by ELIZABETH METSCH, Contributor
Manhattan’s “Little Italy” may be the world famous spot to go in New York City for Italian food, but Arthur Avenue in the Bronx also offers some rivaling authentic Italian spots. While some people may not know where Arthur Avenue is, many would call it the real Little Italy.
From restaurants to bakeries to bars to delis to markets and specialty stores, Arthur Ave is the one stop shop for Italian eating.
And, apparently talent! Actors like Anne Bancroft and Chazz Palminteri are from here, and Joe Pesci’s career launched after Robert DeNiro discovered him at a local restaurant. This area has a lot of culture and history, so it’s no wonder that we know some people that grew up there.
The Belmont neighborhood in the Bronx became an ethnic enclave of Italians generations ago with many people starting up family business and restaurants where their culture was prominent. For its urban setting, the area has a very small-town, intimate feel. Just walking down one block, you would pass a dozen restaurants and small family owned companies. People greet each other and have conversations with their neighbors as they pass in a way that is increasingly less common in modern American neighborhoods.
Enrica Cotellessa, president of the Italian Club at Manhattan College, said she thinks ethnic enclaves like Arthur Avenue are important because they keep traditions alive.
“Every September, Arthur Avenue celebrates Ferragosto. The entire street smells like sausage and peppers, and it is filled with people listening to Italian music. The atmosphere is magical. I love going every year,” Cotellessa said.
“Without places like Arthur Ave, New York would be like any other city. The different ethnicities that make up New York are what make it so special,” she said.
An uncommon fact about Arthur Avenue is that there is actually a large Albanian community there as well. Deljan Bregasi, a grad student here at Manhattan and a Graduate Assistant to the Mens’ Soccer Team and the Center for Academic Success, is actually of Italian and Albanian descent.
He said that in some ways, “Arthur Avenue reminded me more of Albania than Italy.”
“I saw a bar where everybody was speaking in Albanian and the design of the bar was the same as the Albanian bars. Also, the food and the dessert had Albanian traditional plates. I also noticed a deli with the Albanian flag in the front, I was really surprised since I did not know that there was such a big community just a few blocks away from campus,” Bregasi continued.
Aside from the food, there are many attractions in the area which help add to the culture. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and Ciccarone Park are landmarks of the area that have been there for generations while the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Gardens and Fordham University bring in a lot of visitors as well. All of these places add to the hub of activity.
The Belmont Business Association works to promote events and improvement projects throughout the area to help keep the culture alive. Arthur Avenue offers a dynamic cultural indulgence in a quaint environment within reach of the big city. Bregasi explained that the area has a very European style of living.
I personally have been to Arthur Avenue before to a few of the local restaurants and bars, but I went back to a few places I hadn’t been.
One of my favorite restaurants that I’ve previously been to is Mario’s, a multi-generation restaurant which actually began in Egypt. According to their website, they were the first ever Italian restaurant in Egypt in 1900. The owner, Socolastia and her son Giuseppe, moved to America and opened the Mario’s that stands on Arthur Avenue today.
Five generations later, it is still a highly acclaimed and popular restaurant in the area. Their chicken parmesan and lasagna are some of my favorites, and the portion sizes allow you to bring leftovers back and avoid another Locke’s meal.
Bregasi commented that he misses speaking Italian and the food.
“I live in Genoa which is the city of Pesto which is very different from the one that we have in Lockes. I miss the most Lasagna with Pesto and a homemade pasta called Trofie that are prepared with pesto sauce. I am in the process of learning how to do Pesto myself since I was not able to find a good one in the shops here in the US,” he said.
Cotellessa said that Tino’s Delicatessen is her favorite Arthur Avenue venue.
“I love their sandwiches and gelato,” she said. “They can make any type of Italian sandwich you can imagine,” Her other favorite is Madonia Bakery (right next to Mario’s!) for its fresh bread and chocolate biscotti.
On my visit, I decided to try something new. Pasquale’s Rigoletto is owned by alleged mob member Pasquale (Patsy) Parrello who was still being investigated and tried as of a year ago.
No one in the restaurant really gave a comment on the case, but regardless of his legal standing, the restaurant is still up and running – and making delicious food.
The restaurant is very nice, but still has a laid back feel. They also offer a private dining room for events and catering. I had the Tortellini Alla Panna, meat tortellini with cream sauce, and Fettuccine Matriciana, homemade pasta with fresh tomato sauce and prosciutto.
Both dishes were delicious. In fact, I couldn’t decide which I liked better. I was able to bring home leftovers as well, which is always a plus when you’re a poor, hungry college student.
After the meal, I went to Luna’s Cafe for dessert. The cafe has a variety of options that they serve, appropriate for any time of the day. But I was most intrigued by their gelato flavors of which they have over ten! I chose Salted Caramel and Cappuccino, though I’ve had their Chocolate flavor in the past which is also delicious. The gelato tasted light and very fresh. The also offer a variety of cakes, pastries, and hot drinks.
Arthur Avenue may seem like a trip, but it’s only a short $15-20 uber away. For a different weekend afternoon, or a fun night out, it’s a great spot to get off campus and try something new.