This little spot in Astoria is full of delicious surprises.
By Erika Rietz
In the middle of a dreary downpour, I dashed down bustling Broadway and ducked into The Queens Kickshaw. It was just the place you’d want to be on a rainy day: natural and lovely, like its owners, Jen Lim and Ben Sandler, who greeted me warmly with a cup of coffee.
We settle in, watching the rain pound the pavement from a big, street-facing window, and they start to tell their story: Both artists, they’d individually traveled to China to photograph the Three Gorges Dam along the Yangtze river. Back in New York, they were invited to show their work together, and that’s how they met. Then comes marriage (“We had such fun preparing the wedding; we wanted to bring joy to people and surprise them all of the time,” Sandler says). Then came a restaurant. The idea was a neighborhood coffee shop, but as they ripped up carpet and two layers of linoleum to discover creaky, dark wood floors, hammered through walls to unearth raw brick and foraged construction bins for wood that became tables, any restrictions on what this space could be were also stripped away.
Queens Kickshaw is a coffee shop, and a good one at that. But the fact that there’s coffee on draft sheds a sliver of light on why the place is more interesting than a neighborhood cup o’ joe: It is also a draft wonderland. Sandler mentions that the beer list is “constantly rotating,” which is to say that in the last two-and-a-half years, the same beer’s never been tapped twice. Never. And that list, though small, is a study in range, from Mava Mocha Kombucha porter courtesy of neighbors Beyond Kombucha (Kickshaw was notably among the first in the nation to pour kombucha ale) to an amber from France. And the bottled beers are next-level: Sandler admits with a smile, “I have a case of Cantillon in the basement.”
You can’t help but perk up at that, but the sticker price on a sought-after 750-mL bottle will drive most drinkers to a second choice. That’s why Lim and Sandler developed a beer-by-the-glass program. “We have this machine that can flush the head space of a large beer bottle with CO2 and pressurize it with more CO2, so we can preserve that bottle after its been opened,” says Sandler. So everyone can get Cantillon, Mikkeller collaborations— whatever the rarity d’jour—by the glass.
Sandler’s particularly, emphatically passionate about cider; his face lights up as he talks about his list, both bottled and draft; I pry out of him that it’s the largest such collection in the city. His excitement’s kinetic: Cider is now a quarter of his beverage sales, surpassing wine.
So Kickshaw is a coffee shop and a venerable beer and cider bar— it’s also a brunch nook, a lunch stop, a candles-lit, music’s up dinner restaurant and live bluegrass late-night hangout—and the place transitions among its many identities easily with help from a menu that even a lot of regulars haven’t figured out is vegetarian. “We wanted to do vegetarian in a way that was hidden,” smiles Lim.
The fancy grilled cheese sandwiches were the perfect diversion, stealing inspiration from the culinary diversity of Queens. Chef Youngsun Lee, a native of Korea, has earned his chops: He’s plated at Momofuku, Craftbar and was executive chef at Kimchi Taco Truck. His global grilled cheeses are as easy as they should be: One of the most popular is Gouda with black bean hummus, guava jam and pickled jalapeños on fluffy brioche. It’s warm and gooey, but with a sweet and spicy kick that pulls it into grown-up food. Other inspired dishes include cuisine à la cider like cider-infused churros and French toast with pear-cider compote; both are worth diving into, especially on a rainy day. •