVARARA
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UNCLE LOUIE G'S
UNCLE LOUIE G'S
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CEVABDZINICA SARAJEVO
CEVABDZINICA SARAJEVO
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As the late John Lennon once sang, “Another year over… and a new one just begun…” And so, as we ring in 2009 and leave 2008 behind us, here at “BEST OF THE BEST,” we wanted to take a rather comprehensive look at some of our favorite places throughout Brooklyn and Queens, and as you make your 2009 to-do lists, hopefully they’ll emerge as some of yours, too. Turning the calendar page over this week, we can’t help thinking that, surely there must be better days ahead of us at this point, no? For the sake of you and yours, we certainly hope so.

BEST

Bargains

Well, one bright spot with the economy is the fact that the price of gas has gone down considerably, and perhaps nowhere more than at those 24-hour full-service aces named VALERO. Easy to spot, and oh so clean, their prices are now dipping below $1.80 a gallon as we speak, and readers of these pages get the benefit of a Middle Village location and a brand new Williamsburg location. If it’s a food bargain you’re looking for, have you heard about the lunch special that CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN’s got going? For just $7.99 (Monday thru Friday until 4 pm, that is), you get to choose from either the lunch-size pizza or pasta menu, or amongst their big hearty sandwiches (and your combo is served with either soup or their house salad). Now, as good as the pizza is here and elsewhere, sometimes nothing in the world beats free pizza! And that’s one of the serious appeals of a place like the popular ALLIGATOR LOUNGE in Williamsburg. Yes, folks, with every single drink you order, you’re entitled to a free pizza! (With just a minor “cover” charge for any additional toppings.) How’s that for a bargain! (VALERO, 73-15 Eliot Avenue in Middle Village (718) 426-5341 and 546 Morgan Avenue in Williamsburg (718) 782-8783; CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN, THE SHOPS AT ATLAS PARK, 8000 Cooper Avenue in Glendale (718) 894-9400; ALLIGATOR LOUNGE, 600 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg (718) 599-4440.)

BEST

Places For A Date

Regular readers of these pages know what fans we are of the oh-so-charming UVARARA on Metropolitan Avenue. And it could easily have earned top honors in a number of other categories here as well, Best Service and Best Ambience among them. With its inviting menu of pastas, panini, etc. and one of the most comprehensive Italian wine lists around, you and your date can rest assured that the time you spend here will be relaxing, enjoyable, and memorable. In Astoria, the taverna S’AGAPO probably gets a little head-start in this regard since its name means “I Love You,” but even so, its light and unbelievably tasty menu are the perfect context for a mellow, but romantic evening. We’re huge fans of the Pikilia Orektikon, an assorted selection of savory dips like Pantzari Skordalia (beets) and Piperosi (red peppers) and quite frankly, we can’t wait for the weather to get warm again, so we can try them outside! Then, if you’re looking for a cozy little lounge, guess what, one of the best of them is right on Grand Avenue in Maspeth. Yep, that’s right, it’s called HUSH (don’t tell anyone) and they’ve definitely got a nice selection of wines here, but if you’re really looking to impress, make sure you ask about their Vodka, Tequila or Scotch-Cognac bottle service! (UVARARA, 79-28 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village (718) 894-0052; S’AGAPO, 34-21 34th Avenue in Astoria (718) 626-0303; HUSH, 70-10 Grand Avenue in Maspeth (718) 779-6061.)

BEST

Watering Holes

Okay, look, what can we say, but O’NEILL’S in Maspeth has long been one of our favorite places around – and no doubt, yours too! The finest of service (from the friendliest of Irish lasses), great burgers, steaks, even some fantastic pizza – especially the Margherita pizza! But when you’ve got a game to catch, definitely make sure you head here, because O’NEILL’S has more televisions than some PC RICHARD showrooms! Looking for a little cozier feel to your neighborhood bar? DANNY BOY’S is the place. Fantastic burgers – especially their new Sliders offering – and just about the best Hot Wings in town (10c a piece on Wednesday nights)! Oh, and to say they know how to pour Guinness here would be a complete understatement. In Astoria, SUNSWICK 35/35 has quickly become one of our favorites here. It’s essentially one big room, but oh what a room it is! Top-notch burgers, Hot Wings that are scrumptiously tender, and a decidedly chummy and club-like atmosphere make this a nice little haven the moment you walk in off the street. But where SUNSWICK 35/35 really shines is its outstanding selection of beers on tap, 25 if you’re counting, a constantly changing selection which is chronicled on the large chalkboard hanging on the brick wall in the rear. (O’NEILL’S, 64-21 53rd Drive in Maspeth (718) 672-9696; DANNY BOY’S, 64-56 Dry Harbor Road in Middle Village (718) 894-3488; SUNSWICK 35/35, 35-02 35th Street in Astoria (718) 752-0620.)

BEST

Pizza

Not only does PIZZA CLASSICA boast some of the best pizza around – it’s also one of the nicest places to enjoy it. Nestled inside the STOP&SHOP mall on Union Turnpike, they’ve got some unbelievable Buffalo Chicken pizza here. Perfectly savory, and let me tell you, the folks here know how to melt cheese perfectly. Make sure you try the Grandma, Grandpa, and Pizza Bianca, too! Newly opened on Williamsburg’s Graham Avenue, we were also really impressed by MOTORINO, whose perfectly charred crusts reminded us of what pizza used to taste like. In fact, we don’t even like anchovies, but tried the Anchovie Pizza here on a recommendation. The bottom line – it was fantastic and made a convert out of us instantly! We can’t wait to get back and try the Gorgonzola-Speck-and-Cippolini-Onion! Looking for one of those old-world cheesy, tomato-y gets-it-right-every-time pizzerias? Well, we can’t say enough about MASPETH PIZZERIA here. Whether you’re staying or walking, there’s always just the right amount of grease, cheese, and sauce dripping onto your plate to let you know that what you’re eating is the real deal. And make sure you try the Pin Wheels with Mozzarella, too! (PIZZA CLASSICA, 8989 Union Turnpike in Glendale (718) 847-5001; MOTORINO, 319 Graham Avenue in Williamsburg (718) 599-8899; MASPETH PIZZERIA, 70-10 Grand Avenue in Maspeth (718) 639-5050.)

BEST

Ice Cream

If there’s a dessert you like – Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Strawberry Shortcake, even Birthday Cake – guess what, UNCLE LOUIE G’s has a corresponding ice cream flavor. It’ll definitely feel like you’re having some cake, and eating it, too! And if that ain’t yummy, I don’t know what is! Looking for some classic Italian gelato? FORTUNATO BROS. PASTICCERIA in Williamsburg, while a must-visit destination for espresso, cannoli, and the like, is especially renowned during the summer for its indescribably creamy gelato – Stracciatella, Nocciola, Zuppa Inglese – you’ve just got to try ‘em. Similarly, Middle Village’s TIRAMISU CAFE makes some of the creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted as well, and consequently some of the best milk shakes going, too. But our personal favorite here – whether it’s their Hazelnut gelato, or maybe their Cappuccino Crunch, make sure you try it as the Gelato in Brioscia, which is basically Ice Cream on a sweet roll, a description which does not nearly do justice to how delectable a taste treat it truly is! (UNCLE LOUIE G’s, 72-23 Austin Street in Forest Hills (718) 897-7855; FORTUNATO BROS. PASTICCERIA, 289 Manhattan Avenue in Williamsburg (718) 387-2281; TIRAMISU CAFE, 64-54 Dry Harbor Road in Middle Village (718) 894-6060.)

BEST

Diners

There’s something rather special about the quintessential railroad car-style diner, with booths along one side, and a long, long counter along the other. It’s probably one of the reasons why we love Long Island City’s NEW YORK DINER so much. But there are other reasons, too – like great service, great bacon and eggs, and great, great, great home-made waffles. Over in Rego Park, the SHALIMAR DINER has been catering to patrons young and old for years now. Probably what makes the place so appealing – especially if you’ve got a large family – there’s just so much room here, and while the food is on a par with most top diners in the area, you can rest assured that your waitress is not going to rush you out until you’ve downed that one last cup of coffee. Kudos – a Greek word, of course – for the whole-scale renovation of one of our favorites, Williamsburg’s KELLOGG’S DINER. While their egg creams may not be what they once were, this is still a fantastic place for breakfast and coffee, and with their new upscale look, you can bet that some of the ragamuffins who were oftentimes just heading home as you were heading out to work will be, how shall we say, “discouraged” from gracing the place with their presence. Perhaps even more importantly, there’s a ton of seating here now, all nicely done, and even a top-notch bathroom, as well! (NEW YORK DINER, 49-09 Northern Boulevard in Long Island City (718) 626-8857; SHALIMAR DINER, 63-68 Austin Street in Rego Park (718) 544-7724; KELLOGG’S DINER, 518 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg (718) 782-4502.)

BEST

Ethnic Cuisine

Glendale’s ZUM STAMMTISCH cornered the market on the finest (and most fun!) in German cuisine long ago. Their Bratwurst, Knockwurst, and Sauerbraten are just about the best you’re going to find in New York City. And if you don’t try the Veal Cordon Bleu, then you are truly missing out! And despite its humble surroundings, over in Astoria, we absolutely fell in love with a little Bosnian eatery called CEVABDZINICA SARAJEVO. And while it was certainly their Cevapi – grilled beef sausages – which first drew us in, make sure you save room for something sweet, too, like their Tulumba or the has-to-be-tasted-to-be-believed Tufahija, a Baked Apple stuffed with walnut cream! Speaking of humble surroundings, PAHAL ZAN in Forest Hills packs far more flavor into its small little storefront than you might expect just walking by. The Forest Hills lunch crowd knows that any small lines that form are well worth the wait, especially once their Falafel on a Pita comes out, or their Lamb Kabab or Turkey Shawarma. And as you look around, if a side salad maybe strikes your fancy, we highly recommend the Moroccan beet or the Moroccan carrot – or both! (ZUM STAMMTISCH, 69-46 Myrtle Avenue in Glendale (718) 386-3014; CEVABDZINICA SARAJEVO, 37-18 34th Avenue in Astoria (718) 752-9528; PAHAL ZAN, 106-12 71st Avenue in Forest Hills (718) 793-7177.)

BEST

Ambience

One of the first restaurants to help anchor the renaissance of Forest Hills several years ago, is also one of the best: Q - THAI BISTRO, which for years has been providing Queens with some of the best Thai fusion cuisine around – Thom Yum Goong and Thai Beef Salad being two of our favorites. But where the restaurant really stands out is its excellent service, and simple elegance. There is such attention to detail here, you are never going to be disappointed. (And plus, we sure do like that unmistakably large Twister piece on the wall – it gives the place a sense of fun, too!) Over in Kew Gardens, Mo Ahmed and Martin Forde have created an eclectic New American restaurant – Chilean Sea Bass, Braised Ribs, Escargot Risotto, etc. – appropriately named MOOD, but with an ambience that is perfectly appropriate for both a romantic evening or a delightful weekend brunch. (And throw in a flick if you want, because the KEW GARDENS CINEMAS are right nearby!) Over in Brooklyn, regular readers of these pages surely know what fans we are of DE STEFANO’S aka DEE BROOKLYN STEAKHOUSE. Its autumnal color palette is timeless and elegant, and with portraits of film and TV legends adorning the walls, as well as family portraits provided by neighborhood regulars, the restaurant is a celebration of all things Brooklyn and a loving repository for a neighborhood’s traditions. But most importantly, both the service and the food here are absolutely top-tier, and will no doubt get you back here again and again, just as soon as you try it the first time! (Q – THAI BISTRO, 108-25 Ascan Avenue in Forest Hills (718) 261-6599; MOOD, 120-29 83rd Avenue in Kew Gardens (718) 849-6663; DE STEFANO’S aka DEE BROOKLYN STEAKHOUSE, 89 Conselyea Street in Williamsburg (718) 384-2836.)

BEST

Cultural Destinations

Whenever you’re talking Brooklyn, you’re invariably talking history, as well, which is probably the reason the BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY has such tremendous appeal. Of course, its gorgeous Queen Anne-style architecture and proximity to the very best of Brooklyn Heights certainly helps too! Just visit www.BrooklynHistory.org for info about events, collections, etc. regarding all things Brooklyn – the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Brooklyn Bridge, native authors, artists, etc. Over by the site of the 1964 World’s Fair, the QUEENS MUSEUM OF ART, in addition to a multitude of other treasures from the city’s most diverse borough, contains one of the most impressive installations you’ll find at any museum, the Panorama of the City of New York, a 9,335 square foot architectural model that includes all five boroughs, and every single building constructed before 1992 – that’s 895,000 individual structures! And speaking of structures, the MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE in Astoria is undergoing an extensive renovation, one which will even further establish its credentials as one of the city’s top venues for the study of film in all its glory. On-site exhibits like Behind the Screen, for example, showcase more than a thousand film and television artifacts, audio-visual materials, and demonstrations of professional equipment and techniques, all to illuminate the many processes involved in producing, marketing, and exhibiting films of all kinds. (BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 128 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights (718) 222-4111; QUEENS MUSEUM OF ART, New York City Building in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (718) 592-9700; MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE, 36-01 35th Avenue in Astoria (718) 784-4520.)

BEST

Places For Your Kids

One of the few YMCA’s to offer a full slate of sports programs, the LONG ISLAND CITY YMCA, under the stewardship of Program Director Thomas Sylvester, has definitely made a name for itself in terms of youth sports – Basketball, Soccer, Flag Football, Baseball, not to mention the instructional clinics it hosts for kids of all ages looking to learn the fundamentals, or just hone their skills even further. And as far as football goes, you won’t find an organization with a greater dedication to serving the youth of our community than the QUEENS FALCONS, formerly FOREST HILLS FOOTBALL, now in their fiftieth year of doing so. “You supply the commitment, we’ll supply the equipment” is their motto, and definitely one of your first indications that the lessons these coaches are imparting to their kids have a little more to do with life than just the gridiron. And if you’re looking for an exemplary summer program for your young ones, make sure you check out the offerings that make up the SUMMER AT KEW-FOREST. Simply put, you take the very best of one of the finer educational institutions in our area, and then put that pedigree to the test all summer long via courses like Cooking, Martial Arts, Woodworking, Science, Computers, etc. No wonder the program’s so popular! (LONG ISLAND CITY YMCA, 32-23 Queens Boulevard in Long Island City (718) 392-7932; QUEENS FALCONS, 57-10 Mazeau Street in Maspeth (718) 639-6370; SUMMER AT KEW-FOREST, 119-17 Union Turnpike in Forest Hills (718) 268-4667.)

BEST

Service

We’ve long been huge fans of MASPETH DRY CLEANERS II here. Not only do they do great work, and at very reasonable prices, but Debbie and the crew always make certain that they learn the names of each and every one of their customers, a gesture that’s greatly appreciated when you’re looking for a place to care for the most valued of your possessions – your wardrobe! Look, what can we tell you, the banking world’s in chaos, and it hasn’t even begun to get better. That’s why it’s so comforting that there are still a few places that have remained calm and continue to keep up their top-notch customer service and attention to detail. And even though our favorite WASHINGTON MUTUAL branch is now a part of JP MORGAN CHASE, the fact that folks like Magda, Karolina, Ann Marie, Elizabeth and Gwen still maintain their fun, friendly service, and with all the attention to detail we’ve come to expect, it makes what could be a pretty anxious experience a rather pleasurable one. And lastly, they’re actually called service stations, so this shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but we’re pretty big fans here of the guys at K & R TIRE AND AUTO BODY. Not only do you get top-notch automotive expertise here, but a lot of hard-earned wisdom about movies, fine dining, and all our local sports franchises, too. And you sure as heck better be paying attention! (MASPETH DRY CLEANERS II, 71-23 Eliot Avenue in Middle Village (718) 458-8408; WASHINGTON MUTUAL, 69-55 Grand Avenue in Maspeth (718) 335-8636; K&R TIRE AND AUTO BODY, 91-01 Metropolitan Avenue in Rego Park (718) 459-3030.)

Please join us in the coming weeks as we take a look at some of the newer establishments that opened in 2008.
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