A love letter to Il Bambino, or, How I Became the Redheaded Tree Monster

On a sunny day in April, 2010 (it might have been late March, but that’s semantics), I put in my resume at a sandwich shop with an unassuming little storefront on 31st Avenue in Astoria.  I was out of a job, and had no other prospects lined up.  My wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) Holly Kay, and I, had been there once before.  We popped our heads in when we were taking a walk, exploring the neighborhood.  We ordered Crostinis to go, and they were unbelievable.  Having lived West of the Subway, near the East River, we never really ventured past 31st Street.

Astoria is very confusing.  As you go from North to South, the streets begin with a number, and end in Avenue, Drive, or Road.  The numbers go up from 1 as you walk South.  If you’re walking West to East, they go up from number 1, and all end in Street.  Why?  According to Internet (I googled “Why are streets numbered the way they are in Astoria?”), Astoria was made up of a number of different communities, who all had different names for the streets and avenues.  This means that the same avenue could change names every few blocks.  So, between 1910 and 1920, there was a massive overhaul, and they changed the names to numbers, going up from 1 starting in the Northwestern part of Queens.

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Wow!  A History Lesson!  Not about beer! Yahoo for School!  Yahoo for me!  (This is my second Billy Madison reference in 3 Blog posts and I ain’t ashamed about it and I ain’t ashamed about my English neither.)

Anyway, I was out of a job, and in desperate need of one, so I walked into Il Bambino, on 31st Avenue in between 34th and 35th Streets.  As you walk in, you look straight ahead into the dining room and outdoor garden.  To your right are 6 stools, three underneath a banquette that looks out onto the street, and three underneath a small wooden bar that looks into the kitchen.  On the wall to the left, there is a giant pig, sectioned off and labeled with different types of cured meats that come from each section (i.e. the head is labeled Sopressatta).  Above the pig, are the words An Tard-Ri, which is Gaelic for “The Great King” (HOW AMAZING IS THAT?!?!?). Holly and I fell in love immediately, so I knew I had to give it a shot.

I spoke with Ryan Keogh, the manager, who said that there weren’t any server positions open, but he did possibly have a Counterperson position opening.  I handed him my resumé, and said I was absolutely interested, and left.

A few days or so went by, and that desperation turned into necessity.  I sincerely needed a job…  So, here’s my side of how this went down.  I decided to walk over to Il Bambino and pop my head in to see if they had made any progress in filling the Counterperson position.  I was unemployed.  I had nothing but time.  So I walked over, and happened to see Ryan, the very manager I had handed my resumé to, walking towards the restaurant.  So I said, “Hey man, remember me?  My name is Patrick, I gave you my resumé a few days ago.  Just wanted to follow up.”  He said that he hadn’t made any decisions yet, but would call me in a few days.

Ryan remembers this differently.  According to him, he was innocently walking to work one day, when an awkward redheaded monster jumped out FROM BEHIND A TREE and said “HEY REMEMBER ME?  YOU GONNA GIVE ME THAT JOB????”

…I’m 90% sure I was NOT behind a tree.

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A reenactment of this incident in front of Il Bambino in 2014.

Needless to say, I nailed it.  I got that job.  I worked behind the Counter, learned the ins and outs of the restaurant, and kept asking if and when any server positions were going to open up.  Apparently I raised my hand like an eager schoolboy at one of our first staff meetings.  Again, I’m 90% sure I didn’t do that.  I’m an adult.

I made myself clear about what I wanted to do as I’d been stuck as a busboy in one of my previous restaurant jobs, with the promise of becoming a waiter.  That never came to fruition, as I was told later I would never be a waiter because I wasn’t a woman.  That was information that I wish they would have brought to my attention YESTERDAYYYY!  (Second Adam Sandler reference in a single blog.  Wordpress gives out badges, right?  I should get a badge for this.)  Also, I visited there about a year ago and there was a dude bartending.  Again, whatevs.  No bad blood, their food is amazing, wine list is on point, and as you’ll see in a few paragraphs, they had some beers that had an impact on me.

At Il Bambino, I became a server after about a month, and Ryan and I became friends pretty quickly.  We worked hard, knew how to talk to people, and had similar tastes in music (although his knowledge far exceeds mine, also you should see his vinyl collection).  Remember my first post about Kanye West’s Runaway?  That’s that dude.

At this point, I didn’t know much about craft beer.  I wasn’t really into IPAs (which, if you know me now, is very surprising) and I wasn’t above drinking a Bud Lite at the bar.  I had been doing Improv Comedy for the last two years or so, and we were able to drink them for free (or really cheap) so that was a thing we did often.  The beers I did know about were the ones served at the aforementioned restaurant where I was a busboy. Three that I remember specifically were:

  1. Reissdorf Kolsch, which is a traditional German Kolsch, with sweet, bready malts, and a grassy hop character.
  2. Rogue Brewing Dead Guy, a Maibock, which is a German-Style Amber Ale, a sweet, balanced beer with earthy hops.
  3. Schneider Weisse (try NOT saying that with a German accent.  You can’t do it.), a peppery, citrusy German Hefeweizen (wheat beer).

I wasn’t much of a beer guy.  I wasn’t picky.  Maybe times were simpler back in early 2010.  Maybe I never shoulda gotten that job at Il Bambino.  Maybe then, Ryan would have never turned me into the redheaded monster that hides behind trees and jumps out to grab the hoppiest IPA or the bourbon barrel-iest Stout he can find, just to scurry back behind his tree and take a sip.

Nah.  It was the best decision Ryan ever made, hiring me.  He knows it.  I know it.  We all know it.  We had fun working inside that little unassuming storefront on 31st Avenue, between 34th and 35th streets in Astoria.  Please go eat there.

My gateway into my love and passion for Craft Beer began here.  Ryan and I would taste these beers together, and I learned that the people who made these beers were not unlike Darren Lawless (Owner and Head Chef at Il Bambino), and Ryan.  They cultivated Il Bambino into the amazing restaurant it is today, and have expanded to a new location in the West Village.  They’ve been working together for years, and are insanely talented, both in their own right, and know what their audience wants.

Beer, at its core, is 4 ingredients: Water, Barley, Hops, and Yeast.  Craft brewers are all about quality ingredients, hard work, and community.  I think it’s this mindset that Darren and Ryan had helped fuel my passion for craft beer and the people who make it.  Sometimes, simpler is better.

Ryan was (and is) a whiz at ordering the right beer (and wine) for the food they serve at Il Bambino.  Darren’s menu of Crostinis, Paninis, Salads, and Tapas, consists of simple ingredients, simple concepts, executed impeccably.  I believe that Ryan has the same mindset when it comes to the beer menu.

The beers Ryan had on the menu when I started were:

  1. Sixpoint Sweet Action, a Cream Ale from Brooklyn, a crisp beer with grassy, citrusy hops, and a toffee-like malt profile.
  2. Smuttynose Finestkind IPA, a malt forward IPA with balanced, citrusy hops.
  3. Allagash White, which, in my opinion, this is the quintessential gateway into Craft Beer.  “You like Blue Moon?  Here, try this.  It’s much better.”
  4. Lagunitas Pils, a traditional, Czech-style Pilsner.  Clean, grassy hops with nice sweetness from the malts (give this to someone who asks for a Bud or Bud Light).
  5. Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, classic Brown Ale from the UK, with nutty, roasted malts.
  6. Ommegang Hennepin, a peppery, funky, tart lemon zest citrus Farmhouse Saison.
  7. Pacifico, a Mexican style Light Lager.  (Corona’s more awesome primo)

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Chicken Mozzarella Panini accompanied by an Allagash White.

Ryan’s choice of beers listed above are amazing compliments to Darren’s menu.  Simple ingredients, elevated and complimented by the food they’re served with.  The beer menu has changed over the years, but it still contains amazing beers that pair perfectly with the food.

IMG_0133Founders Breakfast Stout, one of Ryan’s weekly specials.  Coffee and chocolate dominate this easily drinkable, 8% Stout.  Ask my Dad!  He loves them!

 

IMG_0256Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Saison.  8.5%ABV, with aromas of citrus, and a little funk.  Taste is crisp, sweet, citrusy, peppery.  Another perfect beer to go with Crostinis.

IMG_0165Puu Puu Platter, a plate of six different Crostinis.

IMG_0319Tröegs Mad Elf, an 11%ABV Ale made with Honey and Cherries.  I like to let this one sit a year, as the flavors mellow out a bit.

IMG_0318Just wanted to throw in this picture of my gorgeous wife enjoying her wine.  As you can see by the Poinsettias and Nutcracker, they decorate for Christmas!  It’s amazing!

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This is not beer.  This is a Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Raspberry Syrup and Homemade Chocolate Frosted Flakes.  Please eat this.

IMG_2279Myself and Ryan at Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor with The Thin White Duke.

Again, I will mention that Il Bambino now has two locations, one in Astoria, and one on 8th Street in the West Village.  Please go eat there now, and I will wait here, so you can come back and finish this blog.

Il Bambino was my first foray into craft beer, and it got me excited to try something new.  I learned how beer and food complimented each other.  Also, I was shown the art of craftsmanship, whether it was Darren with his passion for elevated, simple ingredients, Ryan with his passion for experience (both for his employees and his customers), or craft brewers with their passion for quality, taste, and community.  Often times, you can find complexity in simplicity.

Anyways, until next time!

Cheers!

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