Arthur Avenue: The Italian-American Experience
A day in New York is, simply, what you make it. An artist at heart? Stop in at MOMA. Or the Met. Only here for the parties? You can dance your heart out way up at The Top of the Standard, or way down at The Village Underground. But if you’re a foodie looking for an authentic culinary experience, there’s only really only one place for you: Arthur Avenue.
Colloquially known as the “Little Italy of the Bronx,” Arthur Avenue has escaped, for the most part, the encroaching gentrification that has plagued much of New York. Here, you’ll find no shortage of businesses that can tout the claim of being “multi-generational,” which makes it unique not only by New York standards (considering the very few businesses that survive a year, let alone generations), but unique from a culinary standpoint. Shaped by both Italian immigrants and their American descendants, the food on Arthur Avenue is one of the few places in the world where you can find food that is authentically Italian American: a little Italian, a little American, and a whole lot of love.
The proof is in the pudding -- or in this case, the cheese; especially if you stop by Joe’s Italian Deli, a casual eatery serving up fresh, hand pulled mozzarella. Their bocconcini, along with a few slices of salty prosciutto, is all but the perfect start to the day -- but I wouldn’t say no to their antipasto, and frankly, their Hitman Hero is mouth-watering. For a tourist, however, the deli can offer something even more delicious -- between the rows of canned tomato sauce and the school kids stopping in for sandwiches, Joe’s happens to be, in my opinion, a rare glimpse into the more local side of Arthur Avenue.
But if you’re more interested in the iconic, there’s plenty of that on the avenue as well, starting with Mario’s Restaurant, one of those aforementioned multi-generational eateries. Known for their red sauce fare, which includes Neapolitan style pizza, house made manicotti, and all types of parmigiana, Mario’s Restaurant is a classic both inside and out, even boasting a cameo in The Sopranos and a name drop in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.
But perhaps more impressive than the food is the space itself. What started off as a six person pizzeria is now twenty-nine person restaurant accentuated with velvet lined chairs, soft Italian Opera, and warm oil paintings. Mario’s is proof that a little hard work can go a long way, and Regina Migliucci-Delfino, the current, fifth generation owner, is a testament to that -- she is, without so much as a blink, capable of reciting from memory every dish on the menu, as well as its components. Still, the family continues to pay it forward: during Tuesday to Friday dinner hours from now through October, patrons who wish the family well for their 100th year anniversary will receive one free pizza appetizer for that table (with the purchase of an entrée).
If you’re looking for more traditional Italian fare, however (read: No white sauce! No chicken parmesan!), Arthur Ave has its fair share of that as well, most recently MangiPasta, a Naples transplant serving up fresh, ‘choose your own style’ pasta dishes that include Cacio e pepe, Pesto Rigatoni, and a personal favorite: homemade Ravioli with Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino. Under normal circumstances I don’t even like ravioli, but I was sorely tempted to purchase an entire bag of MangiPasta’s to bring home with me. Trust me on this one.
And then, of course, there’s dessert. There are plenty of great options on Arthur Ave, but you can’t go wrong with Egidio Pastry Shop, a landmark bakery vouched for by the The New York Times and enshrined on an October 2018 cover of The New Yorker. The shop offers up tray after tray of Italian cookies and endless variations of biscotti, but locals will point you to the cannolis, all hand rolled and filled to the brim with cream. You might think you won’t have room after a day full of pasta and pastrami -- but don’t worry, you can get some to go.
So if you’re looking to get away from the hub and bub of Manhattan, a day trip to Arthur Avenue might just be the thing for you. In between meals, feel free to stop by the Botanical Gardens, or even check out the Bronx Zoo. Like I said...it’s what you make it.