Wednesday, February 13, 2013

         Arthur Avenue, La Marqueta, Essex 
               and Moore Streets Markets: 
                   A Taste of Old New York 

Entrance to La Marqueta under Metro North's Tracks
Fiorello LaGuardia, a three-term mayor of New York, reformed a corrupt city government and its Tammany Hall leaders. He served the city during the Great Depression and World War II. A progressive he championed the working and immigrant classes and he implemented many changes to improve their quality of life.  

Years ago vendors sold goods and produce from pushcarts. Scores of carts lined city streets, not just one or two per block as you see today. This caused severe congestion and posed a threat to police and fire response time. Reformers balked about the unsanitary conditions. LaGuardia opened five food markets so peddlers could sell their goods indoors. Four remain open today. Visit, shop, savor their diversity and capture the immigrant experience of old New York.

Rainbo's Fish Market; Essex Farm Fruits and Vegetables 
• Essex Street Market: In its early days it catered to the large Jewish and Italian immigrant communities who lived in nearby tenements of the Lower East Side. Today it has the best selection and most vendors (about 24) of the four markets. It bustles with activity.  The smells and displays of the artisan breads, cheeses, pastries, organic meats and fishes will mesmerize you.

This block long building has several restaurants including Brooklyn Taco Company, Essex serving traditional Jewish and Latin cuisines, and Shopsin’s General Store specializing in soups, sandwiches, Porto Rico Coffee roasted in Brooklyn, and Tra La La Juice Bar with its assortment of freshly made smoothies, muffins, and scones.

Other shops are New Star Fish, Rainbo’s Fish market, Formaggio of Essex with a fine selection of handcrafted cheeses, and specialty foods, and Ron-Sue’s Chocolates. Try the savory handmade truffles, bacon butter crunch or Bacorn (popcorn bacon). Stop by Pain D’Avignon whose bread and pastries are served at many A-list restaurants. Check out Aminova’s Barber Shop, a 2001 Village Voice Best, and Cuchifritos Art Gallery.

Location: Essex Street Market, 120 Essex Street @Delancey
Monday – Saturday 8 – 7 pm
Sunday – 10 – 6 pm
Tours: Call Susan Rosenbaum, of Melting Pot Tours, at 646-209-4724.
The future of this 72-year-old market at this location is doubtful. It is part of an urban renewal zone. Plans call for moving it south on Delancey Street.

Boaino Fruits and Vegetables and Mike's Deli in Rear
• Arthur Avenue Retail Market: New York’s most authentic Little Italy is longer centered in and on Mulberry Street. It is Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx, about a mile north of Yankee Stadium a few blocks south of Fordham University. Albanians and Latinos are the largest ethnic groups who live here but the stores and restaurants in this vibrant area are mostly Italian. In late 1940 when it opened on the site of a former sheep meadow, the market had 117 vendors squeezed into its small stalls. 

Today that number is far less but vibrant feel and tastes of old New York is strong. Stop by the Mount Carmel Gourmet Food Shop with its large selections imported pastas, tomatoes, sauces, oils and Italian specialty foods; Peter’s Meat Market sells Italian sausages and fine meats.

At La Casa Grande Tobacco Company buys handmade cigars. A large photo of the cast of the Sopranos smoking here hangs nearby. There is also Liberatore’s Garden Center, Boaino Fruits and Vegetables, Arthur Avenue Pasticceria, and Mike’s Deli and its huge selection of cheeses and specialty foods. Owner David Greco’s roots dates back to the market’s beginning and his grandparents butcher shop. “People return to the old neighborhood to shop every weekend. We get people from
New Jersey and Connecticut. People drop by after visiting the Bronx Zoo or the Botanical Gardens.” Greco said.

Enjoy the colorful characters, straight out of actor author Chazz Palminteri’s, A Bronx Tale, a Belmont native, which starred Robert DeNiro. Greco and the Market have appeared on the Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” where Greco bested Flay for "Best Eggplant Parmigiana."

Location: Arthur Avenue Retail Market, 2344 Arthur Avenue @187th St
Monday – Saturday 8 – 5pm; Closed Sunday
Tours: Arthur Avenue Tour from ICE

Pablo's Place: Blending the Story of PR Food and Culture
• Moore Street Market: Opened in 1941 the market serves Bushwick’s large Mexicans, Dominican and Puerto Ricans and growing artists communities. Artists have moved into the old industrial loft buildings over the past decade.  Shops include Perez Tailors, American Coffee Shop. Sit at their counter to enjoy tasty Mexican coffee and food. 

Shop at Abby Food Market or dine at the popular Ramonites Dominican Restaurant – tables nearby. There is a religious herbal and botanical store, a Latin Music Shop whose upbeat music fills the market. 

You must visit Pablo at his four-seat counter restaurant he opened three weeks before this interview in December. Pablo had worked for a non-profit before embarking on his new career. He talked about Puerto Rican cuisine with the authority of a television Top Chief.

His explanation how Puerto Rican, sausages, puddings, and other national dishes differ from neighboring Latin American countries would make Ruth Reichl stop and take notes.  “My mother taught me. I cooked for my seven brothers,” Pablo said. “I want to promote Puerto Rican food and sell it with my country’s art and culture.”

Known as La Marqueta de Williamsburg it almost closed in 2007 but with the city’s help the market is back and expanding. It has partnered with Health First. Events are staged around all the major holidays. There is a Moore Street Market blog. During the holidays Arts in Bushwick co-sponsored an art and cookie decorating party. Plans call for turning a vacant lot on Moore Street into an urban farm and building a commercial kitchen to entice new vendors to fill empty spaces.

Location: Moore Street Market 110 Moore Street between Graham Avenue and Humboldt Street. Monday – Thursday 8 – 6 pm; Saturday 8 to 7 pm; Sunday 10 – 5 pm
Tours: by Cindy VandenBosch of Turnstile Tours 

Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill and Tables 
• La Marqueta: In its heyday the market, which opened in 1936, stretched from 111th to 116th streets and had 500 vendors. It catered first to the Jewish and Italian residents who lived nearby, then to the large influx of Puerto Ricans who came to the city in 1940’s and 50’s and settled in East Harlem and the South Bronx.

This once bustling market sits beneath the Metro North elevated train tracks on Park Avenue.
After years of decline and false starts the market reopened a couple of years ago with help from the city. 

Building Four of the five building complex has several businesses including Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill from the Hudson Valley with their free range pork, chicken sage ravioli, fruits, pies and sandwiches. Buerre & Sel, a cookie specialty shop with booth at The Essex Market and bakes on site, sells its scrumptious Coco Cayenne, Cranberry Spice and Espresso Chip cookies and much more. 

Ethnic Harlem is there with Mama Grace’s Afro Caribbean Food selling pork snout, salt and link fish, and healing oils. The Urban Garden Center, across the street on Park Avenue, has a 20,000 sq. operation here. Hot Bread Kitchen Almacen sells an assortment of ethnic breads, pastries and foods from the market’s on-site food start-up incubator. It is the first retail shop of HBK Incubates a program that helps fledgling business start-ups run by women and immigrants. It provides a shared space with a commercial kitchen space and refrigerators. Culinary and business support is offered.

A second building will open early 2013.  The well reviewed Nordic Preserves Fish and Wildlife has just opened. 
John Colon, who manages the Breezy Hill, said,  “This is all new and a lot can and will happen here. “I remember coming here as a boy with my mother. It was an vibrant part of the city’s history and El Barrio’s.”
Location: La Marqueta (El Barrio/East Harlem) 1590 Park Avenue at 115th Street. Monday – Wednesday 8 – 5 pm; Thursday – 8 – 6pm; Friday – Saturday 10 – 6pm; closed Sunday

Photos: By Rudi Papiri