Manhattan’s Little Italy isn’t quite as “Italy” as it once was. For a real NYC-Italian neighborhood experience, the only “Little Italy” left is in the Bronx—Arthur Avenue, to be specific. Or, to be even more specific, try the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, sitting in front of a big, square slice of Cafe al Mercato’s Sicilian-style pizza.
Tucked into a corner of the bustling space, the unassuming counter is a crucial part of the Bronx’s oldest sheltered retail market, opened in 1940 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (of airport fame) to alleviate congestion from street vendors and encourage higher safety standards in food service. Today, the market is home to an array of stationary vendors selling the best Italian ingredients you can get outside the motherland: quality cuts of osso buco, salted cod, dried hazelnuts, real San Marzano tomatoes, you name it. When your appetite gets to whining, belly up to Cafe al Mercato for a carbo-train to paradise.
While the Sicilian-style square slices (the eggplant, in particular) are the standout option here, don’t shy away from the lineup of soups, salads, and sandwiches, either. The thick focaccia sandwich is laden with fried veal, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and a whisper of sautéed spinach. For a patriotic touch, roasted red peppers, broccoli rabe, and mozzarella team up on a sesame roll for the “Italian Flag” sandwich. The tripe soup is hearty, with enough of a peppery kick to keep the funk of the tripe under control. An off-menu double veal parm on garlic bread is a frequent order for those in-the-know.
Take your lunch with a beer from the Bronx Beer Hall behind you. Just leave time for a walk after your visit to the historic food hall. You’ll have plenty to burn off.