Take a Tour: Forest Hills
by Chris Wallace, 06/26/2013
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Just about nine miles due east of Times Square lies the comparatively arcadian NYC neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens. It was here in 1954, among the red-brick Tudors and tulip trees, that local boys Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel began writing music together. And either rock 'n' roll lightning has a propensity for striking the area or else there's just something naturally musical about it, because it was also here that, nearly 20 years later, four Forest Hills High alums changed their last names to Ramone and became punk royalty—renowned for songs like "Blitzkreig Bop" and "I Wanna Be Sedated."
Nowadays this hamlet, named for its "knob and kettle" hill terrain, feels mercifully unplugged from Manhattan's amps. Bordered to the northeast by Flushing Meadows and Willow Lake, to the south by Forest Park and on the west by the sprawling St. John Cemetery, Forest Hills is a secluded stretch, nearly bucolic by the standards of other neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. It presents as all-American, the model town in which Marvel superhero-maven Stan Lee had Peter Parker grow up to become Spider-Man. The 1950s-style pizza parlor Nick's Pizza wouldn't be out of place in the pages of a vintage Spidey comic. The red-brick train station, too, is classic Americana, remarkably unchanged from when Teddy Roosevelt delivered his unification speech there in 1917. (For more information, visit friendsofstationsquare.org.) If only the soda fountain and 1920s cash register at Eddie's Sweet Shop could speak, they might narrate the area's history (albeit in butterscotches and banana splits); the corner store has been a Forest Hills cornerstone since 1925. Knish Nosh, established in 1952, has similarly survived on the quality of its delightful baked goods and is a hallmark of the region's prominent Jewish heritage.
But around the corner, Austin Street is a hive of eclectic newcomers, from the Japanese grocer Sakura Ya the beloved Tex-Mex-style 5 Burro Cafe. The main drag is home to two annual festivals, in early June and late September, as well as much of the neighborhood's best shopping. Instant Replay, Lady Love, Soleil and Stoa form a block of vintage clothing and jewelry destinations for fashionistas on the prowl. And, as only befits Spidey's home stomping grounds, Forest Hills has a terrific comic book shop in Royal Collectibles, on Metropolitan Avenue.
From here, the World's Fair grounds are a hop and a skip away, as is the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. So too is the West Side Tennis Club, where the US Open was inaugurated and held annually until 1978. The club has also hosted performances by luminaries including Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen and the Beatles—all of whom played the 1964 Forest Hills Music Festival. (The stadium plans to host concerts again, beginning this August 28 with a show by British band Mumford & Sons.) And Forest Park, on the south edge of town, is a densely wooded wonderland. New Yorkers have been as good, historically, at preserving parks in their natural condition as they have been at sculpting the grounds; these 538 acres of oak and cherry trees, fields and ponds are a triumphal synthesis of the two. (Duffers, take note: the green space features one of the City's best golf courses.)
At day's end, Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen, on Metropolitan, offers a sophisticated American bistro experience. Owner/chef Brown, formerly of SoHo's Cub Room, offers 20 wines by the glass and three-course prix-fixe menus for $28 on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. A few doors down, Wafa's Mediterranean-style restaurant is no less convivial; New Yorkers are known to regularly trek out in search of the restaurant's delectable kebabs, shawarma and grape leaves. A relatively recent addition to the neighborhood, Keuka Kafe, a Wine Bar, on Queens Boulevard, is quickly becoming a local favorite for its exquisite selection of wines and cheeses from the Finger Lakes region upstate. Behind the unmarked door of Katsuno, on Metropolitan, award-winning chef Katsuyuki Seo (also of Seo in Midtown East) offers traditional Japanese cuisine, with some of the fish flown in from Tokyo and specials like sea urchin egg tofu. As is the case with Spidey, the Ramones and Simon and Garfunkel before him, Seo grew up in Forest Hills, before heading off into the metropolis to make his name. Another local boy done good.