Every forecast we checked promised a perfect weather weekend, considering this was still February. Saturday's bright sunshine, clear blue skies, slight breeze and mid-to-high-50s meant one thing: bicycling! And where better to ride our trusty two wheelers to, but a far-off land of outer-borough exoticism and tongue-numbing food, Flushing! Rounding out the adventure team were our buddies Josh Bernstein, food writer extraordinaire, and Jean Barberis, a dapper and delightful Frenchman of extraordinary abilities.
First Josh biked from his place in Crown Heights to mine in Bushwick, a total of 3.5 miles. Together, Josh and I then hustled up to Jean's pad in Woodside, another 4.3 miles. Once we pickedup the Frenchman, we all boogied our way to Flushing, tallying another 4.5 miles, but we got turned around in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and ended up in the Queens Botanical Garden before hitting the magical land of East Asian delicacies along Main street, Queens, USA.
Flushing started out its lengthy history as a Dutch trading village called Vlissingen. Always a center for ethnic diversity and religious tolerance, proved as such way back in 1657 with the Flushing Remonstrance, which allowed Quakers and others to worship freely, against the wishes of the New Netherlands Governor (and mean son-of-a-bitch) Peter Stuyvesant. The Remonstrance is widely considered a birthplace of religious freedom in the new world.
A few hundred years have gone by since, and the diversity (both ethnic and religious - there are over 200 houses of worship within 2.5 sq miles!) of Flushing pulses up and down the streets. Before Flushing became NY's largest Chinatown, it was mostly Italian and Greek. They left during Great White Flight in the 70s, and the immigrants from SE Asia started pouring in. Nowadays Flushing is crammed with Koreans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, and Chinese from the Sichuan, Fujian and Hunan provinces.
Our aim was the Flushing Mall on 39th avenue. On our way in, we were greeted by a very friendly Chinese dragon, a remnant from the Year of the Ox celebration last weekend. The Flushing Mall is a split-level, split-personality spot, with clothing stores, tailors and two small cafes on the ground floor surrounded by plain decor and uninspired mall decor. Turn a corner and go down some stairs and one enters a subterranean food court and electronics shops surrounded by multi-colored flooring and walls, with a space-age modern Asian design scheme. We went ground level for Korean-Chinese dumplings, and underground for spicy Dandan noodles, spicy hot and sour soup with rice noodles and lamb, and spicy fried chicken over sticky rice with salad. Needles to say, we weren't in it for the bland or boring. Everything was cheap, delicious, and spicy, but unfortunately not the face-melting-off spicy we were looking for, just the caught-in-the-back-of-the-throat-type-cough spicy. Next time . . .
Filled to the gills with szechuan foods and fantastically happy, we went two separate ways - Josh for some food shopping and Jean and I towards the Queens Museum. En route we passed the almost-entirely-gone Shea stadium, formerly home to the NY Mets, the lovable/hateable underdogs of MLB's National League. Its not that they suck, the way the Knicks suck, its that they try really hard but never make it to the finals. (Don't ask me, I don't do sports.) However, I DO do NY's iconography, and the vision of the classic Shea Stadium, all but its Western Wall pulled down to make way for a parking lot for the new Citi Field (which should be named the Citi / Taxpayer Field, but don't get us started) was heavy on the heart.
Off to the QMA, for short films on Queens and a Q&A at the QMA with the filmmakers. Following, we had a fantastic bike ride back to Bushwick, (6 miles), first stopping & dropping Jean in Woodside. Magical, marvelous mouthfuls of Queens on a beautiful bizarrely blue-sky Saturday in February should be on everybody's life list. Next up, the Bronx!
2 weeks ago