New York’s Real Little Italy'People come here because they want quality. They're not coming here for the artificial stuff in the supermarket.'
Of all of New York City's immigrant quarters, the one that has survived best, not only in imagination but in reality, is the Bronx's Arthur Avenue. Many of the Italian-American-owned businesses there are still operated by succeeding generations of families that immigrated to Belmont and its surrounding neighborhoods starting in the late 1800s.
While the resident population is decidedly more diverse these days, the business district pulses to the beat of an Italian polka, with authentic (and naturally abundant) foodstuffs to match.
"It's old-school New York," says Daniel Holzman, who spent a day there recently with his business partner, Michael Chernow. Together, Holzman and Chernow run The Meatball Shop, their growing city restaurant empire that serves a variety of spherical, meaty concoctions (not just the Italian kind).
The two old friends, who both grew up on Manhattan's Upper East Side, rarely get to hang out like they once did when they were best buds in high school, so a recent trip to Arthur Avenue was a great way for them to bond over their two shared passions: vintage New York and food.
One stop on their jaunt was Mike's Deli in the Arthur Avenue Market, where owner David Greco hosts near-daily mozzarella-making demonstrations by appointment. Greco — who supplies cured meats, cheeses and antipasti to everyone from the signori he has served since he was 10 years old to celebrities such as actor James Gandolfini — says tourism to the neighborhood is minimal.
"People come here because they want quality," he says. "They're not coming here for the artificial stuff in the supermarket."
There's a surplus of opportunities to sample these Italian specialties, with many purveyors cooking or sourcing fresh items daily. It's hard to know where to begin. Freshly baked breads at Madonia Brothers Bakery? Handmade pasta at Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles? The sidewalk raw bar at Cosenza's Fish Market? Simply walking the neighborhood — which is centered around the intersection of Arthur Avenue and East 187th Street — is enough to inspire any culinary enthusiast.
Need to recharge with a little caffeine? No problem. Grab a coffee sample and a bag of beans at Cerini Coffee & Gifts. While you're there you can browse Italian-made housewares, including tomato mills, cheese graters and pasta makers. (Some of which are restaurant-grade machines. How do you think all those nonne make their lavish feasts?)
While some consider Arthur Avenue a destination in itself, there's plenty to do nearby. The Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden are only minutes away, and Fordham University's historic Rose Hill campus is within walking distance. There's also a Major League Baseball team in the vicinity. You might have heard of it.
During their Bronx excursion, Holzman and Chernow sampled more than just food, opting for a game of the popular Italian pastime bocce at Ciccarone Park, where courts are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
"It was great," Chernow says. "It has been on my list for a long time."