>> Saturday, May 23, 2015

107-02 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 268-4400

I know it's not Halloween, but how about this time we start with curses?

In 1652, Forest Hills was a relatively small village populated primarily by English settlers branching out across Long Island sound from New England. One evening, the legend goes, the wife of a tavern keeper was unable to sleep and decided to go outside and get some air, hoping that the sounds of the night would relax her enough to help her sleep. As she sat outside of the tavern, a strange glow coming from a field in what is now MacDonald Park caught her attention. Deciding to investigate, the woman worked her way through the tall grass until she heard the sound of voices. Chanting. A ritual. She had, to her horror, discovered a coven of witches, brazenly practicing their dark arts only a stone's throw from her very home. The woman, in true Puritan panic, ran to wake the local constabulary, who, with her help, rounded up the suspect villagers and led them to the gallows.

As the story goes, not all of the coven were captured, and those that survived conjured a great curse. Because it was the wife of the tavern keeper who led to their destruction, their revenge was such that no tavern, bar, pub, restaurant, or other dining establishment, formal or casual, regardless of positive Zagat or Yelp reviews, and regardless of filing proper outdoor seating permits, shall survive and flourish from then until eternity on the location of that hallowed burial ground. Biu Bello is the latest in a long line of dining establishments built over that grave, daring the curse not to doom it to the same fate as those that came before.

Biu Bella. If you've been here as long as I have, you might remember Piu Bello, the popular gelato shop on Austin Street (where Agora Taverna is now) that closed a few years back. Every summer it was packed with people cooling off with sundaes, cones, or milkshakes. I was one of them. I don't know if this is a trademark infringement suit waiting to happen or what, but ultimately, it doesn't matter. This place is doomed. The curse has taken firm root.

Walking into Biu Bella this particular evening, it should have been, at the very least, lively. The weather was gorgeous, it was a popular day of the week to dine. Yet it was all but empty and it never got more crowded than the photo you see before you. Visions of Old Vienna Cafe danced in my head.

The smell of the pizza oven filled the dining room, yet pizza was not the central quisine of the menu. Nothing was. Biu Bella isn't Italian, like I thought it would be, and as all of the previous restaurants in this location have been, and it isn't pizza, like I smelled it would be. It has gelato, but it's in the back and not highlighted. It's kind of a diner. A cutesy diner. Paninis and cheese sticks. Hamburgers and wings. BLTs and chicken fingers. Sandwiches and a kids menu. Soda served with a flexie-straw. The closest approximation of a likeness would be Theater Cafe on Metropolitan, except that Theater Cafe has enough outside seating to be a beer garden.

Pike ordered something from the fancier looking "Wood Fired" menu, the Little Neck Clams. These, we were told, would take a while. And they did. But rather than the kitchen timing everything to come out in the proper order, everything came out at random. Everything came out in a zig zag. My appetizer, then his entree, then his appetizer then my entree. From the somewhat confused look on the waitresses face when we asked her to make sure that the courses arrived at the table together, we knew it would happen, but Pike was, nonetheless, pissed. The little neck clams, roasted in the oven and served with oregano and pecorino-romano cheese, were actually quite pleasant. This was not something to be complained about. I went decidedly lower-rent and ordered the Curly Fries because Yelpers thought that they were the bee's knees. I had to know. Were they amazing? Were they "addictive"? Well, they were fine. If you like the Ore-Ida ones from the supermarket but are just too lazy to thaw and cook a bag of frozen potato squiggles yourself, or you're looking for some Jericho Turnpike diner nostalgia, now you know where to go. 

For his entree, Pike got a Turkey Club Sandwich on whole wheat bread. The white bread sandwich he got instead was, in his words, "a turkey club sandwich on WHITE bread". And that's as far as that conversation went. I wanted to see if that wood fire oven that smells so tempting as you walk in could churn out a good pizza, so I ordered the standard Margherita Pizza, tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella, way too much olive oil, and an extremely burned, brittle crust. Nick's is under no threat.

So Biu Bella is a cuter-than-average diner with mediocre food, poor service, and an uninspiringly boring menu. Yes, there is gelato too, but until the weather is hot and the line at Martha's is too long to wait, I don't envision it being the saving grace of the joint. One Yelper touted the fantastic "parkside view" but in real life that "view" is blocked by parked cars and UPS trucks and there isn't any outside seating for hot weather dining to make up for any other shortcomings. They could have had outside seating in the rear, but someone once upon a time, in their wisdom, put up a greenhouse. They probably thought that it would be like eating outdoors in the winter, except 1.) nope, not the same, and 2.) no one ate their in the winter, either.

Unless Biu Bella loses the name, ups the service, tweaks the menu, and basically becomes something completely different than it is now to drum up business, the witches' curse shall claim another victim.

Sandwiches are about $10. My pizza was $7.50. Soda refills are an extra $1. The place is cheap, but you get what you pay for.


Anonymous,  July 2, 2015 at 1:55 PM  

I mean this with all the respect in the world, b/c i thing your blog is terrific. You're above eating at places like biu bella. And to get the clams? To quote George Costanza, "Taste's funky."

Jon Parker July 2, 2015 at 3:52 PM  

I'd like to think that I'm not above eating anything. I'd like to think that I'd eat at some divey toilet if they knew how to cook. But that's neither here nor there. One of the things I am doing with this Forest Hills specific blog is going to every restaurant in the zip code, anonymously, and finding out how good they are. I have certain preferences which shift depending on the class of restaurant, but good food is good food and good service is good service, and these should, I hope, transcend my hoity-toityness.

I'm glad you like the blog by the way! There's another post being edited right now. I just need to return for one more quick dish.

Anonymous,  July 8, 2015 at 10:53 AM  

Eating at every restaurant in Forest Hills is like an avant garde performance art project. Kudos to you, really enjoy your blog.

Jon Parker July 8, 2015 at 9:18 PM  

Honestly, I decided to review every restaurant because the only other local reviews were in the Queens Tribune and Courier and they were worthless glorified ads that were of no actual service to anyone. But I will accept the artist status you have bestowed upon me.

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