By Brandee Sanders, Foodable Contributor
Long gone are the New York City days when Starbucks was considered a “fancy” cup of joe and Dunkin' Donuts the only go-to for a pastry. In fact, when it comes to the coffee, statistics show that, as of 2013, the number of local and small pour independently owned coffee shops now outnumber their big sisters at the rate of 57% and growing.
Walk the streets of Manhattan from Chinatown to Harlem and you’re inundated on a block-by-block basis with hipster pour-overs, artisan coffee, specialty pastries, and exotic styles of small-batch brews. And now, Astoria, Queens is getting a leg up on the caffeinated combo. But it’s important to realize coffee wasn’t always such an accessible commodity, and before we get to the good stuff, we’ll take a quick look back at how this consumption culture came to be.
From Seed to Cup: A Quick History of Coffee
From a pre-work bolt of energy, to a 3 p.m. slump pick-me-up or a sit down chat with friends, coffee has a long history of bringing people together, going as far back as the 11th Century. Known then as having “magical” properties that could be gained from boiling the beans, and once decreed as the “Devil’s Brew,” coffee became a common household item in the 1950s with the advent of commercialized farming and television. What was once a limited supply available only to few, now had arrived in the U.S. market with abandon.
Kinship Coffee Cooperative
Located at 30-5 Steinway Street in Astoria, Kinship is getting a leg up on the artisanal movement. From the rustic reclaimed wood features, to the fresh but muted color scheme, Kinship Coffee sets the tone for the growing group of indie coffee houses arriving at warp speed here in Queens.
Serving Stumptown coffee and featuring a colorful brew called “The Hairbender,” it makes a great place to chat with friends or work remotely, which many locals do regularly. Today, Alex, the barista, served a fueled-up cappuccino, very friendly smile, and a strong recommendation for the Dough pastries living in their glass display case. Dough, well known from its foodie fame at Smorgasbord in New York City, carries a nearly fanatical fan base of eaters. From vibrant purple passion fruit to zingy lemon poppy seed, these Brooklyn born doughnuts are anything but vanilla and not for the weak of wills, making a perfect companion to our order.
Espresso and Cannoli: The Italian Marriage
Only a few blocks away from Kinship Coffee is another coffee gem hidden inside an authentic Napolitano pizzeria off of the rapidly changing 30th Avenue area of Astoria. With walls lined in Sicilia and Italian memorabilia, it’s not trying as hard as its new neighbors and it’s easy to feel like you’re in the old world at Pronto Pizza. With a diverse menu of Italian favorites, including the infamous “Grandma” Pizza, Pronto covers the bases of classical eatery and European fast casual.
“It’s the real deal,” one patron said to us as we sat down. Having dined here before, it’s no surprise, and minutes later a plate of fresh cannoli arrives alongside a piping hot espresso. Pronto’s owner, Giuseppe, is a veteran of the food industry and is meticulous and hands-on with guests, ensuring everything is authentic and true to the Italian experience. There’s no hip or flashy popularity contest here, but rather, quality made, small-batch pastries and well poured espressos that hit the mark for fans of the traditional and more conservative Italian-style eateries.
What’s the Gossip?
Having just opened this past July on the busy sprawl of 30th Avenue in Astoria, Gossip Coffee excitedly rounds out the latest in a series of up-and-coming eateries featuring an expanded coffee and dessert menu. Owner James Paloumbis is no new kid on the block, having successfully launched and bred both MexiBBQ and Break Bar and Billiards, both mere blocks away from this, his newest Astoria endeavor.
Maxing out this painfully hip spot, replete with yoga mats, super futuristic design, and a trendy backyard, are the “Gossip Doughnuts.” Paloumbis tapped the renowned “Master Chef” featured and self-proclaimed “Molecular Modernist” Chef Scottish Francis Legge to create the growing list of exotic and specialty doughnuts. The eclectic mix of flavors includes Fruit Loops, Tiramisu Rice Pudding, Gold Dusted Walnut Honey, and a show-stopping culinary delight of Guinness and Prosciutto. As someone once referred to as “The Donut King” by Chef Gordon Ramsay, we can expect great things to continue appearing on the tables at Gossip.
So what is the future of artisanal coffee and donuts in Astoria? With so many venues in their beginning stages and the rapid fire trendiness of new openings in the hyper-competitive NYC food industry, it’s too early to lay a prediction down this summer. But what we do know is that what was once a simple trip to the corner bodega kind of scene, is now a growing culinary incubator. And given the changing face of New York City, it’s quite possible these locations will thrive in their newly foodie-centric Astoria location. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the delicious fruits of these talented chef’s and barista’s labors the next time you’re here!