Passage Astoria, at 40-11 30th Avenue in Astoria, seemed like it would be a normal Irish pub. It’s cozy and warmly lit and all of the staff welcomes you with a smile. It is hardly typical though. In fact, Passage may be in a class of its own, creating something truly unique out of what can be easily mundane.
The owner, Michael Mansfield, (also Banter in Forest Hills) is jovial and excited about all that Passage has to offer. He wanted it to be unique and comforting. Raw wood walls and ceilings accented with edison bulbs and black, flocked wall paper provide a cozy feel somewhere between well-worn and antique. Irish way signage and rock posters and pictures of famous feral goats adorn the walls. I asked Michael what made Passage special, and he insisted that, other that the prodigious selection of whiskey, the food is what sets them apart from other establishments of their ilk.
Black pudding. I think I saw this showing up in about 30 percent of the items on the menu at Passage. My family name is Irish, but that is about it. I know little about the Irish culture and even less about their food. I had no idea what black pudding was, and, like any other time I don’t know what I am about to eat, I wait until after i have swallowed before I ask. This stuff is divine!
Upon Michael’s encouragement, I tried out the Passage Mussel Bowl. This comes in three varieties: Irish Breakfast, Irish Curry, and Buffalo. I opted for the Irish Breakfast style, mainly because of the black pudding. The Irish Curry, I am told, is a mild curry, and the Buffalo, a favorite of Kay, one of the servers, comes in a broth resembling Buffalo wings and bleu cheese. The mussels I received were heaped above a pool of thick broth mixed with an Irish brown sauce and diced black and white puddings. After I chowed down on half the bivalves, and sopped up the broth with my bread, I asked what black pudding was. They informed me that i was blood sausage. I shrugged, and continued to shovel it into my mouth.
Don’t get me wrong. This is some very rich food. I figured mussels would be lighter fare, but if you are eating these alone, they are quite filling. I needed a cocktail to wash it all down with, and when I saw a drink called The Violet Femme on the menu I had to have it. Jameson Black Barrel Whiskey, blackberry, Earl Grey simple syrup, and mint make for a delicate purple cocktail that paired perfectly with my meal. The Earl Grey simple lifted up the entire drink to keep it from being too sweet, and adding a smoky note to it.
Mansfield, on his approach to the bar, informed me that Banter was really up on the whiskey game, but with Passage, they wanted to make it even more compelling. Boasting a whiskey list of what bartender Natasha informs me is over 90 varieties, this pub really offers a challenge to even the most seasoned drinkers. That list, by the way, does NOT include Bourbons, ryes, sour mashes, etc. Those are on a separate list, kids.
Half way through my Passage Mussel Bowl, my Irish Breakfast Flatbread arrived. “It’s not a pizza!” Michael insisted. I agreed. Natasha looked at me as I cut into it with my knife and fork and said “that’s the most dainty I’ve ever seen anyone eat that. Dive in!” I did, and before you know it, I had fried egg, baked beans, brown sauce, black and white puddings, bacon and sausage running down my chin, and it was heavenly. The flatbread was toasted perfectly to hold that huge meal on top of it, and I challenge anyone to finish the entire thing (which actually looks like a single serving) by themselves.
I needed another drink to help me deal with the second of two very rich dishes. Jackie Wilson Said is a staff favorite. With the exception of The Violet Femme, all of the cocktails are named after Irish songs. Funny that. Jackie Wilson Said, a Van Morrison song from 1972, came across the speakers as I sipped on the namesake cocktail made with whiskey, ginger beer, lemon juice, and muddled strawberries. Crisp and clean and perfect to cleanse my palate, the ginger wins out in this cocktail.
Passage has a lot more to offer than just blood sausage and whiskey though. They have burgers, Fish and Chips, Beef and Guinness Pie, small plates, salads, and seafood. They offer a Whiskey Brunch, or the traditional Bottomless Brunch as well. Need to learn more about whiskey? Give the brunch a try. More information about Passage, including directions, menus, and more stories behind the establishment, can be found at www.passageastoria.com.