When you think about Kew Gardens, many things come to mind, as it has a long and rich history as a pivotal part of Central Queens.
Kew Gardens’ commercial center is on Lefferts Boulevard between Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue. Historical attractions include the iconic sports bar Austin’s Ale House, the Village Diner, and Kew Gardens Cinemas. The eclectic 1930’s art deco movie theatre has been converted into a six-screen multiplex which shows a mix of commercial, independent, and foreign films.
Rodney Dangerfield and Kitty Genovese (famous 1964 murder case) both lived in the apartments (not together) above Austin’s Ale House. Other well-known people from Kew Gardens include Burt Bacharach, Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Springer, George Gershwin, Paul Simon, and Paul Stanley from Kiss.
Due to its proximity to both JFK and LaGuardia airports, the densely populated neighborhood is also home to many airlines and airport personnel. Kew Gardens is accessible by car from interstate 678 (Van Wyck Expressway), Grand Central Parkway, Jackie Robinson Parkway (formerly the Interboro Parkway), Queens Boulevard, and Union Turnpike. The neighborhood is served by the E and F trains at the Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike station.
In 1875, the Maple Grove Cemetery opened in Kew Gardens, and the Long Island Railroad built a station to serve mourners a few months later. In the late 1800s, the section around the LIRR station was developed into a golf course and a hotel called Hopedale Hall, which was briefly the name of the area.
In 1909, the golf course was demolished to make way for a planned community, one of only seven in Queens at the time. The community was built in the beautiful neo-Tudor architectural style. This new Kew Gardens neighborhood was named after the luxurious botanical gardens in southwest London. The Kew Gardens station on the LIRR has been in operation since 1910 with the same station house on the Manhattan-bound platform.
Other than great food, what I like most about Queens is its ethnic diversity. Kew Gardens is an excellent example of this. There is a large community of Jewish refugees from Germany who migrated to the area after World War II, which is still reflected today by a large number of active synagogues. About 2500 Iranian Jews arrived after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Immigrants from China, Russia (the USSR at the time) Pakistan, Israel, India, Bangladesh, and Korea settled in Kew Gardens during the 1980s and 1990s.
Dani’s House of Pizza was founded in 1959 by Ramiz Dani. He came to the U.S. in 1957 to escape the Albania-Soviet Union split and the only job he could find was in Little Italy, making pizza. After learning the art of pizza making, he set up a “temporary” shop in Queens as he never intended to stay long term. He hired, mentored, and trained other Albanian refugees before they set up their own pizza shops across Queens and Brooklyn. Ramiz unselfishly helped build dozens of pizzerias that employed immigrant workers and taught them skills, even though he knew they would eventually become competitors. Ramiz died in 2000 and passed the shop to his son Sabri, who still owns it today.
Located at 81-28 Lefferts Boulevard since 1959, Dani’s House of Pizza is nestled on the corner, a stone’s throw from the eastbound Kew Gardens LIRR station. You would drive right by it if you didn’t know it was there at the bottom of the hill. Dani’s House of Pizza was the third pizzeria to open in Queens following Alfredo’s in Woodside and New Park in Howard Beach!
Dani’s House of Pizza serves a delicious thin-crust monster-sized regular slice with their signature “sweet sauce.” If you like a sweet sauce, Dani’s is for you! Their regular slice has a unique aftertaste. The sugar cuts the acidity and there are “unconfirmed” rumors that they mix strawberries in with their secret sweet sauce formula.
To get a unique second opinion, I invited a fellow foodie, Dani’s regular and local business owner, Raj Goel, to meet me at Dani’s on an April Friday afternoon. Raj is the President and Founder of Brainlink International, a specialist firm in IT and cybersecurity.
When I mentioned to Raj that Dani’s was also well known for their pesto slice, a big smile erupted across his face. He acknowledged the regular and pesto slices are tasty and said, “nothing compares to their garlic and eggplant slice!”
I asked him how Dani’s compared to other better-known spots in Queens, and he said, “Dani’s pizza is the best in Queens, and it’s not even close!”
We traded pizza stories for hours. I told him how I was driving back from the 2018 Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame weekend in a crazy monsoon at 3:45 a.m. (starving and running out of gas) and Dani’s was closing at 3:30 a.m. and they let me in for the last two slices to go.
Admittedly, Raj’s best Dani’s story topped mine. Yearning to share his favorite garlic and eggplant slice with his family, he packed slices in Chinese food plastic containers and took them on the plane to visit his family in Mumbai, India. That is “Pizza Passion” in its finest form!
Dani’s serves a Sicilian, regular, vegan, pesto, vegetarian, and other combinations like Raj’s garlic and eggplant. If you ask for it by name, they will make it for you on the spot. Many regulars ask for the sweet sauce on top of their legendary pesto slice.
Before Covid-19, Dani’s was a sit-down restaurant with seating for 26. As mentioned, they were known for being open late at night, usually to 3:30 a.m. or whenever they ran out of pizza. I used to tell people Dani’s did more business with lines out the door after midnight than most places did all day.
The beauty of pizza is a personal preference. Thin crust vs thick crust, Sicilian vs grandmas, New York-style vs Chicago deep dish, sweet sauce vs savory sauce.
Due to Covid-19, their new business hours are 2 p.m. – 11 p.m. seven days a week. There are currently no sit-down options (not even on their old-school round counter seats) only take-out. Take a close look at their refrigerator behind the counter as they have an extensive craft bottled beer selection, as well as wine. They are a classic old-school slices place, and it is usually a long wait for a pie.
Where is YOUR favorite pizzeria and which slice? I want to know. Email me at [email protected] and who knows, you might meet me there for “A SLICE of Queens” pizza review!