We didn't expect to find a restaurant like Stove back in the highly residential, mostly ignored part of Astoria -- east on 28th Avenue, out toward Boulevard Gardens. We went for brunch and found it surprisingly busy but not overwhelmingly so, and pleasingly peaceful. We were delighted; nothing can ruin brunch like noise or waiting. A few tables were occupied in the backyard garden, and a smattering of couples were inside with us among the sparsely decorated white walls and the white-linen-bedecked tables. Up front was a small fully-stocked bar, with a few beer taps and stools that seemed mostly for show (or for the staff when business is slow). The restaurant is somewhat narrow, no wider than the storefront, and it can get a little cramped at the two-tops along the right side, where we were seated, especially considering how big the plates were when they were brought out. There was barely room to lift up our coffee cups from the saucers amid the toast basket and the juice glasses and the side plates and the entree plates. We did, however, like that that the table was set with a spreader utensil along with knife and fork.
The offerings on the set brunch menu were the usual suspects -- Eggs Benedict, omelets, et cetera -- along with some vaguely Irish-pub-themed options. The dinner menu, too, is partially publike, though the interior design of Stove seems purposely contrived to negate the suspicion that the restaurant might be a pub in disguise. It's spare, with vaguely Japanese ink drawings framed and hanging on the wall. The music, on Sunday morning at least, is a nonstop stream of 1960s pop hits -- "Lazy Day," "Summer in the City," "Groovin'," etc. The contrast between the setting and the menu's eclecticism has the happy effect of annulling any potential pretentiousness; it seems like the chef is just making what he or she feels like making.
We bypassed the shepherd's pie and went for corned beef hash and eggs, poached eggs royale, and a chicken Caesar salad. The serving of corned beef hash was ample to the point of absurdity but had us wishing we could actually finish it. The poached eggs royale (smoked salmon makes it royale, apparently) perhaps fit best with the ethos of the restaurant: prepared simply and cleanly, but with solid character and a deft touch. The same was true of the chicken Caesar salad, though it was the most generic of all the dishes we tried.
The restaurant is entirely out of character with what one might think is happening in Queens neighborhoods, especially away from the subway line. We have a hard time imagining who its patrons are, despite being among them. It would make no impact in a well-off corner of gentrified Brooklyn, but here it seems a radical innovation, almost unthinkable -- a place confident enough in its approach to refrain from selling it too hard, as so many of the would-be scene-y, date-y places in Astoria do. (The place's website, though, is a different story.) Still, Stove seems to exist to serve the neighborhood, not perhaps as it is but as it should be, full of the sort of people who appreciate basic food, well-prepared and served in a quietly dignified atmosphere. Rather than try to compete for the attention reserved for flashier bistros in more accessible locales, the restaurant adheres to a palpable, near impossible modesty. If only Stove could succeed in calling into being a neighborhood in its own image.
Price: Under $20 for entrees; brunch is about $12 per person.
Will we go again? Totally. We plan on becoming regulars.