By Phil Corso
For months, head chef Brian Tolisano has had to tell passers-by when Smokin’ Aces would open its doors to Douglaston.
The quiet northeast Queens community was hungry for something new after Strawberry’s Sports Grill closed there in October, he said, which was exactly what he hoped to deliver when the Southern bistro opened up this week.
“We opened at a great time for sports fans and for Douglaston,” said Tolisano, a resident of Astoria. “This is a close community and we can’t wait to get all the regulars back in here.”
Tolisano had worked as a chef there when the restaurant, at 42-15 235th St., still had the Strawberry’s name along with Freeport, L.I., resident Vinny Giaccone, the assistant manager and bartender.
After Strawberry’s closed, the two teamed up to deliver something they said Douglaston deserved: a simple yet classy sports bar and restaurant without the bells and whistles.
“We wanted to come back because this whole community is one big family,” Giaccone said. “But now we have to earn their trust.”
And to do that, the bartender and assistant manager said Smokin’ Aces would seek to offer what the bars and restaurants along nearby Bell Boulevard did not.
“We want to be a higher-end sports bar atmosphere,” Giaccone said. “But at the same time, we are going to keep everything simple. We are not trying to be too innovative here.”
The bartender-chef duo said they wanted Smokin’ Aces to become known as the go-to sports bar of northeast Queens with a robust offering of different beers and appealing Southern barbecue. Their debut menu featured classic sports bar items like macaroni and cheese, ribs, burgers, beef brisket and corn bread.
Strawberry’s was the spot’s last tenant, opened by New York Mets great Darryl Strawberry two years ago. Aware of the fact that other restaurants have risen and fallen at that location in the past, the two said their familiarity and love for the surrounding community will ultimately be the key to their success.
“We understand this community and what the people here want,” Giaccone said. “This is a place where they can come and feel comfortable.”
During their time working at the restaurant back when it was Strawberry’s, they said they would often get requests from patrons for particular menu items or drink combinations that were unavailable. They took those requests to heart and infused them with their own menu at Smokin’ Aces.
Giaccone designed the bistro’s drink menu himself with the theme of playing cards like Royal Flush to match Aces’ message.
“What you put into it is what you get out of it,” Tolisano said.
Smokin’ Aces’ kitchen is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to midnight Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday. The bar will remain open later into the night.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.