QUEENS — For decades Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills was full of old-fashioned mom-and-pop stores, where locals would shop for anything from used furniture and floor tiles to wheelchairs and auto parts.
But now the stretch has become a burgeoning foodie destination, dubbed by locals "Michelin Road," attracting foodies craving Danny Brown's duck confit and Wafa's shish tawook, from as far as Manhattan, Long Island and New Jersey, residents and restaurant owners said.
The avenue, which remains home to Eddie's Sweet Shop, one of the oldest ice cream parlors in the city, and Aigner Chocolates, which first opened in 1930, also features restaurants serving an array of cuisines from around the world, including Turkish, Thai, Greek and Argentinian.
The trend, locals said, started with danny brown Wine Bar and Restaurant, which opened in 2006.
The restaurant, which serves an eclectic mix of Spanish and French cuisines, was the recipient of a coveted Michelin star since 2011. Until this year, it was the only Queens restaurant which held the prestigious accolade.
“The first year we made it into the guide, it was a big deal for us,” said Audrey Brown, the general manager at the restaurant and wife of Danny Brown, the chef.
The eatery set a new tone for the avenue, where in recent years several restaurants started offering more upscale options.
Il Poeta, a restaurant serving the classic Northern Italian cuisine, which opened in 2008, is among 16 Queens restaurants which earned the "bib gourmand" in the 2015 Michelin Guide, which recognizes eateries that offer good meals at fair prices (two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less).
“Metropolitan Avenue is where you go for good food in Forest Hills,” said Katia Puracchio of Il Poeta. “It’s getting popular and people say it’s the same kind of food you can find in the city, just in a different area of New York."
Some locals have even started calling Metropolitan Avenue "Michelin Road.”
“The avenue has evolved into a food destination,” said Judy Lai, the owner and chef at Silk Cakes, the Lower East Side bakery known for its elaborate and Asian-inspired wedding cakes, which opened a takeout store on Metropolitan Avenue in January.
“When we were looking for a location to expand the Silk Cakes business, we chose Metropolitan Ave because our offering ... fit well with the avenue's reputation,” Lai added.
Here are some of the restaurants that have altered the Metropolitan Avenue food scene:
The avenue, located more than a dozen blocks from the nearest subway station and accessible mostly by car, presents a stark contrast to the more flashy Austin Street — situated near the Forest Hills subway and Long Island Rail Road stations and dotted with large chain stores, including Sephora, Banana Republic and Barnes and Noble.
Celebrity chef Jason Zukas, who moved his Italian-American restaurant Tazzina to Forest Hills from Glendale this summer, said it was no coincidence that he chose Metropolitan Avenue.
“Austin Street is getting a lot of medical buildings and offices, it’s losing its character,” said Zukas, who appeared on the Food Network show "Chopped." At the same time, he said, the area along Metropolitan Avenue “is a really nice neighborhood.”
“Everyone knows each other on this block,” he noted. “These are hard working small business owners, doing quality stuff.”
Audrey Brown said that she and her husband have always preferred the mom-and-pop atmosphere of Metropolitan Avenue to the more “commercial” ambiance of Austin Street.
But she also said that they are excited about the changes happening along the avenue.
“It just seem like it’s getting more in line with the times and that’s great,” she said. “We are really excited about some of the new people on the block.”
The stretch has been also attracting new hipper places.
Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said that the avenue is also gaining popularity for pragmatic reasons — among business owners because rents are much cheaper than on Austin Street, and among patrons — because it’s easier to find parking.
Frank Gulluscio, district manager at Community Board 6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego, said that Metropolitan Avenue caters to different customers than Austin Street.
While Austin Street rather serves the “Millennial crowd,” Metropolitan Avenue is becoming a destination for foodies, he said.
“Definitely people [dining on Metropolitan Avenue] can choose whatever they want to eat that’s reflective of every kind of food that exists in New York City,” Gulluscio said. “We have everything here.”