"Kid you good a'lookin' but you don't a'know what's cookin'…"

by Katie Pizzuto on April 14, 2009

in Imports,Italian Food,Uncategorized,wine shopping

arthuraveThere was supposed to be an umbrella in the car—or at least that was my recollection of the conversation. But as 5 of us pulled into a parking spot just off 187th Ave. in The Bronx in my little red Mazda 3, the hopes of finding that blasted umbrella washed down the sewer drains with the teeming rain. I managed not to start in with relentless ranting, though, because 1. I had actually found a spot without having to circle the blocks over and over, and 2. I knew a lot of really good Italian food was mere steps away from the car. Only problem was, I completely forgot we were heading into the true “Little Italy” known as Arthur Ave. the day before Easter, and were bound to meet with long, impatient lines of people waiting to buy their goodies so they could go home and begin preparing their feasts. They were cold, they were wet and they were as tightly fit into small shops as Anna Nicole Smith in a size-8 dress, but there were nearly no complaints.

idsa_pictureWe stepped foot inside Casa Della Mozzarella, took a number and fell into line. Despite the cold spring New York rain and the long lines, the faces both in front of and behind us mostly wore smiles, even as they jibed the guys behind the counters that someone should be walking around with complimentary cups of espresso and Sambuca shots for the loyal patrons. If all you know of fresh mozzarella are those pre-packed balls of bland wetness you find in your grocery store you’ve no idea how mind blowing good fresh mozzarella can be. I’m not even going to bother flogging you for only equating Polly-O with mozzarella because I assume my readers are all…well…better than that. But I will tell you without a drop of humor that I waited in line for nearly 35 minutes in order to get a pound of Casa’s fresh mozzarella, and I’d gladly have waited another 35 if they had in fact served me a little espresso. Along the way to the deli counter we picked up some long fusilli (my favorite pasta), which is nearly impossible to find outside of specialty Italian shops. We also got some mixed olives, some pecorino di tartufo (sheep’s milk cheese with black truffles) and a pound of thinly sliced imported prosciutto di Parma that nearly melted in the warmth of my mouth.

052327arthurave1What I love most about Arthur Ave is that you can go from store to store, on the hunt for your favorite specialties. Most lazy shoppers nowadays despise that, and would rather have everything under one roof, but I like getting my scallops from the fishmonger, my chops from the butcher, my ravioli from the pasta maker, my bread from the baker and my coppa from the salumeria. I even picked up an interesting bottle of Croatian wine at a small wine shop, which carries Italian specialties like Liquore Strega that you’re as likely to find at your average liquor store as you are to find honesty in Washington DC. Most places, like Teitel Brothers, have been in business for several generations, and hearing “sweetie” and “honey” sound much less sexist idsa_picture-1when they’re coming from a man behind a counter who’s handing you sample after sample of cheese until you find what you’re after. It’s here that you find the patience and the attention that existed decades ago, before anyone knew what the fuck an “Express Lane” was or would be. If you can’t decide what size shrimp is best for your recipe, no one will walk away from you rolling their eyes; instead they’ll offer up their advice, tell you which one their wife uses, and wait beside you while you make up your mind.

Tourists and novices can keep Mulberry Street for what it’s worth—which unfortunately isn’t much any more. You can find me nearly 200 blocks north of it, listening to the rhythms of idle Italian conversation, smelling the semolina loaves freshly pulled from the ovens, watching the dance of customer and purveyor, tasting the still-warm mozzarella and absorbing the genuine energy that is Arthur Avenue.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 smokenmirrors April 14, 2009

Casa Della Mozzarella is THE MECCA of Mozz.
The boccacini to die for. Dont forget Madonia Brothers for bread!

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2 Katie Pizzuto April 14, 2009

Yup, that’s exactly where we got the loaf of semolina and the breadsticks (plus a couple of free tasting samples for my son!!)

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3 linsey April 14, 2009

and omg wasnt that food good!

the scallops, meats, prawns(im a brit lol) etc etc all delicious

i want an Arthurs Ave near me … wahh!!

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4 mydailywine April 15, 2009

Fifi from The Ten Bells wine bar is always bragging about Arthur Ave.
You have convinced me it is worth the journey on my next NY trip

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5 Katie Pizzuto April 15, 2009

I’ve always said Fifi was a very intelligent man 😉

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6 Tom April 15, 2009

Kate,
I worked in that Precinct and I am an Arthur Ave. Expert food consumer lol. 35 minutes in line at that store around Easter is short, believe me. Mulberry Street is just Chinatown extended. Not that Chinatown has the best chinese food in the city, but I’m sure you are already aware.

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7 Katie Pizzuto April 15, 2009

Man, Tom, I envy you for having worked that area of NY, although I can’t imagine that would do much justice to my waistline if I had worked there!! I agree, 35 min. was no big deal, and certainly well worth it. The people there make it even more bearable. And completely agree that Mulberry St. is now a mere tourist trap for the most part.

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8 Pete Minde April 16, 2009

Katie

Nice blog. Liquore Strega used to be much more widely available in good wine and liquor stores. Longer ago than I care to admit.

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9 Katie Pizzuto April 16, 2009

Thanks, Pete! And you’re absolutely right, Liquore Strega was much more widely available when I was growing up! Now our wine store shelves are littered with lizards, kangaroos and rabbits. Perhaps I should contact Strega about modernizing their label…after all, a witch could be a cool calling card! LOL! But I get the feeling no one could make them budge from that old-world look.

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10 Johnny DeCarlo April 16, 2009

The Arthur Avenue Market is a rare treasure that you don’t see anymore with the “Mc Donaldization” of society and all the chain stores and eateries that overrun most of the mom and pop establishments.

I’d highly recommend Joe’s Deli for the mozzarella, Full Moon Pizza for the ahbeetz, GianTina’s for the chicken parmigian, Umberto’s for the baked clams and calamari, Madonia Bros. for delicious baked breads and cookies, and Rigolleto’s and Mario’s for great food and especially the ambiance. There are so many places that I haven’t mentioned. Capri Gifts, the Catholic Goods store, and on and on and on.

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11 Ralph Napolitano April 16, 2009

This is a great article about Arthur Avenue…thanks for writing it. Arthur Avenue is the best Little Italy in the US…no other neighborhood can compete. My great-grandfather started our restaurant in 1927 and we have been there ever since. We have seen the neighborhood flourish and become the great institution it is today. But, I have to disagree with Johnny. Most of the restaurants on Arthur Avenue are good, but If you want an authentic Arthur Avenue Experience you have to visit our restaurant, Ann & Tony’s….I guarantee you will forget the others you mentioned….check out our web site http://www.AnnAndTonysOnline.com….I invite you all to experience it for yourself…see you soon.

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12 Katie Pizzuto April 16, 2009

@Johnny…unfortunately, many people shun small specialty shops for big all-inclusive stores, but that is there loss! IMHO, buying food from a place that has been specializing in only certain things for many years is the best way to guarantee getting a product made by someone who actually cares.

@Ralph…no question that my family and I will be stopping in soon so be ready for us!!

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13 doris April 16, 2009

Katie, that was a great article about Arthur Avenue. It’s been quite some time since we have been there. But after reading your article, I can assure you that it has inspired me to take the short trip to NYC’s Arthur Avenue and experience what you have. And we’ll be sure to stop in to Ann & Tony’s for a bite to eat. I love to go to places that are family owned, especially for generations. Hopefully, we will go on a day when an umbrella is only needed to shade the sun.

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14 Eating for Beginners April 17, 2009

Thanks for the comment! Yes, I was a little slow on the uptake (editing a book at the same time can kind of slow down the techie blog work….!). I am a HUGE fan of Arthur Avenue, so glad to see you singing its praises. Casa Della Mozzarella rocks, though Russo’s, in our neighborhood in Brooklyn, has a pretty seriously good mozzarella, too in a pinch.

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