Here we go, folks! Winter officially here, snow on the ground, and the holidays right around the corner. And like the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Isn’t it? Come on, isn’t it? Hello???
A.C. MOORE ARTS & CRAFTS
89-89 Union Turnpike
Maybe this is the year you’re thinking a bit of a home-made Christmas might be more in order. Well, then, A.C. MOORE ARTS & CRAFTS will be like Pandora’s Box for you! First of all, you’ve definitely got a seemingly endless assortment of Folk Art paints from which to choose. Not to mention all manner of stickers, stencils, glitter, stamp pads, you name it. Plus an aisle full of wooden baskets to get you at least halfway towards your own version of a gift basket. And if you’re looking for fun little stocking stuffers, the place has got oodles and oodles of them, but one of our favorites is right there at the door as you walk in, a little tin Cookie Mailbox for Santa, you’ll see!
Rego Park/Middle Village
64-33 Woodhaven Boulevard
You can’t miss Anne McGreevy’s ANNE’S TREELAND on Woodhaven, what with its eye-catching banner sprawled so boldly along the boulevard. McGreevy and her family have been at it for 25 years now, and are already well on the way towards the next generation’s involvement. Loyal customers from near and far know full well the quality and reliability that a tree purchased here stands for, but it should also be pointed out that not only does McGreevy benefit from an excellent location, but her heart’s in the right place, too, and she and her family dedicate their holiday efforts to helping out “Autism Speaks” every year, as well.
The Shops At Atlas Park
8000 Cooper Avenue
Look, no matter what you’re shopping for this holiday, you’ve got to at least take a stroll through Atlas Park at some point. Something you won’t be forgetting anytime soon. One of our favorite destinations here is without question one of the finest housewares stores in the area, an abundant little place called THE FAIR, which really ought to be called THE EXCELLENT, judging by their great selection of cookware, glassware, candles, bedding, draperies, and so much more. When they say “Everything For The Home Here,” they really mean it!
THE BLUE BUNGALOW
165 Beach 91st Street
Liz Smith Breslin and Jeanne Jamin have cornered the market on cozy and quaint here in their two-story Rockaway boutique. Their eclectic collection of home furnishings, antiques, picture frames, and other assorted hand-made gifts are the perfect way to bring a timeless beach feeling (the ultimate in nostalgia!) into the life of your someone special. And please visit them on the web at www.thebluebungalow.com for a fuller appreciation of same!
GREENPOINT TOY CENTER
736 Manhattan Avenue
One of our favorite toy stores, what makes the GREENPOINT TOY CENTER stand apart from so many others is the attention to detail that proprietors Herman and Nancy Hernandez put into everything. This is not a huge electronics or gadget-oriented toy store, but it’s definitely one of the most fun to browse through, given what a tremendous variety is on hand: LEGO, HASBRO, LEAP FROG, MELISSA & DOUG. And probably one of the best things about the place, they offer a no-fuss 60-day layaway option, something that just might come in a little handier this year.
Long Island City
50-01 Northern Boulevard
The sheer expanse of this Long Island City big box store definitely makes you feel like, yes, you’ve come to a place that truly knows what it’s doing; something their staff prove to be so every single time we visit. Whether you’re looking for a laptop, a camera, a cellphone, or just some DVD’s or CD’s, the number of selections here will probably astound you if you’re a first time visitor (and yet, it’s all organized in a very efficient, easy-to-find, clutter-free manner). Of course, where BEST BUY really makes their mark – their service plans for some of their higher-end items, and that unflinchingly reliable GEEK SQUAD, the ones who always manage to make our “technical difficulties” seem like nothing, nothing at all.
69th ST. BEER & SODA
55-13 69th Street
Nick Bamonte is one of our favorite neighborhood good guys, and what you get here at 69th ST. BEER & SODA is some friendlier service than you might find in other such establishments. No matter what your holiday party needs, you can count on a decent selection of imports and domestics, with reasonable prices to match. Where 69th ST. BEER & SODA really shines, though, is their willingness to let you mix and match without too much of a hassle.
L&P; WINES & LIQUORS
633 Metropolitan Avenue
L&P; has one of the most impressive inventories we’ve seen in our travels, running half a block deep off of Metropolitan Avenue and featuring a selection of top of the line scotches, vodkas, tequilas, you name it. And, of course, the variety of wines they offer continues to expand week by week. The folks here are getting quite a neighborhood reputation with the frequent tastings they host – wine, vodka, rum, tequila – so stop in and visit them before the holiday rush. (And by the way, if you’re looking for a unique holiday gift, ask to look at the hand-sculpted metal bottle holders they’ve got, they’ve got such personality!)
LA GULI PASTRY SHOP
29-15 Ditmars Boulevard
No question one of the best pastry shops in Queens, it’s always holiday-time when you step in here off of Ditmars. The Notaro Family, who’ve operated LA GULI for more than 70 years now, are known for their terrific cannoli and gelato, but especially their exquisite cookies – all numbered and showcased to perfection to make some hard choices a little bit easier! Anyway, make sure you head in here real soon and pick yourself up a box (or two!) – your family will thank you profusely.
MONIQUE’S UNIQUE CAKES
We absolutely adore Monique Martin’s holiday-themed cupcakes, but especially around Christmas and Easter. So buttery, so creamy, so unforgettably scrumptious. And the intricacy of her design-work? Always picture perfect. You’re definitely going to want to visit her on the web to see for yourself. And that, of course, would be at www.MoniquesUniqueCakes.com!
40-12 Bell Boulevard
Given what a tremendous sense of community this restaurant engenders, it’s no wonder that Santa chose it as one of his first places for a pit stop this season. That’s Sunday December 13th, from 12:00 to 2:00 pm, wherein not only do you get to have brunch with Santa, but kids under 12 get a free give-away and a picture with Old St. Nick, too. (By the way, as part of BOURBON STREET’S “Toys for Tots” Program, an unwrapped toy will earn you $10 off your next meal of $50 or more here.)
Middle Village/Rego Park
63-88 Woodhaven Boulevard
If the gorgeous Christmas trees adorning the roof aren’t your first clue – you should know by now that longtime neighborhood standout LONDON LENNIE’S really goes all out for the holidays, too. (And how about those “life-size” toy soldiers out front!) We can’t recommend LONDON LENNIE’S heartily enough. The family business is almost 50 years old at this point, and second-generation proprietor Leslie Barnes has definitely done his Dad proud in maintaining the loftiest of standards, such as the finest of fresh seafood, an unparalleled raw bar, and the ultimate in customer service. Which is exactly what you want when your get-together is meant to be extra special.
North 7th Street (between
Driggs and Bedford)
Residents of this neighborhood have long ago come to appreciate the staying power and tremendous quality offered by Brooklyn born-and-raised Paul Pennolino and Philip Caponegro (and Paul, Jr!) at this convenient tree lot on North 7th Street. They’ve got hundreds of trees to choose from, haven’t raised their prices in six years now, and offer free delivery locally. (FYI, Pennolino has another lot as well, located on Union Avenue, between Meeker and Metropolitan – that’s where you’ll find his sons James and David, as well as some really great Christmas music!)
60-09 Myrtle Avenue
Looking to fashion yourself an old-fashioned Christmas the way Grandma used to do? ART COVE is one of the most quaint, charming such places you’re going to find. This is where you go for those hard-to-find patterns of ribbons and bows, tree trimming sundries, and other holiday accessories – ornaments, gift wrap, stocking stuffers, etc. – that make this time of year so memorable. (And they should know, they’ve been doing it for 40 years.) By the way, special thanks to loyal reader Michelle Lopez for turning us on to the place!
STOKES CARDS & GIFTS
69-21 Grand Avenue
We’re really impressed by what a cool selection of Christmas ideas they’ve got here on Grand Avenue. Besides just a fantastic variety of greeting cards and ornaments, Yankee fans especially will be pleased to note how many different gift ideas there are to celebrate the team’s most recent World Series success. And for the littlest among us, make sure you ask about some of the Melissa & Doug offerings they’ve got here, and take a look inside at their Precious Moments showcase, too!
The Shops At Atlas Park
8000 Cooper Avenue
Once again, folks, if there’s ever a time to visit Atlas Park, it’s Christmas time most definitely (because even Santa does!) By now you’ve probably realized that BORDERS is far more than just a bookstore, but this incarnation of same sure does stand out as a cornucopia of holiday gift ideas. Especially for kids, there’s a nice selection towards the left as you head in, and we’ve no doubt you’ll even find something worth your while as you’re waiting to pay for your purchase. Keep your eyes peeled, there are many, many gift options ALL AROUND YOU!
351 Graham Avenue
If there’s a more eclectic and charming gift shop – well, folks, we haven’t seen it yet. The inventory here is constantly changing – like an art gallery almost – but rest assured, this is the perfect place to do some Graham Avenue browsing, whether it’s a loved one you’re contemplating – or even some intriguingly witty children’s gifts (like “Giant Pop-Out Shapes!”). But then again, would we expect anything less from “Brooklyn”?!
NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM
corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street
Pity this isn’t open at night, but if you’ve got an afternoon free, you might want to head over to the NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM for the NYC-aficionado in your life. Understandably subway-themed, gift ideas are the prime mover here, ranging from t-shirts and ties to scarfs, puzzles, and even chairs! (Not sure if the prices HERE get raised willy nilly, too, but you know what – probably best to check their website first, www.TransitMuseumStore.com, just to make sure!)
FUN STUFF/LIZ BALLOONS
75-22 Metropolitan Avenue
Boy they sure picked the right name for this place, huh? FUN STUFF, indeed. Even if you don’t end up buying anything (which would be pretty darn foolish!), make sure you bring your kids in here at some point during the holidays – you’re sure to be in their good graces until well into February! There’s a huge variety of playthings to choose from here, but what they do best is chocolate. And as for LIZ BALLOONS, well we’ve found Liz Kaslow herself to be an absolute master at creating characters out of balloons – something you’ll definitely need to get in there and see for yourself!
AIGNER CHOCOLATES fka KRAUSE’S CANDY KITCHEN
103-02 Metropolitan Avenue
As if this candy confectioner’s dreamscape weren’t Christmas-y enough, a sign behind the counter reads “It’s A Wonderful Life”! Folks, we can’t say enough good things about Peter and Pia Aigner’s stewardship of long-time standout KRAUSE’S CANDY KITCHEN. Every single thing you feast your eyes on is going to prove absolutely scrumptious, but you know what, we’re always impressed by what a great selection of toys and children’s books they’ve got here, too. The Aigners obviously have their hearts in the right place – and it’s right here, quite frankly, with your children.
GLENDALE BAKE SHOP BAKERY
69-25 Grand Avenue
The folks at GLENDALE BAKE SHOP always treat you special, no matter the time of year, but holiday time is always exceptionally special. While their cookies and pastries are on a par with some of the best we’ve ever had, we can’t help noticing that holiday season is “pie season” and for that reason, you are hereby advised to avail yourself of one of their rather special such creations before they all run out – offerings like Apple, Pecan, and Coconut Custard. You can thank us in January!
FORTUNATO BROS. PASTICCERIA
289 Manhattan Avenue
Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, Christmas at FORTUNATO BROS. is more than just a tradition, it’s an event! The abundance of choices here is staggering, and quite honestly, not too many do Christmas cookies better. If you wait too long to make your holiday purchases, consider yourselves forewarned – the lines here can sometimes run you out the door. Just a little more proof positive that you’re absolutely in the right place – so make sure you hang in there!
79-28 Metropolitan Avenue
We’ve absolutely loved UVARARA here at “BEST OF THE BEST” ever since the day it first opened. It’s one of the most charming, romantic restaurants you’re going to find in this area – and given what an unforgettable experience it is to dine here, is also rather inexpensive by comparison. The ambience here is always incredibly welcoming, but even more so at holiday time. If there’s a special someone you’d like to share the season with – or even if it’s just an opportunity to take a break from shopping and enjoy a glass of wine – UVARARA is absolutely the place you ought to be headed. (Because then when life gets a little less hectic, you can return here and linger a whole lot longer!)
Long Island City
46-35 Vernon Boulevard
We’ve long been big fans of the Cerbone Family here and their absolutely unparalleled Jackson Avenue restaurant MANDUCATI’S, one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, bar none. Consequently, we can’t think of anyone whose continuing success we’d be rooting for more than daughter Gianna, who’s set out on her own to introduce her heritage and culinary expertise to an entirely new generation. MANDUCATI’S RUSTICA first wowed the neighborhood with its assortment of savory panini, brick oven pizzas, and unforgettable desserts (especially their home-made gelato!). But now that the nicely appointed brick dining room is open, too, here’s where you’ve got to go for the very best of traditional Italian cooking, all adorned with a red sauce that is simply unforgettable. Isn’t it great when a favorite destination can feel old and new at the same time? Sort of what our holiday traditions are all about, no?
THE LITTLE RED STORE
71-63 Austin Street
What a charming little corner store – and oozing with class – right smack in the middle of oh-so-trendy Austin Street! This is not only a great place for you to find some exquisite accoutrements for the home, but the top-notch selection of children’s playthings has so bowled us over, we keep having to go back and back again!
75-48 Metropolitan Avenue
Okay, so there’s a TOYS ‘R US nearby, but if you’re looking for something special for your little one (like that Gobblet game we love, or those adorable Gund Kids plush dolls!), make sure you stop in and pay a visit to the new home of FRANKIE’S PLAYCE, which was formerly situated within The Shops At Atlas Park. You can even get your holiday haircut here – and once you do, you will never go anywhere else. (By the way, Angelica Harris is offering a free holiday reading program here on Wednesday DECEMBER 30th and Saturday JANUARY the 2nd, complete with goody bags for your kids. To learn more, please call FRANKIE’S PLAYCE or Angelica Harris herself at (718) 381-9552.)
96-01 Metropolitan Avenue
Have to imagine that items pertaining to the recent Yankees World Series triumph are on the top of a great many kids’ Christmas lists this year (and even some big kids’ lists!) Well, look no further than ROYAL COLLECTIBLES, which has one of the best assortments of such memorabilia we’ve ever encountered. Just meandering through the aisles at ROYAL is a fun experience, and we tend to do it quite often, actually. (And they’ve even got things to help any forlorn Met fans in your family make it through the long winter ahead.)
The Shops At Atlas Park
8000 Cooper Avenue
It’s almost a year since Shermon Peters took over ROSETTA WINES, and we couldn’t be more pleased. What you get here is an intriguingly eclectic and unique selection from which to choose – a cut above most other such establishments in the area. Take, for instance, their St. Germain Elder Flower, made with elderflower blossoms from the foothills of the Alps, or their Chilean Montes Pinot Noir, with its clear predominance of strawberries. Two standouts that would make a perfect gift for the hosts of that holiday party you’re heading out to.
SCALA PASTRY SHOP
69-51 Grand Avenue
Nothing quite like an Italian bakery come holiday-time, and you’ll definitely find yourself getting into the spirit the moment you set foot in here. Apart from a wonderful assortment of gingerbread options to choose from, SCALA PASTRY SHOP do an unforgettable job with their various Christmas cookies. And even though they’re predominantly Jewish in origin, we can’t help falling for the delightful Rugulah they’ve got right up front there at the counter, which comes in both chocolate and raspberry!
METROPOLITAN FISH MARKET
635 Metropolitan Avenue
There’s an Italian Christmas Eve tradition you probably know about by now, wherein families gather for an all-night abbondanza of seven different kinds of seafood – things like baccala (cod), anchovies, calamari, shrimp, mussels, clams, lobster, etc. and various combinations therein. It’s why this is probably the absolute busiest time of the year for a Brooklyn institution like the METROPOLITAN FISH MARKET. The Zollo Family have been serving the neighborhood for generations now – and even newcomers to the community have started spreading the word!
GR STATIONERY STORE
64-67 Dry Harbor Road
Really impressive how the folks at GR STATIONERY STORE have configured their store to almost triple their inventory here. But especially right now, it’s just wall-to-wall holiday offerings – and quite a selection at that. Not sure you’ll find a broader variety of greeting cards anywhere else – and their any-size gift bag promotion (99c) is really quite a steal, especially if you take a look at exactly how big some of those darn things are! By the way, if you’re really looking for something classy, check out the assortment of Department 56 Christmas Village items they’ve got here. Pretty cool…
STOP & SHOP
8989 Union Turnpike
Regular readers of these pages know what fans we are of this simply super STOP & SHOP on Union Turnpike right on the Forest Hills/Glendale border. In fact, you can get just about anything you want here – it’s practically an entire city. Their bakery section is as good as any neighborhood bakery – except it’s right there! And their deli section is as good (actually better!) than most neighborhood delis – except it’s right there! Looking for some flowers? Gift wrap? Some last-minute toys for the kids? It’s ALL-RIGHT-HERE!
64-21 53rd Drive
We always dig whatever new O’NEILL’S chef Jose Dominguez has got cooking, but wait’ll you hear what he’s serving up for the holidays! Colossal Crab Meat Cocktail; O’NEILL’S Famous Garlic Bread, with Gorgonzola; Chicken Breast with Lemon-Coconut Crème; Aged Prime Rib, Roasted with Lemon-Pepper Potato Wedges; Virginia Ham with Bourbon Glaze and Apricot Marmalade; and much much more. O’NEILL’S is clearly a wonderful place to be holding your holiday party, no question – heck, WE ARE!
63-98 Woodhaven Boulevard
It’s always festive at WOODHAVEN HOUSE, given the exceptional décor that greets you the moment you arrive, and always lets you know you’ve stopped in at some place special. But the holidays are when John Cregan and company truly go all out here. Their private party room is one of the more popular around town, so if you’re interested, you’d best get a move on. Not only that, but renowned WOODHAVEN HOUSE fave DJ Sean has got not one but two events coming up you’re going to want to check out – his rockin’ Christmas Eve extravaganza on December 24th and his ringin’-in-the-new-year bash on December 31st, both of which start at 10:30 pm, with no cover charge!
Long Island City
808 Queens Plaza South
Easily one of the most luxurious (and exotic) event destinations in Queens, the RAVEL HOTEL is the perfect place to fete that special someone in your life this holiday. Maybe it’s checking out their Wine Down Wednesdays evening of jazz that gets you here first, but rest assured, the place’s meticulous opulence and breathtaking views of the NYC skyline will definitely get you back again right quick. (Make sure you check out www.RavelHotel.com before you go!)
VERTUCCIO’S PIZZA ON THE PARK
232 North 12th Street
Want to tell you about one of our new favorite places, folks. VERTUCCIO’S, the latest to arrive on the Brooklyn brick-oven pizza scene, has one of the most exquisitely inviting ambiences you’re going to find in such an establishment. And as much as we love the culinary creations of long-time pizzaioli Gaetano Giuffre (especially his Bresaola pizza and his Tagliolini pasta!), we couldn’t help but be equally impressed by the has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed décor, including four massive oil murals depicting nineteenth century Italian landscapes and seascapes, all painted by Suzanne Bellehumeur. What can we say – get here for the holidays, folks!
Have yourselves a very Happy Holiday, folks, from all us here at the QUEENS LEDGER-BROOKLYN STAR.