This weekend, I went to foodie Disneyland.
No, not Stew Leonard’s. Another, less suburban, grittier, and infinitely more charming Foodie-land.
I went to Arthur Avenue.
I religiously followed Serious Eats’ excellent suggestions. I tried all things yeasty, porky, and cheesy.
I came home and, with friends and family, I cooked.
It was a foodie day for the ages.
In the middle of the Bronx is the real, live Little Italy. One small block, filled with shop after shop of salt packed anchovies, huge cans of olive oil, and sun dried tomatoes swimming with garlicky olives and vinegary peppers. Butchers selling everything but the moo, cluck, or oink. Old nonnas chatting up beefy young men making mozzarella right in front of you, huge men in neon track suits sipping espresso as children run around the pastry shop, and octopi the likes of which I haven’t seen since Greece. Come hungry, since every place you frequent will ply you with samples. Anything you see, you can try, and there is no pressure to buy – because everything is so tasty that the shop owners know that you will buy. And you want to patronize these stores. It’s totally different from shopping at a big box grocery store because you see where your business is going – it’s going to these men and women who make this food fresh every single day and carry on the tradition of their ancestors. It’s a privilege to see living history.
Let alone taste it.
Vincent’s Meat Shop, where every kind of animal you can imagine is sold. Everything from meatloaf mix to obscure cuts like breast of veal to elegant meats like quail and whole lobes of foie gras. The staff is helpful, efficient, and more than happy to tell you exactly how to cook your purchase.
Freshly shucked Kumamoto and Peace Passage Oysters, on a stand outside of Consenza’s. The Kumamotos are especially memorable – creamy and slightly citrusy; accented by a spritz of lemon. These require no sauce, though ample accouterments are supplied should you need some for your sidewalk stand up snack. Ice cream truck ain’t got nuthin on the oyster cart. Fresh mozzarella from Casa della Mozzarella. The shop is tiny, sweltering, crowded, and intoxicating. Hunks of garlicky roast pork, wedges of calcium crystal-studded Parmigiano Reggiano, pots of piquant pickled mushrooms, jars of fiery Calabrian chili paste…this narrow store is a treasure trove of all things delicious. The mozzarella, which will be offered to all customers as samples, is unparalleled. As rich and soft as burrata, it should be enjoyed room temperature and well salted. Get the big globe…you won’t be able to stop eating it. And don’t forget to sample EVERYTHING…you will want to buy it all. Yes, we took home our cheese from Calandra’s in the carseat…we had to. It was that precious. Though the burrino was a bouncy, tasteless round of cheese surrounding an unattractive globule of cold butter, the truffle cheese was the most potent I have ever had. The taste reverberates on your tongue up to your nose and down to your toes. It goes on and on way after the cheese has melted away on your tongue. The Prima Donna cheese, an award-winning mix of Gouda and Parmesan, has the semi soft texture of gouda with a sharp, nutty, salty Parmesan taste. And the house made ricotta is…unreal. Soft and creamy, it’s more like a milkshake than a cheese. We ate it with honey and truffle oil on bread, and it would be perfect with roast peaches and basil as dessert. Or on brioche with some bitter marmalade as breakfast. Or on a spoon at midnight as a secret, perfect snack.
You know, whatevs floats your boat. The parade of cheeses, with soft sundried tomatoes in oil and fruity, salty, and juicy olives. Warm mozzarella and home-grown tomatoes(not my own…it helps to have friends in high places) and basil. Salting the mozzarella is key…it brings out the pure, milky flavor. White bean salad with oregano, garlic and red pepper olive oil, and more of those sundried tomatoes.Rack of lamb for the cost of a single steak at most restaurants. Cooked by one of my culinary partners-in-crime with piquant chutney and a thick coating of herbed breadcrumbs. Notice the thick fat cap – hard to find that at the local grocery store, right?
Fresh basil and regular spaghetti with beef and lamb meatballs and homemade tomato sauce. The pasta was cut to order to our thickness specifications. I don’t even have words to describe my joy at eating this light, fragrant pasta with those juicy meatballs and bright, oregano forward sauce. This dish was also prepared by that culinary partner-in-crime. You see why we keep him around…he is handy with a haul from Arthur Avenue.
Viva Arthur Avenue!