In our new dining out series, Endless Simmer’s NYC-based tasting team is traveling to the ends of the earth. Well, the ends of the earth for snobby New Yorkers. We’re bypassing the cutesy outer borough neighborhoods and taking the subway to the end of the line, then getting on a bus and taking that to the end of the line, then seeing what we can find to eat.
Our first, very random stop is Howard Beach, Queens, a neighborhood known to most Manhattanites as the name of that stop way out there where you get the AirTrain to JFK. But it’s also an old-school Italian-American neighborhood facing Jamaica Bay, where New Yorkers live in single-family homes with fishing boats anchored in their front yards (really!)
To get to Cross Bay Boulevard, the main thoroughfare cutting through Howard Beach, we took the A train out to Rockaway Boulevard, where you can hop on the Q41 bus to the end of the line, which is conveniently a few blocks from the Bay, right outside the imposing Vetro Restaurant and Lounge.
Now this is not the kind of aging Italian-American hole-in-the-wall you’ll find in places like Belmont in the Bronx and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. Vetro’s is a serious sprawling compound, with high-ceiling-ed banquette rooms, a sleek front lounge, opulent Venetian glass art, full-length windows looking out on the Bay, and a sizeable patio that even has slips where you can dock your boat.
Despite the over-the-top touches, there is, however, some surprisingly legit Italian cuisine. The chef’s tasting menu rotates every two weeks, each cycle featuring dishes from a different Italian region — it was Puglia when we visited a few weeks back; right not it’s the crowd-pleasing Sicily. Of immediate notice to anyone coming from Manhattan (or Brooklyn), it’s a tasting menu that you can afford to look at even if you’re not visiting on an expense account. A three-course tasting is $38, or you can make it five for $55.
The regional tasting menus are likely the most exciting draw to foodies looking for something you can’t find at just any Italian restaurant, with offerings like Abruzzian calamari-octopus-potato-celery salad. Although the chef told us that most of his regulars stick with the hearty entrees, like flame-grilled veal chops topped with a creamy pistachio sauce. Whichever way you go, this is definitely the kind of place to sit for hours and pick on your dishes until you’re ridiculously overstuffed.
The best part: taking our wine outside on the patio after the meal, where you can watch planes land across the bay, neighbors bring their boats in for the evening, and others zoom by on JetSkis. Pretty amazing that this is still New York.