The fresh, handcrafted, locally made artisanal food movement in the States is going strong and growing every day. But it occurred to me that Italians have been eating this way for centuries. This culinary tradition is alive and well at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market in the Bronx.
This past weekend, I took Misti Dawn Garritano and Frank Ayala, host and producer of the pilot television show, “In Your Business,” to the Arthur Avenue Retail Market to film a segment for their show on Markets of New York City. On the show, they interview entrepreneurs who are following their dreams, and I am extremely fortunate to fit that bill. Check out their current episodes online, including an interview with Marlo Scott, owner of Sweet Revenge and Kee Ling Tong, chocolatier and owner of Kee’s Chocolates.
I wanted to visit this market in particular with Misti and Frank because it is a bastion of Italian American history, it is full of character, and it is also a great place to eat some incredible food. We started our morning with the perfect cappuccino and tomato, prosciutto, mozzarella panini for breakfast and ended the day with a beautiful platter of antipasti and a hunk of soft and gooey fresh torrone, all at Mike’s Deli and Arthur Avenue Café at the far end of the market. The current owner is David Greco, son of the original owner, Mike Greco. David is a talented chef and a sweetheart of the Food Network. In fact, Bobby Flay challenged him to an eggplant parmigiana throwdown. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you’ve had the delicate and rich eggplant parm from Mike’s Deli, you’ll realize that Bobby never had a chance.
David showed us how to make fresh mozzarella by hand, and we tasted it in several forms – grilled, smoked, and plain. It is an amazing process to watch the white mass acquire its stretchy quality and wind up in the perfect rounds we all know and adore.
Up at the front entrance to the market are two shops that are unique to the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. La Casa Grande Tobacco Company sells hand-rolled cigars. We watched their expert cigar rollers from the Dominican Republic whip up the perfect little torpedoes. It’s not easy to do. They invited me to roll one, and mine looked more like an old tootsie roll than a sleek torpedo. Their clients include Chazz Palminteri, Rudy Giuliani, and basically everyone on “The Sopranos.”
Right across the aisle is Liberatore’s Gardens. They sell lush plants and imported Italian seeds, but their real treasure is the original owner, Joe Liberatore, also known as the Mayor of Little Italy. Joe is upwards of 90 years old now, and he was one of the original street vendors who moved into the Arthur Avenue Retail Market when Mayor La Guardia had this and several other indoor markets built in the early 1940’s. I’m hoping to do an interview with him for the blog in the near future!
One of the two sisters who are the proprietors of Mt. Carmel Gourmet Foods showed us some of their wonderful Italian delicacies, from canned sardines, olive oils, and balsamic vinegar from Modena, to handmade fresh pasta, cured olives, and Italian cookies and candies. The three brothers who own Boiano Foods sell your essential fresh fruits and veggies, and you can pick up fresh Italian chestnuts and hazelnuts, as well as artichokes, Italian grapes, and more. And if you need recipe ideas, just ask – they are full of great ideas.
Our last stop was Peter’s Meats, selling amazing Italian cuts and perfect meatballs. They cut and pack your order right in front of you, so you know your meat or poultry is as fresh as possible. A new bakery and a coffee shop with roasters on site will be opening soon. The market is also preparing for a facelift of the front entrance, which will be a nice upgrade.
Frank and Misti tell me that the footage is great. The episode will be ready in a few weeks – I’ll keep you posted!! I can’t close without mentioning that my nephew Adrian has been accepted to the Italian Program at the French Culinary Institute, starting this summer. I can’t wait to take him shopping at Arthur Avenue to see what kind of dinner he can whip up for us!
Arthur Avenue Retail Market: Monday – Saturday 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM, 2329 Arthur Avenue. 2329 Arthur Avenue, the Bronx. Visit www.arthuravenue.com for driving and public transportation directions
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