“I’m the mozzarella man,” says David Greco as his hands plunge into hot water to massage fresh cheese curds. And there’s a cigar man, cannoli women, a microbrewer and six other purveyors at the venerable Arthur Avenue Market in the Bronx. Not just vendors, rather specialists in their field from fresh rabbit to espresso.
The Arthur Avenue Market is a microcosm of New York’s Belmont (Little Italy) neighborhood in the Bronx. This ethnic enclave, in a city that’s rapidly losing such neighborhood identities, thrives on pride, maintaining its reputation for top quality services and Italian restaurants. Arthur Avenue, its main artery, is a neighborhood street lined with trees, bustling shops, cafes and restaurants.
Opened in 1940 as one of several public markets by Fiorello LaGuardia, the popular Italian-American New York mayor, Arthur Avenue Market in the 21st century is the Whole Foods® of Italian food shopping. Quality, attractive marketing and a friendly village atmosphere permeate the enclosed market. With ten vendors, including gardening supplies and a tailor, it can be a one-stop destination.
David Greco’s Mike’s Deli has been in his family for three generations and part of the Market since it opened. Besides copious quantities of creamy mozzarella fresh, smoked or aged, Mike’s Deli has a café in the market and provides an extensive catering service. David’s cheesemaking skills were successfully tested recently on a Bobby Flay Throwdown.
Affable and relaxed, Paul Di Silvo has been rolling cigars for over 14 years, meaning he started quite young. Today La Casa Grande cigars are sought after by locals and international celebrities alike. Each cigar is hand rolled by a team with many decades of experience on equipment that dates from the early 20th century. La Casa Grande is a popular spot in the Arthur Avenue Market to observe an infrequent craft. Using premium tobaccos, much of it grown in Nicaragua, Paul is passionate in preserving both a traditional skill and the romance of the cigar. La Casa Grande frequently provides cigar rolling demos and workshops at weddings and events.
The Pasticceria offers a classic array of Italian and Italian-American baked treats. The cannoli was flaky with smooth ricotta filling, and the display cases were overflowing with butter cookies and pastries with several varieties difficult to find outside an Italian neighborhood. An extensive gelato selection is available from another case, and The Pasticceria is well known locally for their espresso and cappuccino.
Next door to the Market is an Arthur Avenue institution, Mario’s. Since 1919, the restaurant’s Neapolitan menu has become the classic of Italian American cuisine. Many items are fourth generation owner chef Joseph Migliuccis great grandmother’s recipes, the founder of Mario’s – Eggplant Parmesan, baked clams, eggplant with tomatoes, olives, capers and basil, grilled cheese, pasta with speck and a blush vodka sauce as well as thin white pizza with basil were a small sample from the extensive menu. Mario’s is closed on major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas reminding all that in the Belmont, family still comes first.
Across the street is the stylish Trattoria Zero Otto Nove with a two level interior designed to resemble an Italian town square. The Trattoria serves an upscale Italian inspired menu, but a large stone and wood fired pizza oven dominates the lower courtyard level. An imaginative Nutella dessert pizza ended this food exploration of Arthur Avenue. The rich warm chocolate hazelnut spread, dusted with powdered sugar, paired well with the thin, crisp but flavorful hand thrown pizza dough.
New York still has neighborhoods such as Belmont and streets like Arthur Avenue that are pockets of an almost forgotten urban reality. In the food world that means real versus manufactured ingredients where hand crafted products are available and the skills nurtured.
Arthur Avenue Market, 2344 Arthur Ave., Bronx, NY, 10458, tel: 718-295-5033
Mario’s, 2342 Arthur Ave., Bronx, NY, 10458, tel: 718-584-1188
Trattoria Zero Otto Nove, 2357 Arthur Ave., Bronx, NY, 10458, tel: 718-220-1027
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Gail Gerson-Witte of www.winedineandleasuretime.com