Enter New York City’s Arthur Avenue Market in The Bronx, a place I ended up by accident after a recent visit to upstate New York to hang out with old friends. In many ways, it is like many urban markets, complete with your pick of olives, cold cuts, meats, ice cream and other delicacies. It’s no surprise that Italian and Hispanic specialties filled up the market given the location but what I didn’t expect to see was a cigar bar, one where they’re rolling them up on-site.
All cigars are Cuban seeds from the Dominican Republic and that’s where the three cigar wrappers hailed from. They sit there all day every day preparing the best cigars with high quality wrappers, the strong ones coming from Nicaragua and apparently the milder ones are actually local, from Connecticut. The double dark ones which are apparently the strongest of the lot, come from Brazil. Here, they also dry the cigars on a rack.
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.
This is 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.
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.
In addition to cigars, you’ll find sausage makers, bread bakers, cafe’s and 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.
A l’il video:
Top photo credit: NYCEDC