I first visited The Queens Kickshaw when I learned they had received a La Marzocco Strada MP, the latest of a new line of hand-crafted espresso machines from the Florentine manufacturer that allows for the manual control of a shot’s pressure profile during the extraction. In theory, this kind of pressure control can bring out flavors of coffee beans that traditional machines cannot. While this fancy machine was the bait that drew me into Astoria, it was the flavor of the resulting coffee that kept me coming back. The more I visited the Kickshaw, the more impressed I became.
Owner Ben Sandler is the barista in charge. While he’s made it clear from the beginning the Kickshaw is not only about coffee, they happen to serve a great shot; one of the best in the city, in fact. Single origin coffees from Coffee Labs Roasters rotate in the grinder, most of the lots trackable online to a specific farm ensuring fair-trade practices. In addition to espresso drinks pulled from the Strada MP, the Kickshaw does V60 pour over and, more recently, 12-hour cold brew coffee on tap.
When talking with Ben, one quickly discovers his insatiable curiosity as he speaks enthusiastically about how he plans to tinker with this and toy with that; he’s always thinking of something new and exciting. This explains the Queens Kickshaw being the first shop in New York — and perhaps the country — to serve cold brew coffee on tap. It explains the constantly changing rotation of artisanal beers and the ever changing single-origin beans in the grinder. It also explains the experimental dishes behind the counter, such as house-fermented berries used to make fruit shrubs. What really makes the Queens Kickshaw special is its juxtaposition of three seemingly different foods: coffee, beer, and grilled cheese. Only when they are under one roof in a shop open most of the day and night does the combination make sense.
Cafe Cortado, single-origin Nayarit Mexican beans - Two ounces of milk to two ounces of espresso. These Nayarit beans had a subtle acidity that, when combined with the steamed milk, yielded a flavor similar to strawberries and cream.
Double ristretto of beans from Nayarit, Mexico – A single shot pulled from a 18g double basket. This shot was fragrant and fruity. While the La Marzocco Strada MP does allow for manual paddle control to adjust the pressure of the extraction, it seems like that feature goes unused: the paddle is simply too sensitive for baristi to manipulate. However, that doesn’t seem to affect the quality of the shot.
Cappuccino - A welcome morning shot of espresso with 5oz of steamed milk and a gorgeous rosetta.
Iced matcha tea - A concentrated shot of unsweetened whipped matcha tea with oversized cubes of ice. This is absolutely delicious; its flavor is grassy and bright.
From the beginning, the Kickshaw was set up to serve beer on draft from the existing tubing piped up from the basement. Given the limited amount of retail space, Ben explains, it was a natural extension to keep the cold brew in the basement and push it up through the tap. Apparently the first few cups that he served this had a hint of beer left over, which actually tasted quite good when combined with the coffee. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like this on the menu soon.
Cold brew on tap - A chilled glass of concentrated cold brew coffee piped up from the basement through the tap line. The flavor was light and citrusy making it refreshing.
Fontina Val d’Aosta – An open-face sandwich of marinated mushrooms and basil pesto on focaccia. A cheesy, earthy blend of mushrooms and pesto with a semi-firm Italian cow’s milk cheese atop a springy focaccia. The cheese itself is woody which pairs really nicely with the mushrooms. This is one of my favorite sandwiches on the menu.
Manchego and ricotta – Grilled multigrain bread sandwiching manchego and ricotta cheeses with minted eggplant and capers. The first thing I noticed about this sandwich was the butter and how it brings out the flavor of nuts from the bread. This pairs well with the nuttiness of the Spanish sheep’s milk manchego, whose tanginess also helps reduce the buttery mouth feel. The bite of acidity from the capers adds another layer of complexity. This is a very good sandwich.
Cheddar and mozzarella - Thick wedges of buttery brioche pouring with white cheddar cheese. This is the quintessential sandwich that comes to mind when I imagine grilled cheese. The light and fluffy bread soaks up the butter on the griddle adding a bit of weight, while the griddle adds texture and a gorgeous golden-brown color. The balance of sweet butter and salty cheese is what makes this sandwich a classic.
Egg & cheese - A morning favorite. Thick slices of crustless, buttered brioche sandwiching egg, ricotta, and gruyere with thyme and a maple hot sauce. The balance of sweet, spicy, and salty combined with the umami from the cheese makes this a great sandwich.
Great hill blue - Crunchy cranberry-raisin bread oozing with Great Hill blue cheese, prune jam, and fresh pears. This is my favorite grilled these sandwich at the Kickshaw. The balance of sweet dried fruit with the salty intensity of the blue cheese keeps every bite interesting.
Hellgate Farm Open Market - Recently on Sunday’s, Astoria’s Hellgate Farm has set up a stand inside the Kickshaw selling organic locally grown produce. All the fruits and vegetables are grown are grown in Queens utilizing the courtyard and roof of a townhouse just down the block. Tough to imagine a better way to enjoy a summer Sunday than starting with a shot of espresso pulled from a Strada MP and leaving with a basket of fresh tomatoes and mission figs.
The Queens Kickshaw is a shop that features several concepts at once: coffee, beer, grilled cheese, and occasional farmer’s market without spreading itself too thin. The Kickshaw is at the forefront of a new wave of artisanal shops and restaurants opening up in this outer borough. If you haven’t ventured into Astoria yet, this is a pretty good reason to do so.