New York City certainly has its famed brunch destinations: The sidewalk cafes of Hudson Street in the West Village come to mind, and so do the more eclectic Amsterdam Avenue brunch spots on the Upper West Side. But over the last few years, a hot new destination has emerged in Astoria, Queens along 30th Avenue.
The underpinnings were certainly there, with an increasingly diverse population of young residents, plenty of large corner restaurant spaces with outdoor seating, and what must be cheaper rents than many other well-traveled and easily accessible parts of town.
Bracketed by the 30th Avenue stop on the N and the Steinway station on the R, this eight-block stretch buzzes with activity on Sunday afternoons. Among 20 or so candidates, we found a wide range of cuisines, plenty of seating so that you could arrive any time and be assured of a table, and the usual brunch cocktails and other drink specials at reduced prices. And yes, some of the places have goofy names. Following is a report, running from west to east.
Salt & Bone Smokehouse
This newly arrived barbecue is a welcome addition to the 30th Avenue food scene, occupying a flatiron-shaped structure with plenty of outdoor seating on three streets, much of it inside a corral. The wood-smoked brisket is on the money and so is the fine-textured beef sausage, as good as any in Texas. Sides are creative (sometimes a little too creative), and main course oddities run to a Philly cheesesteak sandwich made with smoked brisket and barbecue tacos. Fourteen craft brews on tap, lots of invented cocktails. 32-07 30th Avenue, 917-832-7819
Decorated with neon amphorae and boasting outdoor seating on two sides, this Greek restaurant has adapted to brunch mania by turning classic dishes to brunch usages. Thus there’s a wonderful entrée called baklava pancakes that stacks whole wheat pancakes with layers of ground walnuts on top and in between, with a pot of honey on the side. Other choices include lahmatzoon (eastern Mediterranean pizza) with an egg on top, pita BLT, a beet omelet, and all the usual bread dips. Free bloody mary or mimosa with brunch entrée. 34-01 30th Avenue, 718-721-7217
Shady Lady is a place to nurse a hangover — or get one started, with 90-minute, bottomless brunch cocktails on Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays. You read that right: It’s Friday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., as well as standard weekend hours starting at 10 a.m. Popular dishes include chicken and waffles, eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, and the back-to-bed mac ‘n cheese — exceptionally gooey with an egg on top. 34-19 30th Avenue, 718-440-9081
The premises at The Grand is nothing short of grand, a high-ceilinged corner space with plenty of shaded outdoor seating among potted plants, and a range of tables indoors, some of it semi-private. The food is showy but only adequate. Eggs benedict came with a chalky hollandaise (though the tater tots were perfect), while the yellow beet salad was mainly arugula. Stick with the breakfast pastries. Cocktails, though, are a strong point, such as long day’s work — featuring mezcal, ancho verde chiles, and lime juice sweetened with agave syrup. 37-01 30th Avenue, 718-777-7321
Occupying a newer and glitzier space with more outdoor seating across the street from its former digs, Sugar Freak is Astoria’s improbable NOLA-themed restaurant. Why improbable? The Cajun/Creole food is actually excellent, from an oyster po’ boy featuring freshly shucked and crisply fried bivalves, to a chicken-and-sausage gumbo that benefits from plenty of andouille and a very dark roux. If you like brunch with a carnival atmosphere, this is your place. Drinks menu runs from Abita beer to classic cocktails like the hurricane. 37-11 30th Avenue, 718-606-1900
Flo is all about the nice weather, with the doors thrown open and plenty of seating al fresco. The average wait is about 30 minutes at peak, but there’s plenty of room at the expansive bar. The standard order $17.95 for a plate — variations on Benedict, chicken and waffles, steak and eggs — a cocktail, and bottomless coffee. This place also has the 90 minute all-you-can-drink brunch option for $16 a person. 37-20 30th Avenue, 718-204-6096