JONATHAN FORGASH (Photo by Nancy Ruhling)
As the co-founder of Queens Together, a nonprofit that seeks to reimagine our local food industry as the engine for nourishing our communities with food and economic security, Jonathan Forgash is a longtime food justice advocate.
He previously hosted Dining for Justice, a fundraising event to keep immigrant families together, and co-founded the Queens Dining Club, which highlights the value that immigrants bring to the rich buffet of Queens through a series of local dinners showcasing unique global cuisines. Forgash takes his inspiration from Astoria.
“The chefs, shop owners, and neighbors make Astoria a big, old-school, tight-knit village,” he said. “Astoria is not a fixed cultural neighborhood. It is ever-changing as new families arrive from around the world. It is more than Greek, Italian, and Irish. It is also Bangladeshi, Brazilian, Serbian, Indian, Egyptian, Lebanese, and so much more.
“Astoria is an old multicultural neighborhood rich in immigrant stories, food, and film,” he added.
When Queens Together needed Iftar grocery boxes and meals for its Muslim neighbors, for example, the restaurant that provided those meals was not the expected one. Instead, it was the family at Ornella Trattoria Italian that wanted to alleviate stress for their Muslim neighbors. That, Forgash says, is a neighborhood in action Eager to give back, Forgash gives us his exclusive list of his best Astoria experiences.
• CHRISTOS STEAKHOUSE
41-08 23rd Ave.
Forgash went for his son’s birthday this August. It was their first big meal out since the virus hit in March. Even with the stress of the virus and its impact on the hospitality industry, Forgash and his family are grateful that Christos Steakhouse took on the task of making the meal not only enjoyable, but special.
37-10 33rd St.
Forgash took his friends for their first meal at Astoria Seafood. Their eyes bugged out at picking their own seafood before giving instructions on how they wanted it prepared. Even the worst part of any dining experience (the waiting while delicious smells wafted over from other tables) was bettered by the camaraderie in the room.
• ORNELLA TRATTORIA ITALIANA
29-17 23rd Ave.
During a meal with friends last fall, dish after dish crowded the table. It was a veritable feast. The house-made charcuterie and the black ink garlic pasta dish were the top dishes that night. And of course, they ordered lots of good wine.
• SAC’S PLACE
35-11 35th Ave.
Sac’s Place is an old family-run restaurant in Astoria. It takes care of the families there with good food and community service. Fresh tomatoes and more from their farm go into their dishes (in season, of course). To Forgash, Sac’s Place is exemplary of the spirit of public service, going so far as to say he would nominate Anthony Sacramone, co-owner, as local mayor.
When in Queens, the small things are the big things. It’s about going to the Grand Cafe to sit and watch the world go by with a frappe, Socrates Sculpture Park to do yoga and relax your mind, Astoria Park for dog walking or laying out, or riding the Astoria ferry after dinner and watching the sun set on the top deck. It’s about 4,000 pounds of fresh-made pasta everyday, since the 1930s, at Cassinelli Pasta and sampling sixteen types of feta at Mediterranean Foods.
Queens is the world’s borough and it means the world to those who live there.