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Arthur Avenue Pizza Takes On Manhattan

Arthur Avenue Pizza Takes On Manhattan


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Move over Eataly and Grimaldi's, there's a new pizza in the Flatiron District. This afternoon, Zero Otto Nove opened their first Manhattan location and the pizza did not disappoint. Roberto Paciullo opened original spot just off Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, more than ten years ago. Keeping true to the original, the menu at the new Zero Otto Nove offers the same selection of classic Neapolitan-style pies with a few non-traditional toppings thrown in.

The soft and chewy dough has an elastic feel due to the use of 00 flour. After cooking in a 900-degree brick oven for 45 seconds, the dough remains crisp (but not cracker-like). The Margherita pizza is topped with a tomato sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, house-made mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. The sweetness of the sauce blends beautifully with the fresh, creamy cheese.

The La Riccardo pie begins with a layer of butternut squash purée in place of tomato sauce and is topped with smoked mozzarella and pancetta. The earthy sweetness of the butternut squash complements the depth of flavor of the mozzarella in this pizza.

For those living in Manhattan, now know you can get a taste of Arthur Avenue without having to travel too far. In fact, the Flatiron District has gone from being a pizza wasteland to being a one-stop neighborhood for anyone out of town trying to maximize their New York pizza experience.


Arthur Avenue | Little Italy in the Bronx, New York

Ask any New Yorker about Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and you get either puzzlement or a flood of loving sentiment about the real Little Italy of New York, the best place for bread, pasta, meat, pastries,espresso machines, the only place to buy Italian sausage, and more. The paradox is real: Many New Yorkers never heard of the place, while for others it’s home away from home … although it is often a well-kept secret.

We’re describing the Belmont section of the Bronx. Whether you call it Belmont, Little Italy of the Bronx or Arthur Avenue, the neighborhood beats its other rivals in the sheer number of establishments offering fine Italian-American foods, dining, house wares and other goods. The quality and values are tops – a recent ranking confirmed once again by critics like the Zagat Survey whose readers repeatedly give “Best Buy” status to more Arthur Avenue shops than any other neighborhood in New York City.

Tradition
Generations of Italian families have given the area a special small-town character unique for an urban setting, at the same time establishing traditions that permeate the neighborhood like the sweet smell of sausage and peppers. Among the notables born and raised here are actor Chazz Palminteri, author Don DiLillo and rock star Dion DiMucci, whose group, Dion and the Belmonts, is named after a local street (Belmont Avenue). Joe Pesci began his acting career after being discovered by Robert DeNiro at a local neighborhood restaurant, where Pesci worked as the maitre’d.

Today the tradition continues with grandchildren and great-grandchildren remaining on Arthur Avenue, or returning here, to own and manage business begun by their immigrant ancestors. “Nearly every shop on Arthur Avenue is already some sort of institution,” as one writer put it. The vast array of markets, butchers, pasta and pastry shops is supported not only by long-time area residents but also their relatives and children from far and wide, who regularly return for the tastes and memories.

Others who return again and again are celebrities and other notables who, seeking relief from the Manhattan publicity spotlight, find the friendly, small-town atmosphere of Arthur Avenue to be the perfect getaway for a relaxing dinner or weekend stroll. Frank Sinatra and “the Rat Pack” once headlined a list that today includes folks like Clint Eastwood, Liza Minelli, Cher, Joe Pesci and Tony LoBianco.

Arthur Avenue Retail Market
Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia spear-headed one of the neighborhood’s most beloved attractions, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market – a kind of covered Italian bazaar that brings together under one roof all the shopping also found on nearby streets, from sausage makers to bread bakers, cafe’s to florists. The variety is truly staggering – all told some nine restaurants, five pastry shops, four butchers, two pasta-makers, six bread stores, three pork stores, five gourmet delicatessens, two fish markets, three gourmet coffee shops and one gourmet Italian wind shop – to list only the food category. And then there are the gift and house ware shops.

But of course you don’t have to be Italian to enjoy the Little Italy of the Bronx. License plates from all around the Tri-state area, and as far away as Vermont and Pennsylvania, attest to the thriving tourist market. Driving in via several easy-access routes that connect Arthur Avenue to “the outside world,” visitors find easy parking in a safe, secure environment where they can spend a whole Saturday shopping, eating and shopping again – often in connection with a visit to nearby Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Zoo or the New York Botanical Garden.

Dining
Most of all, its probably the dining experience that every year delights Arthur Avenue’s many visitors. Were else can you find such a wealth and breadth of fine Italian cuisine within a short walk through the neighborhood. As one food critic put it recently, “The restaurants of Arthur Avenue make Mulberry Street’s look like stepchildren of the Olive Garden.”


The Real Little Italy and Best Restaurants Are in the Bronx

If you've been to Little Italy in Manhattan and were disappointed by the tourist-trap atmosphere and the forgettable food, it's because you went to the wrong place.

The real Little Italy is a vibrant neighborhood in the Bronx called Belmont, half a mile from the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Others call it Arthur Avenue, the neighborhood's main street, bisected by East 187th Street, lined with restaurants, pizzerias, meat and fish markets, bakeries and pastry stores.

This is the Bronx the way it was in the 1950s, when Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, and Julius LaRosa ate in the local restaurants, and, later, Muhammad Ali, Liz Taylor, Paul Newman, and James Gandolfini. Most important, it was home to Dion Dimucci, who named his do-wop group the Belmonts.

Years ago the restaurants of the neighborhood were so insular that menus varied little, the ingredients were cheap, and the wine lists boring. But in the past two decades all that has changed, so that now even the real old-timers have upped their game and you can eat extremely well within a primarily Italian-American style, influenced by Neapolitan and Sicilian cookery.

I shop on Arthur Avenue weekly, so I have my definite favorite restaurants I recommend to New Yorkers from other boroughs and visitors from anywhere. This is the way this food should be made.

One of the oldest restaurants on Arthur Avenue is Mario's (above) , which started as a pizza window shop in 1919, and is still run by the Miglucci family, whose fourth and fifth generation members are always there to maintain an unwavering consistency--not just with the nonpareil pizzas but with superb linguine with clams, tender, light potato gnocchi in a bright tomato sauce, and tiny pink lamb chops you pick up by the bone to eat, called scottaditti, which means "finger burners." Freshness rules this kitchen and you taste it in the veal alla parmigiana, the mozzarella loaf called spiedini alla romana, and the hearty seafood stew zuppa di pesce.

Pizza is always served but after 6 p.m. you have to order something more, so treat a pizza as an appetizer, and don't miss the wonderful food afterwards. But to miss this great pizza is to miss a dish perfected over nearly a century in business.

And you will never be treated better in a restaurant than you will be at Mario's, whether you're a regular or on your first time through the door. The dining room (right) always looks festive, its murals evoke Naples, and the photos on the wall show that Mario's has long been a destination for every sports figure and movie star who have been guided to it. It's always an ebullient atmosphere, lighted so you see everyone in the room, which on weekends is packed, so I recommend going during the week to get a better sense of the charm of the place.

Across the street is a bright, very cheerful small trattoria named San Gennaro, where chef-owner Gennaro Martinelli is working outside the traditional menu with dishes based on what's freshest and seasonal in the markets from which they cull their seafood, meats and vegetables right there on Arthur Avenue. If there are crayfish (above) available for a day or two, you'll find them glistening on your plate with crushed tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar. Soft shell crabs will be lightly battered and sautéed crisp and golden, succulent within. Housemade ravioli, full of moist ricotta and graced with a ragù, are radiant and delicious, the linguine with tiny, sweet vongole clams is rich with garlic and served in the shell, and his spaghetti alla carbonara, with egg heated by the pasta itself, is textbook perfect. The wine list needs serious bolstering.

Over the past two years I've found myself returning again and again to Tra di Noi on East 187th Street, whose sunny dining room with the requisite red-checkered tablecloths is the setting for Chef-owner Marco Coletta's generous, highly personalized cooking, where regulars ignore the printed menu in favor of the blackboard of daily specials, which might include unusual pastas like fusilli with fava beans ($16.95) and rigatoni (above) in a spicy amatriciana sauce ($16.95). There is perfectly fried calamari ($12.95) and robust chicken alla scarpariello ($18.95) rich with garlic. The osso buco may be the best in the area. Marco hails from the Abruzzo province of Italy, so ask him if he's serving any of his regional favorites.

One of the culinary pioneers of the neighborhood is Roberto Paciullo, who 12 years ago opened a namesake trattoria that strayed far from the formulaic menus in order to focus on unusual dishes that may only be available that day. Roberto's (above) is where you go for dishes like tender rabbit braised with tomato and onions spaghetti steamed with leeks and porcini mushrooms in a foil pouch a massive sirloin slathered with melting Gorgonzola cheese for an antipasto there might be short ribs with sun-dried peppers, bright arugula and a spicy olive oil the special pasta one day may be tender risotto with cuttlefish and its purple-gray ink and shrimp. Soft shell crabs in season are crisp and full of fat. One of the simplest dishes is the best: fettuccine with parmigiano and shaved black truffles. In autumn those will be white truffles. And to finish, a lemony torta cake, all accompanied by the area's best wine list. Downstairs is a room bordering the glassed-in wine cellar, which is easily the best in the neighborhood.

And don't be surprised if you sit next to celebs like former Yankees manager Joe Torre, actress Marisa Tomei or TV chef Mario Batali.

Roberto also owns Zero Otto Nove, which means 089 (above), the area code for Salerno, Italy, from which he emigrated. Having proven himself as a fine restaurateur, Roberto swore he would open a great, modern pizzeria--this in a neighborhood full of good ones--and he has succeeded (now with branches in Manhattan and Westchester County). Roberto became a local hero when he demolished a much-despised McDonald's to open in this two-story building, whose shadowy décor and corridors mimic the narrow streets of his hometown.

There is a big, open wood-burning pizza oven, and the pies themselves--13 varieties--are Salerno-style, with a crispy outer crust that mellows into a softer crust in the middle, with wonderfully fresh toppings like butternut squash puree, smoked mozzarella, pancetta ham, béchamel sauce, and porcini mushrooms. But the pizzas are only the beginning at Zero Otto Nove, whose menu offers fabulous baby octopus cooked in tomato sauce, lusty pastas like pasta e fagioli azzeccata baked with cannellini beans and prosciutto, and linguine in a silky black sauce teeming with calamari and cuttlefish. For dessert go with the Nutella pizza or the torta della nonna ("grandma's tart") with almond cream and pine nuts.

The best Italian charcuterie and hero sandwiches, along with an eggplant parmigiana that beat TV chef Bobby Flay's in a smackdown, is found at Mike's Deli, where the indefatigable David Greco (above) and his irascible father, Mike, stock a daunting array of salami, cheeses--including handmade mozzarella produced several times a day on premises--hams, marinated vegetables, and baked pastas that can be eaten at the tables adjacent to the deli. It's as close as you'll come in America to a true salumeria-trattoria of a kind you'll find all over Naples and Palermo, from which come many of the products David imports. He also supplies the cheery Bronx Beer Hall on the same premises, often thronged with Fordham University students, which proudly serves brews made at nearby breweries.

There have been some culinary intruders into the overwhelmingly Italian dining scene in Belmont, several from Eastern Europe, including the beautiful Blue Mediterranean restaurant (above), whose menu, while listing more and more Italian dishes, shows its real eminence in carefully, simply cooked Mediterranean seafood of very high quality, glossed with olive oil and a squirt of lemon. There's a friendly raw bar that serves an abundant seafood plateau for two ($55), rigatoni with mussels ($18), and, when available, wild shrimp and grilled langoustines (market price). Frankly, I haven't tried the Italian dishes here because I could never be weaned from the Mediterranean-style seafood that Blue does better than anyone else in the neighborhood.

I happily live just fifteen minutes from Belmont, which I've adopted as my second home. But if you go--and it's worth a trip from Manhattan by subway or, more easily, my Metro North to the Fordham station--the experience may become one that you will tell friends about wherever you live. Already on the weekends, tour buses arrive on Arthur Avenue from Westchester, Connecticut, and New Jersey, and there are Italians who long ago moved to Long Island who come back for what they can't find where they live. Nostalgia is always a draw--once or twice--but it is the quality and atmosphere of Arthur Avenue that makes it very, very special.


A Deep-End Albanian Experience, Tucked Into the Bronx

The best way to enter the Albanian restaurant Cka Ka Qellu, if not the most direct, starts on Arthur Avenue. Arrive before the fish shops along this famous, not-quite-faded Italian strip in the Bronx take in the iced clams and octopus for the night. Across from Dominick’s, turn into the indoor market that Fiorello La Guardia ordered up. Move on past the hand-rolled cigars and the T-shirts reflecting various tenets of Bronx philosophy. Keep going beyond the scamorza, the soppressata and the ready-to-go heroes, and walk out the door on to Hughes Avenue. Just to the right is a spinning wheel that looks old enough to have been Rumpelstiltskin’s and next to it, another door. Open it, walk inside.

The short trip seems to have taken you back in time. The spinning wheel turns out to be just one piece in Cka Ka Qellu’s collection of antique tools, stringed instruments, yokes, brass coffee mills, manual typewriters, dishes of hammered metal and embroidered costumes that the owner, Ramiz Kukaj, brought over from the old country. Some, he says, go back to the 18th century. The floors and walls seem to have been airlifted from an Albanian farmhouse, and the speakers play wistful folk tunes on traditional instruments, not the modern, globally aware wake-up calls of the brass band Fanfara Tirana. The restaurant is soaked in nostalgia.

The other reason for the walk from Arthur Avenue is that it recapitulates a pattern that’s repeated throughout this neighborhood, where the signs and menus facing the street are still written in Italian but many of the people in the back rooms, seasoning the sausages and frying the veal cutlets, are Albanian.

Here and there, those Albanians have brought a little of their cuisine into those Italian businesses. Cumin-laden suxhuk sausages hang to dry in the salumerias. In some pizzerias, the burek challenges the Jamaican beef patty for outsider meat-pie supremacy. One such place, also owned by Mr. Kukaj, is in the Norwood neighborhood and is called Tradita. (Ligaya Mishan reviewed it in 2017.) But if you want a deep-end Albanian experience, Cka Ka Qellu, pronounced SHA ka chell-OO, is the place to go.

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The kitchen does not focus on the seafood of Albania’s Adriatic coast, or the more intensely Greek- and Turkish-leaning cuisine of its southern reaches. Instead, it heavily favors the north, which shares many dishes with the former components of Yugoslavia that are its neighbors. In particular there is a strong overlap with Kosovo, home to many ethnic Albanians including, at one time, Mr. Kukaj and his chef, Afrim Kaliqani.

In their kitchen, yogurt and cream are everywhere, along with curds of soft fresh cheese and triangles of creamy, unsqueaky feta. A good portion of the menu could be described as things in a creamy white sauce. Another, entirely different portion could be described as creamy white sauce with things in it.

Included in the second group are some of the dips that are almost obligatory at the start of your Cka Ka Qellu experience: tarator, tart yogurt with minced cucumbers, garlic and parsley, similar to tzatziki, but nearly as fluffy as whipped cream cream stirred with bits of suxhuk to give it a pinkish tint and a suggestion of spice and kajmak, which our server described as “like butter for bread” and I would say was like crème fraîche blended with cream cheese and butter. (In parts of Albania, it would be made by boiling unpasteurized milk from water buffalo.)

I found myself dipping sausages, vegetables and just about everything else into the kajmak, but it is exceptionally good with a warm slice of the bread that Cka Ka Qellu bakes in the pizza oven that is the first thing you see when you walk in. When the menu defines kacamak as “cream with polenta,” the cream in question is kajmak, stirred into a fine-grained, nearly white mass of cornmeal that takes on the lightly fluffed quality of really well-made mashed potatoes.

Sometimes there is a creamy sauce where you don’t expect one. Each slice of lecenik, a cornbread with spinach and cottage cheese that is so rich it is only a few rungs in the ladder from cheesecake, comes to the table under a spoonful of kajmak. Sometimes there is no creamy sauce where one would do some good. The restaurant’s version of fli, the slow-baked, many-layered pancake, is served as a long, narrow wedge with no accompaniment, although it is somewhat less than fully tender and moist. Luckily it responds immediately to any spare yogurt you can forage from elsewhere on the table.


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Since its founding, the Belmont section of the Bronx, fondly known as Bronx Little Italy, has been a critical part in the development of the borough and city. An economic as well as a cultural engine, Belmont hosts thousands of regional and local shoppers as well as domestic and international tourists every year, making it one of the busiest and best-known communities of NYC.

The authentic Italian culture found in the vibrant community of Bronx Little Italy sustains a thriving business district that includes world-class restaurants, high-quality artisanal food shops, and specialty stores carrying handmade local and imported items that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Charming old-world ambiance emanates from the generations of Italian families who continue to give the area a welcoming small-town character that is unique for an urban setting.

The neighborhood has provided inspiration for a number of films including the 1955 Best Picture Academy Award winner, “Marty,” the 1970’s film “The Seven-Ups,” and the 1990’s classic “A Bronx Tale.” A handful of celebrities and notables even call Belmont home. Academy Award-winning actress Anne Bancroft, “A Bronx Tale” writer and actor Chazz Palminteri, “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather: Part II” actor Dominic Chianese, author Don DiLillo, and rock star Dion DiMucci, of Dion and the Belmonts, were all raised in the neighborhood. Upon moving to the Bronx, Larry Chance formed his group, The Earls, and Joe Pesci began his acting career after being discovered by Robert DeNiro at a local neighborhood restaurant, where Pesci worked as the maitre’d.

Most of all, it is Arthur Avenue’s authentic dining experience that delights visitors year after year. Where else can you take a short walk and discover such a wealth and breadth of fine Italian delicacies at your fingertips? Within a few footsteps in this beloved New York neighborhood, you can revel in some of the most authentic cuisine, culture, and commodities outside of Italy. Guests from across the globe come to sample the tastes and traditions of this extraordinary community, home to numerous businesses that are still owned and operated by the same families that started them over a century ago.

We pride ourselves on all we have to offer. All who explore the neighborhood encounter an eclectic mix of inviting shops, friendly faces, and a pervading spirit of communal living, common ancestry, and inter-generational cooperation.

Whether you come to the area for shopping, dining, one of our exciting events, or after a visit to the Bronx Zoo, New York Botanical Garden, or Yankee Stadium, the Belmont Business Improvement District (BID) promises that it is worth the trip!


How Little Italy Became Little Albanian-Mexican Italy

The old Italian neighborhoods of New York are shadows of their former selves. There’s a reason the one in the Bronx still thrives.

Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx. Credit. James Keivom for The New York Times

On a cool sunny weekday afternoon, the crowds were out in Little Italy. In the two outdoor European-style cafes that anchor either end of Arthur Avenue, in the Belmont Section of the Bronx, tourists and locals sat outside, sipping espresso, smoking and chatting away.

At Luna Cafe, just past the giant Italian flag painted in the intersection, the red Albanian flag was flying, while men smoked hookah in the plastic-covered outdoor area. Over at Prince Coffee House, four blocks away, regulars chatted in Albanian. The only Italians were the third- and fourth-generation shoppers from the suburbs, stopping in for a coffee break between mozzarella and soppressata runs in the nearby stores.

“I wouldn’t call it Little Albania,” said Florian Lota, 21, a recent immigrant from Kosovo who works the counter at Prince. “It’s more like Big Albania.”

For decades, the Little Italys of the city have been shrinking as immigrant families from the turn of the last century move up and out of New York. But a different kind of contraction has taken place in the Belmont section of the Bronx. There, the Italian diaspora has been slowly replaced with immigration from the Balkan States and Latin America, which is actually helping to preserve Italian culture in the neighborhood.

Though it’s still branded as Little Italy, a great many of the people serving the coffee, slicing the caciocavallo, and making the cannoli are from Albania or Mexico.

Belmont’s Little Italy is by far the most intact and authentic — whatever that means anymore — of the city’s Little Italys. The closest that downtown’s Little Italy has gotten to “authenticity” was a few months back when Netflix, to promote Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” dressed it up to look like it was still the 1970s. At last count, Italians in Manhattan’s Little Italy accounted for just 5 percent of the population. Bensonhurst, in Brooklyn, was long ago subsumed by that borough’s Chinatown. East Harlem and even Staten Island’s Italian community have given way to more recent immigrants.

Belmont today is a far cry from its insulated, Mafia-protected racially charged past made famous by movies like “A Bronx Tale.” But the Bronx’s Little Italy, encompassing about 40 square blocks, has thrived partly because of its influx of new ethnically diverse immigrants, not in spite of them.

“It’s a cliché, but we’re all one big happy family up here,” said Frank Franz, the treasurer of the Belmont Business Improvement District, one of only two board members who still lives in the borough. “I’m not saying we don’t fight with one another. But we don’t fight over who we are, but because we got screwed by somebody. I mean, it happens.”

Because of its proximity to Italy across the Adriatic Sea, Albania has had a strong relationship with its neighbor for centuries. In the Middle Ages, Albanians settled in Southern Italy and became known as the Arbereshe, creating their own Albanian-Italian dialects, which are still spoken in small pockets throughout Italy.

During the Communist period, Albanians picked up the language because Italian television was all that was broadcast. After the collapse of Soviet Union and the start of the Kosovo War, Italy was an entry point to the west for ethnic Albanians fleeing persecution. Because they understood Italian, they have had a smooth transition into Little Italy in the Bronx and are starting to follow the Italians before them into the suburbs.

While it’s nothing new that Albanians and Mexicans are working behind the scenes in Belmont, those new immigrants are now also fronting their own shops, filling the gaps left by the Italians who’ve moved, and helping to keep the neighborhood as lively as it’s ever been.

Ramiz Kukaj, an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo who moved here from Italy, operated a pizzeria on 204th Street in the Norwood neighborhood, flying under the radar. Then one day about a decade ago his 15-year-old son came home and said his Greek friends had taken him to a Greek restaurant, his Italian friends took him to an Italian restaurant.

“He said, ‘Daddy, I want to take my friends to an Albanian restaurant, can you tell me one?’ And I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ I was not able to provide him with that. I felt very bad. That’s when I started thinking about it. I have to do something.”

Two years ago, he opened Cka Ka Qellu, the first restaurant in the Bronx with a full Albanian menu. The restaurant sits on a small street behind the big indoor Italian food market on Arthur Avenue. It features not only Albanian cuisine, but has traditional costumes, antique tools and two-stringed cifteli hanging on the walls. It’s been a success, but it’s still the only one of its kind.

The neighborhood’s main attraction is still the Italian food. According to Little Italy’s business improvement district, of the 350 businesses in the area, 63 represent Italy and make a majority of the money — which at last count was $300 million a year in retail alone. Though many of the Italian shops and restaurants are still owned by the original families (most of them live outside the neighborhood) not all are owned by Italians.

Michaelangelo’s restaurant flies the Italian flag, but its owners are Albanian. Tony and Tina’s Pizzeria not only serves slices and garlic knots but also offers traditional Albanian burek — flaky pastry filled with meat. The local cigar shop and the wine store with one of the best selections of Italian wines in the city are both owned by Latinos.

This is nothing new to the Bronx, of course.

Teitel Brothers, the area’s premier salumeria, which provides wholesale cured meats to most of Little Italy’s restaurants, is owned by European Jews who learned Italian long ago and have been here since 1915. Back in the ’30s, with the rise of anti-Semitism, the building landlord told Jacob Teitel that if the Italians all knew the family was Jewish, they would never shop there.

To prove him wrong, Mr. Teitel placed a red Star of David in the white mosaic tile in the entryway. And there it still sits, crowds of Italian-Americans and tourists pushing their way over it and into the tiny store.

“My father made a statement,” said Gilbert Teitel, 79, who runs the shop with his sons.

Even though Italians continue to frequent Arthur Avenue, attending the Ferragosto festival, which attracts over 30,000 each September, and the newer pizza festival that started two years ago, the makeup of those who actually live in the neighborhood has changed. In 1970, the Belmont section was 89.5 percent white, according to the city’s planning office by 2017, Latinos made up the majority at 75 percent. But unlike the Italian neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn, it has maintained its Old World sensibilities.

Part of this is owed to the Bronx’s unusual situation in the city. For one thing, Belmont lacks easy subway access, which over the years hindered the major gentrification that has hit much of New York, keeping real estate prices relatively low and original business owners from selling out.

“Through the ’70s and ’80s it was like this weird Italian Hobbit shire,” said Danielle Oteri, a tour guide who runs Arthur Avenue Food Tours. “There was no need to push in here. It never became a super bad neighborhood or a super wealthy neighborhood.”

Some believe it was the Mafia, not just the lack of transportation, that kept the neighborhood insulated for decades. Local residents say that up until the 1980s, businesses in the area had to pay tribute — called pizzo — to the mob in return for protection. As recently as two years ago, one Arthur Avenue restaurateur went to prison for shaking down gamblers who owed him money.

Rumors about the Albanian mob replacing the old Italian mob have circulated. Alex Rudaj, said to be the head of the Albanian mob in the Bronx, was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison in 2006 for racketeering. No one in the neighborhood will officially acknowledge its existence. “I’ve heard some stories,” said Mr. Lota, who works at Prince Café. “But I don’t know anything about that.”

These days, the only signs of the Mafia are the “Godfather” theme piped in over Calandra’s cheese shop and the aprons for sale that say: “Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.”

It’s no surprise that Mexicans, like the Albanians before them, have integrated so well into Little Italy, Ms. Oteri said. “Italians and Mexicans have so many parallels in their immigration journey. They do Sunday dinner,” she said. “We had the same conquerors. They were controlled by the same Spanish forces.” Even their flags are the same colors.

Over at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the old Italian parish, a corner is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Mexican families stroll the avenue on the weekend, picking out pig snouts at the Italian butcher so grandma can make carnitas. The head baker at the Italian-owned Egidio Pastry Shop is Mexican and has been there for 22 years. The menu features not only cannoli but flan and tres leches cake. And there are now seven Mexican restaurants in Little Italy.

The community has blended so thoroughly into the fiber of the neighborhood that the last time the Italians won the World Cup, in 2006, Mexicans took to the streets yelling, “We won!” said Roman Casarrubias, the owner of M&G, a diner on Arthur Avenue.

Business has been so good, Mr. Casarrubias, said, that he opened a second diner a few blocks away. He employs around 14 people from his home country of Mexico, as well as from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. But his clientele is a league of nations, he said. “We’re all friends over here.”


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Patsy's Pizzeria is the undisputed premier pizza dynasty in New York and arguably in all of The United States. Started by the legendary Pasquale, Lancieri, Patsy's Pizzeria traces its origin by over a century to Manhattan's Lower East Side. Opening his first modest shop in Harlem in 1933, the Patsy's Pizzeria name has become synonymous with authentic, Sicilian coal oven-pizza. Lancieri and his Patsy's Pizzeria creation were so forward thinking, he is widely credited by inventing selling pizza by the slice and popularizing traditional New York style thin crust pizza.

Love by celebrities and people from all walks of life, Patsy's Pizzeria keeps the tradition alive as the beloved pizza family recently welcomed the 4th generation of pizza makers. Inspiring scores of imitators after over 80 years of pizza magic-making, Patsy's Pizzeria continues to deliver old-world pizza to thousands every day. Patsy's Pizzeria means New York Pizza.


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Patricia’s

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: “Much more than a neighborhood staple, Patricia’s is an elegant restaurant committed to the convivial spirit of Southern Italy. Its seasonal fare is served in a gracious, brick-lined dining room among white tablecloths, chandeliers and the warmth of a wood-burning oven. That brick oven churns out pleasing pizzas with lightly charred crusts, like the Regina simply adorned with buffalo mozzarella, torn basil and a drizzle of excellent olive oil.”


Outdoor Dining Plaza “Piazza di Belmont” Launched on Bronx’s Arthur Avenue

Over the weekend, the Belmont Business Improvement District launched “Piazza di Belmont” on the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue, its first-ever piazza-style al fresco dining plan. Between East 188th Street and Crescent Avenue, diners can enjoy an authentic European-style outdoor dining experience from Thursday to Sunday nights. During the weekend nights, the street is closed to vehicular traffic Thursdays to Saturdays from 6 pm to 10 pm and Sunday 1 pm to 9:30 pm.

Arthur Avenue Retail Market Outdoor Dining / Courtesy of Belmont Business Improvement District (BID).

The Belmont BID partnered with Sam Schwartz, former NYC Traffic Commissioner and mastermind behind New York’s potential ribbon bridges, for the initiative. The outdoor weekend dining plan will follow all safety protocols like six-feet spacing between tables, temporary street closures, and signs for pedestrians. All staff must wear face masks and must be screened daily, and cleaning and disinfecting will follow CDC guidelines.

Photo Courtesy of Belmont Business Improvement District (BID).

The Bronx’s Arthur Avenue is considered the Bronx’s Little Italy, with over a dozen authentic Italian eateries serving both northern and southern Italian cuisine. With a rather old-fashioned feel and shops open for over 100 years, the Bronx’s Little Italy features everything from fresh fish markets to cannoli shops to cigar stores. Additionally, the area is also known for its small Albanian enclave, and Albanian flags can be found in a number of eateries and groceries.

Enzo’s of Arthur Avenue / Courtesy of Belmont Business Improvement District (BID).

“While Little Italy in the Bronx has been operating during COVID-19 due to our essential businesses including butchers, pharmacies, fish markets, delis, bakeries, pizzerias, and many other specialty stores and services, we have looked forward to reopening our restaurants which make up the other half of our historic, multi-generational neighborhood,” said Peter Madonia, Chairman of the Belmont BID, in a statement. “Streets remain open during normal business hours every day while the weekend evenings are a new opportunity for visitors to experience our own Little Italy in the Bronx piazza-style al fresco dining.”

Photo Courtesy of Belmont Business Improvement District (BID).

Photo Courtesy of Belmont Business Improvement District (BID).

Diners are highly recommended to make reservations at restaurants before making the journey to Arthur Avenue. Participating restaurants in “Piazza di Belmont” include Ann & Tony’s, Antonio’s Trattoria, Arthur Avenue Fiasco, Azgardz, Bronx Beer Hall, Café Nocciola, Cka Ka Qellu, Emilia’s Restaurant, Enzo’s of Arthur Avenue, Estrellita Poblana III, Gerbasi Ristorante, Gurra Café, Mario’s Restaurant, Mike’s Deli, Michaelangelo’s, Pasquale’s Rigoletto Restaurant, San Gennaro Restaurant, Tapas Italiano, Tino’s Deli, and Zero Otto Nove.


Who Invented Pizza?

Pizza has a long history.ਏlatbreads with toppings were consumed by the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. (The latter ate a version with herbs and oil, similar to today’s focaccia.) But the modern birthplace of pizza is southwestern Italy&aposs Campania region, home to the city of Naples.

Founded around 600 B.C. as a Greek settlement, Naples in the 1700s and early 1800s was a thriving waterfront city. Technically an independent kingdom, it was notorious for its throngs of working poor, or lazzaroni. “The closer you got to the bay, the more dense their population, and much of their living was done outdoors, sometimes in homes that were little more than a room,” says Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global Historyਊnd associate professor of history at the University of Denver.

These Neapolitans required inexpensive food that could be consumed quickly. Pizza𠅏latbreads with various toppings, eaten for any meal and sold by street vendors or informal restaurants—met this need. “Judgmental Italian authors often called their eating habits 𠆍isgusting,’” Helstosky notes. These early pizzas consumed by Naples’ poor featured the tasty garnishes beloved today, such as tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies and garlic.

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Italy unified in 1861, and King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889. Legend has it that the traveling pair became bored with their steady diet of French haute cuisine and asked for an assortment of pizzas from the city’s Pizzeria Brandi, the successor to Da Pietro pizzeria, founded in 1760. The variety the queen enjoyed most was called pizza mozzarella, a pie topped with the soft white cheese, red tomatoes and green basil. (Perhaps it was no coincidence that her favorite pie featured the colors of the Italian flag.) From then on, the story goes, that particular topping combination was dubbed pizza Margherita.

Queen Margherita’s blessing could have been the start of an Italy-wide pizza craze. But pizza would remain little known in Italy beyond Naples’ borders until the 1940s.

An ocean away, though, immigrants to the United States from Naples were replicating their trusty, crusty pizzas in New York and other American cities, including Trenton, New Haven, Boston, Chicago and St. Louis. The Neapolitans were coming for factory jobs, as did millions of Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries they weren’t seeking to make a culinary statement. But relatively quickly, the flavors and aromas of pizza began to intrigue non-Neapolitans and non-Italians.

One of the first documented United States pizzerias was G. (for Gennaro) Lombardi’s on Spring Street in Manhattan, licensed to sell pizza in 1905. (Prior to that, the dish was homemade or purveyed by unlicensed vendors.) Lombardi’s, still in operation today though no longer at its 1905 location, “has the same oven as it did originally,” notes food critic John Mariani, author of How Italian Food Conquered the World.

Debates over the finest slice in town can be heated, as any pizza fan knows. But Mariani credited three East Coast pizzerias with continuing to churn out pies in the century-old tradition: Totonno’s (Coney Island, Brooklyn, opened 1924) Mario’s (Arthur Avenue, the Bronx, opened 1919) and Pepe’s (New Haven, opened 1925).

As Italian-Americans, and their food, migrated from city to suburb, east to west, especially after World War II, pizza’s popularity in the United States boomed. No longer seen as an 𠇎thnic” treat, it was increasingly identified as a fast, fun food. Regional, decidedly non-Neapolitan variations emerged, eventually including California-gourmet pizzas topped with anything from barbecued chicken to smoked salmon. 

Postwar pizza finally reached Italy and beyond. “Like blue jeans and rock and roll, the rest of the world, including the Italians, picked up on pizza just because it was American,” explains Mariani. 

Today international outposts of American chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut thrive in about 60 different countries. Reflecting local tastes, global pizza toppings can run the gamut from Gouda cheese in Cura๺o to hardboiled eggs in Brazil. 

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