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So much for Arthur Ave.. where's the Italian??

So, I had recently posted looking for an "immigrant-worthy" Italian neighborhood or joint, a place that someone could go to after returning from a trip to Italy and go "yes, *this* is spot on." Basically, a cure for the red-sauce woes I've had- like Flushing for Chinese or Greenpoint for Polish, both of which we've tried and LOVED.

Well, Arthur Ave. came up. And Arthur Ave. ain't it :)

To be fair, we only had time to go to one place (Zero Otto Nove). But I have to say, my friends and I were far from impressed. The neighborhood was crap, and absent from any of the places were the smells I was expecting. Z.O.N. was barely passable- honestly on par with a Bertucci's chain or California Pizza Kitchen. I was amazed this was the place people were raving about. The food was bland, lacked any discernible garlic or body or anything, really. And all at the table pretty much agreed.

So, back to square one. Is there any place- in Jersey maybe, I don't know at this point- where one could find the same caliber of food you'd expect in Rome or some little town on the Amalfi? Please, enough meatballs! I keep having friends return from Italy raving about the kind of food "you never get here", and I have to imagine something akin exists in NY. I know we have the problem where there hasn't been any serious immigration wave in about a century in this case :), but I have to hope there is some place or someone who's making the real stuff. For those who've found success in some of the other enclaves with their respective cuisines, you know what I'm talking about- the type of food so unique and spot on that you dare go anywhere else.

Well, I'm all ears. Hounds?

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  1. i hear your pain and agree that without a strong italian immigration there isn't much chance of finding too much of what you're looking for. and new jersey isn't going to give you what you want, either. but i'd suggest that you ought not to have gone to arthur ave looking for emilia-romana. what goes on up there is italian-american cuisine as practiced by the descendents of southern italians. the strength, for me, is in the food supplies: the meats, cheeses, oils, cookery etc., with some great snacks like sandwiches, bread, pastries etc. and it's just a great little friendly neighborhood without pretension or affect. but you're never going to find certain things up there, like great espresso, nuanced cooking or even authentic contemporary italian cuisine. and whoever sent you up there to find that didn't really know what they were talking about. look at it for what it is, not for what it isn't. you might find more of what you're looking for in places like uva rara or la tavernetta in queens or similar places in brooklyn (sorry i don't know more of these places, but it's not really an interest of mine and it's kind of a fruitless search given the lack of a vibrant emigration from italy) or a handful of places in manhattan. but when the INS gives you lemons, make lemonade, meaning that if there ain't a healthy immigrant stream from italy, don't look for that kind of cuisine. right now in ny, there aren't a lot of new arrivals from france, japan, italy, germany, etc., so seeking that kind of food is a lot harder than seeking what we do have, namely, thai, chinese, korean, uzbeki, balkan, colombian, mexican etc. the list of what there is is much longer of than what there isn't. so, i hear your pain, but i'd advise joyously and graciously partaking in what we've got.

    1. i agree with yussdov that in queens, uvarara on metropoiitan ave in middle village and la tavernetta on metropolitan ave in forest hills may have just the kind of italian food you seek. also in queens you may want to try trattoria l'incontro in astoria. i know you've had a bad experience on arthur ave, but have you given roberto's a try?

      3 Replies
      1. re: ericalloyd

        I agree with ericalloyd, Queens might be the last true hold out in the city for the old time Italian experience.. I went to Giannino's Trattoria di Roma on the corner of 88th St and 75th Ave in Glendale over the weekend and to my suprise the Chef apparently just came over from Rome. This place is affordable and food was excellent. It nice to hear some italian being spoken in the background:)

        1. re: ericalloyd

          what else is nice at uvavara? always pass the place and saw it was kinda weird and fancy-like. that hood is great there for the old-timey stuff.

          1. re: bigjeff

            Tried Uvarara for the first time a couple weeks ago, and my wife, our 4-yr-old junior hound, and I all liked it.
            I don't think it's fancy-like when you go inside. It reminded me more of a place I had lunch at in Montalcino than any place I've been to in New York. Not talking about the food, but how it looked. It looked like Italy, a lot more than the swinging (and good) Italian American joints that I'm used to in the borough.

            I ordered some sort of special ravioli (that wasn't called ravioli) that was delicious, stuffed with spinach, lots of nutmeg, really rich and not at all my kind of thing. I wouldn't order it again but it was really well done. We split some other pasta with a red sauce and shellfish that was good not great, a real sense of the pasta not being homemade and the sauce being very good but.. not special. I don't want to dis Middle Village, but it felt like this was the sort of restaurant that was being priced to the neighborhood, meaning they have to cut some corners to price things for what the locals are willing to spend for a casual joint, so the tomatoes in the salad were grape tomatoes that were nowhere near local, and the cured meats in the app we ordered were good but better can routinely be had elsewhere.

            I'm saying the food was good. Order off the specials and stick with the homemade pastas.

            I'm saying the place is a destination, not just a local joint. But it's something short of amazing, like most Italian in the 5 boroughs.

        2. as a reference can you gives os names of restaurants in italy that you are speaking of, what town/city it is in, and what dishes specifically you had in italy and if you can answer my questions great, keep in mind, the peppers here, dont taste like the peppers there, the gnocchi here, doesnt taste like the gnocchi there, etc etc., it is not a question of recent or past immigration, it is the plain fact that veggies, produce, and many other ingredients are not the same in usa vs italy, different soil, sun etc..using that as a basis, let me please hear back from you...thx

          1. It's hard to know where to start with this. First, I'm not sure what an "immigrant worthy" neighborhood means, epsecially as it applies to Italians. Arthur Ave represents a longlasting Italian-American experience, where traditional food culture lives on, modified and changed over time--most gloriously in the provisions sold there, from fish to pasta to soppressata. In this regard, it's almost unique in NYC. Step inside Calabria Pork Store and find your smell.(And what does "crap mean"? This is a mostly working class Latino-African American-Balkan nabe now--what in the world did op expect: happy goodfellas arguing in Sicilian on crowded streetcorners?) The restaurants offer Italian-American food (yes, meatballs), some of it fresh and tasty, others, sad and tired. ZON offers good, Neapolitan pizza, on par with top rung places around the city. Has op ever been anywhere but Bertuccis?
            For cuisine that matches the "real" Rome or "the Amalfi"--what kind? What's the exact basis of comparison? What's the "real stuff"?Worn out amatriciana? Don Alfonso in Vico Equense? Or frozen fritto misto di mare by the marina? You get them all over there. Gotta be more specific that that. There is food you never get here for a reason--it's food for modern Italians, in Italy, sometimes in regions whose cooking has not traveled. That's why we travel. It's a, well, different cutlure.
            To expect cryovaced "little Italies" any more is a waste of time. Red sauce, meatballs, and other horrors will usually be there to spoil the "spot on" fantasy. There are places that serve contemporary cuisine to modern Italians in NY--Il Gattopardo for Neapolitan staples, Lupa for a version of Trastevere, for instance. I Trulli for Pugliese. Search these boards. Go to Bensonhurst. Finally, Italians keep coming here--there was a big wave in the '60s of Barese and Sicilians. They live now like anyone else. They eat meatballs, too.

            1 Reply
            1. re: bob96

              Gotta say we saw plenty of meatballs on offer at homestyle places in Naples and Rome - its not as tho they are inauthentic and purely italian american products..

              Lots of Italian chefs have come to america and are cooking in upscale manhattan venues. Lots of American chefs, from Batali on, are cooking in an Italian vein. You might also want to try places like Aliseo, Al Di La abd Frankies 457 in downtown Brooklyn. I wish I could recommend some non-pizza downmarket renditions but its hard (except DaFontes and its ilk). Good ingredients are costly.

              Al Di La
              248 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215

              665 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

            2. I can't speak to how it will transport you to what, in all your senses, says "authentic" but if you want elegantly, carefully prepared delicious Italian food, go around the corner to Roberto's. You will not be disappointed.

              1. regarding another area in the bronx, does Morris Park have some stuff? just read an article recently, calling it an alternative to Arthur Ave.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: zemilideias

                    The Morris Park AREA has Enzo's, which is authentically Bronx Italian and pretty good! There are other restaurants in the area but I'm not familiar with them.
                    Morris Park Ave. has GOOD PIZZA, at Patricia's and Captain's.

                    1998 Williamsbridge Rd, Bronx, NY 10461

                1. Sorry to say, but I've been to Italy many times and many Little Italy communities from New York to San Fran and what you are going to find is most often is "Italian-American" food. There is nothing wrong with it, but it's not what you're looking for either. I either eat Italian at home or in Italy. There are very few substitutes to found.

                  4 Replies
                    1. re: morretti_man

                      I completely agree, having just returned from Italy on a two week stint, I find all available options lacking in flavor and heart.

                      1. re: morretti_man

                        Italian American food is the product of another time. Restaurants and home cooking here is from a generation of immigrants from 1890-1960 or so who brought with them regional(generally south of Rome) cuisine from that time. When immigrants are shut off from their homeland they will generally try to keep things the same to keep a good memory of home alive in themselves and their descendants. Meanwhile on the other side of the globe, cuisine changes and evolves creating something that is quite different. This is much like the English language itself, Americans speak a language much closer to England in the 1700's than the current residents of the UK do. Things at the source tend to change more than in far flung colonies.

                        This is also not to ignore the factor of regional variation in cuisine. As most of the immigrants were from Sicily and southern Italy their food is still quite different from that found in northern Italy where most tourists end up at. The food was different when they came and that difference is magnified through time.

                        Lastly we cannot forget that when people, especially before the age of refrigeration were immigrating, they simply could not gain access to the same ingredients as they could where they were from. So the cuisine has to adapt. Look at the Chinese cuisine of India.

                        Getting back to Arthur Avenue, you are missing out on some important aspects. As others have said this is Italian/American food. Not cutting edge cuisine found in Northern Italy. Compared to the rest of the US, Arthur Ave manages to do it very well. Secondly, Arthur ave is more about eating at restaurants. It is a great place to source high quality ingredients. There are fish mongers and butchers who actually know what they are talking about and source good products. They are also very affordable. You can also shop for imported goods, wonderful freshly baked bread, homemade salumi, sausages, fresh pasta, ravioli and some of the best housemade mozzarella to be found in the US. Above all that it is a vibrant long term ethnic community where there is a great local flavour.

                        If you want more cutting edge Italian, head to a place like Babbo. If you want well made Southern Italian immigrant cuisine, head to a place like Dominics or Robertos. Don't forget to pick up some groceries while you are at it.

                        1. re: MVNYC

                          I just wanted to say that I loved this post. And, the bread. Oh, the bread. I used to work for a little pizzeria/Italian rest. in CT. The owner received every-other-day delivery of Arthur Ave. bread, and had to all but beat us servers off with a stick when it arrived.

                      2. Yes, Italian-American does what America does to everything: it ruins it!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: NYJewboy

                          oh pleeze! easy up on the hyperbole, nyjewboy. from your numerous posts over the years, you clearly love pizza, burgers, sandwiches etc., just to name a few things. and these things hardly have suffered from their evolution on this side of the atlantic or the pacific or the rio grande.

                          1. re: yussdov

                            ok, so jewboy loves pizza and burgers...but he's right about America's role in most food...why do yo think everyone loves queens? immigrants = good food, rather than some slow cooked slop from YupSlope

                        2. trattoria l'incontro on ditmars in astoria

                          Trattoria L'Incontro
                          21-76 31st St, Queens, NY 11105

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: zemilideias

                            awsome food!!!! try the rabbit.... closed on mondays