My brother recently moved to Astoria in Queens, NY. Being the awesome, amazing and caring big brother that I am, I was helping him move some things into his new apartment, until we got hungry for some lunch. I think Astoria is a great neighborhood, and it’s a super hotspot right now. While it might have once only been known for Greek restaurants—of which there are still many—it is now a haven for artists, musicians, foodies and hipsters. All over Astoria there are gourmet eateries ranging in cuisine from spicy Thai cook shops, to brick oven pizzerias, gourmet grilled cheese, barbecue smokehouses, big beer gardens, Japanese ramen shops, and many, many more.
One of these unique restaurants is Il Bambino, which opened in 2006. It is a cute, little hole in the wall place on the 31st Avenue block, specializing in old-school panini, and other Italian fare, with a second location in the West Village as well. It has a casual atmosphere with a big selection of panini and crostini, as well as salads, antipasto, and a special brunch menu on the weekends. It has an open kitchen in the front where there are multiple panini presses working at once sending out creative meat, cheese and veggie combinations. They use ciabatta bread that is freshly baked daily, local produce and handmade condiments. There’s also a great meat a mind cheese glossary available for perusal of those that aren’t familiar with some of the selections.
We got there during the weekend lunch rush and luckily were able to snag a small table near the front. Everything on the menu looked amazing, and even though I was somewhat distracted by the giant salad being eaten by the woman next to me, we decided to save time and each went with a panini.
The Bacon Butty ($12) has a powerful and pungent blue cheese flavor. There is a good amount of moist, chewy bacon—it had the perfect texture and amount of smokiness that have some oomph to the sandwich. The combination of avocado, scrambled eggs and blue cheese made for a great combo, and the creaminess from the spicy mayo added a certain level of unctuousness to the sandwich as well. The hot bread was nice and crusty, with a wonderful crunch as it was bitten into. It was also a pretty big panini—perfect for a filling brunch or lunch.
In contrast to the Bacon Butty, which was slightly more traditional American, the Pass the Hash ($11) was very, very Italian. The eggs were cooked well and not dry at all. The garlic roasted potatoes provided some needed heft and the chorizo bumped up the meatiness of the panini. The whole sandwich had a great truffle flavor from the aioli that also perfumed the filling. The addition of Parmesan made the panini luxurious and really elevated the rather simple ingredients to something special, and tied it all together. The inside of the panini was creamy and contrasted with the crustiness of the grilled bread.
Those two panini were super filling and so delicious that a couple of weeks later we decided to pick up a panini to share as an afternoon snack—alright, I’ll admit…a big snack!—and it was the best takeout ever. The Porchetta ($11) panini was definitely made for the carnivorous at heart. Porchetta is a boneless pork loin that is stuffed with herbs, garlic, then rolled and roasted with the skin still on to keep then meat moist and delicious. In the Porchetta panini, the meaty pork loin was fatty with juice gushing out of the meat. It was topped with a fresh and spicy slaw that was definitely helpful in cutting through the rich, fatty meat. The pickle slaw were a nice surprise hidden in the middle of the panini, and the rosemary aioli also gave the sandwich a nice earthiness and deep woody flavor. The bread soaked up the pork juices and it was mouthwateringly delicious.
Il Bambino is the perfect spot for some lunch, brunch or anything in between. It has a ton of great Italian panini available and great beers and wines to pair with them. While the restaurant might be small in size, it makes up for it with big played and bold flavors. Buon Appetito!