By Robert Intelisano
When you think about Forest Hills, many things come to mind as Forest Hills has a rich history as an integral part of Central Queens. You can walk along the boutiques and retail shops on Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue and hear a variety of languages being spoken.
In 1911, the Forest Hills Long Island Railroad Station opened taking passengers from Forest Hills to Madison Square Garden in 18 minutes. The U.S. Tennis Open was held at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills Gardens from 1913-1978, before relocating to the expansive Flushing Meadows Park. Forest Hills Stadium is a premier concert venue hosting major acts such as The Beatles (in 1964), Rolling Stones (in 1966), Jimi Hendrix (in 1967) and Tom Petty (in 2017), just before Petty’s untimely death.
Now, there is a burgeoning foodie scene in Forest Hills. Austin Street boasts two Michelin Award winning Asian Eateries, Spy C Cuisine and Memories of Shanghai. These two restaurants replaced my favorite Michelin Award winning Danny Brown’s Wine Bar (formerly on Metropolitan Avenue), that closed in 2015. Restaurant Row on 70th Road between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street is home to excellent Cuban, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Eastern European food to name a few.
There are also many very good Pizza options within a one-mile radius of Austin Street and Metropolitan Avenue including Dee’s Wood-Fired Pizza, Lillian Pizzeria and Nick’s Pizza!
I will be leading a Forest Hills Pizza crawl in the summer, and it starts off with “Austin Street Pizza,” which opened at 71-63 Austin St. back in January 2021 in the middle of Covid-19.
Austin Street Pizza’s confidence in Forest hills has worked out as there were lines out the door at the opening and they have been doing well the past 2+ years. They have a diverse menu with almost 20 different Pizza options. Locals enjoy their variety of square slices topped with the likes of charred pepperoni cups or truffle cream sauce with cremini mushrooms. Their squares are crispy on the bottom and soft in the middle. They also serve traditional NY-Style slices as well as a gluten-free regular slice with organic sauce and aged mozzarella. They have 3 salad choices and a variety of sweets with 2 calzones (Traditional with Mozzarella and Ricotta) and a tasty truffle calzone. A unique dessert worth trying is their dough puffs stuffed with Nutella called Gibbys! To compliment the pizza, they have a variety of San Pellegrino flavored specialty drinks. They currently have both indoor and outdoor seating.
A short walk around the corner and next to the iconic “Midway Movie Theatre” sits “Gloria Pizza.” The Forest Hills Midway Theatre opened on September 24th, 1942, originally called the RKO Midway Theatre, named for the famous Battle of Midway. The theatre closed for a year for renovations and reopened as the UA Midway 9 Theatre in 1998.
Gloria Pizza has a long history of their own as they opened in Flushing in 1960. Gloria Pizza was the 5th pizzeria to open in Queens and for 25 cents, you got a slice and a coke (so I am told). After closing for a stretch of time, there was enough customer demand to reopen their doors in April 2012 and they relocated from Flushing next to the Midway Theatre at 108-22 Queens Boulevard.
Gloria Pizza is family-owned and operated and their recipes date back for generations. Owned by Thomas Zaremba, his father-in-law Lucio Musco helped start the original Gloria Pizza on Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue in downtown Flushing in 1960. The original Gloria Pizza was a popular destination for local shoppers, students and 7-train commuters.
Zaremba honed his skills working in the Flushing pizzeria from the 1970’s until it closed in 1994. During the shop’s heyday, it would be packed from opening to closing. After they closed, Zaremba helped start restaurants in Manhattan and Long Island. The Love for Gloria Pizza mostly on social media after they closed, helped encourage Zaremba to come back to Queens. Forest Hills was chosen for their new location based on balanced demographics.
Gloria offers a solid variety of 10 different pies and slices. In addition to their staple Neapolitan and Sicilian slices, they have unique options, such as their Artichoke Pizza slice, Chicken Marsala slice, a Gluten Free slice and a Chicken, Bacon and Ranch Pizza slice! They offer both pickup and delivery options.
The logical 3rd pizza crawl spot (where we have a full sit-down dinner with pizza, salads, main courses and adult beverages) would ordinarily be Nick’s Pizza on Ascan Avenue, a short walk from Gloria; however, I featured them and Dee’s last year.
My Forest Hills pizza “sleeper” pick is “Portofino Ristorante!” Located on the corner of Queens Boulevard at 109-32 Ascan Avenue, Portofino has been a Forest Hills staple since the mid 1970’s. Owned by Carmine Polito, who often greets customers at the front of the restaurant, Portofino is known for serving consistently superb Italian cuisine. I remember him greeting my family, in particular talking in Italian with my Grandfather Salvatore when we came in on Friday’s nights as a boy.
In addition to an extensive lunch and dinner menu and wine list, Portofino has a separate children’s menu. They are open 7 days per week from 11am-11pm. Portofino has a reputation for fine dining Italian; however, few people know how good their pizza is to this day!
There are usually between 6-8 pizza by the slice options available at any given time at Portofino. I like that they still use old-school deck ovens and they, unlike most Italian restaurants that serve pizza, have a designated area (straight as soon as you walk in) to sit and be served pizza and or 4 delicious calzone options.
Their crunchy crust Margherita slice is one of my favorites! My tailor John Timsina comes in from Thailand (he will be here from May 22nd-24th) and we host custom suit events usually twice per year. John has tried pizza all over the world and his favorite slice is the Portofino Margherita! Rest assured we will be there to celebrate the evening of Wednesday May 24th!
Regardless of what I call Pizzaflation (meaning inflation on pizza ingredients higher than the average), pizza is alive and well and Forest Hills IS a Pizza Hotspot!
Where is your favorite Queens Pizza spot? Email me at [email protected] as there is still time to nominate your favorite pizzeria for a review before my rankings are released in the January 2024 edition of This is Queens Borough Magazine!