While Long Island City’s waterfront has rapidly morphed into a metropolis for art lovers, foodies and young families, other parts of the neighborhood have experienced a much slower metamorphosis.
Dutch Kills, just a couple of miles east of Hunters Point, is still in transition. Luxury hotels stand tall on the same block as empty warehouses and high-rise apartment buildings have yet to outnumber the two-family homes that are packed onto a single street.
On a rainy Wednesday evening, all the homes and businesses are dark, except the warm light and sounds of laughter, scraping silverware and clinking wine glasses from the Crescent Grill, a newly opened eatery and gallery at 38-40 Crescent St. in Long Island City.
“We wanted to be a part of this new Long Island City but we wanted to keep the old Long Island City too,” Shawn Dougherty, a French-trained chef and co-owner of Crescent Grill, said. “What we were hoping for is to get a warehouse-type building and bring some new aspects, some modern aspects and some old aspects together to create an upscale yet casual environment.”
The use of warehouses for restaurants or galleries is a common trend in Brooklyn and Western Queens. Crescent Grill doesn’t shove the ruggedness of the building down visitors’ throats whereas other venues try too hard to remind people that they are in what used to be a rundown building.
The pallete is simple but warm. Track lighting quiets the bright colors used on the walls and makes for an intimate atmosphere without making it impossible to read the menu.
Dougherty owns the restaurant with his brother Dan, who has lived in Long Island City since 1987. Dan is a big collector of art, specifically art by neighborhood artists, which led to the pairing of Crescent Grill and Dougherty Gallery.
“Dan is a huge collector of Long Island City artists,” Dougherty said. “He has a lot of good, lifelong friends, and instead of saying we want to sponsor some artists and hang up their work like other restaurants do to get out of buying art, we dedicate a gallery space to show local works.”
The process of obtaining the space wasn’t very easy. The brothers were looking at a number of spaces, including one on Vernon Boulevard in the very developed Hunters Point area.
“When we heard Dutch Kills, I didn’t know what to think,” Dougherty said. “I remember visiting my brother and getting off the train here and there being women all along the block asking if I wanted a good time.”
“We were both surprised by how much the area changed,” Dan Dougherty said.
The Dougherty brothers wanted hospitality, good food and a good experience to be at the forefront of their business, an equation that almost always produces wonderful restaurants. The eatery/gallery even provides free shuttle service to a number of hotels and other nearby locations.
The staff is exceptionally cordial without coming off as overbearing and the polished wood floors complement the wooden bar where a Knicks game played on a flat-screen TV.
The gallery is free to peruse before or after eating. The current exhibit, entitled “Beach Elements,” features shells, photographs and crustacean skeletons in shadow boxes.
“We want art that is good but that is also relatable and not intimidating,” David Burgos, the gallery’s curator, said.
The St. John’s University alum hopes to put on a number of shows throughout the year.
“We want artists, who might otherwise not be given the opportunity to showcase their work, a place to give their art more visibility,” Burgos said.
While the gallery provides wonderful art — some of which is available to purchase — the food is the headliner.
Executive chef Milton Enriquez — a winner on Food Network’s show “Chopped” — heads the cooking staff.
Warm corn bread and garlic bread squares — which melt on the tongue — tide visitors over as they mull over the menu, which features American cuisine with French and Italian influences.
Though it could make for a perfectly suitable entree, the pappardelle pasta is one of several delectable appetizers.
The noodle dish is made with duck confit, small squares of butternut squash, sage, Brussels sprout leaves, cherry tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The creamy and buttery cheese sauce isn’t for the weight-conscious but mixes in well with the rest of the dish, making for a refreshing comfort food that doesn’t overload the senses. Each ingredient is showcased and makes for a layered flavor, something few cheesy dishes can accomplish.
While the serving size isn’t overwhelming, it is satisfying.