Most may be taken aback when they round the bend on 187th street in the Bronx and see a light-strewn sign that says "Welcome to Little Italy." If you ask the folks on Arthur Ave., though, this is how it's always been. While most Manhattan-ites and tourists alike associate the olden days of Italian immigrants with the blocked off space between Chinatown and the Bowery, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is the real deal.
I learned this first-hand about three years ago when I made my way up to the famed street the Saturday after Thanksgiving. On this day, my boyfriend's family and around forty-five of their closest friends get together for a fifteen-year tradition of going to Pasquale's Rigoletto. Drinks are drunk, songs are sung, family-style meals are eaten and a round of shots at the bar are inevitably gulped down. It has become an evening that I look forward to very much so myself. Some critics say that Rigoletto’s isn’t the best Italian food. Personally, I hail from Long Branch, NJ, so I have some pretty high standards myself when it comes to Italian food. Bottom line is this: the rating of the food may be debatable, but the atmosphere is unparalleled.
Here’s your go-to guide for a night out on Arthur Avenue:
Arrive prior to 5PM and take a trip down history lane by perusing the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Since you won’t be eating dinner until late, go ahead and indulge in an afternoon biscotti at Madonia Brothers Bakery. For the caffeine addict on your list, pick up some coffee beans and beloved gear from Cerini Coffee & Grits. Skim past Biancardi’s butcher shop and salivate for a few minutes. Then, since it’s cold enough outside in the Winter to carry a few items around, make sure you get a big hunk of Mozzarella from Casa Della Mozzarella. If you don’t, you can probably find it at most specialty shops back in Manhattan anyway. Grand Central Market and Chelsea Market both source their mozzarella (and most of their Italian goods) from the place. Next time you pick up some mozz at the store, go ahead and check the labels. I bet you’ll find one from Arthur Ave.
After you’ve worked up an appetite, stroll down to the Bronx Beer Hall at 6:30 for some happy hour beers and perhaps some pre-dinner nibbles. But don’t get too full, because you’ll soon be eating plenty. Make sure you’ve made an 8-9PM reservation at Pasquale’s Rigoletto, and ask for a table in the back room where the singing takes place. Order some red table wine and stick to the classics like the Antipasto Freddo Della Casa and the Chicken Parmigiana. The serving sizes are generous, so plan on sharing plates. Then, watch as the owner and his “troupe” glide into the restaurant and take their seats at the long table by the window. A man and woman combo trade the mic to sing beautiful renditions of everything from Italian classics (that I couldn’t understand) to beloved Patsy Cline tunes. A few others join the performance, and soon the room begins to sway in unison, many rising to their feet to dance. As show-tunesy as it can be, it doesn’t feel contrived. It’s a welcome, family-style traditional Northern Italian dinner and certainly one for the books.