Gramercy Tavern's Miroslav Uskokovic Shares His Favorite Astoria Eats
When Miroslav Uskokovic, the head pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern, moved to Astoria in 2009, he felt right at home. The Serbian native found comfort in everything from the grocery stores to pastry shops that carried the familiar flavors of home. But Uskokovic also discovered the diversity of Astoria and loves the ethnic melting pot. As he puts it, "I try to eat in Queens a lot. Everyone comes to Manhattan. Why not support your local places? People underestimate Queens. In Brooklyn, they're younger and willing to advertise themselves. In Queens, they're just more interested in doing a better business and not always promoting themselves." Here are some of Uskokovic's favorites.
Pizza: They have a very, very good pizza at Sac's Place. Unfortunately, they don't deliver to my home. You can come a grab a slice or have a proper meal. It's the standard flavors; I usually get a pepperoni or cheese, but I don't really care about toppings. I think their dough is very thin, crispy. If the dough isn't thin and crispy, the pizza isn't going to be good.
Burger: Shake Shack is good, but Bareburger is my favorite of all time (and there's one near me). I get the Mediterranean with lamb on the multigrain bun. You must get their onion rings with their curry mustard. I usually don't always order the same thing, but I do here.
Bakery: Astoria is full of bakeries. You can find them on every corner. The most famous bread bakery is probably Parisi on Broadway. It's good bread. I don't really buy a lot of bread in Astoria but if I go, I'd head here. At Euro Market there is really good pita bread. Someone makes it for them in Astoria, but they won't say. It has no label on it.
Breakfast: Oh my god, yes. They're Bosnians at Djerdan Burek. We have this pastry where I come from similar to spanakopita—like a phyllo dough with different fillings. Cheese, meats, potatoes. They'll roll it in a spiral or layered like a pie in a triangle. I usually get a triangle there with yogurt. Burek it's called. I get a side of ketchup—I know that sounds disgusting. Djerdan also has hands-down the best yogurt. It's a plain drinkable yogurt called kefir and it's creamy, fatty, tart, and delicious. I think it's made with heavy cream but I can't say for sure. I really wonder what they do to make it so nice.
Wine: I recently discovered Mezze Place. The mezzes are like tapas. They have a good selection of wine and beers. It's good a place to meet with friends, get small bites. They have great specials of the day. I've been a wine drinker for a long time, but I've been drinking more beer lately. When I was at Mezze, they had this great beer. It was barrel-aged beer.
Sandwich: There's this place called Il Bambino. It's an Italian restaurant that specializes in sandwiches. It's good to get a sandwich and a soup. I think they've grown in popularity in recent times.
Croatian: There is Croatian food at Istria Sports Club but you wouldn't think it. It focuses on seafood and pasta and tastes Mediterranean and Italian-ish. When we there last time, we had branzino. They had a good dessert, too. You can also get cevapcici there, which are like little sausages. They're usually made from beef and pork and they're very delicious. There's a good selection of prosciutto and cheese, too. The menu isn't large, though.
Greek: BZ Grill. They have really good gyros made with real, fresh meat. There's pork and chicken, crispy and smoky and perfectly cooked. I usually opt for the chicken and get a side of Greek fries with feta and oregano on top. It's one of those quick dinner places.
Barbecue: I haven't eaten much barbecue in my life. The chef at Butcher Bar is from Texas. It's really good. They have smoked beef burnt ends, and their ribs are good, they're fall-off-the-bone. There are spice-rubbed and sauce-topped ribs; I prefer the latter. I always get the ribs and the amazing beans. I'm not accustomed to sweet and savory but I've learned to tolerate it when it comes to barbecue. I don't know what they do it to make it so good.
Thai: Arharn Thai has this specialty of crispy duck with different sauces. It's so crispy. Even if it's in sauce for half an hour, it's still crispy. We usually go for the sour and spicy sauce. They also have a red snapper in the same sauce that's good. We always get karee puffs, too. I think it's a very good Thai place, equally as good as Sripraphai or Chao Thai and you don't have to wait an hour. It's Michelin recommended and Zagat rated.
Venezuelan: In my personal opinion, Arepas Cafe has the best arepas we can get in New York. The Mami we always get, it's roasted pork with cheese and avocado. The Reina I think they add mayo to guacamole with chicken in it. You must get their passion fruit juice. They have this thing called chicha. I think it's a very thick rice drink. It's very creamy with lots of cinnamon.
Egyptian: Mombar is amazing. As soon as you walk into this restaurant you feel like you're in Egypt. I think the chef is into art as well since it's decorated in a unique style. They have this bread that's very flaky, it has like a gazillion layers. The dips are really good. I like the fava bean dip, and my favorite are lamb cheeks. It's ground lamb cheeks and he comes tableside, and he cracks an egg on top and mixes it in front of you. The service is a bit slow because it's just him and one other person it seems like. You will hear mixed reviews I think, but I think it's because of the wait. But it's worth the wait.
Mexican: The neighborhood is also very Latino. Homemade Taqueria is like a traditional Mexican restaurant. I think tortas are their best thing; my favorite is the Espanola. It's made with chorizo, egg, and white cheese. Another more contemporary place is called Pachanga Patterson. It's a restaurant/bar, and they have good drinks. They have a very small menu, but it's very good. The fish tacos are amazing. They have an Asian-Mexican fusion dish called Moo Shu Duck. It's a duck taco with hoisin, radish, Sriracha. They're very welcoming and very nice.
Takeout: Seva is very good. It's very spicy. It's actually dangerously spicy, but I love it. They have these lamb spring rolls I always get and the vindaloo is great. Even though I live quite far from them, they deliver, good for those stay-at-home-in-bed-and-watch-TV nights. The dessert options are very good, such as the deep fried milk dumpling. The food isn't consistent but if it's your lucky day, you'll get a great meal.
Sweets: Gulluoglu is the New York City version of a Turkish place, I think. I don't go there for baklava, I go there for baked rice pudding. It's out of this world. Rice pudding is my favorite of all time. I think they cook the rice pudding and then put it under the broiler. Cold or hot, it's amazing. What makes it perfect is the rice is cooked just enough, it's very creamy but not too thick, the crust gives you a nice contrast in texture and a little caramel. I think they may just flavor it with vanilla extract. It's a very nice dish.
Date Night: Older people who want a proper dinner should go to Taverna Kyclades. It's a long wait but it's outstanding seafood, especially the grilled seafood. What I think they do best there is dessert. The galaktoboureko is like a custard-filled pie. I think it's soaked in orange blossom water. Many people make them in Astoria, but this is hands down the best. For younger people there is a ramen shop Hinomaru. It's like a hip Japanese ramen place. I've been there four or five times. It's intimate. I like the curry ramens. The Ditmars part of Astoria is more for dates. It's more calm and relaxed. You can take a walk around the neighborhood.