By Daniel Massey
It should come as no surprise that Steve Reichstein’s recently published book is called “Discovering Queens!” For nine years, Reichstein was Queens’ own Henry Hudson, each weekend uncovering for himself new neighborhoods, restaurants and parks in New York’s largest borough.
The retired city planner and former assistant to Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden had traveled around the world, including stops in Afghanistan and South Africa, but it was places closer to home like Forest Hills and Douglaston Manor that inspired his 184-page guide.
Reichstein grew up in Brooklyn but had been living in Forest Hills for 10 years when he realized he knew very little about his adopted borough. On and off for the next nine years he spent his weekends driving the 112-square miles that make up Queens, falling in love with the borough along the way.
“I completed the whole borough,” he said. “I drove down every street, avenue, road, boulevard, drive and lane.”
He found places like Douglaston Manor, which he writes “offers a way of life few would imagine possible within New York City.” From the living room of his Forest Hills home, Reichstein recalled the enthusiasm he had when he first came upon the peninsular community.
“’God, this is in New York City,’ I thought to myself. This is incredible,” he said. “You can have a boat on the bay or get on the LIRR and be in Manhattan in 29 minutes.”
He discovered 45th Avenue between 21st and 23rd streets in Long Island City, just three minutes from Manhattan by subway, the only full block of brownstones in Queens. “Such a block actually exists,” he writes.
And he learned more about the “romantic architecture” and “lush landscaping” of his home neighborhood of Forest Hills. “The more I investigated it, the more delightful it became,” he said. “It’s the way to live in the city.”
Inevitably, Reichstein would get hungry during his explorations, resulting in visits to 50 of the borough’s more than 2,500 restaurants.
“There was a little Ecuadoran restaurant, a storefront operation in Jackson Heights,” he said of his discovery of Galapagos II on 37th Avenue. “I had been driving around all morning. I was hungry. It was lunchtime. It said Ecuadoran and I’d never had Ecuadoran food before. It was wonderful.”
Reichstein writes that the diversity of Queens’ population make its restaurants special. “This is where the Chinese eat Chinese food, the Greeks eat Greek food, and the Koreans eat Korean food,” he writes. “Food in these restaurants is authentic and good.”
Reichstein believes most people living in Queens were like he was before beginning his “field trips” across the borough. Most residents, he said, do not have the time to explore the borough outside their own neighborhood. And those who live outside the borough know nearly nothing about it, he said.
Though publishers were interested in the concept of the book, Reichstein said they thought the market would be too small to make publishing the guide worthwhile. Undeterred by 72 rejection letters over two years from established publishers, Reichstein started his own company, The Stephen Press, and spent $20,000 to put out 2,500 copies himself.
His book is divided into three sections. “Where to Eat” provides information on the borough’s 50 best restaurants, from Bolivian to Bukharian; “Where to Play” details 50 of Queens’ best museums, concert halls, parks and sporting venues; and “Where to Live,” illustrated by 82 black and white photographs, focuses on 28 of Queens’ approximately 70 neighborhoods chosen for their visual appeal.
The “Where to Live” section also includes real estate prices and facts about transportation, schools, shopping and recreation.
The guide is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders and other booksellers.
Having discovered much of what Queens has to offer residents and visitors, Reichstein, now 64, spends his retirement taking advantage of the borough’s array of resources. He plays tennis three times a week at the United States Tennis Association facility in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and takes English literature courses at St. John’s University in Jamaica five days a week.
His busy schedule does not leave too much time for making new discoveries, but the intrepid explorer said he is already planning an updated edition to the guide.
“There’s a lot here to brag about and be proud about,” he said.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.