It’s in Queens
#MonthlyPicks | June 2019 | Jon White
So much good food out there, of course, so for me the weather sometimes determines the spot. On a blazing summer afternoon, I want the refreshingly chill, tart ceviche at La Cevicheria, along with a couple of cold ones from the Low Tide Bar—both at the Beach 97 concessions at Rockaway. Tournesol in Long Island City is that cozy, perfectly unpretentious, high-quality French bistro that’s a go-to spot all year long. I’m just very partial to the very special bouillabaisse on cool evenings in the spring and fall. (Bouillabaisse is not on the menu every night, though, so call ahead if you go.) And spacious, comfortable Dee’s—on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills—is great for a garlic bread fix, excellent brick oven pizza, big hearty salads—and Steve’s sublime key lime pie without having to go to Red Hook. Great place for a stroll after a meal also when it’s nice out, through beautiful Forest Hills Gardens or equally beautiful Forest Park. And finally, the best empanadas in NYC are at Empanadas Café in Corona. Spot-on, flavorful fillings combined with delicious wheat, corn or whole grain pastry that’s not too heavy or greasy. Way beyond the ordinary!
New York, including Queens, is blessed with—and defined by—magnificent waterways, and being out on the water in a kayak, canoe or other small craft is exhilarating. The city recedes, and you’re in the natural world—and it’s hard not to be awed by the size of it, that we ignore for the most part, right at our doorsteps in this most urban and man-made of environments. Queens’ north shore, Hell Gate, and Jamaica Bay are all the wild, hidden spaces where millions of creatures live ignoring us. Visiting these worlds reveals another entire dimension to this place and underscores that the man-made city is really only a small part of something much bigger and more majestic.
For a different kind of unique Queens treat, check out LaGuardia Landing Lights Park at 23rd Avenue and 82nd Street in Jackson Heights. LaGuardia-bound planes fly right over you, literally a few feet above your head, as they land just across the highway. It’s, well, a thrill. My kids, whom I never took there of course, called it “The Scary Field.”
I love cruising the length of the Rockaway boardwalk on my bike in the summer—and if I’m feeling really ambitious, continuing on to Riis Park. All along the way, you enjoy not only the beauty of the ocean and the increasingly diverse and vibrant food and music offerings, but you also get to join the city on parade enjoying it all.
Walking Forest Park’s many winding paths through its wooded hills and dells is one of my favorite things to do year-round, with every season bringing distinct, beautiful pleasures.
Maybe because there is so much more open and park space in Queens compared to other more built up parts of NYC, it’s easier for me to “see” the history here—and I appreciate that very much. Standing on the high spots in Cypress Hills Cemetery and looking down at Manhattan in the distance, I actually feel that I’m on a ridge of rocks left by a glacier that once ended in New York Harbor. Following the marshy outlet of what becomes Flushing Creek out of the north end of Meadow Lake to the pitch-and-putt in the park—and despite all the highways overhead and what’s there today—I can also imagine the bucolic meadows that once rose from the banks of the creek up to the little village of Vlissingen, today’s Flushing, as they must have in 1657, when Governor Peter Stuyvesant lost his fight to kick the Quakers out of the Dutch colony there. That lost fight resulted in religious freedom becoming a hallmark of what became New York and a concept that was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. And wandering around parts of Fort Tilden, it’s not difficult to picture what all of Rockaway once looked like, and how it became the Hamptons of the early 19th century, when beach culture first began in this country.
Richmond Hill resident Jon White is a licensed New York City tour guide and founder of New York 360 Tours, which focuses on custom tours of Queens. He also serves on the boards or advisory councils of a number of cultural and economic development organizations in Queens and is a former Deputy Comptroller for Public Finance for the City of New York.
Image: Jon White