A Hamburger Today

The Ultimate Guide to Buying Italian Ingredients on Arthur Avenue

[Photographs: Chris Crowley, unless otherwise noted]

Once upon a time, the Bronx's Arthur Avenue bled red, white, and green, with Italian businesses peddling cheese, salami, and salt cod all around 187th Street. In those days, Belmont was flush with Italian immigrants, many of whom had moved to the neighborhood to help with nearby construction projects, and you couldn't walk more than a few feet without tripping over a cannoli.

"I used to go up to Arthur Avenue to get salt packed anchovies. You couldn't find them anywhere else," Eric Finklestein once told me. Finkelstein, a native of Hollis, Queens and one of the owners of Court St. Grocers, visited Arthur Avenue at a time when high-quality Italian ingredients were still hard to find and most Americans couldn't tell their cotechino from their culatello.

That reputation remains even as the neighborhood's Italian character has waned.

In today's Belmont, you're more likely to hear Kosovarian, Spanish, or Westchester-ese than Italian. Little Italy, once synonymous with Arthur Avenue, is shrinking as new businesses move in.

Beloved institutions like Danny's Pork Store have disappeared as the families who owned them move on. But others keep going, and many of Arthur Avenue's shops and restaurants are ancient by New York standards. As the neighborhood where red sauce never went out of style, some of Arthur Avenue's restaurants still do their crowds right, like Michelin-recommended Tra Di Noi, old timer Domenick's, or newcomer Roberto's.

But the soul of Arthur Avenue has always been its markets selling fresh produce, meat, cheese, and specialty ingredients. On this storied street you'll find some of New York's finest sausages, unique Italian finds, and one of Italy's most famous pastas, still hard to find downtown. Come along and we'll fill you in on the best it has to offer.*

* Before we start, a quick note on store hours. Many shops are closed Sundays and most close at 5 of 6 p.m. Plan your trip accordingly.

The Arthur Avenue Retail Market

The Arthur Avenue Retail Market was one of several WPA markets established by Fiorello LaGuardia in the 1930s, a move designed to take the city's pushcart merchants off the street. (Only four remain, including the Essex Street Market and East Harlem's La Marqueta.)

It's worth a visit alone for the history—the market is an essential icon of New York's food history—but you won't leave with an empty stomach. You'll find an excellent butcher in Peter's,the best Italian combo in the Bronx at Greco's (nee Mike's), and the neighborhood's best slice shop, Café el Mercato. If you're living in or around the neighborhood, your best bet for produce is at Boiano Foods. (A farmers market is run at the nearby Botanical Gardens.)

The Bronx Beer Hall, founded by Parkchester natives Anthony and Paul Ramirez and John Martin, is injecting new life into the market. Their partnership with Greco's bridges a gap between the neighborhood's old and new businesses. You can't shop there, but it's the best place on the block to take a break and have a drink. Their beer selection is aces, emphasizing Bronx breweries like Jonas Bronck's, City Island, and Gun Hill Brewery, the first to brew in the borough since the 1960s. Keeping with their local credo, they carry True Wine Connoisseurs, a California Syrah that's a collaboration between producer Will Tell and the Bronx's own Sadat X, of Brand Nubians fame.

Meat Markets

Cured Meat

20140430-bronx-sandwich-soppressata2.jpg

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Sopressatta is Ceasar on Arthur Avenue.

While you can find homemade versions of the Calabrian sausage at Grego's and Vincent's, there's only one shop to know: Calabria, the borough's sausage king.

Calabria's sopressatta is deliciously (read: very) fatty, with a prickly heat that comes in several degrees (we love the extra-hot) and a mild funk. But that's not all they do well. The shop also sells a cappicola dusted with Calabrian chili, rolled pancetta, bacon, and their secret weapon: n'duja, a bright orange spreadable sausage (also from Calabria) that's a lot like pâté. It may be the best bite on Arthur Avenue that you've never heard of.

Both Vincent's and Biancardi's produce pancetta, but in the American slab bacon style. Vincent's coats theirs in coarsely ground Calabrian chili, which perfumes your kitchen when cooking without adding too much heat. You'll find whole legs of house-cured prosciutto at both shops as well.

As for domestic and imported cured meats? You'll find the Boars Head logo on most of the delis here on Arthur Avenue, and in most of your sandwiches. Most of the imported meats are of middling quality, but look closely and you'll find some gems. San Daniele meats, like salami casalingo, are available at Greco's, Tino's, and Biancardi's. Proscuitto di Parma can be found at most stores, including Tino's, Teitel Brother's, Joe's, and Greco's. Culatello, the so-called king of Italian charcuterie, is sold at Calabria, Tino's offers imported jarred n'duja, and Vincent's sells domestic guanciale.

Fresh Meat

The neighborhood butcher tradition is alive and well on Arthur Avenue. Three dedicated butcher shops—Vincent's, Biancardi's, and Peter's—cover all your fresh meat needs from sirloin to pig brains to pheasant.

You'll find an assortment of offal, from pig livers to lamb kidneys to two types of tripe, and a selection of proteins that goes well beyond the standard repertoire of the American butcher. In addition to pig, cow, and chicken, there's duck, pheasant, whole spring lamb, rabbit, goat, and wild boar. Peter's boasts dried aged steaks in addition to their pounded veal cutlets.

All three butchers, as well as Joe's Italian Deli, Calabria Pork Store, and Teitel Brothers, produce fresh sausages. Yes, you'll find the expected hot and sweet Italian sausage, but also liver and lamb versions as well.

To my mind, Vincent's is the best of the bunch. Their fresh sausages are excellent, especially the lamb, but it's their house cotechino, a cured spiced mix of belly, snout, and cheek meat that keeps me coming back. Traditionally prepared with lentils for New Year's Day, it can be found there during and around major holidays.

Beyond Italian

Though these shops are deeply rooted in the neighborhood's historically Italian community—Vincent's was established in the early 1900s as a purveyor of salt cod—the butchers behind the counter are more likely to be from Latin America or Albania. To our delight and mutual benefit, sausages from their home countries have slowly started to show up in the glass cases.

You can now find Mexican-style chorizo (and carne enchilada!) at Vincent's, the fresh beef and lamb sausage called qebaba at both Biancardi's and Vincent's, and—most exciting of all—suxhuk (pronounced soojook) at Biancardi's as well. The former is a dried sausage from Albania, flavored with "with tons of onions" and related to suxhuk. You can also find qebaba and suxhux at Lydig Avenue's European Meat Market, where they load it up with Vegeta's dodatak jelim seasoning.

Cheese

Calandra is the neighborhood's only dedicated formaggio, though Tino's, Mike's, Casa della Mozarella, and Teitel Brothers, among others, offer more limited, and less inspired, selections. Even the pork-centric Calabria sells chili-rubbed Calabrese table cheese.

But at Calandra you'll find imported goodies like Canastrato Siciliano, super sharp, black pepper laced pecorino pepato, and a litany of Parmigiano-Reggiano. King among them is the two-year Parmigiano they import and then age for an additional two years.

That's just the tip of the imported cheese wheel. Make sure to stop by Calandra during the holidays when you'll find surprises like Italian sheep's milk ricotta and imported burrata.

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

When it comes to homemade cheese, just about everyone is in on the mozzarella game. It's hard to turn a corner and find someone stretching curds as they do at Joe's, Tino's, Greco's, Calandra, Calabria Pork Store, and the deservedly revered Casa della Mozarella.

First the bad news. Everyone on Arthur Avenue uses Polly-o curds rather than making their own. (A reprieve: call Calandra a day in advance and they'll make some for you with fresh curds.)

20140430-bronx-sandwich-ricotta2.jpg

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

That in mind, the folks at Casa work some kind of magic with their homemade stuff, the kind of cheese that reminds you why Italians call it "fior di latte," flower of the milk. Some go so far as to call Casa's mozzarella (which comes salted, unsalted, smoked, or smoked and rolled with prosciutto) the best in the city. I'll simply say that the bocconcini, bite-sized nubs of mozz, are one of my favorite snacks in the Bronx.

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

But mozzarella isn't everything here. Casa also produces provolone and scamorza, as does Greco's, which offers a fascinating cheese called burrino (also known as mantega): a sphere of provolone stuffed with butter.

As for Calandra, your best bet is to skip the mozzarella altogether in favor of their burrino, caciocavallo, and pillowy ricotta. And don't forget Joe's Italian Deli for a dense ricotta perfect for cheesecake, fine burrata, and trecia, a form of dried mozzarella.

Seafood

I prefer Randazzo's to Consenza's for both the selection of fish and kind service.

For lovers of Italian seafood, shopping at Randazzo's is like the entering the Discovery Zone. The line cook friend who introduced me to Randazzo's still stops by even though he no longer lives in the borough. "Every time I go there, there's something I haven't seen before," he recently told me.

That means everything from California sea urchin (when in season) to alligator meat. Also look for Scorfano, a toothy cousin of the monkfish; triglia, a red snapper-like fish with small bones; the famously delicious clams known as vongole; tiny shimmering merluzzo, the Italian white fish; and several types of anchovies. Expect langoustine and jumbo shrimp from the Adriatic as well.

Pasta

70-year-old Borgatti's, Arthur Avenue's only dedicated pasta maker, is a neighborhood anchor. They make nothing but fresh pasta here, including ravioli, manicotti, and egg noodles, cut to order according to your specifications. Terranova Bakery also produces pasta under the Pasta Factory label, including ravioli and gnocchi.

In addition to their own noodles, Borgatti's stocks a selection of imported dried pasta and other pantry goods, namely sauces. All the stores up here stock dried pasta, some not so good, but the place you should be getting yours is Tino's, where they carry the famous family-owned Rustichella d'Abruzzo brand.

You won't find this beloved 90-year-old pasta at Eataly, or even in the warehouse of Italian importer Gustiamo. Gianluca Paciullo, the owner of Tino's and brother of Roberto Paciullo of Roberto's, is a devoted patron of d'Abruzzo. His passion is so intense that he dedicates two columns of shelves to the brand. You can pick from over 40 varieties, including trofie, chitarra, casareca, and radiatori.

Tino's also carries the Benedetto, Orsini, and Garofalo brands.

Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Tino's isn't just for hefty heroes and dried pasta. It's hands-down the best store in the 'hood to get your olive oil and balsamic vinegar fix.

Other stores stock brands, or in the case of Greco's peddle their own line of infused oils, but nowhere else in the neighborhood are these cornerstones of Italian cooking treated with such reverence.

Look for regional oils from all over Italy: Frantoia from Sicily, Capezanna from Carmignano, and Azienda Agricola from Sinopoli. Then go for some legit balsamic, too: Compagnia del Montale, Lorenga de Medici, and 410-year-old producer Guisti, which you won't find at Eataly. You'll even find chef of the moment Massimo Bottura's Villa Manodori, produced in the artigianale style, wherein the vinegar is aged for 10 to 20 years in oak, chestnut, and juniper barrels. White balsamic vinegars like Amoroma are available as well.

Near the front door of the store, Gianluca locks his finest vinegars and oil in a glass case. Take a look: nowhere else on this block will you find such luxurious balsamic vinegar. At the high end is Cavallo which sells for $90 a bottle. More than any other store in the neighborhood, Tino's is keeping tradition alive while bringing Arthur Avenue into the 21st century.

More Pantry Essentials

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

As if the dried pasta, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar didn't convince you already, Tino's should be your primary resource for (nearly) all your pantry needs.

The deli stocks high quality salt-packed capers (including Bonomo & Giglio and Agostino Recca) as well as plump, briny Nettuno and Ortiz brands of anchovies. Some other winners: Cassanova's grape must with fig, Di Pere Williams's pear vinegar from the Cembra Valley, and Gustarosso canned tomatoes. You can find quality Italian jams at Tino's but also at Calandra, where they carry chili jam and some excellent honey as well.

Bitter Italian sodas are alive and well on Arthur Avenue. Calandra, Teitel Brothers, and Tino's sell cult favorite Stappj, and Casa della Mozzarella carries San Pellegrino's Sanbitter, which tastes like a nonalcoholic Campari.

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

You'll find antipasti at every deli, but not all look like they're fresh or homemade. I prefer Casa della Mozzarella's marinated sun-dried red peppers and grilled marinated olives. Tino's does nice things with cubes of cured meat and cheese. And for something spicy, Greco's in the Retail Market sells (but doesn't advertise) a Calabrian chili paste that's salty, fiercely pungent, and the most delicious addition to mayo since chipotle peppers. It's made from chilies grown exclusively on Mount Sila and you shouldn't leave the Bronx without some.

For booze hounds, Mount Carmel carries a decent selection of Italian wine, including several Lambruscos.

Bread and Pastries

Though New York is in the midst of a great bread revival, Arthur Avenue is stuck behind the times. So your best bets are to stick to the basics like pane di casa and sesame-crusted hero loaves.

I prefer Madonia's hero loaf for its chewy crust and strong sesame flavor. But keep it simple; the olive loaf is fine but underpowered and their lard bread, though the most traditional of New York's pig-filled Italian loaves (made with roast pork, not cured meat), is bland.

The neighborhood's best overall bakery is probably Terranova, which offers fresh, preservative-free loaves (and it supplies hero loaves to Tino's). Offerings include sourdough, pane di casa, bastone, taralli (pretzel-like crackers), and cicola, a type of lard bread.

As for pastries...you're best off sticking to bread and skipping pre-filled cannoli or stale cookies. But there are some diamonds in the rough. Artuso is the best option overall. Head there for strufoli, deep fried balls of dough mixed with honey sold during the holidays, and fresher renditions of treats like pasticiolla. You can find fresh filled cannoli at Gino's, Maddonia, and Egidio's, but be sure to insist on a freshly filled one.

If you hit Gino's around noon, you'll find sfogliatelle fresh from the oven. While they won't wow you, they're the best you'll find up here. The shell could be crisper, but the interior is warm and tender.

The Ideal Itinerary

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Feeling overwhelmed? That's okay: here's the Serious Eats Bronx Bureau's easy list of the neighborhood's ten must-eats.

  1. Calabria Pork Store: Sopressatta, n'duja, and capicola
  2. Calandra's Cheese: Ricotta, burrino, imported Parmigiana, and Italian honey
  3. Casa della Mozzarella: antipasti, mozarrella, bocconcini, and scamorza
  4. Teitel Brother's: Stappj by the 6 pack (Tino's for cold solos)
  5. Joe's Italian Deli: Burrata
  6. Vincent's: Fresh sausages, cotechino (housemade, inquire within), suxhuk, guanciale, and fresh meats
  7. Greco's (formerly Mike's): Calabrian chili paste
  8. Tino's: Dried pasta, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and other pantry goods
  9. Terranova: Bread and gnocchi
  10. Borgatti's: Fresh pasta

Printed from http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/ultimate-shopping-guide-arthur-avenue-little-italy-bronx.html

© Serious Eats