By Suzanne Parker
When our eating buddy, food blogger Joe Distefano, recommended 60 Beans to us as having great food, we were expecting a gussied up coffee joint, especially with a name with the word “beans” in it.
It is that, but it is also so much more. And great food is an understatement.
According to the restaurant’s website, the name comes from the fact that Beethoven brewed his own coffee every morning with precisely 60 beans. Who knew that Beethoven was a bean counter? Evidently Chef Franco Domenick Gianfrancesco, his cousin John Rocchio and co-owner Panos Voyiatzis did.
Their respect for history is evident in 60 B’s decorative style. The long wall behind the bar and beyond capitalizes on exposed terra cotta building tiles, evidence of the buildings circa 1910 provenance to set the tone. Where there were not vintage architectural details to display, old stuff, both genuine and manufactured was overlaid to complete the look.
The small dinner menu, supplemented by a handful of specials is sophisticated and inventive.
It offers charcuterie and cheese, small and large plates, salads and pastas. Their meats are sourced from growers that come with bragging rights like Niman Ranch and Hudson Valley Foie Gras.
Gnudi was a special that immediately captured our attention. It is pronounced “nudie” and its definition is not far off that mark.
Popularized at the storied Spotted Pig, it is a pasta filling, naked of its wrapper. Balls of ricotta are dredged in semolina and left overnight to form an ethereal coating. The gnudi are then lightly cooked in butter, in this case, with asparagus and plenty of pepper. The gnudi came decked out with generous shavings of summer truffles and microgreens. Anyone who passes up a chance to order this wonder should be branded a gnudnik.
“Melts in your mouth” would be an understatement when it comes to Chef Dom’s Peppered Niman Ranch beef tongue, our pick from the charcuterie category. The tongue, which is brined, and then confitted—slow cooked in fat—tenderizes as its flavor is amplified.
Presented in a cascade of small round slices, with house mustard and crunchy toast, this is an organ meat lovers epiphany. We are, incidentally, so relieved that current thinking is that fat is no longer the scourge to health and weight once believed, so we could indulge with carefree abandon.
Mezza Rigatoni, a tube-shaped pasta slathered with lamb Bolognese was the least memorable of our choices. It is not that it was undelicious, it is just that we were starting to get used to being wowed. This was only good. Do not squander your alimentary real estate on this one.
In a brilliant marriage of eastern and western ingredients, Chef Dom uses black garlic, a Korean specialty to change up a Cesar salad. The lettuce is charred. The croutons are smoked. The cheese is Grana Padano. It is an exciting new riff on a classic.
The secret ingredients in the Smoked Niman Ranch Pork Rack are time and patience. It is brined for 24 hours, dried, and smoked at a very low temperature for three days. So moist, flavorful and tender that chewing is effortless. It is blissfully joined by the creamiest of Carolina grits, collard greens, bacon lardons and pickled ramps.
Like the regular menu, the dessert menu is concise and to the point. Nothing gooey or cloying to be found here. Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta with rhubarb preserve Marcona almonds and basil seeds was intriguingly satisfying without being either too rich or too sweet.
The Bottom Line
The food at 60 Beans is inventive, sophisticated and expertly prepared using ingredients with buzz. Our only complaint is that there space is so limited. Don’t tell too many friends or none of us will be able to get a table.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
60 Beans Kitchen & Coffee
36-02 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria
Price Range: Small Plates: $7—$25; Large Plates: $18—$25
Cuisine: New American
Setting: Intimate bar layout with some outdoor seating.
Service: Professional and caring
Hours: coffeehouse: Monday thru Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday thru Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Children: Only if you must
Noise level: Yes
Handicap accessible: Yes
WIFI: Yes, until 5 p.m.