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Bronx Italian Market?

I will be in New York the first week of November, and in the recesses of my mind I vaguely recall seeing something on a food television show about a massive Italian market up in the Bronx. Am I hallucinating, or does it exist? If it does, where do I find it and is it worth taking the train from the lower Westside?

Thanks.

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  1. What you are referring to is the area of the Bronx known as Arthur Avenue. It is indeed wonderful, and sadly far more "Italian" these days than Manhattan's Little Italy. Try Zero Otto Nove for excellent pizza and other dishes, and you can wander in and out of the various shops that line the street. I love Arthur Avenue since it's the only place in NYC where some shopkeepers will address me in Italian before English!

    29 Replies
    1. re: roxlet

      Arthur Ave is by no means massive, though once upon a time 187th Street was awash with Italian businesses. A lot of the places are actually operated by Albanians, who have emigrated to the borough in significant numbers, and a number of spots (Michael Angelos, La Dolce Vita or whatever its called, and some of the restaurants past 187th on Arthur) are relatively new and very 'inauthentic'. I think calling AA more Italian then LI is a bit of an overstatement, in that it implies there is still an active residential Italian community. There isn't.

      Arthur Ave is good, but over hyped. I find the shopping the best part: Tietel brothers is so-so, the butchers uniformly good. Calandra Cheese, Casa della Mozzarella, Calabria, Borgatti, and Tino's for pricier stuff are all safe bets. The retail market has Mike's (famous) and good pizza, but is a shadow of its former stuff. You can get fresh-filled cannolis at a Egidio and Madonia, but most of the pastry shops are tourist traps.

      If you do a search for 'Arthur Avenue', you'll find a number of threads and some good intel.

      1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

        Really? You think LI is better than AA? LI is barely more than a blip in the middle of Chinatown these days. And even back when I waitressed there in the 70s, there wasn't much there then either. There are Albanians who own store on AA, but to my mind, it's still more Italian than LI.

        1. re: roxlet

          I heard Arthur Avenue is starting to be known as Albanian Avenue

          1. re: AubWah

            Roxlet, what makes you think AA is still Italian? If there's barely a blip of a residential population, what makes it Italian? I think it's fine to describe at catering to Italian-Americans, but its mostly people coming in. Which is FINE. I just think its an exaggeration to call the hood 'Italian'--there is a difference. One of the best parts of AA? Sandwiches. Traditionally, do they eat sandwiches in Italy? No, its an Italian thing.

            AA is definitely better than LI, though nothing up on AA has made me feel the way Torrisi has. AA is worth the visit, but some people act like it's the cat's meow. Even when an Albanian doesn't own the store, they might be working there. Which is also fine. But just worth pointing out, because some people will have you people you're stepping through a wormhole when you hit 187th.

            In any case, please visit Calabria! Its wonderful.

            1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

              You nevef know about those Torrisi boys--they might decide to "reimagine" something on AA. But one restaurant does not a defining difference make. By the way, are you parsing Italian vs Italian American--that's an entirely other discussion, and one that leads to exhaustion. It's clear to me at least that "Italian" when used to describe a neighborhood, community, or cultural world in NYC always means Italian American, unless you talk about strictly Italian national institutions or places like Eataly. There are no neighborhoods that are purely Italian in your sense of the word, although many Italian nationals live, work, and eat well here. The last time there were large areas of 1st generation Italians was from the 1960s-1980s in places like Bensonhurst, Morris Park, Corona, etc-which were renewed as ethnic homes to the tens of thousands of immigrant families who came in after the quotas on Italians (and other Southern Europeans) were lifted in the late 60s--Barese, Sicilians, Calabrians, etc. And not a few Albanians, too, under the cover of the cold war. Today, that generation has moved out to the burbs or back to Italy. Many do still shop on Arthur Avenue.

              1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                Well, I think it's Italian when the proprietors speak to me in Italian, and I see the Nonas in line in front of me. Also, Sal Biancardi makes divine sausage, and Zero Otto Nove make a lovely pizza.

                1. re: roxlet

                  I think we're using different terms for different meanings. Of course, the props will speak in Italian, sometime, though having worked nearby and shopped there 2x a week for 6 years and speaking Italian myself, never really had any occasion to do so, and none was offered. That said, the nonnas there are Italians who have come to live here, and would be proud, as I am, to be called Italian American. Things get confused a bit I think when "Italian" becomes a shorthand for the Italian cultural dimension, however changed or transformed, of the"Italian American" experience or identity. Growing up, everything we ate or did was "Italian" in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, even though a Milanese might not agree. The lines have been and still are blended and fluid, even though many of the marketing forces behind "brand Italy" would like to have everyone forget that there was a wonderful and distinctive Italian American food culture here for generations before anyone ever heard of aceto balsamico. But yes to Biancardi and Zero.

                  1. re: bob96

                    Great point, Bob. I guess I got a little reductionist there. I agree with the use of Italian as short hand for Italian-American, but what I was trying to say is that people hype AA like its Italian and not in the shorthand sense of the word. I also just think that there's a lot of branding up on AA that people ignore, preferring to think of it as as 'pure' and 'unfiltered'.

                    1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                      Arthur Avenue is hyped as a great place to get imported Italian goods and shop at old world style butchers and fish mongers that are not found in too many other places. It also is hyped where people still make products in the old world way like Cassa Della Mozzarella and Borgattis.

                      The prices and quality are excellent as is the shoppinng experience where you can speak Italian with many vendors. I usually eat some oysters, some burek and go about my shopping and for that it is wonderful.

                      If there is a problem it is probably with your expectations. No place in America replicates Italy and to be honest that is impossible to do as Italy really isn't one country anyway.

                      Also the fact that Albanians work in some of the shops makes it more authentically Italian. There are a lot of Albanians in Italy as well.

                      1. re: MVNYC

                        This is exactly what I'm talking about: "the old world way" does not involve freezing your signature product as at Borgatti! I like Casa a lot, really dig their boccocini, but it should be noted that among the many good meats they carry they also have Boar's Head. I'm also big on Borgatti, I'm just saying ... Your statement that the presence of Albanians on AA makes it more authentic is a little confusing. Are there so many Albanians in Italy that you can find them in all the most acclaimed stores and shopping districts??

                        1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                          I freeze their raviolli at home, not sure why that would bother you. It is an easy week night dinner after work with a quick brown butter sauce.

                          Yes Casa carries Boar's Head. They also carry a great variety of imported high end Italian products. So they carry both, so what?

                          The Albanian comment was a joke. The point is that having Albanians work in your store really makes no difference.

                          Like I said, your expectations seem to be the only issue here. Arthur Avenue is not Italy, It is a great Italian American shopping experience with the types of vendors that are very rare in the rest of the United States.

                          1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                            @NewYorkNewHaven. The old world way in Italy also means small supermarkets selling frozen, prepared, and national brand foods that everyday people buy and enjoy. The quality is often better than here, but not always. Citterio is Italy's Boar's Head and is seen everywhere. Mulino Bianco cookies, which Eataly flaunts, is simply Italy's Nabisco. And not only are Albanians staffing Italy's shops and restaurants, you'll hear Spanish, Bengali, Urdu, Arabic, Rumanian, and other languages shouted in the kitchens of quaint Roman osterie. My point is: depend on which old world you're talking about.

                            1. re: bob96

                              Also if you want old school, the Arbereshe Albanians have been in Italy for over 500 years.

                              1. re: bob96

                                The "old world way" implies methods of production that are pre-industrial, with an emphasis on such buzzwords as local, handmade, craft, etc. It doesn't mean "Italy in 2012 in the modernized world of convenience and globalization". That's not what people picture when you say old world.

                                Nothing wrong with freezing your ravioli. I could use some of Borgatti's egg noodles though.

                                1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                                  I am still not sure what your issue is here. Arthur Ave has excellent butchers who specialize in Italian cuts and make their own salumi. There are great fish mongers who also import some rare Mediterranean seafood products that are hard to find elsewhere. There is a place that makes some of the best if not the best mozzarella I have had in the states. There is a shop selling excellent fresh pasta in the same way as they have for decades. There are stores selling imported Italian goods like oils, vinegars, cured meats and fish at low prices.

                                  These aren't hipster businesses trying to thrive off of the " local, handmade, craft, etc" buzzwords. They are local businesses that offer great product and cater to a wide variety of customer.

                                  1. re: MVNYC

                                    Not to mention that many of the merchants have been on AA for several generations... not exactly "hipster".

                                    1. re: iluvcookies

                                      I said that ""old world way" implies methods of production that are pre-industrial, with an emphasis on such buzzwords as local, handmade, craft, etc." because I was trying to imply an appropriate self consciousness about the concept. AA is anything but "hipster" though I find it laughable that people on a message board devoted to food deride this new enthusiasm for food--however ill-informed and naive. As part of this younger generation raised in the land of Cambell's soup, we're just finding our way. Just because someone makes their own salami does not mean it is good--this applies to both the hipsters and the old guard.

                                      Old world is an idea. It's nostalgic. It's a crystallization. The real world is never so simple. But old world is not frozen ravioli. Arthur Ave was great, I loved going to Vincent's weekly, but it is not the epitome of American food culture. If it then was all those horrible bakeries and pastry shops would not be there. I'm just tired of people propping AA up on a pedestal, when while there are some great things about the place it's also lagged behind the times. Definitely awesome mozz at Casa. Definitely Calabria is one of my top 10 sausages in the city.

                                      Like CB suggests, there a whole lot of charm to AA. THAT is my favorite part of the place. Also the jump to scream "hipster" is the contemporary cultural equivalent of crying "nazi": its meaningless and indicative of an insubstantial argument.

                                      1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                                        Part of the issue, I think, is bringing "old world" into the discussion: you're right that old world signifies a method of production and does not always guarantee taste and value. I've had "old world' products" (like my grandfather's wine) that were terrible: authenticity, whatever else it may mean, does not automatically map with quality, value, or appeal. Having grown up in a neighborhood in the 1950s/60s very much like AA, I think I can tell which offerings up there in the Bronx are tired and much overhyped and not very good: much of the pastry, for starters, and many of the restaurants. I can, however, accept frozen ravioli, since even my grandmother would freeze boxes bought for holiday meals, and no one in our all Italian neighborhood ever made their own. AA is a genuinely special place, given the concetntration of traditional foodtuffs and their makers; no one should suggest that everything is excellent or that this world is an actual epitome, which I don't think exists for anything , anywhere. As for the hipster/artisanal meme: I for one welcome and am grateful for anyone saving or restoring the best of old world ways when they're worth it. Our foodways are mostly better for it. But there is a sense some of us have that young food artisans feel somehow they have single handedly saved a culture--that without them, we'd have nothing left of real value, and that to shop anywhere other than, say, Marlowe and Sons is a sad compromise. There's a fairly well-known 2-person Brooklyn ricotta maker that gets praised for its extraordinary achievements, when their products are not that terribly different from those of the best commercial firms still making wonderful ricotta at much less of a price. Calandra Cheese and Calabria Pork Store, like Alleva or DiPalo's in Mamhattan, are very much artisanal operations. But these places are also businesses intended to provide for their owners and workers, and not hobbies or projects or avocations. Does this make them any less worthwhile than a Kickstarted boutique? There's something to be said for longevity, which implies commitment, and yes, the"passion" everyone is always praising the new food folks for. I'd love to see young entrepreneurs take a spot on AA and bring a fresh take to traditional foods--they'd be a great addition, and I think welcomed by the old guard. In fact, except for some better graphics and marketing, I doubt a hardcore new artisan baker would be out of place in Terranovas Bakery--their products would be the same immortal round loaves of brick oven deliciousness.

                                        1. re: bob96

                                          OKAY. This is a wonderful response. I think you gave the more accurate depiction of AA. I defer. I appreciate the balanced picture you paint, I just feel that some people portray AA like its the promise land. As if everything were wonderful. So I feel the need to compensate and downplay the hype, but maybe too much.

                                          For people who didn't grow up in New York, like myself, AA can be awesome. Don't get me wrong. It was a great place to live by: I got to enjoy the best of the shopping, and not get duped by the stale old pastry shops.

                                          "But there is a sense some of us have that young food artisans feel somehow they have single handedly saved a culture--that without them, we'd have nothing left of real value, and that to shop anywhere other than, say, Marlowe and Sons is a sad compromise."

                                          This is the real problem, you are right, and as a young person who grew up with food at a time/place when it was not fashionable I get annoyed by those ingenuine types who think they're already masters. Immersion is fundamental, and then you have the dosa guys at Smorgasburg and Jesus help us...

                                          Calabria should be a landmark, in any case.

                                          1. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                                            I have been shopping on Arthur Avenue my whole life and while it definitely has changed it is still great for what it is. As for it being the "promised land", that is a problem with your own expectations. It is not an Epcot center exhibit frozen in time but a living neighborhood that has to cater to many people.

                                            Let's not disparage it for some mythical ideal but embrace it for its charms.

                                          2. re: bob96

                                            Spot on bob. I couldn't agree more.

                                            1. re: MVNYC

                                              To all: hey, in the end I'm just happy everyone cares so much that it's still there in some reasonably good, if imperfect, form. Having watched one after another Italian American food neighborhood vanish, including my own in Park Slope, where Fifth Avenue from Union to 3rd Streets was another Arthur Avenue, I'm grateful for the traditions still vibrant in Belmont. And the fact that until only last year or so, a daily noon mass was said in Italian at Our Lady of Mt Carmel on E187 St made it even more special. Long live at least one bakery, one salumeria, and the one and only Borgattis.,

                                      2. re: MVNYC

                                        I grew up on 187th Street and Cambreleng Avenue ...
                                        a location VERY close to Arthur Avenue. My grandfather lived on Arthur Avenue directly opposite Teitel Brothers for close to 30 years. I know the neighborhood, and I've seen the neighborhood transition into what it is today.

                                        Arthur Avenue was at one time FILLED with Italian immigrants. Italian was heard spoken on the street every single day. Masses were often said in Latin and Italian.
                                        The quality of any of the foods was second to none. A lot of this has changed. Albanians have been on AA for decades. As a kid, I remember my dad pointing out bullet holes made in garbage cans on Belmont Avenue care of feuding Albanians. Many of the present day AA Albanians are Kosovar Albanians. Keep that in mind as you walk in the neighborhood and ask yourself, "Where have all the Italians gone?". Most of the Italian businesses have remained as fixtures in the neighborhood, but the Italian residents have passed on or moved away. That's just the REALITY of things.
                                        So I'm asking any returnees and shoppers alike PLEASE try to accept Arthur Avenue for the charm it tries so desperately to uphold. It was also once my home.

                            2. re: bob96

                              What is Italian-American? Why is it a term of derision? I, too, grew up in Brooklyn, and Italian was Italian then, the Milanese be damned. My father was a member of Tiro A Segno, where Italians (and Milanese and Genovese) mixed seamlessly with Italian-Americans. In line with food trends today, I have begun to refer to Italian-American as Italian Fusion. Fusion is a term that seems to be warmly embraced in many food cultures, maybe it's time to look at the food created in America by Italians in a different way.

                              1. re: roxlet

                                I never felt Italian American was a term of derision, although some in the larger culture did and used it as such. Shorthands can be funny, and revealing: we called our cultural products "Italian" (they were really kind of blend of Neapolitan-Sicilian-Calabrese) in the same way that my Puerto Rican next door neighbors the Torres family would talk about going to shop for platanos at the "Spanish" store. I agree it's time for a fresh look at that fusion--the foodways themselves are historic hybrids of mostly Neapolitan with other southern regional traditions, at least in most of the northeast, though we often forget the Genovese flavors of NY's South Village, just to name one neighborhood. I think we need to know more about how our foodways came to be, why and how they persist, and how they've been regularly re-invented and transformed. Our foodways in many cases remain the only legacy most of us have--language and historical memory being long gone. Italian American foods are just so domesticated, so commodified, so much a part of the American table, we can easily lose sight of what made them special and distinctive in the first place, Agree--time for a fresh look, with no apologies.

                    2. re: NewYorkNewHaven

                      I agree about some of the restaurants and some of the pastry shops, but nowhere in the city is so much quality Italian food is offered for sale in so small an area: any one of the 3 bread bakeries would be a destination spot in any other city; there are 2 wonderful fish stores; a grand coffee and gift shop; plus the meat and cheese shops mentioned above. Borgatti's is so unique, so wonderfully traditional it should be a Smithsonian branch. That said, yes, the enclosed market is only a shadow of the world it once was, there are Albanians, Mexicans, and African Americans living nearby, precious few Italians living in Belmont, but walk the Avenue on weekends before a major holiday, and see the enormous crowds of families from CT, NYC, and Westchester spending huge bucks for fish, cheese, pasta, bread, and other specialties. DiPalo and Alleva are fine shops in LI, but nothing there, nothing even in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst, or anywhere in the US, has this concentration of long-standing and well-maintained Italian American food shops and culture.

                      1. re: bob96

                        Thanks for the measured response, Bob. I think you lay out accurate expectations. For reference: I did used to live in the neighborhood, so I was able to see it's daily comings and goings on a more intimate level.

                        1. re: bob96

                          Well said, bob96! I have waited with the line out the door to buy my ingredients for pizza rustica before Easter. Everyone waiting with me has his or her own pizza rustica (or pizza gain, as some say) recipe.

                    3. Arthur Avenue. I was just there this weekend. Had a great group lunch at Zero Otto Nove, and then walked around some of the wonderful Italian markets, including the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, which is what you're probably thinking of.

                      1. Thanks, everybody. I can't wait.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: EarlyBird

                          Just a note--the Arthur Avenue Retail Market (as well as many of the butchers in the neighborhood, Teitel Bros and Calandra, maybe a few others) are closed on Sundays.
                          And there are several threads with good recommendations on this board, worth a look before you head up there.

                          1. re: iluvcookies

                            Thanks for the head's up. I'll only have three full days in the city, so will want to make the most of my time.