2009-10-07 / Restaurant of the Week

SOHO CAFÉ AND GRILL…wholesome, flavorful, affordable

At Soho Cafe and Grill in Astoria, you can have it all and fresh, wholesome food, great taste, friendly atmosphere

and affordable prices. Located in an

area that bustles with energy, Soho is hopping with regulars. Come once and you will see why.

For the past nine years, owners Pete Garidis and Alex Poulos have been providing a haven where health-conscious but timedeprived people can stop in and get quick and healthy sustenance. Organized into discreet stations, with a restaurant section on one side, and a juice bar and carry-out fresh salad bar on the other, Soho's floor plan allows customers to enjoy a sit-down meal undisturbed, or order take-out unnoticed. The menu has something for everyone from light or classic breakfasts, to creative salads and sandwiches, to Mediterranean specialties, all the way through dessert and coffee. If you come with children (or with an adult who just acts like one), let them eat burgers. They can have their choice of lean Angus beef, turkey, veggie or salmon, ranging in price from $4.59 to $6.59. A burger platter served with steak fries, lettuce and tomato costs an additional $2.25. Soho uses no trans fat.

To complement New York's mild October weather, Soho's designer juice bar, complete with counter and stools, faces the sidewalk and is invitingly open to passersby. Here, you can order a fresh natural juice combo, a refreshing smoothie, or a tasty healthy shake. Sit down and savor it, or grab it and go. Either way, you will be hooked. Soho is situated right below a health club, and its in-the-know members give the juice bar machine a good workout every day of the week. My companion and I tried an "Energizer" juice combo of carrots, apples, parsley, ginger and whey protein powder ($3.99) that was smooth and creamy, naturally sweet, and unimaginably delicious! Smoothies come in pina colada and fruit flavors and cost $3.79 for a Large and $4.99 for a Super. Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry healthy shakes are an excellent source of protein and overall nutrition and cost $5.29.

The restaurant section of Soho is welldesigned with unpretentious flair. Decorated in earth tones, it has wooden tables with padded cloth chairs and matching booth seating, high ceilings, ceiling fans, sphere lighting, and beautifully tiled floors. On the night we were there, the front door was open, almost like a welcome sign. As we were seated in a corner booth, a few old black and white photos on the sparselyadorned walls caught my companion's eye. One featured the Hell Gate Bridge, which opened in 1917, and another showed a group of young dancers at the Homer Dance Studio in Astoria in 1930 and two snapshots in time that are also timeless. Our waiter, Nelson, was personable and accommodating, willing to answer our questions, share his knowledge of nutrition, and give us advice on what to order. I found the acoustics at Soho amazing. Several groups of people were sitting just a few feet away. Yet, except for the occasional whirring of the juice machine, I heard almost nothing beyond the conversation at my own table. Often, it's the little things like these that make the difference between just eating somewhere and really appreciating a meal: Spatial harmony, auditory comfort, a friendly, competent server, and something of interest to hold your gaze.

Soho offers a variety of appetizer selections that include Asian, Mexican, American and Mediterranean, ranging in price from $5.59 to $8.99. A healthy vegetarian choice, called Fresh Veggies, features grilled zucchini, eggplant and portobello mushroom with crumbled goat cheese on a bed of spinach ($5.99). It's a meal in itself. Yum! You can order homemade soup instead of an appetizer ($3.59), and chase it with a wrap, melt, or hot panini sandwich; or order from a different section of Soho's abundant menu.

My companion chose one of Soho's Mediterranean specialties, the Chicken Breast Pita, served with Greek salad, tzatziki sauce and pita bread ($6.79). Prepared with a touch of olive oil, the chicken was tasty and tender and the salad fresh. Some other Mediterranean specialties include a Gyro Platter served with Greek salad, pita bread and French fries ($8.79), Vegetarian Falafel, served with tomatoes, onions and tahini sauce in a pocket pita ($5.99), hot pasta with chicken, Philly steak, and fish sandwich.

I had the Soho Signature Salad which could very well be the most delicious salad I have ever eaten. It was composed of a colorful mixture of mesclun greens, apples, walnuts, cranberries, bacon bits, edamame and orange Mandarin ginger dressing. Every ingredient was fresh and crisp, and the flavors blended together with perfection and a veritable bargain at $6.79. I recommend it enthusiastically and without reservation. Or perhaps you would prefer one of Soho's other special salad creations like the Soho Protein Salad (fresh mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, red kidney beans, walnuts, chickpeas and marinated chicken with Asian sesame ginger dressing for $8.29), the Big Fat Greek Salad ($6.29), the Cobb Salad ($7.79), or the Grilled Chicken Caesar ($5.79).

We concluded our experience by sharing a carrot cake ($3.59) because it's always nice to end on a sweet note and Nelson brought me an enormous cappuccino ($2.79), explaining that he had practiced long and hard to get it just right. The cake was loaded with beta carotene and tasted really good, but if you prefer chocolate, or would rather have apple pie or tiramisu, you can have that, too.

Soho Cafe and Grill is the place to go for singles, couples, friends and families who want to eat well and stay healthy. It is open from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm Monday through Saturday, and from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm on Sunday. Why not try it for breakfast, lunch or dinner this weekend? With a $10 minimum purchase, Soho accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express. To get there, take the N train to the last stop in Queens. On 31st Street just south of Ditmars Boulevard, look for the health club signs, then the juice bar counter below. Enjoy!

Soho Café and Grill

22-15 31st Street (near Ditmars Blvd)
Astoria, NY 11105 • 718.728.8883

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