BY BRADLEY HAWKS
Even on a weekday afternoon, the atmosphere can simmer rapidly to boiling without a moment’s notice. At its core, Astoria Seafood is everything Astoria has become known for over the years. Diners from every culture gather beneath a ceiling of a sky blue ventilation system arranged like an enormous fish hook, with wall murals of the Greek islands painted along the periphery. A group of tables are numbered one to 12, and the cashier or waitress will point you to one after you’ve weighed your seafood and chosen your sides.
“Everything here is market price,” explains owner Spyro Christakos, who opened the restaurant in 1993. “It was mostly just a fish market for a long time, and then we started serving a basic fish ‘n chips menu.” A few years ago, however, they began putting out plastic bags so customers could simply grab their sea treasures to take home, or hand them over on a silver platter to have them prepared for dining there.
There is a hot station with several tempting options—there were stuffed lobster tails on one occasion—which include one main seafood selection accompanied by two sides for just $10 at lunchtime. Or you can sort through the rows and rows of iced fresh red snapper, swordfish, salmon, scallops, lobster, enormous prawns, mussels, clams and every other type of fish imaginable.
Men in heavy black butcher aprons shuffle in and out of the kitchen and grumble, laugh and holler in Greek, while a spirited woman with blue eyeliner weaves between tables. It can be intimidating, confusing and time consuming. Come with friends and a bottle of wine (it’s BYOB), bring patience, good spirits and an empty stomach, and you will probably enjoy some of the freshest, most delicious seafood you have ever tasted. They will prepare it any way you ask, but grilled with a sprinkling of oregano and rich slathering of butter is the best way to savor a fresh lobster tail and plump scallops.
There is a jar for tipping right next to the plastic silverware, napkins and ramekins of tartar and cocktail sauce. At such reasonable prices for such a unique experience, you can throw a little extra to these hard workers. But don’t tell too many people about it. I sort of like that still feels like a neighborhood secret.
37-10 33rd St., Long Island City, NY 11101