It started as a Mom’s outing 13 years ago while the kids were at school. We’d drop them off, then meet at Cathijo’s, piling into one car loaded with a cooler. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx was our destination – “The Real Little Italy” as the neighborhood calls itself. Generations of family owned Italian bakeries, butchers, fish markets, pasta shops, cheese shops, coffee bars, delis and of course Italian restaurants fill the storefronts (with an occasional bodega or Chinese restaurant next door-this is New York, after all). On the drive down, we’d talk nonstop about what we were going to buy, what we were making for dinner, and most importantly what we were eating for lunch.
Technically Arthur Avenue is the Belmont Section of the Bronx and encompasses several surrounding streets. We timed our precious few hours between our favorite stores allowing enough time to get our shopping done, have lunch, maybe share a dessert and coffee and be back in time to pick the kids up from school. Okay, yes…and a glass of wine (don’t judge us; the kids were better for it). Our first stop was, and still is, Joe’s Italian Deli which Amy introduced us to since she had been going there for years. Nowadays we call our orders in to Joe’s and behind the counter, Marie has everything ready including their incredible, still warm, homemade mozzarella (sometimes even burratta), perfectly sliced prosciutto, a freshly cut chunk of Parmigiano… and there’s always something else wonderful to buy.
Then it’s on to Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles on E. 187th St., which has been run by the Borgatti family since 1935. Freshly made cheese and meat ravioli are a must buy as well as pasta, freshly cut while you wait to whatever size you wish. The shop is a throw back to another era, with hand written signs and family photos tacked to the wall and Mrs. Borgatti taking time with each customer to make sure they have everything they need.
The bread debate still continues between us – whose is better? Madonia, Terranova or Addeo? Personally I’ve never met a bread on Arthur Avenue I didn’t like but we can multitask at Madonia as their cannoli, biscotti and pinoli cookies are perfection.
Nothing beats a good butcher and in addition to veal shanks for Osso Bucco, I occasionally order a veal roast stuffed with provolone, spinach and roasted red peppers from Vincent’s Meat Market and yes, it’s as fabulous as it sounds. Roseann likes their homemade veal sausage and there are always fresh rabbits and lamb which hang in the front window.
Established in 1915 by Austrian Jews, Teitel Brothers is on the corner and the aromas are so wonderful, you can’t help but inhale just a bit more. Small and jam-packed with a huge selection of cheese, olives, dried beans, baccala, salted anchovies and lots of other goodies that tickle the senses, the olive oil and canned tomatoes department is outside on the sidewalk. Cathijo and I hit it big last time when the man behind the counter whispered to us that he had some very special reduced price prosciutto ends which he usually sold to chefs…and since chefs weren’t shopping that day, how could we say no?
In the middle of it all is the Arthur Avenue Retail Market built by Mayor Fiorello Laguardia in 1940. A covered market with butchers, delis, green grocers, bakeries and a cigar maker (yes, a cigar maker), you can relax and have a bite to eat (and a stogie) after you explore. It reminds me of a very tiny version of the Florence Mercato Centrale…very tiny…without wine.
In between our shopping, we go back to the car to feed the meter, drop off our bags and load up the cooler. We want to be empty handed because our final stop is always lunch and our favorite place to eat is Roberto’s. Roberto is from Salerno and he now has a second restaurant on Arthur Avenue (Zero Otto Nove) and another in Manhattan. It’s nice to see his successes over the years that we’ve enjoyed his incredible food. The restaurant has a printed menu, but we rarely order from it since the handwritten board with the daily specials is what we’re really there for. The girls and I discuss our choices, share everything and the waiters always serve us family style. Our favorite is the “Pasta in Cartoccio”, usually radiatore or a thick penne with seasonal vegetables, ricotta, some cherry tomatoes all baked in foil. Then it might be tender shrimp and scallops served with a bit of spinach, a hearty veal with mushrooms or chicken with a few spicy peppers. And of course, wine.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was built in 1917 and mid-century, it was the parish for over 40,000 Italians. Today, Sunday Mass is said in English, Italian and Spanish. And what’s up with the FDNY fire truck? No, they’re not fighting fires on Arthur Avenue; there’s always at least one parked midday so New York’s Bravest can pick up a good lunch.
As the years have gone by and the kids are mostly all in college, our Arthur Avenue trips start a little later in the morning, we buy a little less and lunch gets a littler longer. We reminisce about our Arthur Avenue visits in years past and how our lives and kids have changed. But given the longevity of the stores on Arthur Avenue, I know our very special trips will continue for many years to come.
Madonia Bakery – 2348 Arthur Ave.
Arthur Ave Retail Market – 2344 Arthur Ave.