A short ride into Astoria, Queens, brings me to The Shady Lady, a restaurant and bar that has mastered the art of the fry, alongside a generous dose of conviviality. On cold, wintry days, it doesn’t get much better than comfort food, shared with friends, in a warm atmosphere.
The high tables and stools invite leaning over, and stories to be told; the one television behind the bar, which often plays classic old movies, stays silent. The music is lively but doesn’t overpower the volume of conversation. When I was there, it was rock covers, from Aerosmith to The Beatles to Neil Young.
Astoria is full of cozy little spots, but The Shady Lady whips up all manner of fried, crispy goodness without a smidgen of greasiness, and does so till the very late hours. The kitchen stays open till midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
Take the gnocchi with smoked prosciutto. Gnocchi is one of those foods whose double-carb whammy of potato and flour, with some eggs for binding. At The Shady Lady, these pillowy little guys are fried to a crisp and paired with tender octopus ($16) and make for delicious eating. Half an hour went by and I started to enter a blissful food coma.
Mac ‘n’ cheese, the ultimate comfort food, is rich, and comes in three versions: classic ($9); carbonara (with smoked bacon, prosciutto cotta, and fontina cheese ($12); truffles ‘n shrooms ($14). My dinner companions and I shared the carbonara, a gooey, cheesy affair, moderated by the smokiness of bacon and prosciutto, and topped by breadcrumbs for contrast.
If you’re having any compunction about not having your vegetables so far, the spinach and feta fritters with tzatziki should do the trick (somewhat)—they are unexpectedly light and delicious ($8). Or try the too-pretty-to-eat roasted beets, in endive boats, and topped with gorgonzola mousse and candied walnuts. This dish offers a nice play of textures and marriage of flavors ($9).
The house cocktails are more reminiscent of summer than winter, but with food like this, refreshing flavors hit the spot: for example, The Girl Upstairs (gin, St. Germaine, muddled cucumber, lemon juice) and Basil Julep (Bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, basil, splash of club soda). A Ginger Kick comes either spicy or spicier (tequila, ginger, sour mix, agave nectar, jalapeño or habanero) (each $10).
The restaurant opened in February of last year. A month later, a car came crashing through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors. “I think they thought it was a drive through,” said general manager Scott Spellman.
He said, “A lot of heart and soul went into the building.” Wood salvaged from a relative’s house lost during Sandy was brought here “to give it some purpose.”
Hit happy hour for $4 select draft beers and wine and $5 cocktails.
When it first opened, The Shady Lady was meant to be more of a late-night bar. But Spellman said the food was so good it became a restaurant.
The saving grace about all this comfort food is that it’s meant to be shared. Over the course of a few hours, grazing here and there, between snippets of conversation, the effect is far different from eating a large dish by oneself.
That’s not to say I didn’t slowly crawl-walk my way back to the N/Q train. Luckily for me, it was slightly downhill on the way back to the station.
The Shady Lady
34-19 30th Avenue
Monday–Thursday: 5 p.m.–2 a.m.
Friday: 5 p.m.–4 a.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.–4 a.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m.–2 a.m.