Food, food, and more food – what else would you expect from a food tour of Little Italy? Meeting on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, the group consisted of me and two Norwegian couples and our guide Gracie who was quick to dispel any ambiguity over where the ‘real’ Little Italy is. Although there is a Little Italy in Manhattan, this is a mere facsimile of the original neighborhood in the Bronx, where hundreds of immigrants gathered in the 1890s to follow the American Dream.
As with most sightseeing tours, we began with a chat about the history of the area, learning about the Lorillard family and how Arthur Avenue is named after Catharine Lorillard Wolfe’s favorite president; Chester A. Arthur (who none of us had heard of). This was a food tour rather than a history tour though, so we swiftly headed towards our first stop; Calandra Cheese. Here we had our fill of free samples, then got to taste their specialty Prima Donna, a gouda parmesan blend.
Out on the street again, we quickly stopped by a homeware store to pet the resident cat that lives there, then moved onto Calabria Pork Store to admire their impressive sausage chandelier (that’s a sentence you don’t hear every day). Full of delicious cured sausage, stop number 3 was just down the road in the form of Madonia Bakery, offering fresh olive bread (they also do a white chocolate loaf on Saturdays).
Even after only three stops we could already feel how close-knit and traditional the community was, with classic storefronts and decor within establishments that had been around for years (over a hundred for some of them!). The fourth stop was a real treat for me; Cosenza’s Oyster Bar! I love oysters, but apparently I was the only one as everyone else backed out of trying them, so I had to take one for the team and try two. If you’re a fan of oysters then I’d highly recommend visiting Cosenza’s, they were superb.
The next establishment didn’t include a tasting, but it’s such a fascinating part of the neighborhood that Gracie wanted to include it on the tour. Teitel Brothers is a wholesale grocery store opened in 1915 by Jewish Austrian immigrant brothers, Morris and Jacob Teitel. Although it was a dangerous time for Jewish people in the city, the brothers were proud of their heritage and installed a mosaic Star of David at the door of the shop as an act of defiance. They also happened to sell dates that one of the tour guests had first tried in Israel and couldn’t find anywhere else, so they stocked up!
Next up on our gourmet excursion was Addeo & Son’s Bakery, a quaint corner store that’s been family-run for over 80 years. Here we tried soft and spongy tomato focaccia (I say ‘tried’, the pieces were enormous), whilst Gracie chatted to the baker. This seemed to be a regular occurrence along the tour; Gracie was somewhat of a local celebrity in these parts! After a lot of savory it was only right that we had some sweet, so stop number 6 was Caffe Egidio where we sampled their almond cookies. I’m not usually a fan of almond, but these were delicious!
Back to the savory, next up was fresh mozzarella from Joe’s Italian Deli. Mozzarella is my favorite cheese so I was particularly excited about this one, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed – I could have eaten the whole ball! Thinking there was no way we could stop for more food after this, I was surprised to discover that our next destination was Full Moon Pizzeria for a whole (New York sized) slice of pizza. The food sweats were well and truly setting in! Between the five of us we had a couple of buffalo chicken slices, two of their signature white pizza slices, and a fresh tomato and olive slice. Pizza. Heaven.
Could we possibly have eaten everything Little Italy had to offer? Not quite! Last but not least was Gino’s Pastry Shop, an institution in the Bronx since 1960. The walls are adorned with signed celebrity photos, and the counter displays a vast range of sweet delights that looked almost too good to eat. Cannolis were on the menu though, so we each tried a chocolate chip ‘little tube’, and collapsed into a deep food coma.
I could have gone into more detail about the history and backstories of each establishment, but I’d advise you take the tour instead and find out for yourself! Huge thanks to Gracie for being entertaining and knowledgeable, and for expanding my waistband indefinitely. I’m so glad I chose to spend my first time in the Bronx on the Little Italy Food Tour, and I’d recommend tourists and locals alike do the same!