by Gerald Eskenazi from Forbes
If you want to know what one of the most interesting neighborhoods in New York was like before the pandemic—-well, it’s back, and in these times, more important, more fun and more needed than ever.
There really is only one Little Italy these days, and it’s in the Bronx, in the area known as the Belmont Business Improvement District. To most of us, it’s simply Arthur Avenue, and if you’re a New Yorker, or are going to visit, this is a place for you along with the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Times Square.
The somewhat-official launching of the return takes place Friday night, April 30, and continues until autumn unveils itself to New Yorkers.
It’s called, grandly and romantically, and with a nod to its Italian roots, Piazza di Belmont—the place for outdoor dining on Arthur Avenue. You don’t have to close your eyes to imagine you’re in Italy on a real piazza, a wide street you can stroll on without looking over your shoulder for a bicycle, car or truck. Look around and imagine an Italian town. You’ll soon be whistling Italian love songs, too.
The street becomes transformed as a piazza on Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 10 P.M., and from 1 to 9 P.M. Sundays. This means that from East 188th Street to Crescent Avenue this swath on Arthur Avenue will be closed to vehicles. You can walk down the middle of the street, dine without being bothered by honking, hear the tinkle of wine glasses instead of the ring of a bicycle bell or any other vehicular noise.
For Peter Madonia, chairman of the District, and purveyor of the tasty goodies from his eponymous bake shop, there is a deja vu aspect to what Arthur Avenue has done on the weekends:
“Many of the small businesses in Bronx Little Italy are owned and operated by the same families who founded them over a century ago – some of which have already been through the 1918 pandemic.”
During the day, the neighborhood will be the same—that is, the stores will be open for browsing, takeout, dining. This area looks and feels and sounds like the New York you first met in old movies, or television shows. It is a legitimate Little Italy in food—pizza the way it’s made in Naples; pasta from Italian semolina; food shops where a ton of slabs of pork hang from the ceiling; bakeries with 35 kinds of cookies.
If you’re a New Yorker, Arthur Avenue is, at most, a 30-minute drive by car. Little Italy in the Bronx has several parking options including metered spaces and a public parking lot at 2356 Hoffman Street. Also, anyone—New Yorker or visitor—can get to the Belmont neighborhood via Metro-North or the city’s subway via the D/B line.
If you want to know more about the neighborhood, log on to bronxlittleitaly.com. If you’re interested in making specific reservations, well, this evocative names of restaurants are among the places you’ll want to go: Zero Otto Nove, Mario’s Restaurant, Enzo’s of Arthur Avenue, Estrellita Poblana III, Ann & Tony’s, Pasquale’s Rigoletto Restaurant,
And, as I once heard someone say in Rome, “Mangia!”
I have had a rollicking 44-year ride as a reporter (sports) for The New York Times—that included 8,000 bylines, second-highest in the paper’s history. Along the way, I