Thursday, February 28, 2019

Review: Enzo's (Arthur Avenue) - The Bronx, NY

Many American cities have a Chinatown and a Little Italy, dating back a hundred years or more. While Chinatowns are often growing, evolving, and expanding due to the regular influx of new Chinese immigrants, any waves of Italian immigrants ended 75 or more years ago.

As a result, many Italian and Little Italy neighborhoods are dramatically different. In Trenton, NJ, home of the tomato pie, the Chambersburg section held the concentration of Italian immigrants, then their children and grandchildren, in remarkable numbers up through the 1990s. But since then, every Italian restaurant and tomato pie maker like DeLorenzo's and Papa's has either closed its doors or moved out to the suburbs, as did the descendants of the original Italian immigrants.

San Diego has a lovely Little Italy, but it's essentially a tourist area containing many fine restaurants but no real community of Italian immigrants. Little Italy in Manhattan is much the same. 

In Philly, new visitors to "The Italian Market" where Rocky ran through the streets will wonder how it got its name, because only a handful of Italian storefronts remain. The market is better than it's ever been, but it is Vietnamese, Mexican, Chinese, and a great blend of the modern fabric of America.
Arthur Avenue
Meanwhile, Chinatown in Manhattan is robust, filled with both new immigrants and native-born people who speak little to no English. There are new Chinatowns bustling and growing on 8th Avenue in Brooklyn and in Flushing. 

Is there still a thriving Little Italy left in any American city? By my observation, yes - and it's centered on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Sure, there are tour buses bringing in groups to visit the shops and restaurants, and other immigrant populations (Albanians, for one) are getting a foothold on adjoining streets, but Arthur Avenue remains largely authentic.
Pork Brasciole
In just two blocks from where I parked my car, I passed three Italian bakeries en route to our destination restaurant, Enzo's. Just a few doors down is Zero Otto Nove, where I had superb Neapolitan pizza years before it became widely popular in America.
Pizza al tonno
What made this visit special is that I was accompanied by two Bronx natives (Ken and Sue), both of Italian heritage; Sue has lived her entire life near this neighborhood. As we were seated in Enzo's on a Saturday afternoon, the bartender and the maitre d' called out greetings to each of my friends. The wine steward turned out to be a childhood friend of Sue.

Beyond the widespread congeniality in the room, what struck me was that the conversation at most tables and with the staff was conducted in Italian. Most or all of these people are born and educated in America, speaking English, yet they are fully engulfed in Italian heritage in this restaurant. I felt like an extra in a Scorsese or Coppola movie, and every moment was a delight.
Ideal crispness and char
We ordered a 12" Neapolitan style pizza to share as an appetizer. We also ate, family style, an octopus appetizer, and three entrees: pork brasciole, red snapper, and chicken Scarpariello. All of this was expertly rendered in a traditional red-gravy fashion.

This is a pizza blog, so how was the pizza?  Ken persuaded us to order pizza al tonno - a pie with canned tuna, topped with arugula. I'm always skeptical of seafood on a pizza (unless clams in New Haven), but I was willing to experiment with our appetizer.

The pie arrived looking like a typical Neapolitan, perhaps with a less-than-normal puffiness to the cornicione. It was covered entirely with fresh arugula, such that the tuna was not visible. I don't think that Enzo's has a 1000 degree dome oven, so the pizza was a bit of a hybrid, cooked in a more conventional oven, yielding a crisper, sturdier crust.

Much like the hearty bread served with our meal, this pizza crust had its own terrific flavor and texture. This thin and crisp crust was somewhere between a New York slice and a Neapolitan, but more on the New York end.

While the cheese was applied in perfect proportion, it was a role player to marry the sauce and tuna to the crust. The red sauce was rich and very old-world, and that made it stand up well to the tuna.

If you eat canned tuna, you perhaps know that the Italian variety has a much better flavor than the Three Diamonds or Starkist stuff that most Americans eat. That rich taste came through here and - to my surprise - was fully compatible with the cheese and red sauce. It was one of the very few experiences I've had that add umami to pizza without depending on cured meats. This pie was a hit with all of us, and rapidly demolished.
I was shocked by how rapidly - over a period of about ten years - the "Little Italy" in the Chambersburg section of Trenton NJ was completely transformed, leaving no trace of its heritage. If you're anywhere nearby or simply a visitor to New York City, I encourage you to visit Arthur Avenue and experience one of the last remaining Little Italy enclaves.

Enzo's Of Arthur Avenue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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