The Belmont section of the Bronx, called simply “Arthur Avenue,” is the most intact Little Italy in the United States. Within six square blocks you’ll find over two dozen family-owned Italian food shops and restaurants, many of which are over 100 years old. If you’re an Italian food lover, welcome to paradiso.
Every day five different delis make their own hand-pulled mozzarella. Each one is excellent. There are three bread bakeries to which loyalties are fierce. Butcher shops and fish markets display the best of what’s available that day, leaving little to the imagination because shoppers here demand the highest quality.
What keeps people coming back, both in front of and behind the counter? Love, tradition and loyalty are all good answers, but a recent discovery in the archives of the Bronx Historical Society revealed something more tradition and heritage based. While the official Bronx history books say Belmont was built on land donated by a Gilded Age heiress and named for President Chester Allen Arthur, maps, real estate and tax records reveal this is mere legend.
What is true is that in the early 1900s real estate developers marketed what was still a rural hinterland of New York City to newly arrived Italian immigrants who lived in East Harlem tenements. They called the area “the Italian colonies,” and emphasized that in the Bronx there was clean air and land to plant your own garden. A wealthy Italian immigrant named Pietro Cinelli developed new apartment houses, built his own palazzo right on Arthur Avenue, and even petitioned the Archdiocese of New York to build a Catholic Church for his fellow immigrants. From the very beginning, Belmont was an Italian villaggio in the Bronx. Well over one hundred years later, Arthur Avenue stills draw strength from its deep Italian roots.
Special thanks to Danielle Oteri for this post and the mouth-watering photographs; she is the founder of Arthur Avenue Food Tours. Danielle’s grandparents immigrated here in 1918 and opened a butcher shop on Arthur Avenue. Whether you live in the NYC area or plan to visit soon, one of her yummy food crawls is a must.