Like Alice’s rabbit-hole, Jack’s beanstalk, or Huck Finn’s time-travelling river-raft, Grotto is an easy-to-miss gateway to a magical, otherworldly realm. A low-lying neon sign and a short descending staircase are all that mark the cozy eatery from the outside. But inside, a wonderland of refined continental furnishings unfolds in three distinct regions. A bar and intimate, candlelit leather-booth seating face each other between exposed brick walls immediately past the entryway, and in another section, navy wainscoting with porthole-shaped flourishes recall the dining hall on a turn-of-the-century cruise. On the patio out back, vines, fronds, and ferns clamber over a playground of trestles, offering a distinctly Mediterranean ambiance. In the words of Time Out New York, this “hidden subterranean spot” is “worth seeking out,” and the menu, “much like everything else about this place, provides a bounty of unexpected gifts.”
Originally from Munich, proprietor David Wiesner developed a love for Mediterranean culture and cuisine over the course of many summers in southern Italy. Along with co-owner (and German television host) Steven Gätjen, he updates the inspired menu on a regular basis. Offerings have included fragrant buffalo mozzarella, organic Cornish hen in a spicy balsamic reduction, and pumpkin ravioli. Additionally, the use of the finest ingredients paired with an immaculate sense of presentation and a romantic setting make Grotto an excellent choice for a first date.
Despite our shared history and ocean coasts, there are a lot of English foods that sound more foreign to American ears than even the traditional dishes of India, Mexico, and Japan. But at ChipShop, guests can finally taste English favorites such as bangers and mash, treacle pudding, and steak-and-kidney pie with a side of chips. The chefs separate their menu into three broad categories—different styles of fish ‘n’ chips, varieties of shepherd’s pies, and puddings—with each dish showing off regional flavors, such as the Welsh rarebits or Scotch egg salads. Guests can eat their fill in the English-themed pub, or take the food to go to experience the culture of both New York and England at once without convincing the Statue of Liberty to accompany you to London.
Radiant red walls, ornate topiaries, and a sparkling chandelier dot one of the dining rooms at Kings' Carriage House, where patrons sip infusions of chamomile or Darjeeling tea while noshing finger sandwiches and pastries. With other rooms adorning collections of antique china and a mural of the Irish countryside, the Mandalay, Hunt, and Willow rooms accommodate up to 32 guests for afternoon tea, an evening meal by candlelight, or a Billy Joel look-alike competition. The table d'hote menus feature seasonal dishes such as wild-mushroom bisque and rack of venison, culling ingredients and organic produce from local markets. Desserts sweeten evenings with dark Belgian chocolate cake, stilton cheese and fruit tartlettes, before a glass of port caps off nights.
Proprietors Elizabeth King and Paul Farrell designed Kings' Carriage House's two stories to recreate the country charm of a European manor within an urban setting. The interior heralds times past with elegant décor such as antique furnishings, crimson tablecloths, and gilded paintings of heralds announcing the present.
There are many good places to people-watch at Kaydara Noodle Bar—at the circular bar or near the windows that overlook Main Street or even near the open kitchen where chefs prepare Southeast Asian noodle dishes in bowls of broth and simmering stir fries. Vietnamese pho is served hot enough to cook thin slices of raw beef, and udon and crispy egg noodles arrive mixed with your choice of meat. Tofu is typically an option, too, as the menu makes many efforts to accommodate vegans and vegetarians. Daily features have included vegan pho, and there's always a vegetable side of the day.
Aside from noodles, Kaydara serves a variety of small and large plates. Potstickers stuffed with potatoes, goat cheese, and Chinese vinegar can preface entrees of beef tenderloin with sweet chili butter, or spicy black-bean pork riblets. To balance out the piquant flavors, try sipping on a house-made pear and lychee soda or licking one of the wall's more calming paintings by local artists, each one available for sale.
Melon Bean Eatery offers a menu full of salads, sandwiches, and java-injected beverages, plus a neatly delineated space in which families can bond at the same table or thrive in age-specific restaurant nooks. Kids hoping to fuel up on healthy fare before returning to their dissertation on primitive recursive arithmetic can grab a tuna, turkey, or ham crustless sandwich (each $4) from the kids' menu. Parents, meanwhile, can nosh on items as diverse as the hummus-pepper wrap ($6.75), replete with roasted red peppers and pepper-jack cheese; the sliced-turkey-and-spinach-stacked Jenna panini ($5.85); or the Vidalia-dressed, feta-dotted spinach salad ($7.99). Light breakfast fare is also available, with coffee curated by Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters, a local bringer of bean bliss.
Neir's Tavern isn't so much a bar as it is a monument to pop culture. Since opening in 1829—which, by the way, makes it the oldest bar in Queens and one of the oldest in the country—Neir's has seen a lot. Mae West gave one of her first performances on their stage (she used to live just a few blocks away); W.C. Fields frequently stopped in for a drink; and several scenes from Goodfellas were shot here (including the Christmas scene). But considering it's tucked away on a quiet residential corner in Woodhaven, it's not surprising that PBS once referred to it as "the most famous bar you've never heard of."
In respect to its own storied history, not a lot has changed about Neir's over the years. Behind its refinished, 150-year-old bar is a century-old beer system with lines packed in ice rather than chilled with electricity. The menu showcases cocktails prepared just as they were 100 years ago, including a Colden's Cough Syrup blended with bourbon and seltzer. There are steak-house favorites served nightly as well, including juicy T-bone Steak, Norwegian salmon filets, and, of course, a Goodfellas burger with coleslaw. Even though it clings to its historic past, Neir's continues to look to the future with modern upgrades, including a back room equipped with a performance stage, a 65-inch projection screen, and a sound system that speaks in binary.