I always wonder about the places under the tracks at a train stop. Most of them seem well, a little dirty (I’d like to think its probably just that they are in the shadow of the tracks and are a bit dark). If they don’t seem dirty, its often a bit murky exactly what these restaurants serve. Is it a pizza joint or an upscale Manhattan-style cocktail bar with Astoria decor? Is it Thai or Japanese or just standard bar fare or some confused but possibly delicious international mash-up secret that everyone but me knows about? Is it a scary dive bar where you have to take a friend to the ladies room or a friendly neighborhood Irish bar?
I’m going to devote my summer Fridays to finding out. (If there are places under stops you’ve wondered about post suggestions below. I’m happy to be the guinea pig.)
I thought I’d work north to south so the N stop at ditmars is my first destination. I wander the area and only one place is a total unknown to me – Los Amigos. I may have seamless webbed them some drunken night that I don’t recall but I definitely haven’t eaten there. Looking at the menu, I think Los Amigos requires I be more hungry than I am today so I visit Ditmars Station. The awful name seems appropriate to my theme — as does the place down the block – The Last Stop. I skip over the Last Stop because I have a rule – I don’t like being the only person in a bar or restaurant. It’s just awkward. I have been to Ditmars Station several times — usually after a few drinks next door at O’Hanlons.
A quick aside about O’Hanlon’s: this just might possibly be my favorite bar in this area. Please also note: they do not serve food but happily do not frown if you bring in outside food as long as you clean up after yourself. The lovely lady bartenders are fantastic, the bathroom is clean, drinks are cheap and good, the jukebox works and the crowd — while heavy with regulars — is actually pretty diverse. I’ve met everyone from striking con-ed electricians to retirees who have been frequenting the bar for many decades to arty intellectual types to mid-town desk jockeys and of course the recently transplanted college kids from the fly over states (I’m from a fly over state so I can say that).
The few times I’ve eaten at Ditmars Station I’ve usually gotten a salad. They are huge, exactly as advertised and fresh. I’ve also had the chicken fingers and while they taste like your standard fingers they look like some random chicken parts that call to mind the chemicals they pump into factory raised chicken and perhaps that you don’t want to eat. I will however admit that I still order them. I have seen the pizzas on previous visits and I wasn’t hugely impressed (plus Frankie’s is right across the street so why would I order pizza here anyway!). As I contemplate my options, I order a martini and I am very happy to report that the bartender asked me all the right questions — dirty? olives, twist or onion? We discuss how technically it’s a Gibson with onions and the older guy on my other side asks me how old I am, because I know what a Gibson is. I stick with a classic gin martini with olives.
They have an entire meatball selection on the menu — standard or stuffed with a variety of sauces. I asked bartender for the most popular meatballs. The Classic was described as 2 balls on a plate of marinara sauce, topped with herbed ricotta cheese. Sounds like a good starter. They arrive and whoa… four meatballs? That’s a lot of ground meat (I am refraining from making an 13 year old boy-style joke here).
The sweet tomato sauce is very tomato-y with not a ton of other flavors going on but its pretty solid — exactly as expected. The ricotta is melting over the top and is a nice tangy counterpoint to the sweetness. Being the girl I am, I grab the crushed red pepper flakes but leave the grated jarred Parm and dry oregano. I can’t eat all 4 and offer up the remaining two to the two cute gay guys next to me. They decline and explain that they are going to Fire Island tomorrow and in preparation have given up solid foods for the weekend.
After the two meatballs, I decide as an homage to my childhood in the middle that since I had meat I also needed potato. I order the potato skins with cheddar cheese, bacon and sour cream along with the Cupcake Pinot Noir. You can get them without bacon and with the sour cream on the side if you prefer. While I wait for round two, I watch TV, which along with the pretty amazing happy hour specials, is the real draw here. I strike up a conversation with a woman across the bar. She mentions that she likes it here because sometimes you just want to have a drink at a bar and be left alone and that usually that doesn’t happen to a woman alone at McCann’s, the other neighborhood bar with a substantial number of TVs. The older guy chimes in that he comes because its on his way home, his wife doesn’t come here, and it’s a nice place to unwind and have a beer after a long work day. They have about 14 beers on tap which isn’t bad for a standard Astoria bar, but it’s no Sunswick. They usually have a range from bud light and stella to hoegaarten, harpoon summer, weishenstephen, and shock top (which seems to recently be everywhere in the neighborhood).
My potato skins arrive and are delicious; crispy edges, hot melting cheese and cold sour cream. I make a mental note to have them again once winter comes. My late lunch/early dinner is complete and I emerge out from under the train into the sun. I am momentarily blinded as a stroll over to a friend’s house to watch the Olympics Opening Ceremony. I am pleased to report that while watching Kenneth Branagh in the shire I was reintroduced to Andy Capp Hot Fries. I will definitely be bringing a bag of them to O’Hanlon’s (or some other dark bar with a lot of TVs) to watch the Olympics.