Foodie Alert: Starting October 12, more than two dozen restaurants in Astoria, Queens will participate in the 30th Avenue Restaurant Week, offering specials and discounts. The event, which runs until October 20, promotes the varied eateries along 30th Avenue, which has become a magnet for food lovers from Queens and beyond.
This year’s Restaurant Week is the second annual installment of a gastronomic celebration that is the brainchild of Frank Arcabascio, president of the 30th Avenue Business Association. Though not a restaurateur himself, Arcabascio is a local businessman who owns the Redken Saloon Salon at 36-17 30th Avenue. He told DNAinfo NY that he came up with the 30th Avenue Restaurant Week as a way to publicize the busy Queens corridor as a destination for foodies.
"30th Avenue has been known as a restaurant street, and it's getting more and more competitive, and more companies are coming in," he said.
The street boasts a rich array of restaurants offering food from around the world, not surprising given the extraordinary ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of Astoria, and the borough of Queens in general. Hungry visitors can sample Greek, Italian, Japanese, German, Thai, Indian, Colombian, Mexican, Middle Eastern and other cuisines, in restaurants on 30th Avenue from 21st to 49th streets.
For this year’s Restaurant Week, Arcabascio said the 30th Avenue Business Association encouraged restaurants to avoid offering prix fixe menus (although some participating establishments will offer them) and to instead offer deals that highlight their best menu offerings.
"Give us a taste of your favorite thing in your restaurant," Arcabascio said. "We're trying to get people to just give us the flavor of their place."
Arcabascio says that Restaurant Week not only benefits restaurants; it has a spillover effect, bringing customers into other business establishments on the avenue. "This particular project rises the tide for everybody," he observed.
With that in mind, visitors might want to not only eat but shop for edibles when they come to 30th Avenue for Restaurant Week. The strip boasts a number of food markets with high quality fare at prices generally much lower than in Manhattan.
There are excellent produce markets, like United Brothers Fruit (3224 30th Ave.) which, its name notwithstanding, sells far more than fruits. Besides the familiar vegetables one expects to see in supermarkets, the market stocks items to satisfy the culinary needs of Astoria’s immigrant populations, everything from Sicilian eggplants to Indian water spinach.
Seafood lovers will want to check out Ocean Fish Market (3508 30th Ave.) for its wide selection of local and imported fish and shellfish. A sign inside the store advertises “European seafood,” and these Old World imports include stoccofisso, the dried, board-like strips of stockfish beloved by Italians, as well as baccala (dried cod), Portuguese sardines, Greek barbounia (mullets), and tiny vongole (clams). And shoppers won’t experience the sticker shock that’s a common experience of buying seafood in Manhattan markets, as prices are very reasonable.
Lidia Bastianich, the renowned Italian food authority, cookbook author and restaurateur, began her career working in an Astoria bakery and still shops in 30th Avenue markets. One of her favorite places is Dave and Tony’s Salumeria (3508 30th Ave.). The store, though small, is packed with imported Italian specialties – regular and whole wheat pastas; risotto rice and other grains, like farro; imported olive oil and vinegar; Sicilian anchovies packed in salt; canned plum tomatoes, including the prized San Marzano variety; wonderfully fresh cheeses, including parmigiano, percorino, ricotta, provolone and mozzarella; excellent olives, including black Gaeta and large green Sicilian, and high-quality cured meats – prosciutto, mortadella, salami, capicola, sopressata and speck. And if you want to practice your Italian, this is the place, as the owner and staff speak the language.
For bread and pastries, there’s Frank’s Bakery (3602 30th Ave.), an old school Sicilian place that’s another of Bastianich’s favorites. Its best offerings are the Italian breads, the grissini (breadsticks), both plain and with sesame seeds, and the biscotti.
So, regardless of your gastronomic preferences, there’s pretty much something for everyone on Astoria’s 30th Avenue, whether you’re sitting down for a meal at one of the Restaurant Week eateries or checking out the offerings in the avenue’s many shops. All year round, 30th Avenue is a culinary adventure.