It's been quite a journey for Astoria's World Artisan Market. The warehouse-turned-food hall on 31st Street was first announced in 2018, but then got hit with a change of ownership, the global pandemic, supply-chain issues and construction delays related to a backed-up city bureaucracy.
Finally though, as of last week, five of the seven spaces here are up and running. A sixth, the legendary Arepa Lady of Jackson Heights, is set to open soon.
WAM, as it's calling itself, is really more of a strip mall than a food hall, with each restaurant given a separate entrance onto the sidewalk, as well as space for its own outdoor dining area. And, for the most part, these are full-service sit-down restaurants, as opposed to the usual food court model of takeout counters and communal seating areas.
The interiors maintain their industrial character throughout — exposed pipes and HVAC, high ceilings, poured concrete floors — but each restaurant has been given lots of leeway to personalize their space, and it doesn't feel at all cookie-cutter. An especially welcome feature on this semi-desolate stretch of 31st: the building is set back far enough from the street, and the elevated N/W above, that there's plenty of light streaming through all those big front windows.
Gothamist visited the mostly completed site last Sunday afternoon. Here's a rundown of what you can expect.
Sotto la Luna
The elder of the bunch here is Sotto la Luna, which opened about six months ago from a team of five Italian-born partners, two of whom also operate the popular Sunnyside spots Sotto Le Stelle Pizzeria and Sole Luna. This is a double-wide space, so there's lots of seating inside and out, and the menu is packed with crowd pleasers, mostly pizzas that come out of big wood-burning oven in the back, and pastas, like a first-rate Cacio e Pepe finished tableside in a big parmesan wheel.
Astoria native Georgia Koutsoupakis, the baker at and owner of Elevenses, was actually the first one to sign a lease at WAM, though it took her a bit longer to open than the Sotto la Luna folks. At its core, Elevenses is a coffee shop, with a full array of pastries — the name references the British late-morning snack, which you may also remember from "The Lord of the Rings" — but Koutsoupakis is interested in more than just fueling people on the go.
"I've worked in the field long enough that I wanted to open a place that was different than what I had experienced," Koutsoupakis told Gothamist. "Not just run more humanely, but also more eco-friendly, with less product waste. I live really close by, and I know that there isn't anything like this in the neighborhood, and I want to create change here, near my home. My aim for it is to be a place where friends can meet, a place where families are comfortable and happy, where the whole feeling is like you're in your living room."
A sequel of sorts to the now-shuttered Sala on Bowery in Manhattan, the WAM Sala offers a lengthy menu of familiar Spanish tapas, in both "pinchos" and "raciones" sizes, as well as platters of Paella de Mariscos for two or more people. Like Sotto, Sala has taken over two storefronts here, and in addition to a large bar, two dining rooms and sidewalk seating, there's also a stylish lounge-y area where, among other things, they host flamenco nights.
Urban Vegan Roots
About a week ago Jackson Heights native David Tianga and his partner Tara Oles opened this all-vegan offshoot of their West Village spot, Urban Vegan Kitchen, even though the gas hasn't been turned on yet. No matter, this place is still a delight, from the hilariously random celebrity photo gallery that covers nearly the entire wall space (Joe Namath! Bjork! Nikola Tesla! Nina Simone!) to the excellent electric-oven stuffed pizzas turned out by chef Jimmy Bardslee, who's also in charge of booking the restaurant's burlesque shows. Great food, good goofy fun.
Disappointingly, the big Asian offering here turns out to be a warren of ghost kitchens geared up for delivery only. Among the brands located within are Pho Noodles, Hiro Ramen, Cloud Turtle Boil Seafood, T-Swirl Crepe and Shun Lee Express, which made some truly terrible dumplings. Even if you did want to order from the kiosks by the door, there's not really anywhere to sit, especially since someone uses the sidewalk for parking their car, rather than putting out tables.
The World Artisan Market is located at 34-39 31st Street, at the corner of 35th Avenue, in Astoria; hours vary with each restaurant