PUT A FEW QUARTERS IN the meter in the municipal parking lot on Arthur Avenue and take a trip to Italy—without leaving the Belmont section of the Bronx. You’ll see cars with license plates from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut and hear conversations among shoppers from Colorado and California who’ve returned to “the old neighborhood” to stock up on the best Italian provisions this side of the Atlantic. I’ve been visiting Arthur Ave since my friend Vinnie drove me there in the early 1980s. Belmont has become my food barometer, the gold standard of locally made delicacies.
Arthur Avenue is for wandering, for meandering in and out of stores where shopkeepers still tally your bill on the side of a brown paper bag. At Teitel Brothers, on Arthur Avenue since 1915, sausages, cheese and slab bacon hang from hooks above bins of sun-dried tomatoes—there’s always a taste, a slice, a sample before you buy. Cross the street, head south and if it’s warm enough, you’ll likely find Giuseppe Lucciola outside at Cosenza’s. Ask him to shuck a dozen clams or oysters with a little hot sauce for you, then walk on a bit and try to resist the magnetism of Madonia Brothers Bakery, where loaves of freshly baked, seeded Italian bread tempt you to come inside to sample the olive loaf or biscotti.
You can spend all day inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, set up by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to get pushcarts off the streets. Or order a hand-rolled cigar at La Casa Grande Tobacco Company, where an experienced roller will produce the style and size stogie you order while you watch. At the Mount Carmel Gourmet Food Shop, rows and rows of balsamic vinegars and olive oils and hot peppers stuffed with cheese share space with row after row of beautiful, fresh produce and heirloom seeds from Italy for planting in your garden. David Greco will hand craft a perfect hero for you at Mike’s Deli, on Arthur Avenue since 1947; across the street at the Arthur Avenue Cafe, you can sample his mother Noni’s cheesecake and sip an espresso while listening to live guitar music.
You can’t leave Arthur Ave without stopping for freshly made cheese from Diego Calandra, at Calandra’s Cheese. His family has been making cheese on Arthur Avenue for more than 70 years—their salted mozzarella is the best anywhere. Last stop is Catania’s, for pizza or little square calzones. (The crunchy pizza dough stuffed with meatballs, or the veal and pepper, are my favorites.)
When I first visited Arthur Avenue more than 30 years ago, the calzones were 20 cents a piece. They’re a bit more expensive now, but in a few weeks, I’ll take them from the freezer, throw them in the oven for 20 minutes and let all the great memories of Arthur Ave return, one bite at a time.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
DAVID HANDSCHUH is the former president of the 10,000-member National Press Photographers Association. A New York Daily News staff photographer for more than 25 years and three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, he was seriously injured while photographing the World Trade Center catastrophe on Sept. 11, 2001. During his six-month recovery, he developed programs to address the long-term physical and mental health issues faced by journalists who documented the disaster and subsequent cleanup at Ground Zero. He co-authored the National Media Guide for Emergency and Disaster Incidents in 1994 (now in its third printing), and created the Focus on Mentoring project, which supplies inner city youth with digital cameras and encourages them to look at their world in a new way. He has won numerous awards for his work, including being named a “Fellow of the Society,” the highest honor bestowed by Sigma Delta Chi, the National Society of Professional Journalists. More of his photos can be seen on the web at www.davidhandschuh.com. Note: This is just a small sampling of David Handschuh’s photographs.
CAPTIONS AND SLIDE SHOW ORDER:
- Just in case you’re lost.
- Gilbert Teitel at Teitel Brothers.
- Noni (Greco) White with her cheesecake.
- Giuseppe Lucciola shucks clams at Cosenza’s.
- David Greco, left, makes a hero at the family’s shop, on Arthur Avenue since 1947.
- Arthur Avenue Market.
- Diego Calandra at Calandra’s Cheese.
- A hero from Mike’s Deli.
- Ronny Barca and son Ronny Jr. at Catania’s Pizza and Calzones.
- The birth of a regular customer—Madelyn Leighton, a year-and-a-half old, eating on Arthur Avenue.