While plenty of families get that first burst of cool air and take to the mountains for apple picking or to open fields for a friendly game of family football, my family takes to Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx. This tradition of taking a pilgrimage to Arthur Avenue once the cool air moves in, is not one of those rich traditions passed down from our families, but a new tradition, still rooted in family history, but one we have created as a ménage. While I love sharing my childhood traditions with my little loves, every bit as important are our new traditions --- those that are creating the unique family culture that evolves from around our very own tables and within our very own walls. This weekend brought about the perfect brisk weather for one such tradition, passed along to us from my cousin.
One of my dearest aunts is of Italian heritage, and her parents, who we affectionately called Nana and Pop (though we were not of blood relation), would make the most divine dishes – recipes from the Old Country. This Irish girl has such fond memories of those treats, none more so than ‘Pop’s Meatballs.’
Well, Pop bought the scrumptious ingredients for his magical meatballs from a small corner of the Bronx called Arthur Avenue. Here, even today, Arthur Avenue is this enchanting place, a throwback to another time and place. Part European, and part uniquely American, the streets are lined with old-fashion butchers, hand rolled pasta stores, and authentic Italian bakeries, the sweet aroma of cannolis and cookies wafting out onto the busy sidewalks. Those who frequent Arthur Avenue have ‘their’ butcher and ‘their’ baker that make the best of the best. Within those spots they even have 'their' guy, whom it is customary to tip.
Pop passed along his favorite spots to my cousins as they grew up and then several years ago, my cousin took my family there to show us the ropes. We were instantly drawn in to this amazing marketplace, reminded of those European markets we visited when I was a child, and sold on this very personal shopping (and living) experience.
Each year, as the cool air blows in, we look forward to one of our regular visits to Arthur Avenue, where we will stock up our freezer in preparation for Sunday football, family birthdays, holiday meals, and those charmed days in between.
While my children enjoy prosciutto sandwiches and gelato, I pick up my called-in butcher order which they kindly freezer pack in dinner- sized portions. We take home a fresh mozzarella or barrata, still warm, and several boxes of raviolis to freeze as well. We find ourselves falling under the spell of freshly baked Italian bread and roasting garlic from a nearby trattoria.
This “new tradition” feels every bit as important as those I've inherited from my parents. This time of year is our favorite for an Arthur Avenue visit (the brisk air even let us break out our Pennymeade sweatshirts!). We’re anticipating Sunday stews and roasts and long evenings around the table. And as if we weren’t already heading home happy, adding to our joy-filled family day, our daughter lost her first tooth while biting into her sandwich in the market! The drive back home was filled with excitement as we speculated about the tooth fairy’s approaching visit!
Arthur Avenue is a great stop after the Bronx Zoo. Swing by Biancardi’s Meats and ask for Alfredo. Tell him Pennymeade sent you and continue to make your own family traditions!