Anyone familiar with New York City knows about Little Italy—the stretch of Mulberry and Mott Streets above Canal Street in Manhattan—but if the tourist-packed sidewalks full of restaurants trying to lure you inside for an overpriced meal isn’t your idea of la dolce vita, there is another option.
Located in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, Arthur Avenue between 183rd and 189th Streets is home to some of the best Italian cuisine in the city, along with a staggering collection of specialty shops. I recently spent the day in Little Italy, checking out some of the shops and talking with their owners, many of whom are now in their third generation.
Walking down Arthur Avenue from the train, you can immediately notice the Italian influence take hold. Shop windows full of bread, hanging sausages and other Italian delicacies tempt you to enter. Teitel Brothers’ tower of imported tins of olive oil out front will keep you busy browsing before you even step foot in the door. Inside, your senses will be overloaded with the smells of cheese, oil, sausages, olives and peppers.
Open since 1915, Teitel Brothers supplies restaurants across the country with olive oil, cheese, and other specialties. This is the place to get that special bottle of olive oil to “wow” your guests at your next dinner party.
A few steps away, the Madonia brothers of Madonia Brothers Bakery have been baking their signature olive bread since 1918. The bakery also specializes in biscotti, traditional pane di casa and fresh cannoli “filled while you wait.”
At Biancardi Meats, it isn’t odd to see entire animals hanging in the window, similarly enticing you to pay a visit. The butcher shop sells old standbys like veal, pork, and beef, but you can also get more exotic game, like pheasants and rabbits if you want. In existence since the 1930s, the bright and clean butcher shop has offered high-quality meats at a fraction of the price of other butchers in the city. Sal Biancardi, the shop’s owner, gave me a peek behind the counter to see how they make their freshly-ground sausages and other delicacies.
Spending a bit of time at Biancardi’s, you can tell that Arthur Avenue is a place not only steeped in history and tradition, but also steeped in its own familial roots. Every customer at Biancardi’s is known by name and their usual order, and it’s the same at most of the shops nearby. Even though I’m not an Arthur Avenue regular, every shopkeep greeted me with a smile and treated me as if I’d been shopping there for years (all the while filling my belly with copious samples of meats, cheeses, and bread).
Perhaps the main attraction of Little Italy is the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia founded the market in 1940 to get the pushcart vendors off of the streets. Now, the market is now home to a cigar shop, flower stands, a produce shop, a café and Mike’s Deli.
Mike’s Deli is home to some the best sandwiches in the city as well as their legendary eggplant parmesan. Lines here can be very long, but they also have a few tables for service. David Greco, the deli’s owner, was happy to show off his sandwich skills for me. As he readied the ingredients, David cut me a slice of extremely fresh, tangy mozzarella that I can honestly say was the best I have ever had.
After my sandwich spent a few minutes on the grill—just enough to toast the bread and melt the cheese—I was ready to eat. (Even though I was admittedly stuffed from a long day of Italian hospitality.)
If you’re planning a trip to the city soon, or if you live here already, skip Mulberry Street and get up to the Bronx. Getting to Arthur Avenue is a breeze from Manhattan. Take the D train to Fordham Road in the Bronx, or hop on the Metro-North Railroad for just two stops to Fordham. Finish off your day in Little Italy with a beautiful walk around Fordham’s scenic campus.