There are some great bars in Astoria. Here’s our Top 10!
Welcome to BOAST: Best of Astoria, the essential guide to the best things to eat, drink, do and see in Astoria, Queens.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Astoria resident, Ted Alexandro. Ted has been active in the comedy scene for 15 years. He started out as a music teacher in Boston and has used that experience throughout his career. He talks about teaching, his family and many other anecdotes in his new podcast, A Little Bit Me. Currently, he is on tour opening for Jim Gaffigan. I corresponded with him through e-mail to learn more about this talented Astorian and his new podcast.
Congratulations on 15 years in the comedy scene! I enjoyed listening to your podcast. Why is now the time to launch A Little Bit Me?
I realized what the world needed was another podcast from a comedian. I’d done every other comedian’s podcast and enjoyed doing them. It occurred to me if I started my own, I won’t have to leave the house.
Who should give this a listen?
If you like comedy and/or the life of comedians, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you will still like it.
How did you decide what to focus on in your podcast?
It’s called A Little Bit Me so I knew it would have to be that but I wanted it to be a mix of me talking about life; segments like Cooking with Ted where I talk about my latest attempts in the kitchen, What Are You Watching and Grading My Marriage, as well as segments like The Catch Up where I cold call a comedian friend and catch up. They’re not expecting the call so it’s always interesting to launch into it. But it always winds up being a great conversation because these are people I’ve known and worked with for years.
Which comedians do you have lined up for future segments of The Catch Up?
Whoever is in my phone. It’s basically all spur of the moment, like “Let’s give Jim Gaffigan a try.” I’ve been a comedian for twenty-five years so I know a lot of comedians. I’ve had Jim Gaffigan, Marc Maron, Marina Franklin on the podcast. It really is an opportunity to catch up with friends and broadcast it to the public.
If you could call anyone (not just the fantastic people you already know) for The Catch Up segment of your podcast, who would you pick and why?
Jesus, MLK and Martha Stewart. I think what makes The Catch Up unique is I’m catching up with people I know. But eventually I may branch out beyond comedians.
You’ve toured all over the world with some amazing talent. What is it about Queens that keeps you coming back?
Both NY airports are in Queens, so when I land, I’m home. Most of my family is here or close by and it’s a quick ride to every comedy club in Manhattan so it’s good for work, too. Queens has a diverse, chaotic, dreamlike quality that is very specific. I like it.
Has there ever been any place you’ve visited that you could ever see yourself living? Where and why?
Sometimes I do a gig in a city like Cedar Rapids, Iowa or Tulsa, Oklahoma and I’m like “This place is great. I could probably live here.” Then I get on a plane and fly back to New York.
What are your favorite places to eat or hang out in Astoria?
OK Cafe is a great little coffee shop in Astoria. Ornella is a great little family-owned Italian restaurant with an array of amazing dishes. And Astoria Park is a great little park with an Olympic-size swimming pool. I like little things.
In one episode of your podcast, you called yourself the Comptroller of Astoria and Jon Fisch calls you the president. Would you ever consider running for any office? Local or national. Why?
I just like the word Comptroller. Also Ombudsman. I can’t think of a less appealing job than holding public office. I would much rather tell jokes and do a podcast.
You’ve done such great work for social justice issues. What/who inspires you to take on important issues? What are your current passion projects?
Thanks. I think my parents instilled certain values in me that cultivated a social conscience. I’m inclined to say something when I find something unjust, disturbing or infuriating. Smoothies are my current passion project, sometimes even with passion fruit. I honestly just jump in when I’m inclined to speak on something. It’s not premeditated. It’s best served organic, like passion fruit.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about?
My first comedy special As Much As You Want was just reissued as a 15th Anniversary Edition with bonus material and remastered tracks. People can listen to that and all my comedy albums on all music/comedy streaming platforms.
To find out where you can catch Ted Alexandro next, check out his website: tedalexandro.com.
His new podcast A Little Bit Me is available on iTunes, Stitcher and YouTube.
Here is our list of Top 10 things to do in Astoria!
10. Museum of the Moving Image
9. Ride the ferry to or from the Astoria stop
8. Take in a show at Q.E.D.
7. Games and pool at Break Bar & Billiards
6. Storytelling show at Astoria Bookshop
5. The Noguchi Museum
4. Socrates Sculpture Park
3. Walk along Shore Blvd. by Astoria Park
2. An activity in Astoria Park (tennis, jogging, skateboarding, basketball)
1. Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden during the day in warm weather
Caroline, or Change, which takes place in 1963 but was first performed 15 years ago, has arguably more social relevance today than ever before. Written by Tony Kushner, best known for the play Angels in America, he explores the issues of societal, class, race and religious inequalities that had boiled over in the 60’s and are still fully present today. The story takes place in Lake Charles, Louisiana on the day of JFK’s assassination, an event that captured the attention of an entire country. In the meantime, Caroline (LaDonna Burns), a black maid in the employ of a middle class Jewish family (modeled off Tony Kushner’s own upbringing), is coming to terms with her status as a single mother living off minimum wage while trying to provide the best life she can for her three children Emmie, Jackie and Joe. The show cleverly anthropomorphizes the objects of the laundry room where she spends most of her day: the washer and dryer provide commentary while the radio adds its own set of vocals. The director breaks up the set into two spaces that allow for seamless transition between scenes in the Gellman and Thibodeaux households. The central relationship is between that of Noah Gellman (Sabatino Cruz), who recently lost his mother and has yet to build a relationship with his stepmother Rose, and Caroline Thibodeaux, his no-nonsense maid who allows him to light her cigarette every day. The performers do an excellent job of revealing the depth of feeling between these two disparate characters while allowing the supporting cast members to come into their own during the course of the show. Along with the excellent vocals and performance of our lead actress, other standouts include her friend Dotty (Nattalyee Randall), daughter Emmie (Sharae Moultrie), Rose Stopnick Gellman (Lauren Singerman) and Rose’s father Mr. Stopnick (Gordon Stanley).
While Mr. Stopnick explains how the struggle for societal equality and freedom in America for Jews and Black people are alike, the audience can easily note the income disparity between the two families. In the meantime, Caroline’s daughter Emmie is ready to follow MLK’s example of non-violence to march in demand for change in the US. The actors and director do a beautiful job of portraying a country on the edge of major change and conflict. We can only wonder what these rich characters would have to say about the recent events sweeping this country. With so many salient issues and engrossing story, this show provides a distinctive look back at the last 60 years of change…or not?
Book and lyrics by Tony Kushner
Music by Jeanne Tesori
Directed by Dev Bondarin
May 2 – 25, 2019
Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm
Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens
21-12 30th Rd @ 21st St, Entrance on 30th Rd.
Tickets and Info:
We’re introducing a new feature called Top 10. Here, we give our Top 10 places in Astoria to get dessert! Have feedback? Let us know in the comments.
10. Sanfords Restaurant
9. Victory Sweet Shop
8. Rose & Joe’s Italian Bakery
7. Parisi Bakery
6. Il Fornaio Bakery Cafe
3. Bonjour Crepes & Wine
2. Martha’s Country Bakery
1. Ample Hills Creamery
By Lisa Huberman
Early in April, I sat down with Mike Giordano and Nick Mitch, who just opened up a comic book shop on Broadway in Astoria. Below are some excerpts from that conversation.
Lisa: What made you decide to open up a comic shop in Astoria?
Mike: Well, we come from Forest Hills—we’re established there about 25 years. And Nick, local to Astoria approached me and said he’s tired of spending three hours to come see us over at Forest Hills, and he said maybe we’ll give it a go over here. Found us a reasonable place—Nick, whatya gotta say?
Nick: That’s kinda how it went. I was tired of going out to Forest Hills—and more importantly was that there were so many days that I wanted to go to Forest Hills, go to the shop, and I just couldn’t get there. And then I’d look at my watch and it’d be six o’clock or whatever, and I knew they were closing—it is, it’s three hours. You know, a half hour there, a half hour back, and then at least an hour or two in the store. And it would take up a whole afternoon.
And there was nothing around here, or close to here that resembled anything like Royal Collectibles Forest Hills. The people—not just the products—the people. The products in the store you can get online, there’s a million places you can do this. But the interaction with the people—his entire staff there, it’s a family. You feel it. You feel that vibe. You ask a question, they help you. They’re honest. I’ve been around a long time—I’ve been in this game for years—go back to beanie babies and cabbage patch kids. It’s very rare you find honest, truly honest dealers. Honest people. Everyone’s out for a quick buck in the moment—and I’ve seen it in all kinds of collectibles. And I’ve never felt that at Royal Collectibles with Forest Hills. I always felt that I got a fair deal, if not a good deal. I felt that I always walked away with some information that I didn’t know going in.
I said to Mike, just in conversation—if you ever think about expanding Royal’s name, why don’t you come closer to us—come west! And go to like Astoria or Long Island City, or whatever. And he just kind of said, “yeah,” and then a few months later, he said to me—“would you be interested?” And I said, “Well, yeah—yeah, okay.” A friend—another friend of ours—another person, who’s not here, Joe, between Joe and I we have a massive collection of vintage comic books and toys that you see here—and he said “Yeah, you know—why not?” I’m 55 years old—why not try a new adventure? Something different in life?
So what made you decide that a comic book shop in 2019 was the right move for Astoria? Because I know I’ve been reading about comic book shops closing all over the city—why did you think this was a smart decision, especially for Astoria, for now?
Nick: I’m gonna start, and then you can finish it. On the start that we have enough gourmet delis, we have enough coffee shops, we have enough cafes, we have enough hookah bars—we needed something different. And you’re right: a lot of places are closing, and it’s scary as hell—and I can tell you how many sleepless nights I have had, and how many nightmares I’ve woken to. And the fear that’s existed—however, with the support of some very close friends, and with the support of Mike, and his staff, this was a good time to do it—while it may seem you know economy-wise, things are crazy—you know worried about jobs or whatever and collectibles and toys and comics—people still need their escapes. They still need their entertainment. They still need to live their fantasy life, which we all live—I do too. I have my particular things I like. So while it’s risky—and trust me, it is risky, and it is scary—on the other side of it, there’s still a need for it. People still want—we get people who walk by the store and you can hear them with the door open saying, “Wow! A comic book shop opened! We gotta go in!” I’ve had people come and say, “I just wanted to step in for a minute, I gotta run, but I’ll be back—we’re so glad that you opened.” And so when you get that kind of return—you did something right. I’ll leave it to you.
Mike: Yeah, it’s what Nick said—it’s escapism, it’s enjoyment. It’s a little break from the everyday. Everyone works hard—and they get some enjoyment out of these stories of these characters. Or whatever it is, whether they’re collecting—Funko Pops and action figures—it’s a little respite from all the rest. Whether the economy’s doing well or not, good times and bad, people still need the ability to just kind of check out and enjoy themselves I think. (more…)
Walking into Lisa Eskenazi’s studio, Simply Fit Astoria, can feel like a transformative experience. Her Dance Cardio class hardly feels like a workout, aside from the profuse sweating. Old friends greet each other with hugs followed by fifty-five minutes of feeling like your best self while dancing to hip hop beats and current pop hits. Eskenazi keeps everyone pumped, squealing with whoooos. Her classes are so captivating that attendees have been known to come from other boroughs to experience some of the magic.
Eskenazi is a petite woman with a lot of energy. These days, she is carrying some extra weight. Her first baby, a girl, is due in August. And she is determined to keep teaching as long as she can.
She developed a following in the neighborhood, having been a local fitness instructor since 2006 with a start in Pilates and Dance Cardio classes. She recognized the increasing demand for an elevated level of experience and attention to detail.
“I wanted to offer a variety of classes on the schedule and really create a community-based atmosphere, which is how I came up with the concept for Simply Fit Astoria,” she said.
Since opening their doors in early 2011, Simply Fit Astoria has continued to flourish. After just one year, they outgrew their original space and moved down the road to Astoria Boulevard near the busy Steinway Street stretch. The studio expanded again in 2014 with Simply Cycle (and Chrono power spin bikes). Eskenazi oversees the 4000 square foot facility and twenty staff members. She also teaches many of the classes, such as PiYo, a fusion of Pilates and Yoga.
Also on offer are Rhythm Cycle (similar to Soul Cycle) and Sculpt Cycle, which incorporates light weight training for an upper body workout. Cycle classes include complimentary use of spin shoes and a towel. The locker room is co-ed. Studios are dimly lit. There is a strict no lateness policy. They offer private personal training and small group training.
– Briyah Paley
This weekend, we ventured to The Royal Underground on 30th Ave (between 36th and 37th St) which opened in the former William Hallet location back in November. We initially contacted the restaurant via Facebook to get the brunch menu and inquire about making a reservation. We were pleasantly surprised to receive an immediate, helpful response, and looked forward to our visit all week.
Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by one of the owners, Jimmy, who gave us a choice of seating and happily told us about his involvement in opening this new restaurant. Making our way inside, we noticed ornamental lamps, an intricately detailed ceiling, royal blue accent walls, and a beautiful hand-painted mural in the back (there’s also one in the bathroom). We were getting a French bistro-esque vibe, which is also reflected in some of the items on the menu.
We were soon introduced to another owner, Gary. Both Jimmy and Gary are from Astoria and have previous ties to other Astoria restaurants. Jimmy explained that this time around, his goal was to open a restaurant serving “Manhattan dishes with Astoria prices.” Jimmy, a former fireman, says he feels at home in his local digs and treats his restaurant and customers like family, just as he did at his old fire station. Looking around the restaurant, you will find Jimmy introducing himself to every customer. He is just that friendly guy you want to pal around with.
We ordered brunch entrees ($17) which each included a choice of coffee/tea and juice/alcoholic beverage. We opted for a glass of pineapple juice, a traditional orange juice mimosa, and a pineapple juice mimosa. You could also choose a cranberry juice mimosa, a Bloody Mary, and a MAN-Mosa, which we learned is beer (instead of champagne) mixed in orange juice. We really enjoyed all of our food choices: Vegetable Frittata (mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, red bell peppers), Grits & Eggs (two fried eggs sunny side up, cheese grits, shitake mushrooms, asparagus), Old Fashioned French Toast (bread pudding, orange zest and bourbon whipped cream), and The Queen’s Burger (beef short rib, aged white cheddar, fried egg, pomme frites). The frittata and burger were accompanied with a side salad topped with very tasty dressing. The Queen’s Burger was a definite standout—really juicy and delicious. The sunny side up egg on top was a perfect addition, and we were grateful for Jimmy’s advice: break the egg before taking a bite, to avoid making a mess. The grits of the Grits & Eggs were fluffy and different from southern style grits you may already be family with. Combined with the vegetables and dripping yolk from the egg, it was definitely an overall win for a brunch dish. Lastly, The French Toast was light, airy, flavorful and definitely one of the best tasting French Toasts we’ve ever had.
As we made our way through our tasty brunch, the place was getting more crowded, but it was still never too noisy, which was nice. We left feeling satisfied and not too overstuffed which goes to show the food was delicious without being too heavy! Before leaving, Jimmy showed us the dinner menu, pics of some of the dinner items, and their cocktail menu with creative drinks named after songs (Grounds for Divorce, Some Like It Hot), so needless to say, we can’t wait to return for an evening visit sometime soon!
–Rachelle and Jamie
The Bitch Seat 5th Anniversary Show is Sunday, March 24, 8:30pm at QED, and you can read all about it here on the Happening page. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door, but if you comment by Sunday, March 17, you will be entered into a raffle to win two tickets to the show!
The BOAST: Best of Astoria Winter Party 2019 is in the books, and we had a great time. The party was to celebrate the 2018 BOAST: Best of Astoria winners, so we congratulate all of them again. (Here is a PDF graphic of all the winners in half letter size.) Thank you to everyone who came to the party. Special thanks goes out to the people at Oliver’s Astoria, who were wonderful hosts. The space was great for this event, and we really liked the food! A thank you goes to Dan Rauchwerk Music and Courtney on the cello for providing the beautiful live music. And a thank you to the businesses who donated prizes for the raffle: Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, The Wolfhound, Astoria Park Alliance, Astoria Performing Arts Center, MoMA PS1, Break Bar & Billiards, Redken Saloon, and OK Cafe Astoria. We had a great time, and hope everyone who came did too!