The authors of new neighborhood dining guide New York City Food Crawls pick their favorite places to dine and shop in the Bronx's "Real Little Italy."
For seven years, sisters Ali Zweben Imber and Daryl Zweben Hom have documented their culinary adventures on a popular food blog and Instagram account called The Sisterhood of the Unbuttoning Pants (@unbuttoningpants). Both graduates of Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, Ali and Daryl come from a long family legacy in hospitality stretching back four generations—and have extended their innate industry savvy to the very 21st-century pastime of chronicling favorite meals on social media, to the tune of 105,000 followers and loyal fans.
This September, the Zweben sisters will publish their first dining guide, New York City Food Crawls: Touring the Neighborhoods One Bite & Libation at a Time (Globe Pequot Press), which features approachable neighborhood eating, drinking, and shopping destination lists curated by the discerning twosome. Chock full of local knowledge and insider info—this book definitely isn't a run-of-the-mill list of tourist hotspots—consider New York City Food Crawls an indispensable handbook to exploring some of this city's most beloved institutions and undiscovered-by-tour-groups gems.
Ali and Daryl cover lots of ground—including the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, Midtown, the Theater District, Gramercy, Flatiron, Union Square, Greenwich Village, the East Village, the West Village, Bleecker Street, Chelsea, the Meatpacking District, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Tribeca, FiDi, Williamsburg, Dumbo, Harlem, Red Hook, and Flushing—but we particularly loved their guide to nine must-visit spots on Arthur Avenue, which they dub "The Real Little Italy," in the Bronx. So much so that we've secured permission to share it with you, below.
New York City Food Crawls is available now on Amazon.com
Arthur Avenue: The Real Little Italy
All the Goodfellas and ladies know that Arthur Avenue has the best Italian restaurants, markets, bakeries, and specialty stores. Located in the Belmont section of the Bronx, the area around Arthur Avenue and 187th Street is often referred to as the “real Little Italy,” and is the intersection of years of tradition and generations of families. Arthur Avenue has more family-run businesses operating for over 100 years than any other part of the city, and although many of these businesses thrive because of the local residents, over 85 percent of customers come from more than five miles away. The authenticity available cannot be rivaled; many of the shops import hard-to-find items from Italy, and even if two stores specialize in the same item (cheese, for example), they will each offer something that the other does not. There is a strong sense of community, everyone seems to know each other, and everyone is connected to their strong Italian heritage.
The restaurants and markets are sprinkled over a few blocks, and it is not hard to make a day of shopping and eating. Going for lunch, visiting all the stores to stock up on supplies, then staying for an early dinner is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. An easy way to get to Arthur Avenue is by taking the Metro North Harlem Line to Fordham Station (roughly 17 minutes from Grand Central) and walking for 10 minutes. A visit to Arthur Avenue can be combined with a trip to the New York Botanical Garden or the Bronx Zoo, just don’t let the tigers get a whiff of that mozz. . . . N.B.: Many of the stores close early, so plan accordingly.
Enzo's: 2339 Arthur Ave., 718-733-4455
Red sauce is boss at this neighborhood institution that is a perfect place to soak in the flavor of the neighborhood; dining here feels like you are part of the family, and you will be treated as such. The portions are massive and so are the personalities, the crowd a mix of true locals and tourists making the pilgrimage for parmigiana. And what a chicken parmigiana it is—pounded thin, crispy, and covered in the proper proportions of sauce and cheese, this is the perfect example of this dish. All of the old-school staples are here—clams oreganata, fried calamari, meatballs, everything you wish your grandmother made. Reservations and credit cards are accepted, but leaving hungry is not.
Randazzo's: 2327 Arthur Ave., 718-367-4139
One of the two top seafood spots in the neighborhood, with the freshest fish available, both familiar and exotic. Warm months have fresh shucked oysters and clams for sale on the sidewalk.
Calandra's Cheese: 2314 Arthur Ave., 718-365-7572
This dairy dynamo is not to be missed. Whether your cheese of choice is cow, sheep, local, or imported, Calandra's has it all. There is no need to play coy around the abundant free cheese samples—the friendly staff encourages nibbling as you shop and will help narrow down your selections. Calandra’s burrata is out of this world, and a relative bargain. Don’t miss the lesser-known burrino, with a more distinctive rind and roots in Southern Italy. Be warned that the fior di latte mozzarella should be ordered a day in advance. Calandra’s makes their ricotta and mozzarella fresh daily, and stocks every Italian deli essential in the most authentic way possible. Calandra’s Cheese also makes gift boxes to order—a perfect, unique, customizable gift for anyone who appreciates true New York, Italian food, or just simply great cheese. The free samples might lure you in, but the variety of pasta, cooked and cured meats, and more will fill your table and keep you coming back.
Calabria Pork Store: 2338 Arthur Ave., 718-367-5145
The ultimate hog heaven, Calabria literally has a sausage chandelier, their entire ceiling covered in hanging sausages. Try all sorts of prosciutto, sopressata, and porchetta on their own or in any combination with cheese on a sandwich, and don’t forget the stuffed peppers.
Madonia Brothers Bakery: 2348 Arthur Ave., 718-295-5573
This bakery has been family run for three generations, and legend has it the original owner’s son was born on the floor of bakery, after a car crashed through the window and scared the mother into labor. Besides keeping newborn babies warm, their ovens churn out the best savory breads, cookies, and cannolis around.
Casa Della Mozzarella: 604 E. 187 St., 718-364-1867
Who makes the best mozzarella on Arthur Avenue is often debated, but the New York Yankees have cast their vote: Casa Della Mozzarella has been named the official cheese of the Bronx Bombers. This emporium to all things mozzarella makes fresh cheese on premises constantly throughout the day, and supplies the cheese to many of the restaurants in the area. Try it on its own or on a sandwich.
Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles: 632 E. 187 St., 718-367-3799
The place for ravioli; you only have to decide if you want large or small size, and which flavor.
The Arthur Avenue Market: 2344 Arthur Ave., 718-220-0346
The Arthur Avenue Market was established by Mayor LaGuardia in 1940 as a central indoor place for all of the pushcart vendors to sell their wares. Today it is a bustling hub stocked with every Italian delicacy and prepared food, courtesy of an assortment of vendors all under one roof. Be sure to hit up Mike’s Deli for one of their epic sandwiches, including their eggplant parm, which beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network.
Tra Di Noi: 622 E. 187 St., 718-295-1784
For a more refined, cozy and quiet dining experience, Tra Di Noi is the perfect spot. Italian-born Chef Marco has over 50 years of cooking experience, (he is rumored to have been Sophia Loren’s personal chef) and tends to every dish himself to this day. You can taste his keen attention to delicate details, such as the light sheets of pasta in the famous lasagne bolognese. The specials change daily based on what is fresh and available, making this spot especially popular with locals.