Trieste, on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, may be the most isolated of the restaurants I've profiled for "Who Goes There?" But I urge you to go anyway, and order the gnocchi with veal sauce. You won't be sorry.
Who Goes There? Trieste Restaurant
There are plenty of Italian restaurants in New York that make their focus the cuisine of Northern Italy. But Trieste? Who spotlights the food of that odd, quasi-Austrian seaport on the Slovenia border? As far as I can tell, only the Jackson Heights, Queens, restaurant that's actually calls itself Trieste. It was founded in 1978 by Lorenzo, Romano and Elio Honovic, three brothers from the Istria peninsula. They didn't make it easy for you to enjoy their specialties. The restaurant hides in plain side on an ugly block of noisy, dusty Northern Boulevard, right across from a garish IHOP. To patronize it, you either have to live nearby or have a car.
Further masking the considerable attractions of the kitchen are a window-darkening set of heavy vertical venetian blinds—a mind-your-own-business decor gesture typical of old Italian joints. Also typical is the faceless "fine dining" decor found inside. A small sleek bar; ecru walls; simple square tables with white tablecloths; the requisite display of wine bottles. Trieste underwent a renovation six years ago that removed every scrap of character from the room. (There used to be a cute little coat room, and the bar was at the back.) The only survivor of that overhaul is a huge, wonderful, old framed photograph of Trieste, circa 1800.
Things are kept simple at Trieste. The menu, full of veal and seafood dishes and delicious home-made gnocchi, hasn't changed for 30 years, I'll bet. There are a couple dozen entree choices, and prices are very reasonable. Old, doughy Elio, who is now nearing 70, still works the kitchen. (Romano died of colon cancer recently, so only two brothers remain.) And the courteous, personable Bruno, in black jacket, is almost always your waiter, lunch or dinner.
The diners either live in the area or drive in from other parts of Queens. (There is parking in the nearby car wash, but only after 7:30.) They are familiars, and they greet Bruno and Elio warmly. Mainly middle-aged men, who probably got hooked on the food during the Reagan administration, they gather in groups of two and three and enjoy long, leisurely meals, beginning with martinis and vodka rocks (prepared by Bruno, who doubles as bartender) and slowly grazing through the complimentary garlic bread, carrot sticks and cheese. They get to ordering around the 45-minute mark.
Things are kept casual. A man or two will eat at the bar, talking to Bruno in Italian. Elio breaks from his hot stove to deal with a troublesome tradesman out front. The two argue outside the front of the restaurant until Elio makes his point. He's old and soft-looking, but I doubt he loses many arguments. The place sometimes feels like a men's club, as one might expect from a restaurant owned and run solely by males. The Honovics' male customers take a long time leaving Trieste. You can't blame them. Once you step outside the threshold, onto the cold, gray Northern Boulevard sidewalk, the world doesn't look nearly so welcoming. And the folks at IHOP don't know how to make your martini the way you like it.
—Brooks of Sheffield