Monday, January 21, 2008

Dear Mr. Fantasy (Fatty's Cafe, 25-01 Ditmars Boulevard)

When we first discovered Fatty's, one of us was following an inherently absurd macrobiotic diet and scoffed at the name. Before we'd consent to try the place, we sniffed, "Is Fatty's really the best name for a restaurant?" picking seaweed and unseasoned tofu out of our teeth. After a few visits, however, we saw the name as it was likely intended, a jovial nickname for an old, reliable friend who you'd never give up on.

Not that there's much reason to give up on Fatty's: The food is consistently excellent, it has a better-than-average beer list (all in bottles, alas), and the mojitos are made with genial enthusiasm rather than resignation. The walls sport work from local artists, which perhaps has unfairly ensnared Fatty's in the overhyped hipsters-versus-Greeks skirmish. Fatty's is too down-to-earth to run like a well-oiled machine or boast of "service with a smile," but even during its most hectic times the staffers are genuinely friendly and make duly diligent efforts to be efficient.

Our favorite menu choices for dinner include the thick black-bean chili, served with tortilla chips that seem homemade (the meat version is equally delicious, but it's rare to find plain old black beans prepared this well); the jerk-marinated Yard Burger; and the Chofan, which even suits our foolhardy macrobiotic needs. Sandwich-wise, the Cubano (the classic pork-ham-cheese-pickles with a yummy chipotle mayo) and Chavorrayo (chicken, avocado, jack, and garlic mayo) always delight, and are hefty enough to take a half home for the next day's lunch. At Fatty's brunch, the polenta cakes are our default choice, best with the side of ham, though any of the offerings will hit the spot (except maybe La Pistola -- fried eggs on rice and beans with a tortilla, which can be lackluster). We've never asked why the side dish called Mister Fantasy is so named -- it's not described on the menu -- but we've ordered it sight unseen, and no, we won't tell you.

Like any old friend, Fatty's can get on our nerves sometimes. Our most recent visit is a case in point. The music, usually au courant club music of some sort, was intrusively loud, as it is far too often, and the beer stock was depleted. And we often wonder whether Fatty's might consider possibly making the menus readable in the bar's murky half light, so that we need not risk immolation while holding the votive candle up against the pages trying to decipher the microscopic print. One last thing: Isn't it about time that a wind shield was installed outside the front entrance, so that diners in the front of the bar don't have to eat with their parkas on? Seriously, even Gregory's 26 Corner Taverna has one now.

But these are quibbles, almost lovable idiosyncrasies to us at this point. None would prevent us, or its crowd of regulars, from frequenting Fatty's. And the manager doesn't seem surprised whenever we hit it twice in one day (which has happened more times than seems decent). And so we tolerate our pal's Fatty's occasional bouts of distracted boorishness, since we know him too well to be taken in by these feints at aloofness. We can see through you, Fatty's; we know you really care.

Price: Cheaper than bistros.
Will we go again? The best of "new Astoria." We've neglected our old buddy in order to complete our mission, but he knows we miss him.

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