Tony & Tina's Pizza: Tony & Tina's Pizza: Albanian Bureks on Arthur Avenue
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I planned to meet Zio at 593 Crescent Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx. I wanted the Albanian equivalent of pizza, known as a burek and Djerdan Burek was, according to Google maps, just a half block from Roberto Paciullo’s place, Roberto’s, and the planned destination for our consumption of bureks.
“I’m bringing the Colonel,” Zio said over the phone on the morning before we were to meet.
It was no problem with me if he brought the Colonel, his long time companion, and the mother of his children, though for some reason he wasn’t very enthusiastic about it.
When I arrived at 593 Crescent Avenue, my enthusiasm waned as well, but not because we would be dining with the Colonel. Instead of being greeted with the smell of freshly baked bureks, I was confronted with the odor of hair tonic from Bato’s Professional Barber Shop. I peered inside hopefully thinking that maybe the bureks were sold in the back of the barber shop, but from what I could see through the window, there was no food at Bato’s.
I knew there were bureks not too far from Crescent Avenue. I even noticed a “burek” sign in a window a block from Fordham Road when I was driving into the neighborhood. So Zio, the Colonel and I decided to head in that direction.
We strolled past Randazzo’s Seafood, Dominick’s Restaurant, Roberto Paciullo’s other place, Trattoria Zero Otto Nove, Ann & Tony’s Restaurant (“Five Generations”), and the Arthur Avenue Baking Company, before arriving at Tony & Tina’s Pizzeria.
Inside the small pizzeria, we glanced at the assemblage of phyllo dough stuffed pies behind the counter known as bureks. And then we turned our attention to the pizza, garlic knots and calzones on the other side of the counter. Zio’s jaw drooped slightly as he stared at the wan, cold, cheese-congealed pizza. “Is that what an Albanian pizza looks like?” he asked incredulously.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never been to Albania.”
We went for the combination platter of bureks; cheese, meat, spinach and a spiral shaped one stuffed with sweet pumpkin. As we were about the dig in, the Colonel got a phone call.
“Sorry, I have to take this,” she said, walking out of the pizzeria, cell phone in hand.
“Should we wait?” I asked
“Are you kidding?” Zio scoffed, and quickly began to devour one of the meat bureks.
I was a little hesitant.
“She’ll end up just taking a few bites, anyway,” he garbled with his mouth full of phyllo dough.
The Colonel was outside, leaning against a parked car, cell phone attached to her ear. I decided to take Zio’s advice and began eating.
All the bureks were flaky and fresh; the cheese mild but not too dense, while the spinach was fragrant with onion. The ground meat in the meat burek had just enough grease to slightly absorb into the pie dough.
The Colonel returned. “That was my friend M,” she said. “She’s almost 10 centimeters dilated.”
“Uh huh,” Zio muttered disinterestedly, his mouth now stuffed with a cheese burek.
The Colonel took a tiny bite of each and then bagged the rest.
“What did I tell ya,” Zio said.
I tried to answer, but I felt a tickle in my throat. I drank some water. The tickle was still there. I coughed and then took another sip of water. I coughed again. A miniscule flake of phyllo dough was caught in my windpipe. I coughed once more. The flake finally dislodged.
The Colonel took her bag of nibbled bureks, and the three of us walked back down Arthur Avenue, Zio stopping briefly at Umberto’s Clam House, where a sign said:“Bus tours are welcome.”
“Didn’t they used to sell live chickens here?” Zio asked.
“They did,” I said. “I once wanted to buy one, but they told me you needed to order it at least a day in advance so they could kill the bird and then clean it up.”
Zio stared at the colorful sign proclaiming Umberto’s many happy hour specials. He shook his head. “Isn’t Umberto’s where Joey Gallo was whacked?” he asked.
“Yeah, but that was at the original on Mulberry Street,” I replied.
He continued to stare and then shook his head. “I liked it better when it was a chicken place,” he said. And then we continued our walk through the Little Italy of the Bronx.
Brian Silverman chronicles cheap eats, congee, cachapas, cow foot, cow brains, bizarre foods, baccala, bad verse, fazool, fish stomach, happy hours, hot peppers, hot pots, pupusas, pastas, rum punch and rotis, among many other things on his site Fried Neck Bones...and Some Home Fries. Twitter: [email protected]_neckbones.
Tony & Tina’s Pizzeria
Yes, you heard it right! Tony &Tina’s pizzeria located at 2483 Arthur Avenue Bronx, NY is the ultimate cheese filled pizza parlour that will make you wish you’d never leave.
Not only does it provide freshly baked pizza’s and Albanian cuisine in a variety if flavour and colours but gives you a sensational experience at the cost you could only dream about.
As a top fan describes their different types of byrek taste absolutely amazing. If you’re in the area and you’re looking for some traditional Albanian food,Tony and Tina’s is definitely the place to go to.
Well known foodies Pet.Pass and Thechiefest both gave it a string 5.6 and agree that it would always be there ‘go to places’ whenever with friends who travel only for the love for food.
This pizzeria provides you a chance to experience the great taste of Albanian cuisine such as freshly homemade yoghurt along with prodigious round filo pies called ‘Bureks’.
The spinach and pumpkin bureks are ordered the most by customers while the buffalo chicken pizza’s huge slices are also admirable. The staff is well trained and super friendly.
All prices range from under $10. The chef recommends the ricotta any day and any time. So buckle up for a well-deserved ride to this amazing pizzeria!
Restaurant Review: Dukagjini Burek
A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!
New York City may not be Italy or Greece, but it’s still home to the largest population of Albanian origin in the USA. As New York is also one of the cities with the highest ratio of restaurants per capita, it’s not surprising that the two worlds collide. This collision isn’t centered in Brooklyn or Queens, for a change, but in the Bronx! And believe it or not, Albanian food can be as noteworthy as Albanian mafiosi.
You’ll find Albanian and Kosovan restaurants on either side of Bronx Park. Some of the pizza joints on historically-Italian Arthur Avenue and elsewhere are actually run by Albanians, and serve Albanian bureks in addition to pizza. Dukajini Burek, loosely situated in Pelham Gardens, goes one step further and serves only bureks. This is the place we’re visiting today.
I’m not the first to review this little hole-in-the-wall. In fact, the spot is well known by people who blog about the world’s cuisines in New York, like this guy, at United Nations of Food. It’s also a long-time favorite of the Village Voice, where it was declared Best Albanian in 2008 and 2011, and also Best Espresso in 2008. Only a few months ago, the Voice even published a somewhat more in-depth article, complete with the factual errors befitting any self-respecting professsional media article these days. (No, Sara Ventiera, Dukagjin, whence the restaurant gets its name, is not a quaint little town in Kosovo that makes great bureks following an ancestral recipe — it’s a region covering parts of northeastern Albania and southwestern Kosovo, named after the Dukagjini family. And I may be wrong, but I don’t think that every cup of yogurt is rendered from a whole gallon of milk. If you ever tried to make yogurt on your own, even Greek yogurt, you’d see that’s not how it works. If you ever tried to buy a gallon of milk at the supermarket, even at Walmart but especially in NYC, you’d also see that you cannot get it for $1.50. And come to think of it, choosing a Kosovan restaurant for the Albanian entry of an A-to-Z series on NYC’s ethnic cuisines is rather odd and/or lazy.)
Although Dukagjini Burek’s owners do seem to be ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, the joint resembles a New York pizza parlor more than anything that I’ve seen in Albania. Fun fact of the day: famous pizzerias Giovanni’s and Patsy’s, as well as the whole Famous Famiglia restaurant chain (which started in NYC), are or used to be owned by Albanians. But we digress…
The menu is as simple as it gets: 3 kinds of bureks, sold as whole pies or by the slice. You can also buy a cup of homemade plain yogurt to eat with them, and finish your meal with an award-winning espresso or a cappuccino. And of course there are a few cold beverages. Only this handful of options there may be, but at lunchtime on weekends business is brisk. It seems like half of New York’s Albanian community stops by to pick up stacks of steaming pies. If you look at the pictures of the food on their web site, be aware that they don’t necessarily match what’s being served nowadays — there were no coil-shaped bureks when I was there recently.
So what is a burek, anyway? If you’re familiar with Turkish cuisine, you’ve probably tried böreks, baked filled pastries made with phyllo dough. The dish spread throughout the former Ottoman Empire, and its Albanian variation (or rather, variations, since many regions of Albania have their own), called byrek or burek, is made with several layers of dough that have been thinly rolled out by hand, and usually filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. While street vendors and small cafés in Albania sell individual bureks to eat on the go, larger pies are made at home.
The pies at Dukagjini Burek are quite large, only slightly smaller than most whole New York pizzas. They’re made with lots of layers (about ten), the top and bottom ones brown and crispy, the inside ones much softer, almost like thin noodle sheets. You can see the cooks in the back making the phyllo dough by hand. Filling is rather sparse there’s definitely more dough than filling, especially at the edges, where the layers are folded over. The dough is probably brushed with a bit of oil, just enough so that the result is neither dry nor excessively greasy. I can’t tell you for sure if this particular version is typically Kosovan, but I remember eating a similar albeit more rustic cheese burek in Theth, in Dukagjin — the region, not the imaginary quaint little town. Although Theth is indeed a quaint little community. But it’s not imaginary. I’ve been there.
The bureks are kept warm on top of the pizza ovens, though with the turnaround that I’ve observed, they don’t stay there very long. Still, they’re even better when you get them straight from the oven. So either buy whole pies, or wait by the counter until you get a fresh slice of the pie you want! The cheese burek’s filling tastes like a blend feta and ricotta, with some of the saltiness of the feta, and some of the softer texture of the ricotta. I’m not sure whether this is what it’s actually made of, or if they use some type of Albanian cheese. Either way, it’s very good.
The meat burek contains finely ground beef mixed with onion and spices (just salt, pepper, and a bit of red chile, I think), in fairly small amounts — this isn’t a phyllo burger. It might be even better than its cheese sibling. It would be interesting to mix the meat and cheese to see what it’s like, but I bet it’s against tradition, and we wouldn’t want to have an open mind and go against that, would we?
I didn’t try the spinach burek because spinach is not really my thing. But I did try the homemade yogurt: plain, not tangy at all, and quite liquid, which comes in handy if you want to dip your burek in it or pour it on top of the pie.
Dukagjini Burek makes great bureks. If you’re going to the Bronx Zoo or the New York Botanical Garden, it’s worth making a small detour to stop there for lunch. If I was a Kosovar living in the neighborhood, I would probably order a pie or two regularly, then put on my track suit and my sneakers, climb behind the wheel of my BMW, and double-park in front of the joint to pick up my order.
It’s difficult to give a rating to a restaurant that really serves only one dish. Even if that dish is very well executed, I can hardly give it the highest grade and propel it in front of other places that offer elaborate and delicious menus with only a few hiccups here and there. If you look at my past reviews, you’ll see a cluster of recommended eateries rated 7.5/10, so this is what I’ll go with.
Cuisine: Kosovan / Albanian
Picks: meat burek, cheese burek
Here's what always happens to me -- I'm out on my bike, exploring the far reaches of a neighborhood I've never been to. And I get hungry. And I don't want to eat in some random shitty place. Now, I'm as down with Chowhound as the next guy, and I can scope out a diamond in the rough with the best of them. But still. Sometimes you just want to know what the kick-ass places are.
Robert Sietsema at The Village Voice has put out an annual 100 best cheap eats for the past five years that I am raising high as my new guiding light. I've mashed it up with pointers from Chowhound and Famous Fat Dave , a cabbie with irrepressible curiosity.
So, here's the first of several quick & dirty cheat sheets of places that I want to try, organized by borough and neighborhood. I've kept the information to a minimum - just name, address, and a few word description of the type of food. The addresses run roughly from south to north. Click on the map to go directly to a larger interactive map.
Fratelli Pizza Cafe (Hungry Cabbie) - 402 Hunt’s Point Ave @ E Bay Ave. Get the broccoli rabe hero.
Real Azteca - E. 163rd off Southern Blvd. Mexican.
The Schlitz - E. 137th St @ Willow Ave. classic German bar & restaurant (wurst and boiled beef with horseradish).
Brook Luncheonette - 504 E. 138th St @ Brook Ave. Mexican lunch counter.
Bruckner Bar & Grill - 1 Bruckner Blvd @ 3rd Ave.
La Espiga 4 - Southern Blvd @ E 149th. Mexican.
Venice Restaurant - 772 E 149th St @ Wales Ave. Italian.
La Orquidea - 500 E 149th St @ Brook Ave. Honduran.
Joey's Hero Shop & Catering - 554 Morris Ave @ 149th St. Italian hero shop.
In God We Trust (Village Voice) - 441 E. 153rd St btwn Elton/Melrose. Ghanaian.
El Valle (Hungry Cabbie, NY Press) - 155th St & Melrose. Dominican.
Havana Sandwich Queen - 888B Grand Concourse @ E 161st St. Cuban.
El Molino Rojo II - 101 E 161st St @ Gerard. Puerto Rican cuchifritos.
Feeding Tree - E. 162nd & Gerard. Jamaican.
Concourse Jamaican Bakery (Village Voice)- 252 E 167th St @ Grand Concourse. Get the carrot cake.
Jimmy's Luncheonette (Village Voice) - 392 East 169th St @ Clay. Tube steak.
God's Time Is the Best (Village Voice 04) - 1363 Webster between 169th & 170th. Ghanaian.
African American Restaurant Maryway - 218 E 170th St. Senegalese.
Irish Bakery ( menu) - E 238th St @ Katonah Ave.
Rambling House - 4290 Katonah Ave. Irish.
More Irish pubs in the Bronx via IrishEmigrant.com
Vernon's New Jerk House - 987 E 233rd St @ Gunther Ave. Jerk.
Gerri's ( NY Times) - 3974 White Plains Road @ E 225th St. Soursop ice cream.
Motherland Cuisine - 3926 White Plains Rd @ E. 223rd St. Ghanaian, soul food.
Aziza - 3716 White Plains Rd @ 217th St. Nigerian.
The Jerk Center - 1296 E Gun Hill Rd @ Wilson Ave (216th). Jerk.
Feroza's Restaurant Roti - 716 Burke Ave @ White Plains Rd. Roti.
Rawal Ravail Restaurant ( Village Voice) - 641 Lydig Ave @ White Plains Rd. Pakistani.
Burektorja Dukagjini - 758 Lydig Ave @ Holland Ave. Albanian bureks.
The Flash Inn - Cruger Ave off White Plains Ave & Bronxdale Ave. Old school Italian.
Patricia's - 1080 Morris Park Ave @ Lurting Ave, off Williamsbridge Rd. Italian.
Coals - 1888 Eastchester Rd off Morris Park Ave. Pizza.
Uncle Sal's Ribs and Bibs - 1770 E Tremont Ave @ Van Buren St. BBQ.
Sabrosura - 1200 Castle Hill Ave @ Gleason Ave. Dominican-Chinese.
Louie & Ernie's ( SliceNY, Hungry Cabbie, Village Voice, photos from Bridge & Tunnel Club) - 1300 Crosby Ave., Pelham Bay. Pizza.
Tony & Tina's Pizza: Tony & Tina's Pizza: Albanian Bureks on Arthur Avenue - Recipes
&ldquoIt&rsquos sick, because somebody&rsquos spying on you while you&rsquore just doing your business. If I was asked I would have said, &lsquoI&rsquom not Albanian, I&rsquom from Montenegro but I&rsquom not Albanian,&rsquo&rdquo said Semi Erovic, who owns Dino&rsquos European Hair Styling in Norwood.
Rep. Eliot Engel, who represents much of the North Bronx and is the co-chair of the U.S. House of Representatives&rsquo Albanian Issues Caucus, expressed support for the NYPD&rsquos intelligence-gathering initiatives, but said police could have been more sensitive.
&ldquoI think that the NYPD is appropriately trying to keep us safe and I do support their efforts. I do however think that with those efforts comes some sensitivity,&rdquo said Mr. Engel.
He added that although police likely assumed the document would not be made public, now that it has, the NYPD should address any errors in its reporting.
&ldquoI think mistakes should always be addressed, and I think just as we support the NYPD, I think when the police make mistakes they should own up to them,&rdquo Mr. Engel said.
&lsquoKing of Burek&rsquo
At Tony and Tina&rsquos Pizzeria, an Arthur Avenue spot known for its Albanian burek &mdash similar to a stuffed pizza &mdash owner and self-proclaimed &ldquoKing of Burek&rdquo Phil Kajtazi said he was surprised that his business was on a report that highlighted the area&rsquos Muslim institutions.
&ldquoThese are misleads. It&rsquos like a detective trying to crack a case, but he&rsquos looking at the wrong things. I don&rsquot understand how they got this. I&rsquom Catholic,&rdquo Mr. Kajtazi said, before noticing a neighbor&rsquos business on the report. &ldquoHe&rsquos Catholic, too.&rdquo
Multiple requests for comment on the report&rsquos discrepancies from the NYPD&rsquos Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne and NYPD spokesperson Deputy Inspector Kim Royster were unreturned by press time.
There’s a New Burek on the Block in the Bronx’s Little Italy
The Little Italy centered on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx could also lay claim to being the city’s Little Albania. One edible sign of the neighborhood’s long-standing, mostly low-profile Balkan presence has been the Chowhound-endorsed burek at Tony & Tina’s Pizzeria—a savory stuffed pastry served with tart house-made yogurt. Now there’s a worthy challenger, NewYorkNewHaven tells fellow ‘hounds: Giovanni’s Brick Oven Pizza just down the street.
Giovanni’s—not affiliated with other restaurants of the same name around the Bronx, according to the staff—raises the burek bar with flakier, crisper pastry and beef, spinach, and cheese fillings made with uncommon care, as reported by Serious Eats. It also makes bureks more frequently than the competition and doesn’t resort to nuking them. “More flavorful, fresher fillings, better phyllo, no threat of microwave, and a wood-fired oven,” NewYorkNewHaven sums up. Note that the burek guy isn’t always in the house, so you might call ahead if you’re planning a special trip to Arthur Avenue.
Giovanni’s Brick Oven Pizza [Bronx]
2343 Arthur Avenue (between E. 186th and 184th streets), Bronx
DISH OF THE WEEK: Frozen Pizza from TABLE 87
Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City
I promise this blog will not be turning into a review site for frozen pizzas. Although some of you may actually be excited about that prospect.
This is the second frozen pizza I’ve discovered from local New York pizzerias that has made my quarantine situation a whole lot better.
And it’s funny, if you had asked me before all this about the best local pizzeria that makes a frozen version, I probably would have come up with Table 87. But I had yet to try it until this pandemic.
I used to visit Table 87 pretty often on the Brownstone Brooklyn tour and I would talk about their frozen pizza since they had success with it from appearing on Shark Tank. I always loved their freshly baked coal oven slices (as did my tour groups), but I figured I never ate frozen pizza so why should I seek it out? Until now.
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.”
DISH OF THE WEEK: Chicken Marsala at ANTONIO’S TRATTORIA
Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City
Wow! This past week I had some semblance of normal and I actually ate at a restaurant in New York City.
Of course, it was outside and masks were worn except for the actual masticating bit. But it was exciting to look at a menu, converse with a waiter, and have someone else do the dishes. It had been too long.
We took our son to the Bronx Zoo, since they have timed tickets and are practicing safety measures. And as we used to, if we found ourselves in this part of the Bronx, we had to have lunch along Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx.
We had been to Antonio’s Trattoria before (I’ve been many times actually) and like their Italian-American dishes and vibe. The food is always solid. It might not be the best restaurant in the neighborhood, but it never disappoints.
I chose Chicken Marsala on a whim and it was better than any chicken I’ve prepared at home in the last six months. Pounded very thin and meltingly tender, the chicken literally tasted like butter. To counter that richness, a tangy bright marsala sauce and meaty mushrooms rounded out the plate.
In the old days (pre-COVID), I might not have been completely wowed by this predictable (but solid) dish. Now that the world has turned upside down, I’m paying a little more attention and enjoying the little things a little bit more. Price: $18
Big Apple Greeter program leads visitors on exploration of Bronx’s Little Italy
BRONX, N.Y.-Big Apple Greeter Dan Abatelli wants to meet at Grand Central Terminal outside the Oyster Bar & Restaurant, not because he’s hungry before our Bronx food crawl but because he wants to show off the secret “Whispering Gallery” nearby.
When two people stand at diagonal arches in the unmarked archway and whisper to the wall, they can hear each other’s voices in an acoustical oddity that attracts a steady stream of people in the know.
Abatelli, a retired teacher, is a volunteer Big Apple Greeter whose job is to promote the city as 𠇏riendly, inviting and manageable.”
Greeters have shown more than 150,000 visitors around on free, unscripted walks in all five New York boroughs since the not-for-profit organization started in 1992.
“We don’t call them tours,” Abatelli stresses. “They’re neighbourhood walks or neighbourhood explorations.”
Tourists go online and register when they’re coming and indicate what they𠆝 like to see and do. The program’s 300 volunteers choose the explorations that suit their schedules and interests. Not everybody will get a match.
Our afternoon starts with a subway trip from Manhattan to the Bronx. The New York Times put the South Bronx 51st on its list of 52 global hot spots to explore this year.
We’re going to Arthur Ave., an Italian enclave in the Belmont neighbourhood that’s considered “more Italian than Little Italy.” (That’s a dig at Manhattan’s waning Little Italy.)
You can’t just step off the subway and start eating pizza, warns Abatelli. It’s a 15-minute walk from the Fordham Rd. subway stop to Arthur Ave., faster if you take the bus but then you might miss the street hustlers playing three-card monte.
We’re good and hungry so we head straight to Full Moon Pizza for thin-crust slices and garlic knots.
Abatelli declares this 41-year-old “tried and true” institution 𠇎ven better than the last time I remember.” Like many New Yorkers, he swears it’s the city’s excellent tap water that is the key ingredient in its exceptional pizza dough.
I’m taken with the garlic knots, small, tight coils brushed with oil, parmesan and garlic.
It’s so Italian around here that the Belmont branch of the New York Public Library houses the Enrico Fermi Cultural Center. We wander in and find a seating area with benches that resembles a European plaza, Italian men playing cards and Italian women sitting and chatting.
“We like to think of ourselves as the living room of the neighbourhood,” says the library’s Chelsey Masterson.
Big Apple Greeter explorations last two to four hours, so Abatelli takes us to more of his favourite Arthur Ave. spots. The Arthur Avenue Retail Market for cannolis. Calandra Cheese for a goodly array of samples.
At Egidio Pastry Shop we drink coffee, eat sfogliatelle and take Abatelli’s “New York City Test for Visitors.” We especially like the 20th and final, conversation-provoking question: 𠇍onald Trump was born a) with a silver spoon b) in Trump Tower c) in Queens d) prematurely.”
It makes perfect sense, to me, to end our Arthur Ave. exploration with Albanian food. That’s right — there’s an Albanian influx to the Bronx.
We head to Tony & Tina’s Pizzeria, ignore the pizza and get Albanian burek — a baked, filled pastry — instead. The one filled with sweet pumpkin purພ is outstanding.
Abatelli takes burek home for his wife, as thrilled as we are to have found a delicious new take on the Bronx.
Jennifer Bain was partially hosted by TravMedia’s International Media Marketplace (IMM) NYC, which didn’t review or approve this story.