Taste attendees sample Queens cuisine

By Patrick Donachie

About 60 restaurants, breweries and businesses set up shop at the 14th annual Queens Taste event held at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park Wednesday evening. Hundreds of attendees sampled bites and beverages offered by eateries from throughout the borough.

Elena Ioannidis, 29, a manager at the Astoria restaurant Zenon Taverna, worked the grill as passersby tried the food. She said the restaurant had been family-owned and operated for 28 years, and she thought that the interest in Queens as a restaurant destination was spurred by Lonely Planet’s 2014 designation of the borough as the best place in the U.S. to visit.

“The craziest part is that it’s always been like this,” she said, speaking about the caliber of restaurants in Queens. “But now they say, ‘Oh, we don’t have to go to New York City, there’s so many options in Queens.’”

Robert M. Kaskel, 52, the chief executive manager of ThaiRock Restaurant in Rockaway Beach, agreed that interest in the borough had been piqued in recent years. As the ThaiRock booth served rice crepes filled with peanuts and turnips, he said that the Rockaways had become more of a place to travel to, even during the winter off-season.

“There’s got to be hundreds of restaurants between me and wherever anyone’s coming from,” he said, so the big crowds heading to the Rockaways suggested it had become a destination for foodies. He said that the restaurant was participating in A Taste of Rockaway Beach, which would be held on May 7; Kaskel expected thousands of attendees.

Shortly after the event’s start time of 6 p.m., the place was packed. Attendees sipped on cocktails and wine and chugged craft beer from Astoria Distilling and the Wine Room of Forest Hills. The event was presented by the Queens Economic Development Corporation and the Queens Tourism Council, and proceeds would support the Queens EDC’s attempts to encourage job growth and entrepreneurial development in the borough.

Annette Runcie, 47, co-owns Pa-Nash Restaurant in Rosedale with Titus, her husband. She said that she had concocted a new type of cuisine called “eurosoul” that combined Mediterranean Moroccan food with Southern and Caribbean recipes. According to her, Queens Taste presented a unique opportunity for a restaurant that specialized in a new cuisine.

“The unique dishes really stand out in something like this,” she said, as attendees sampled slices of pita bread topped with caramelized onions, hummus and figs. Runcie recalled that restaurants were a legacy in her family, and said she had left a well-paying job at Proctor & Gamble to take a risk on opening a new restaurant.

“It’s a labor of love,” she said. “It’s my baby, so I’m excited to see people enjoying the food.”

During the event, members of the Queens EDC said that they had signed a lease that day for “MadeInQns,” a pop-up shop that is set to open in approximately one month at One Queens Plaza in Long Island City. The store would exclusively sell products made in the borough.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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