On one of the warm(ish) winter Sundays after the first polar vortex, my family and I decided to take a trip to the Bronx. Our plan? A trip to Arthur Avenue for lunch and then a stroll through the Bronx Zoo afterwards. A perfect playdate that got derailed by a late start and underestimation of the fun we would have in what is known as “New York’s real Little Italy”.
In comparison to the teensy, touristy Little Italy on the Lower East Side, which feels more like an extension to the ever growing Chinatown, Arthur Avenue’s six-block radius feels more substantial. According to Arthur Avenue legend, Robert DeNiro discovered the actor, Joe Pesci, as a maitre’d at a local cafe. Today the area is still a slice of the Italian pie that feels authentic, where grandparents, parents, kids, grandchildren and babies gather for family-style meals and cappuccinos. You probably won’t mistake the avenue for Florence, but as an Italian-American enclave, this takes the cake.
We started our journey in the heart of it all for lunch at Zero Otto Nove, a wood-burning pizzeria and restaurant. The cavernous, skylighted restaurant feels like lunching in an enormous bi-level wine cellar with a trompe l’oeil of European architecture. The effect is mesmerizing, resulting in the restaurant being very popular with the locals. The hostess took our names and alerted us to our upcoming 30-minute wait. Although my son was “starving,” the bartender wooed him with a glass of orange juice and a high five. And the resulting trip to the bathroom was facilitated by the two women standing in line pushing us to the front. (“He’s too young to wait, get him in there!”) In my year since potty training, this has never happened to us in any New York public rest room. This alone endeared the restaurant to us as the most-family friendly ever. But then, we tasted the pizza. My tiny son ate three charred thin-crust pieces, as well as two pieces of fresh focaccia bread, some perfectly seasoned arugula salad and scallops from a seafood antipasti special.
We opted not to have dessert, and instead rolled outside across the street to Madonia Brothers Bakery where we bought a dozen biscotti to bring home, and a caramel cookie to share. That’s when we realized the avenue is not just about restaurants. It’s a hotbed of specialty markets that puts Eataly to shame. Casa Della Mozzarella is where you go for cheese, Biancardi’s is known for their cuts of meat, Cerini Coffee and Gifts will give you fresh beans to grind, and Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles is where you can stock up on fresh pasta for your freezer.
After all that shopping, we landed at DeLillo Cafe and Pastry Shop, which was the highlight of my son’s day-slash-life. An antiquated bakery with glass shelves filled to the brims with pastries, eclairs, candied almonds, cookies, and of course, cannolis. We each opted for a plain cannoli, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and cappucinos for the parents. We sat in the jovial cafe, lingering over our sweets and caffeine, listening to the sounds of foaming milk, relaxing into Italian time…until we realized (Oh Madonn’!) that the zoo was already closed.
There’s always next time.
Zero Otto Nove- (2357 Arthur Avenue) hours: Lunch Tues- Sat: 12:00pm-2:30pm; Sun: 1pm- 9pm; Dinner Tues- Thurs: 4:30pm- 10pm, Fri & Sat: 4:30pm- 11pm, Sun: 1pm-9pm
Madonia Bakery- (2348 Arthur Avenue) hours: Mon-Sat: 6am-7pm, Sun: 7am-6pm
Casa Del Mozzarella (604 E. 187th St.) hours: Mon.–Sat: 7:30am–6pm, Sun: 7:30am–1pm
Biancardi’s- (2350 Arthur Avenue)- hours: 8am–5:30pm daily
Cerini Coffee and Gifts- (2334 Arthur Avenue)- hours: Mon- Sat: 9am-6:30pm, Sun: closed
Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles (632 E. 187th St.) hours: Sun: 8:30am- 3:00pm, Mon: 8:30am- 4pm, Tues- Fri 8:30am- 5pm, Sat: 8:30pm- 6pm
DeLillo Cafe and Pastry Shop- (610 East 187 Street) hours: Mon- Thurs: 8am- 8pm, Fri- Sun: 8am- 9pm