Susan Birnbaum’s 2.5 hour Belmont tour is packed with information, recommendations and substantial food sampling
If you’re looking for a NYC walking tour filled with excellent food sampling opportunities, gourmet shopping recommendations, and a lot of historical and local information – SusanSez’s Arthur Avenue Walkabout is for you. This tour is designed and appropriate for locals and visitors alike.
Sure, I could have explored Arthur Avenue and the Belmont section of the Bronx on my own, but having a guide like Susan who leads groups to her cherished spots enhances the experience. In a neighborhood with multiple bakeries, restaurants, cheese shops and salumeria, it’s helpful to have a knowledgable source for finding the best.
Susan met me in Grand Central on time, and we took Metro North to meet the rest of the group. Before we left Grand Central, she gave me a mini talk on the Guastavino ceiling with the reversed astrological signs, and the current Guastavino exhibit at Museum of the City of New York, where she is also a docent. As we rode north to the Fordham Road Station, Susan filled me in on her background and the history of the Bronx.
The group of 6 was local, small and manageable. Susan gave us a brief overview of Fordham Road, which was always a main shopping street. She pointed out the beautiful Immigrant Savings Bank building with its landmarked interior. She also pointed us in the direction of Edgar Allen Poe’s house, should we want to visit it on another trip. We passed by Fordham University with Susan enumerating the famous people who attended, including the illustrious G. Gordon Liddy, Captain Kangaroo, Mary Higgins Clark, and Donald Trump. Poe spent time at Fordham and supposedly The Bells was inspired and written here. We turn onto Lorillard Place and Susan explains the connection to the snuff and tobacco family.
Although the area and tour is Italian-food focused, we start at Tony & Tina’s Pizzeria, which is known for its burek. Burek is an Albanian specialty – and my Albanian doorman Tim later told me Tony & Tina’s has the best burek in NYC. We have our first sample of the day, as Susan’s assistant is waiting for us with a steaming hot box of burek. I have had burek on a Sunset Park food tour – this stuff blew it away. Flaky crust surrounding a spinach and onion filling bursting with flavor. We watch two men making burek from the side door, amazed at how they stretch the pastry crust so thin.
Some of the stops on the tour (not necessarily in order):
Borgatti’s – with their huge selection of ravioli and egg noodles, the choice is hard. As a mushroom lover, I am tempted to follow up Susan’s recommendation to get the mushroom pasta, but I opt for one of the special offerings for that day – basil pasta. A few minutes after I indicate how wide I want my pasta cut, it is cut, mixed with a little semolina to prevent sticking and packaged to go. Borgatti’s has recipes and fresh pasta storage suggestions here.
Addeo Bakers – since we all nod yes when Susan asks if we eat pork, we are treated to Addeo’s circular bread, stuffed with salami, ham and prosciutto. Susan acknowledges this is called lard bread at many bakeries, but prefers to call it prosciutto bread. We bite into such huge chunks of this bread, as tempting as it is, I don’t buy more to bring home. I’ve had similar breads at gourmet stores and renowned restaurants but nothing compares with this version. Crunchy crust, moist inside bursting with salty pork flavor. In the past weeks, I often think of making the trip back to the neighborhood for this bread.
At the tiny and crowded Calandra’s Cheese, we sample a selection of dried cheeses, and very fresh homemade mozzarella. Very popular with regulars, the seven of us monopolized much of the store for our excellent tasting. Although I sometimes have allergic reactions to fresh mozzarella, there was no way I was missing the opportunity to try this obviously just made cheese.
Calabria is pork lover’s heaven. Here we sample several dried Italian salumi and sausages with a few cheeses as well. Every salumi was better than the next and after a while it became difficult to pinpoint my favorite. The smell and sight of 1000s of drying salumi makes this a worthy stop for any lover of Italian cured meats and photography. They also make fresh hot, sweet and unique flavored sausages.
Everyone I tell about my excursion to Arthur Avenue asks if I went to Mike’s. Mike’s Original Arthur Avenue deli is a neighborhood fixture and anchor of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Platters of tempting antipasto from Mike’s pass us as we await the selection Susan orders for us. Inadvertently, I manage to catch David Greco, who was featured in the eggplant parmigiana Throwdown! with Bobby Flay, when I photograph Mike’s platters of signature sandwiches. We sample their Throwdown and award winning eggplant parmigiana, very fresh knotted mozzarella, arancini, and a sampling of other antipasto. Susan suggests we check out the market while we wait. It is thriving and busy with locals feasting; shopping for produce, meats, imported Italian goods; and sampling the beers at the Bronx Beer Hall. I can’t wait to return with a group of friends to try more of Mike’s menu.
Before we leave the Market, we each have a mini cannoli from the place across from the hand-rolled cigar makers. They hand fill the cannolis to order.
The prices at Teitel Brothers make it tempting to carry large cans of imported Italian tomatoes and coffee around the neighborhood for the remainder of the tour. We take a quick look inside – the place is jammed packed with locals shopping for cheeses, olives, dried fruits, olive oils and more at great prices. In business since 1915, they claim to have the best prices on imported Italian gourmet speciality items and supply restaurants around the country as well as in NYC.
As we walk around the neighborhood, Susan provides inside knowledge of the interconnection between the major pastry shop owners in the neighborhood, and indicates other places of interest. She points out Roberto’s, one of her favorite restaurants in the neighborhood. Unlike most of the area red sauce restaurants, Roberto’s offers the unique food of Salerno. They also own Zero Otto Nove, which has a location in my neighborhood in Manhattan, as well as their location on Arthur Avenue.
We make one last stop for a slice of pizza and a chance to chat with our fellow tour attendees.
This tour of the Belmont or Arthur Avenue section of the Bronx is a fitting end to Suitcase Ready’s round up of NYC tours. In the past four months I’ve spent time in boroughs I’ve ignored for too long – and have found a wealth of places to explore I never knew existed in my own city. Susan and the other excellent guides I’ve encountered these past four months have one thing in common – an ability to convey information in a memorable and interesting way. Generous samples of amazing food doesn’t hurt either!
Susan Sez offers custom tours for groups, public tours and tours by appointment. Most of her guests are from the NY metropolitan area. She arranges special tours like “Grandpa Grew up Near Yankee Stadium” for families; wine & chocolate tours for bachelorette parties, and can develop unique, authentic touring experiences for locals and visitors to NYC.
SuitcaseReady’s participation in the tour was covered by Susan Sez.