I Heart Astoria

I had dinner with a girlfriend on Saturday at Paulie Gee’s, a pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They make excellent pies in a custom-made wood-fire oven. I love love love the crust. It was thin, yet chewy, but still light and lightly blistered and charred. I usually think crusts are a little too bread-y, but Paulie Gee’s is perfect. I had the Delboy with spicy Sopressata and a pumpkin ale. We even got to meet Paulie Gee, who was walking around making sure all the customers were happy. He blushed with pleasure when I told him that we found out about his place when another friend of mine who was an Italian from Italy told me that “There are only two places where it’s worth getting pizza in New York City. Paulie Gee’s is one of them.” PG can get loud, which makes having a conversation over dinner difficult. This was the only drawback, but otherwise I loved PG.

Over dinner my girlfriend and I got caught up with what was happening in each other’s lives. The big news is that in January Ben and I will start looking at places to buy (most likely in Manhattan). If all goes well, we’ll move in the beginning of summer. She was excited that we’ll be in the city, which will make hanging out easier. Then she asked, “Will you miss Astoria?”

Immediately my face fell a bit and I answered affirmatively in a heartfelt voice. She was a bit taken aback by the depth of my emotion for the “outer borough.” I laugh at her Manhattanite tendencies considering that she’s a Californian transplant just like me. But unlike the rest of us, where we either don’t live in Manhattan or work out of Manhattan, her life is in the 23 square mile island. It’s even smaller if you consider that we rarely venture into the northern half of Manhattan. To a Manhattanite, the entire world is Manhattan. What else is out there?

A lot. A life. Lives really. Millions and millions of people living happy fulfilled lives outside of the “center of the world.”

I love Astoria. I don’t think it’s perfect. Aesthetically it’s not the most pleasing place. A little generic with squatty low-rise brick buildings. There’s a paucity of trees. But I love Astoria. I love the wonderful sense of community I have out on the streets. I know the owners of the stores. They know me. Whenever I walk in, they welcome me with a big smile and throw their hands in the air. It’s not an act. They’re genuinely glad to see me. They made an effort to get to know me starting from when I first entered their establishment. I know my neighbors. We look out for each other. If I need a favor, they help out without a second thought. And it’s not like we really know each other. It’s simply the ethos of Astoria. I love how there are so many wonderful restaurants. There are the small hole in the walls that have been around forever. Certain institutions, such as the Bohemian Beer Hall, ground Astoria and give it a sense of history that links the past to the present and connect you to the future. No matter what changes happen to Astoria, there are some things that form a foundation. There are the newer chic-er restaurants that contribute to the gentrification of Astoria. I can have pretty anything here, from the walk-in takeout American Chinese food to the upscale white linened French restaurant. There are a ton of bars, again any type of bar that you’re looking for. There are quiet lounges that will serve you wine or a bespoke cocktail if you so wish. I love my 24-hour fruit and vegetable market. The prices are oh-so-cheap and because of the incredible turnover, the produce is always incredibly fresh. I love all the little butcher shops. I love how the big beefy butcher nods at me and gruffly asks, “Whaddya want, sweetheart?”, cuts the meat to my specification, and then gently hands it over to me as if he were handing over a precious package. I love how endlessly patient the butchers are with the little old grandmothers who are anxiously peering at the meat. They will also tell you how to cook something if you ask. I love the sight of 30th Ave late at night on a warm summer night. It’s 2 am, the cafes are still open, the patios are filled with people drinking frappes, laughing, and talking. The late night taco trucks (hello, El Rey!) feed hungry Astorians. I love running along the waterfront. I love how quickly and easily I can access other parts of Queens to get to all the great ethnic restaurants. Sorry, Manhattan, if you want real ethnic food from a particular country, you need to leave the island. Those restaurants in the city have been whitewashed to appeal to masses.

So while yes, I’m looking forward to living in the city because let’s face it, it is the city and there are many wonderful things there, I will be sad about leaving my beloved Astoria.

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