New York City is many things. It’s a high-class culture capital; it’s the ghost of folk song past; it’s the hipster haven; a medieval moderation; it’s a city built by immigrants. New York City is all these things. The version of New York you experience depends on what neighborhood you’re standing in. Recently, I was standing on the corner of Arthur Avenue in The Bronx, ready to explore the real Little Italy of New York.
A Bronx Tale
If you love The Godfather Trilogy as much as I do, Arthur Avenue is the way you want to envision New York. It’s a community that thrives on the streets. Family owned businesses fill the storefronts and sidewalks on Arthur Avenue. These shops have stood for generations. They have served the American Dream to locals and tourists alike. What’s unique about this Italian neighborhood, the Bronx “Little Italy”, is that this section of New York has the feel of a small-town community.
I was lucky enough to spend a day strolling around this New York neighborhood, getting to know the Italian-American way of life. I got to experience someone else’s American Dream, and at a time in our country when this dream is being threatened, it’s good to remind yourself of just how sweet the dream is.
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The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the Uber onto Arthur Avenue was the freshness of the air. I was still in New York City, just a less commercialized part of it. People moved along the streets with their recyclable grocery bags picking through the fresh produce filling the sidewalks. I made immediate eye contact with a fresh pasta shop. I undressed it with my eyes, salivating about the purchases I would make there later. But first, I wanted a meal. A big and carb filled Italian lunch.
Arthur Avenue has lots of Italian eateries to choose from, the weight of this choice is heavy to say the least. To be fair, I decided to walk down the entire street and scope out the restaurant options. There were so many! And the scents escaping the windows of each promised euphoria. I had to make a choice.
Luckily, I chose well.
Eating at Pasquale’s Rigoletto made me feel like I was back in Italy. The pasta alone was mouthwatering. The food at Pasquale’s Rigoletto is prepared with fresh ingredients purchased exclusively from the merchants of Arthur Avenue. When you first enter the restaurant, you can’t help but notice the photos lining the wall reminding you of the restaurant’s history. Famous folk, family, and friends have made countless memories across generations over the many courses of a Pasquale’s Rigoletto dinner. Everything about the restaurant felt authentic, in that family-owned kind of way. And the food! I’ve never had better Italian food in New York City, and that’s saying something.
I had a simple dish, too, Linguine Al Pesto, prepared to perfection and the kind of portion that a bottomless pit like myself can only dream about. Every bite exploded with flavor. What I liked best about Pasquale’s Rigoletto was that it felt like a place for the insiders. Tucked away in the back corner of Arthur Avenue, it wasn’t calling attention to itself. It didn’t need to, the best things in life thrive on their reputation alone.
Arthur Avenue Retail Market
After the meal at Pasquale’s Rigoletto, I had to walk off some space in my stomach for all the other glorious treats of Arthur Avenue. Midway down Arthur Avenue, at the center of this community, stands a local open market, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, a gathering place for all the folk. The market feels like it was lifted out of an old Italian village. The first thing you notice when walking in is the cigar shop. Before your eyes, cigars are filled, rolled, and bound. The sweet scent of unburned tobacco fills the air.
Beyond the cigar shop, there are fish stands, produce, and cheese shops. There were barrels filled with fresh olives. Any ingredient you need can be found in one place.
In the heart of the market is The Bronx Beer Hall. I recommend trying a flight of the favorite house brews.
Before you leave the market make sure you stop by the mob and celebrity corner for a picture. The space romanticizes the infamous history of the Italian-American. Like the rest of the market, this area helps you to imagine the glory of old New York.
Cosenza’s Oyster Bar
After I left the market, I’d finally cleared some room in my stomach to continue my Taste of Arthur Avenue tour. Strolling along the sidewalk I came across Cosenza’s Oyster Bar. Outside of the fish market, two bars are set up serving the best oysters from local origins. There were picnic tables set for those who wanted to get a tray of oysters or, like me, you could take a “shot” on the go.
I tried a Blue Point Oyster and I probably could’ve eaten a dozen more, but I contained myself. This was the perfect little indulgent for a Saturday afternoon stroll.
Madonia Brothers Bakery
After my salt fix, I was ready for something sweet. The scents escaping the Madonia Brothers Bakery were like pheromones drawing me in from down the block. When I stepped inside I noticed the fresh loaves of bread carefully displayed around the shop and the abundance of baked goods waiting like a temptress for the next patron. Being in Little Italy and living my Godfather fantasy, I knew I had to try a cannoli. This was the perfect place for a cannoli, they even had a hanging sign that read, “CANNOLI Filled While You Wait!”
What more could you ask for? I ordered my cannoli and within a minute the Italian pastry covered in powdered sugar was in my hand begging to be devoured.
I didn’t disappoint. Neither did the cannoli.
Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles
I love food of all kinds. Picking a favorite food seems almost impossible, but if I were stuck on a deserted island for the rest of my life and could only have one food, I’m pretty sure it’d be pasta. And if this pasta happened to come from Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles, I’d die a happy woman.
When I arrived on Arthur Avenue Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles was the first shop to catch my eye, but I saved that visit for last to avoid having to lug around the many pasta purchases I’d be making there. It was like a pasta heaven inside. There were noodles of all sorts. I watched as it was made before my eyes.
They would insert a sheet of fresh dough into the machine and out would come linguine, fettuccine, spaghetti, and any other type of noodle your hungry eye might desire. I decided to take home some spinach fettuccine, giant rigatoni, and spinach ravioli. Since my visit to Arthur Avenue, I have eaten all of the pasta I purchased and my only regret is that I didn’t buy more.
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I left Arthur Avenue a full woman, I also left beyond satisfied with my adventure. One of the things the Italians have always known and tried to share with the rest of us – food brings pleasure, and we could all use a little bit more pleasure in our lives. It’s refreshing to know that a place like Arthur Avenue can still exist in New York City.
Beyond the honking taxis and the rush of moving feet, there exists a place, a little piece of the city, that represents the true American Dream and still, in 2017, celebrates community. To many New Yorkers and transplants, alike, Arthur Avenue is still a secret, and after experiencing it, I can vouch that it is New York’s best-kept secret.
Want to see more of my Arthur Avenue adventure? See my full photo album here.