festivals and events
raves and reviews
the sweet scoop
the sweet scoop
On Tuesday, the Village Voice’s sixth annual Choice Eats tasting event took over the 69th Armory on Lexington Avenue. The highly anticipated affair featured Voice food critic Robert Sietsema’s culinary favorites from more than 50 handpicked restaurants spanning the five boroughs, along with beverage pairings from craft beer, wine and spirits producers.
As if all this wasn’t enough, VIP guests were invited inside a full hour before general admission for a live culinary demo from City Grit’s Sarah McSimmons and offerings from a dozen local restos including Pig and Khao, Qi Thai Grill and Exchange Alley. VIPs also indulged in the exclusive “Choice Sweets” dessert lounge featuring confections from Butter Lane, Grandaisy Bakery, Ovenly, and more.
A few of the night’s many standouts included Anella’s velvety handmade burrata with tomato jam and basil salt, fresh seasoned shrimp rolls from both Luke’s Lobster and Red Hook Lobster Pound, tangy buffalo chicken balls from The Meatball Shop, Porchetta’s savory crackling-topped pork crostini, John Brown Smokehouse’s succulent pastrami sliders with sweet ‘n’ tangy slaw, moist red velvet squares from Carlo’s Bakery, and perfectly indulgent fudge brownies from Robicelli’s. A selection of suds from Blue Point Brewing Company, Lagunitas and Stella Artois, along with creative cocktails mixed with Sidney Frank spirits and Prairie Organic Vodka, helped wash it all down.
Whether you prefer savory, sweet, spicy, ethnic, Americana, inventive, classic, vegetarian or carnivorous, Choice Eats aims to please any palate. And with a surprisingly reasonable ticket price point, the bang-for-your-buck appeal is just another reason to attend the eating extravaganza next year.
Before a few years ago, I admittedly didn’t know too much about Astoria. Sure, I had ventured outside Manhattan a few times to guzzle down steins at the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden and sought out authentic Greek cuisine on 30th Avenue once, but that was the extent of my experience in the Queens neighborhood.
Oh, how the times have changed, and my horizons—both cultural and geographical—have expanded tenfold over the past several years. Astoria is easily one of my five borough favorites now. Just a stone’s throw East of Manhattan, this accessible culture-rich community is known for its lively restaurant scene and decades of deep historical roots.
The recent buzz surrounding last week’s much anticipated opening of The Astor Room gave New Yorkers a true taste of Astoria’s abundant history. Located beneath legendary Kaufman Astoria Studios (previously Paramount Studios, known in the early 1920’s as the epi-center of the glamorous motion picture industry), this speakeasy-style supper club was formerly a commissary for silver screen actors. Famous faces of film, such as the Marx Brothers, Rudolph Valentino, the Gish sisters and W.C. Fields, dined in the very same spot decades ago.
As a serious cupcake fanatic, I’ve been on the hunt to find a good bakery that makes a mean red velvet (often my flavor of choice) in my new Astoria neighborhood. While Magnolia and Buttercup are certainly worth a MetroCard swipe and traveling a few subway stops to get to, I hoped to find a place closer to home to satisfy my oh-too-often cupcake cravings.
To my delight, I stumbled upon Martha’s Country Bakery. In 1972, the original Martha’s opened in Hell’s Kitchen (ironically, not too far from my old apartment) and has since relocated to the Ditmars area of Astoria, with two additional locations in Forest Hills and Bayside. What I thought would be a typical bakery was so much more—at 10pm on a weeknight, this bustling bakeshop was packed with people enjoying sweet treats and cappuccinos in a host-serviced outdoor seating area. The adorable interior had a warm, inviting atmosphere and an open kitchen, gelato case, full-service coffee bar and enormous display of freshly made cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pastries, pies, tarts, breads and more.
I was tentative to try Martha’s at first, since I’ve had my fair share of serious cupcake disappointments—luckily for me, the baked goods and cupcakes that I’ve polished off from Martha’s have all been scrumptious and I love the atmosphere too. I finally found my new favorite bakery in Astoria!
Martha’s Country Bakery is at 36-21 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria, NY 11105