A sleepy small-town vibe reigns in Belmont, where strong family ties and tradition prevail over innovation and change. Join us on a visit to the most exciting and delicious neighborhood in the Bronx.
The subway train leaves Manhattan and crosses the Harlem river. After stopping at Yankee Stadium, it winds its way towards Tremont Avenue, making its unrelenting, shrieking sound as it goes. Low brownstones bathe in the afternoon sun, colorful murals brighten up dull warehouse exteriors, and reflections dance across the rooftops. It’s an endless patchwork urban landscape, painted in ochres. I get off at Fordham Rd, and wander along this busy main artery in the warm afternoon sun. I turn onto Arthur Avenue, and notice that the bustle of the crowd hasn’t followed me here. It’s as quiet as a back alley in a rural town.
The first thing any visitor sees on Arthur Avenue is a long, colorful mural. Across it, the quote “THE SADDEST THING IN LIFE IS WASTED TALENT” is written in bright yellow letters. A Bronx Tale is a stage play, a movie, and more recently a Broadway musical, which tells the story of a young Italian-American boy growing up in the Bronx of the 60s, where he is torn between different worlds and two opposed role models. The world of his strict, law-abiding father contrasts starkly with that of his other father figure: local mob boss Sonny, who comes to represent a completely different set of morals. At the wall, I meet up with the artist Mike A. We’ve agreed to meet here so he can show me his enormous mural, which is positioned to direct the viewer’s gaze towards Little Italy and Arthur Avenue.
-I wrote a comic book years ago, it’s in A Bronx Tale kind of style, so there are Mafia pigeons in it. Then you’ve got the tomatoes and peppers, the Arthur Avenue food, the pasta and all that. The white negative space in the back with the red and green over it brings the Italian colors in to it.
I wrote a comic book years ago, it’s in A Bronx Tale kind of style, so there are Mafia pigeons in it.
Mike A is a pop artist and creative director. Mike is Italian—and born and raised in the Bronx. When the Bronx Business District asked him to paint the mural, and he understood that the actor Chazz Palminteri had given the project his blessing, it was an easy decision. Chazz Palminteri based A Bronx Tale on his own experiences growing up in this neighborhood, and produced his one man show in the late 80s, which eventually led Robert De Niro to contact him to ask for his permission to turn the story into a film. De Niro wanted Palminteri to play the part of Sonny in the movie, which premiered in 1993. The mural was commissioned to be an uplifting piece, which would express the essence of Arthur Avenue, while also reflecting the story, of course. I’m in a good mood from seeing the painting when I say my goodbyes and walk on down Arthur Avenue.
A Bronx Tale – Belmont
Belmont is a neighborhood of about eight blocks North to South, stretching from Fordham Road to 182nd Street, and nine blocks across from East to West. Belmont is more than just Arthur Avenue and Little Italy. Puerto Ricans, Albanians and Croatians all call this area home, as do a whole load of other nationalities. Belmont and the Bronx is multicultural in a way that other parts of the city only attempt to be. Germans and Irish flocked here in great numbers during the second half of the 19th century, and in the 20s, numerous Italians made their way here in search of a new life. This diversity is perhaps best reflected by the local food culture.
Chef Gabrielle del Gado is half Ecuadorian and half Puerto Rican, and cooks Italian/Spanish fusion cuisine in what has to be the smallest kitchen in New York. Small plates and craft beer. Somehow, she magics up tostones, bruschetta, and whisky wings within the confines of this minimal space. It’s an absolute mystery how her father manages to fit inside there as well. He has to tuck his elbows in and tilt his baseball-capped head to squeeze past his daughter. Gabrielle brings out even more food! Coconut shrimp, octopus, and shrimp ceviche, all made from recipes that her great, great grandmother passed on to her. Local, home-grown, and adhering as closely to family traditions as possible.
-Everything is local, from the market across the street. We grow the herbs ourselves, and buy meat from the local butcher. My uncle brews the beer. The old recipes are the most popular ones, so I guess people notice the authenticity, Gabrielle tells us.
After jotting down the family’s recipe for sangria, I move on. Back outside on Arthur Avenue, I’m tempted to try some incredibly fresh Black Berry Point Oysters from Prince Edward Island. Both sides of this tree-lined artery are packed tight with delis, cafés, pork shops, restaurants, and bakeries. Italian, Albanian, and Spanish voices blend in with English ones. Some cats lazily follow the lilt of everyday life from behind a recessed window. You can find anything you need without ever having to leave Arthur Avenue, and a strong sense of family permeates the whole area. I browse the delicacies on offer at Teitel Brothers, a family business that has existed in this location for more than a century. Regular customers enter, greet the staff absent-mindedly, and pick up their usual orders. Provolone and gorgonzola cheese, soppressata salami and caprocollo ham. Fresh pasta, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs for your tomato sauce. I walk into the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, which is the true heart of Little Italy. Generations of locals have come here to buy sausages, cheese, vegetables, and spices for their dinner tables. Now, a younger generation is also being drawn here thanks to the Bronx Beer Hall, which takes up a significant amount of space at the center of the market. I order a plate of cold cuts, and let the bartender guide me through their selection of craft beers. Grimms Rainbow Dome, a dry hopped sour ale that is brewed with apricot and conditioned on oak, turns out to be the perfect companion. While I enjoy my meal, I discuss the history of Belmont with Paul Ramirez, who owns and runs the Bronx Beer Hall with his brother Anthony. The Bronx Beer Hall is all about the present and the future, but it remains firmly rooted in historic soil. It’s an example of continuity and change in perfect harmony, and of powerful family ties. Once the market starts to wind down for closing time, the music in the beer hall is cranked up, and the seats start to be filled. The market is gradually turned into a rowdy meeting place for students from the nearby Fordham University.
But a few of the traders stay open later, and I make a last pass through the space.
A Bronx Tale – The Last of the Pushcart Guys
It is Belmont’s ties to the past that hold it together, and make it unique. Here, restaurants and stores stay in the same families for generations. David Greco at Mike’s Deli offers me to try some of the largest cold cut platters I’ve ever seen, and fifty or so different sandwiches.
Richard Liberato’s market stand is located at stall four, the first one to the left of the entrance to the market, and one of the most desirable ones in the market. At Liberatore’s garden, Richard sells plants and seeds, just like his family has done ever since the market first opened in 1940.
-My father came to the United States in 1936. He was actually born here, but when he was just a year old, the family returned to Italy after the First World War. When he came back at seventeen, his father didn’t know what to do with him. You know, he didn’t speak English and whatever…But somebody was selling their pushcart, right here on Arthur Avenue. He bought it, and he liked it, he liked doing it. When his mother came a couple of years later, she didn’t want to be outside, but he told her: “they’re gonna build an inside place”.
And in 1940, mayor Fiorello La Guardia built this market. Ha also built the one underneath the metro north train on 116st street, he built one on Houston, on Essex Street, and one in Brooklyn, too. The whole idea was to make the city more cosmopolitan.
At La Guardia’s market, 115 traders were allowed in, and granted seven feet of space each. To fit inside the small spaces, they did what they knew: they built replicas of pushcarts, and stood in the middle with their wares piled up around them. His dad stood there, inside his little stall, until he passed away in 2011, at the age of 92.
-The reason why he was given stall number 4 was that he was an American citizen. People couldn’t believe it—he’d only just arrived from Europe, and didn’t speak any English; he didn’t even know where Connecticut is!
But he stood here for 75 years. He had a hand in everything that happened in this neighborhood, and within the enormous congregation of Italian-Americans, which numbered 40,000 back then. There wasn’t an association around where he wasn’t on the board. When anybody needed help, he was there for them, Richard tells us, his eyes sparkling at the memory. His little market stand allowed him to raise five kids, and put them all through college.
-He was a really good guy, and you could learn a lot from him. He was the real deal. He was the last of the pushcart guys.
A Guide to Little Italy, The Bronx, NYC
Zero Otto Nove
This is exactly what a crispy crust Italian pizza is supposed to taste like. The cozy vaults and stone walls will convince you that you’ve actually been transported to Italy.
Emilia’s home cooking (ravioli and cheesecake!) is the reason why this place is always packed with locals.
2331 Arthur Ave.
Crossover tapas, Spanish/Italian and South American. They also brew their own beer.
2363 Arthur Ave
This family owned business, which has a lovely atmosphere, is run by Joe (owner), Regina (daughter), and Michael (son and chef).
2342 Arthur Ave.
There are many Italian restaurants up here in Little Italy, and Roberto’s on Crescent Avenue, which is listed in the MICHELIN guide, is one of the best of them. They have an amazing wine cellar, and their wine list reflects this fact. A relaxed, casual lunch, or a more sophisticated dinner—take your pick!
603 Crescent Avenue
Arthur Avenue Retail Market
Arthur Avenue Retail Market is a beautiful food market right in the heart of Little Italy. Browse the delicacies on offer, buy some to take home—and best of all: sample them before you buy! You won’t find this many top-quality Italian products anywhere else. Provolone and gorgonzola cheese, soppressata salami and caprocollo ham. Fresh pasta, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs for your tomato sauce.
It’s a foodie’s paradise!
2344 Arthur Ave
Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles
The best spot in NYC for fresh pasta. You can watch your meal being made while you wait in line. Has served this neighborhood for more than eighty years.
632 E. 187th St.
Calabria Pork Store
The best sausages in all of New York. We’re not kidding. If you can’t find it at the Calabria Pork Store, don’t bother looking for it! Sopressata, Culatello, and loads of other delicacies hang from the ceilings.
2338 Arthur Ave
If you’re going to make your own pesto, this is where you need to do your shopping. They offer an amazing selection of fine olive oils, sausages, herbs, and pasta.
2372 Arthur Ave.
Bronx Beer Hall
Craft beer heaven in the middle of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. This is a perfect meeting place, where students who live in the area hang out until closing time (yes, the Bronx Beer Hall stays open after the rest of the market has closed). An excellent selection of hard-to-find beers that go beautifully with the huge plates of cold cuts you can get from the Italian delis next door.
2344 Arthur Ave
Opera House Hotel
If you want to stay in the Bronx, you mustn’t miss the Opera House Hotel. It’s a gorgeous Beaux-Arts building, with beautiful rooms and that wonderful atmosphere that you can only find in a historic hotel. Doubles start at ##1,300 kronor, including breakfast.
436 E 149th St
Not to be Missed
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
A beautiful church that has been a meeting place for several generations of families. The adorable ornate windows and the unique atmosphere make this an essential visit.
627 E 187th S
The Belmont Library and Enrico Fermi Cultural Center
If you want to learn more about Italian-American heritage and history, this is where you need to go.
610 E. 186th St
The NY Botanical Garden
There is always an exciting exhibition on here, and the botanical garden is first-rate.
2900 Southern Boulevard
The Bronx Zoo attracts hordes of families every day of the week. It has lots of animals, of course, but also offers other experiences, like 4D cinema and a few fairground rides, as well as an awesome monorail that takes you for a ride through the wilderness. The sea lions’ and dolphins’ feeding times also attract crowds of spectators.
2300 Southern Blvd
Words and photos by: Jonas Henningsson