Friday, December 04, 2009

Have Hunger, Will Travel

A few weeks ago, a good buddy of mine invited me to join him and his friend from high school on a low-budget culinary bike tour of Queens. I jumped at the chance (eating and biking are easily two of my top-5 favorite ways to spend a day) and, with another mutual friend, we met in Astoria for one of the most memorable evenings I've had in New York City.

Our tour guide, whose business card is above, knows the city as well as anyone I've met. A born-and-raised New Yorker with a wealth of commercial tour guide experience, as well as a general love of food and an inexpensive good time, he plotted us a 10 mile route with no fewer than 8 stops for one-of-a-kind ethnic grub. He's got a name for this budding business -- Historically Hungry Tours -- and though this first one was on the house, I'd gladly pay to have him take me and some out-of-towners around again.

We kicked things off at 30th and Broadway in Astoria with a kebab, shwarma, and falafel plate from the King of Falafel and Shwarma cart, recent Vendy finalists who make a mean pile of food. Fortified for our journey, we rode a few blocks for an early dessert of galaktoboureko, a fluffy Greek custard baked in filo dough and drizzled with lemon syrup. From there, we stopped at Rizzo's Fine Pizza, a Queens institution that makes all the "best of" lists, and then kept the Italian theme alive at an old-time deli under the last N-train stop with everything from the old country, including a fried rice ball with a minced-meat center. We finished our round of Astoria with a pitcher at the Bohemian Beer Hall and Garden as the sun was setting.

That line-up would have been enough for most people, but our fearless leader was just getting started, and we rolled over to Pio Pio, on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, for a massive order (the "small") of Peruvian fried seafood slathered in marinated onions and served with a potent, brandy-heavy sangria. We got the whole order to go, including the pitcher of sangria, which was served in three pint-sized deli cartons with straws in them, and devoured it like a pack of wolves on a bench outside. From there, we headed south to a taco truck under the 7 Train (lengua, anyone?) and a quick bite of Pandebono at a Colombian bakery (I grabbed some to go for the lady) before entering Elmhurst to find our penultimate stop, hand-drawn noodles.

For those who have never seen noodles drawn by hand, it is INCREDIBLE. Maybe it was the sangria, but I gawked like a kid at FAO Schwartz while the chef made batch after batch, one of which went directly into our order of soup. Finally, we embarked on the last leg of our journey, which took us to Rego Park's Cheburechnaya for the evening's prize: Bukharian food. Equal parts Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and East Asian, the dishes were fantastic and far too big for our already-stuffed stomachs. We gave it our best shot, but in the end, we surrendered, took a bunch of it to go, and headed home very, very satisfied.

So the next time your folks or friends are in for a day and you need something to keep busy with, forget the Rockettes or the open-topped buses--grab a bike and call this guy. He knows Brooklyn as well as Queens, so he could take you through the best fare our borough has to offer, and to places you'd never find otherwise.

One final, unrelated note (because if you read this far, why stop now?): One of our foursome asked to borrow a bike. When he showed up, he took hold of the handlebars with a wary, confused look and said "I'm a bit rusty." It quickly became clear that, in fact, he had never ridden a bicycle in his life. Since there wasn't anything else to do, he took a few shaky spins around the parking lot at 30th and Broadway, and then just jumped into it.

The result was a comic disaster--he crashed into everything. EVERYTHING. He hit parked cars, moving cars, us, other bikers, and a delivery guy on a moped. He tried riding on the sidewalk and hit pedestrians, parking meters, and buildings. He ran clean into a stoplight pole and nearly got himself run over by a city bus (which he promptly hit). He crashed through shrubbery,and into trees, over curbs and into potholes, and responded to every single impact with the same grunted obscenities and resolute look as he clambered back onto his loaner bike. It would have been a lot less funny if he had actually hurt anyone or damaged anything (he did manage to get one driver out of his car and screaming at us after he hit it, but he didn't leave any marks), but as was, he never got going fast enough to be a danger to anyone besides himself. Several scuffs and bumps later, he was an experienced NYC cyclist.


  1. This looks awesome -- thanks for the tip! Just wanted to say that I laughed when reading your last paragraph (One final, unrelated note...) because in it you use a ) and then a : and it looked like you were frowning because it went to a new line after your question mark.

  2. Unrelated, but you might know of all people :: The Spice is Right seems to have completely disappeared -- any idea what happened? Thanks. - Liz

  3. I've been living in Queens five years and its taken me that long to discover the pandebonos, galaktoboureko and the sangria you wolfed down in an evening. --Andy

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  5. @ Liz - You're right! I should have at least published an obit, because I loved their chicken and the comforting sight of their all-weather chefs working the oil drum grills. I'm trying to figure out what happened/what's coming in, so I should have something in the next day or two. Thanks for the heads-up!