Thursday, March 29, 2012

Arthur Avenue (Bronx, NY): The Real Little Italy


I grew up in a very Italian-dominated city in a fairy Italian state. Rhode Island may be best known for coffee milk, Del's lemonade, its miles and miles of seashore, and for being the smallest state, but we also have a considerably strong Italian population which is evident with a visit to Federal Hill in Providence, our very own Little Italy.

Terranova Bakery (Bronx, NY)

Now, this post is not about Federal Hill, or Atwells Ave, the main drag through the neighborhood. It's not about Providence, and it's not about Rhode Island, but I'm sharing this with you all so you can understand where I come from. We take our Italian food very seriously. We have access to some of the best Italian imports available. When I moved to Los Angeles many years ago, I was perhaps mostly disappointed in the lack of Italian markets and really incredible Italian restaurants. It just doesn't exist the same way there as in other places. Living in New York City, there are a lot more really great Italian restaurants, markets, and of course the tourist trap that is Little Italy.

Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles (Bronx, NY)

Oh but wait. There's more. How about the REAL Little Italy. I'm talking about Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. For this urban neophyte, this was my first trip to the Bronx (I couldn't help but boo and hiss at Yankee Stadium... silently, of course, I'd probably be shot. I'm a Red Sox fan after all). My amazing friend, an Italian and native New Yorker, took me up there (it took well over an hour in each direction from Queens, and 3 subway transfers) and we planned to savor not only the incredible weather that greeted us, but all of the wonderful food laid out before us between all the delis, bakeries, and markets.

Prosciutto Bread, Pane di Casa, Olive Bread

We sampled breads from Terranova Bakery (some pane di casa and olive bread) as well as Madonia Brothers Bakery (their prosciutto bread was wonderful), as well as cheeses and olives from Casa Della Mozzarella and Calandra's.

Mike's Deli (Bronx, NY)

We filled our bags with beautiful cold cuts such as prosciutto di parma, mortadella, Genoa salami, and spicy hard salami, as well as luscious ricotta cheese and Throwdown-winning eggplant parmesan from Mike's Deli.

Small Ricotta Cheese Ravioli (Box of 100) $13

We also picked up some fresh ricotta cheese ravioli from Borgatti's (open for over 77 years!) apparently made (or at least sold) by a little old lady... the place was packed! People know where to go for their fresh pasta! I guess this is the place :) I made some the day after our visit and it was pretty badass... chewy pasta with fluffy and mild ricotta filling. Absolute classic perfection.

Zeppola filled with cannoli cream and pastry cream (they ruined my photo op with the utensils, oh well)

Days before St. Joseph's Day, we filled our bellies with two different kinds of zeppole (one filled with pasty cream and the other with cannoli cream) from Egidio's Bakery, the same bakery where my friend's grandparents had actually gotten their wedding cake in the 50s. There's really so much history in this neighborhood, and I love knowing that it still exists even after many Italians have left the area. They still keep coming back for the incredible food.

Cookies from Artuso's Bakery

We also bought a variety of cookies from Artuso's Bakery. The tri-color cookies are always fun and so colorful. Definitely worth picking up a box on your way through the neighborhood.

Clockwise from left to right: Mortadella, Spicy Hard Salami, Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto Bread, Sharp Provolone Cheese

After trekking back to Queens with all of our incredible food, over glasses of wine while the eggplant parm was heating in the oven, we sampled our antipasti. Slathering fresh ricotta on pungent olive bread, tearing apart paper thin, melt-in-your-mouth slices of prosciutto, alternating bites of sharp provolone, spicy hard salami, and briny Calabrese olives, happiness ensued.

Prosciutto Bread, Olive Bread with Ricotta Cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Genoa Salami, Spicy Hard Salami, Sharp Provolone, Calabrese Olives

Our feast had begun with an array of beautiful Italian treats. It continued with some of the legit best eggplant parm either of us ever had. As some of you may know, Mike's Deli beat Bobby Flay in the eggplant parmesan Throwdown, and just like any skeptic we were both ready to see for ourselves. The dish was unbaked when I purchased it (although if you were going to sit down there and eat, I'm quite sure they'd heat it up for you), assembled in a foil tray and topped with both shredded mozzarella and a giant slice of fresh mozzarella. I simply baked it until bubbly, and even after cooling off again for a few minutes before we dug in, it was perfection. Very thin slices of eggplant, peeled and sliced lengthwise to give you greater eggplant surface area, perfectly breaded and fried until tender. The sauce was a lovely balance, just enough to sop up every bit of eggplant, but not so much that the eggplant was drowning in it. The cheese was just right. Sliced thin, but covering almost the entire surface. It couldn't be more perfect. I can finally say I've had the best eggplant parmesan around, and for a mere $8 for this generous portion, it's a steal!

Eggplant Parmesan from Mike's Deli (medium platter) $8

And that, my friends, was my trip to Arthur Avenue... I can't wait to go back, long subway rides and all! It's definitely a delicious adventure :)

Calabrese Olives, Sharp Provolone Cheese, Fresh Ricotta Cheese, Spicy Hard Salami


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