Striding into the Lunch Encounter, none other than that handsome devil, Charles Walston, with sandwich tales to tell. Sat himself down, spun once on the vinyl-topped stool and unspooled the following:
The gnawing in my stomach wasn’t hunger.
During a visit to New York last weekend, my daughter and I had arranged to meet our niece/cousin on Saturday afternoon. She suggested Astoria, Queens, because she was considering an apartment there, and she had heard good things about the diversity and increasing options in the area.
I had a foreboding that the experience would churn up déjà vu moments, and not the good kind – remembrances of places past where the tide of trendiness had washed over old spots that felt authentic, and where I would wind up feeling like a rube at the county fair.
And yes, there was some of that. A furnishings/gift store offered unimaginative and mostly overpriced stock, nothing we hadn’t seen before. It felt a little sad, a reminder that life itself sometimes doesn’t seem like enough so we have to pretend our tiny orbit is the center of everything, and all of it just winds up seeming the same.
But then we wandered into Broadway Silk, piled high with bolts of colorful cotton, rayon and yes silk too, old radios and sewing machines, and two longtime proprietors (and their cat) who assured me “we aren’t going anywhere.”
After a while we started thinking about food. We passed a barbeque place that smelled pretty good, but could have been in any gentrifying zip code in the country. Astoria has long had a strong Greek and Cypriot presence so we peeked into a couple of those places, but couldn’t tell if they were local treasures or clip joints.
Ms. niece/cousin noticed that a place with good notices on Yelp was just a few blocks away. So we walked there, and the painted sign in the window – Il Bambino – looked reassuring. When we saw the outdoor seating area in back, we sat down.
Comforting signage in Astoria
Photo by Charles Walston
The menu was mostly paninis, well-executed with some interesting combinations (mine was speck and asiago and a red pepper puree.) A salad was fresh and generous and daring enough, even if the beets had probably come out of a jar. We polished off a large bowl of olives. Most of the other diners seemed to be from the neighborhood, although don’t ask me what gave me that idea.
Panini at Il Bambino
Photo by Charles Walston
So we got what we were looking for – a meal that wasn’t life-changing but satisfying and fairly priced, in a place that felt like part of a real neighborhood.
The next day in Brooklyn we were under the wing of a long-time resident, and she steered us to Crown Heights where we found Lincoln Station.
The menu was more ambitious and varied than Il Bambino, but nothing about the place felt fleeting or too trendy.
A comforting space for a nice meal before an uneventful ride home.
Lincoln Station seemed like a restaurant that has endured growing pains along with the neighborhood and come out the better for it.