Queens, New York To Open First Brewery Since Prohibition

Next week, the NYC borough of Queens is set to debut their first beer brewery in decades when Singlecut Beersmiths opens in Astoria. Most of their new brews will feature a high IBU (a bitterness measurement, putting IPAs and stouts in the middle to higher range) and a healthy amount of hops. Fitting for the first Queens brewery since Prohibition, the first beer on tap (if you’ll pardon the pun) will be called 1933, in honor of the year alcohol was made legal again, as well as a reference to their address at 19-33 37th Street. A “flagship” IPA to debut in December, with seasonal offerings planned as well. Check out the blog and Facebook page for details on the launch and special events. According to Thrillist, Singlecut plans to collaborate with such neighborhood establishments as Queens Kickshaw, increasing Astoria’s foodie street cred.

See Singlecut Beersmiths for details on brews and brewery tours. Hoppy travels!

[Photo credit: Flickr user chrisscott]

Travel Q&A with author & cook Tamara Reynolds

Tamara Reynolds is a the co-founder (with Zora O’Neill) of The Sunday Night Dinner, an Astoria, Queens-based supper club. The Sunday Night Dinner, which continues to thrive, was well ahead of what has become a supper club trend. Out of the Sunday Night Dinner came a fabulous cookbook, Forking Fantastic, which Reynolds co-authored with O’Neill. Travel is key to Reynolds’ imagination as a cook. She shops for food in the international food markets of Astoria and travels to countries with great food traditions.

Q: Sum up your professions in a few snappy words.

A: Cookbook author, cook for hire, cooking teacher, television show shopper, and Hostess with the Mostess of The Sunday Night Dinner.

Q: How did the Sunday night dinners come to happen? And how did Forking Fantastic emerge from the supper club?

A: SND began when Zora O’Neill and I met in 2002. We worked at Prune together and discovered we were neighbors and both loved to cook. We began cooking on Sundays for friends, and the next thing we knew, we were consistently feeding 15-20 people every Sunday. We began asking for donations so we could afford to keep doing it, and the next thing we knew, we were running an underground supper club.

We became convinced that the next step should be to write a cookbook, with encouraging words on entertaining, for real life. Zora and I felt that everyone was so hung up on the Martha Stewart perfection ideal that no one was actually cooking dinner for friends for the fun of it. Plus, we thought that if we wrote a kick ass guide to entertaining, detailing how we taught ourselves to cook and our many many mistakes along the way, maybe we would get invited to dinner more often.
Q: You told me that the fact that you’re based in Astoria has had a lot to do with the fact that the supper club took off.

A: It is funny, when we started our supper club, it was us and Ghetto Gourmet, a traveling club. Now I get a notice about every third day that another one is starting up, usually in Brooklyn. We remain one of the very few in Queens.

Queens is incredibly culturally diverse, but Brooklyn still seems to keep a headlock on “culinary coolness”. That said, I would never be the cook that I am or be able to feed people the way I do if I didn’t live in Astoria. I find the butchers and “old world” feel of Astoria’s food shops completely inspiring and refreshing. There are stores that only import Greek products, Italian products, Eastern European, North African, Middle Eastern, Brazilian, etcetera. Within a seven-minute walk from my house there are three butchers, all with whole lambs, goats and pigs hanging in the windows. These hanging animal carcasses aren’t decorative. People in my neighborhood cook these things on a daily basis. The produce markets burst with really excellent fresh produce, too. The first Long Island tomatoes and flat beans of the season just appeared last Friday and it looked like there was going to be a riot lead by the grandmothers of Astoria!

Q: Your Forking Fantastic co-author Zora O’Neill is also a travel writer. Did her perspectives on travel and food influence your own?

A: Absolutely. I went to grad school to be an opera singer; Zora went to grad school to study Classical Arabic poetry. Along the way we both learned to cook, but when I met her she had lived in Egypt and knew far more about Middle Eastern/North African cuisine than I did. I eagerly lapped up all of the information I could get out of her. She still travels far more than I do. My travel is mainly for pleasure while hers is for work. It is always nice to get a story of a great meal from her. It spurs my imagination.

Q: Where do you like to travel?

A: I feel like I am kind of done with Europe for now. I really want to concentrate on the US states I have not visited, North Africa, and Vietnam. February I am trying to put together a Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos trip. I think it is safe to say that I like to go anywhere where they are doing things differently than I do them at home.

Q: Have you ever traveled somewhere expressly to try a particular food?

A: You know, not exclusively, but I never go anywhere without considering where and what I will be eating, and cannot imagine traveling to a country with bad food. That said, I cannot wait to go back to Turkey to eat some more, and to Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Sicily, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos just to eat. I view sightseeing as a great way to burn off the last meal and get your body ready to eat the next one. I am also considering driving around the backwaters of Georgia in August to sample some Gullah specialties. I am fascinated the resilience of Gullah traditions.

Q: How do your travels influence your cooking?

A: People cannot cook without markets and grocery stores. Going into either can tell you so much about where you are, who lives there, and what happens in their kitchens. I love to visit grocery stores and markets in every town I am in, one-horse or otherwise. The fact that in other countries you can wander around and see meat sitting out in the open for hours and here we insist on shrink-wrapping everything is fascinating. Sometimes small observations can inform you that your accepted way of doing things at home is definitely not the only way.

Of course, places have particular smells. Every time I exit the airport in Phoenix, my hometown, it smells like home. The smells of cities often tell me what people are eating, and I love to try to recreate particular smells in my home kitchen.

Q: Do you have a favorite destination, secret or otherwise?

A: Secret? Are there any secrets left? Ha. I must say, I loved Ayvalik, a small town in Turkey. People were transporting goods through the cobblestone streets in the town in horse drawn wagons. And there was pickled watermelon rind everywhere. And the eggplant, tomatoes, melons and lamb were amazing. We took a boat from Mytilini, Greece to Ayvalik and stayed a few days on our way to Istanbul. I would love to return.

I also loved the plains of Portugal. I ended up there six years ago purely by accident; my drive down to the Algarve was scuttled by torrential rain, and we didn’t want rainy beach. So we ended up driving up and over from east to west: Evora, Elvas, Beja. So beautiful and so unexpected. We happened into an ancient Roman Meat Market that had at a later point been a Catholic Church and was now a local craft shop/art gallery. So many Roman Ruins and such beauty! For a few years I loved to say, “If you want to see Rome, go to Portugal!”

Going to Sesame Street: Manhattan moments

“Did you know that Kermit Love died?” I asked my brother two days ago. I called him when I read the news in The New York Times.

My brother was Kermit Love’s apprentice years ago, not long after my brother moved to Manhattan to attend the School of Visual Arts. Kermit Love, the creator of Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus, was also an artist in other venues.

Those were the days my brother and I sat out on the fire escape of the building where he sublet a room in someone’s apartment one summer. One night when I was visiting him, we climbed out the window with our dinner to watch a ballet class in session in a dance studio across the street. The studio’s windows were open so we could hear the music.

During that same visit, we dressed up in halfway decent clothes to head to Broadway about the time of intermission. In the summer back then, people spilled out onto the sidewalks for a smoke or something to drink. If the show wasn’t sold out, it was possible to mingle with the crowd and head back in for the second half. All one needed to do was wait at the back of the orchestra seating to find the empty spots. Such were the tricks of broke college students.

At first, while working for Kermit, my brother earned a small sum for ironing Big Bird’s feathers. Those feathers don’t look fluffy all by themselves. Because Big Bird travels in various shows, there’s more than one costume that needs refluffing.

Eventually, my brother graduated to larger, more complicated jobs. He and two other fellows reconstructed costumes based on Love’s design for a Picasso exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. As what happens with apprentices, they work behind the scenes without getting credit up front. It was cool to go to the exhibit, though, and see my brother’s handiwork. Not long after, my brother moved on. But, not before I got my trip to Sesame Street.

My brother needed to deliver something–not feathers, something else, but I can’t remember what. No matter. We went to the studio where the show was filmed. It has since changed locations to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.

Sesame Street looked like Sesame Street. Happy.

Carroll Spinney, the guy who has played Big Bird for years was standing around in his Big Bird legs. The top of the costume comes off in between takes, you see. It’s too hot to keep on.

Kermit Love smiled when I shook his hand. I’m sure we said, “Pleased to meet you”–or maybe not. It was a brief visit, but an awesome one that has stayed with me all these years. I connect Kermit Love to a time when my brother and I were younger and nervy enough to sneak into a Broadway show as if we belonged there.

Now, when I go to Broadway show, it’s with a ticket that I’ve bought at TKTS, the discount ticket booth near Times Square.

My brother didn’t know that Kermit Love had died and there was a wistful tone in his voice when he told me he may look to see if there is a memorial service. He is still in touch with a person who also knew Love back then.

As for visiting Sesame Street again, the studio doesn’t do tours. The Studio Cafe is open to the public, though. If you head there for lunch, look for a guy with stripped legs and bird feet. You’ll know who he is. Ask him who irons his feathers.