2011-04-13 / Restaurant of the Week

Exo Cafe

Everyone's talking about Exo Café on Austin Street in Forest Hills, the newest addition to this lively, food-centric neighborhood. Peter Kambitsis opened Exo Café about a month ago after having years of success just across the street at "Ripe," his juice bar and sandwich shop. Exo Cafe is open seven days a week for lunch, dinner, drinks and a fabulous weekend brunch that is already making headlines.

Exo Café serves over a dozen craft beers, each in a distinctive glass. One of them is the oldest brand of beer in the world and had a rich color and taste, while another is called "Delirium Tremens" for its extra punch of alcohol. There's even a brew made with green apples for a unique flavor. Beer lovers will be in paradise. Wines from the U.S., Argentina and France are on offer as well as an exciting array of sensational cocktails. The Spa cocktail is so refreshing, made with cucumber vodka and dressed with a slice of it as well. The same goes for the invigorating pomegranate cocktail and pink mojito, which is made with tropical tequila that gives this refreshing cocktail its pink tint, dotted with fresh mint leaves. Just at the entrance of this cool eatery, you'll find an antique wine press, nicely juxtaposed in this thoroughly sleek and modern restaurant designed by Mema and built by Greco Roman Designs for an interior that is worthy of a photo shoot. This multi-level eatery features dark wood floors, stacked stone walls and brushed aluminum handrails leading upstairs with full glass views of bustling Austin Street.

At first glance, the menu appears to have "pub food" on it. The difference occurs when the food arrives. Everything here is made with fresh ingredients and prepared to order. By ordering "The Sampler" of appetizers, we were able to taste some of the most popular items. Instead of typical, frozen mozzarella sticks, Exo Café prepares cheddar cheese sticks, hand cut and coated in crushed vegetable chips for a unique crunch that releases the flavor of the quality aged cheddar. Onion rings are impossibly light and crisp, owing to a special beer batter, which you sense as you draw them to your mouth. One crunch and you'll be hooked. Chicken poppers are made from fresh, never frozen, boneless chicken, coated in a special sweet and spicy sauce that makes them irresistible. Other items on the appetizer list include Kobe beef sliders, made with this exceptional beef, gently grilled with cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle on mini buns ($12.95 for three). The chicken quesadilla could be a meal in itself for its generous filling of fire-roasted chicken, jack cheese, sharp cheddar, avocado and jalapenos ($11.95).

Exo Café makes excellent Panini "handwiches" as they are aptly called, since you'll need both hands to handle these generously sized sandwiches. They all start with excellent ciabatta bread, tender inside with a crunchy crust that is not too thick and not too "bready" so the fillings take the starring role. It's important to note that sandwiches are never made in advance, so yours is warm and fresh, never soggy. The "Exo Handwich" was our favorite, filled with freshly grilled chicken breast, red roasted peppers, creamy goat cheese, field greens and a delicate sauce. This would be an ample lunch or dinner, accompanied by their house made broccoli slaw. You must order their addictive Belgian fries which are made according to tradition and served with some of their fabulous signature sauces: chipotle mayo, roasted pepper, mustard honey jalapeno and wasabi. Thai chicken handwich, skirt steak, and BBQ chicken are some other varieties, as well as a few vegetarian options such as tomato and smoked gouda cheese and the "beefy" Portobello mushroom handwich.

Even the burgers are different and better here, thanks to a unique smoking process that renders the meat extra juicy and flavorful. Toppings range from the Hawaiian burger, glazed with teriyaki and pineapple, to the Brooklyn pizza burger and, of course, the classic cheese burger. The Portobello burger is filled with roasted red peppers, zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes for a healthy, delicious meal. Choose either the famous Belgian fries or the beerbattered onion rings to go with your burger, which costs $10.95.

Desserts and coffees (made with Illy coffee) are excellent here. Our chocolate lava cake was divine, served with vanilla ice cream. There's also cheesecake, warm apple caramel cake and banana splits. Dessert martinis called "Cannoli, Mochatini and Liquid Tiramisu" sound intriguing.

Weekend brunch is already a big hit, served from 11:00am to 4:00pm for $11.95 per person, including a brunch cocktail. There is a Brunch Happy Hour, where the drinks are just $5 each. Make any day or night special with a visit to the brand new Exo Café on Austin Street in Forest Hills, where the traditional pub concept has been elevated to new heights, both aesthetically and gastronomically.

Bar  Lounge  Grill

70-20 Austin Street, Forest Hills 718.261-6162

www.exocafe.com

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