Editor’s Note: The following post is the first is a two-part series on the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue, from guest blogger Brendan Smith. Brendan is a promising young NYC-based chef who enjoys cooking for people he cares about. As you will see in his forthcoming posts, he holds no barbs when it comes to classic things done poorly. He’s a native New Yorker, a fan of Jameson, port wine, foie gras, the New York Rangers, and Le Bernardin. He also despises bees.
Zero Otto Nove
2357 Arthur Ave.
Bronx, NY 10458
Ten years ago I spent two weeks in a house on a small island in the Bay of Naples, Italy. The island’s name is Ischia (iss-KEE-ah) and is one of three small islands in the shadow of Vesuvius. What I learned on Ischia defined my views on something that every born-and-bred New Yorker considers himself an authority—what real pizza is.
Firstly, allow me to briefly wax philosophical. In our wonderful country, pizza has been, for all intents and purposes, exploited, abused, diluted, and turned into a heinous casserole through some God-awful mid-western bastardization. You can take deep-dish pizza and throw it in the Gowanus Canal with all the other trash. No thanks.
History lesson: pizza was invented and perfected in Naples, Italy. It is comprised traditionally of simple, thin dough, a sweet tomato component, and something salty (usually a cheese, but if you have any cojones, anchovies are a must), baked at an extremely high heat in a wood-burning, brick oven. I’ve just dropped some crucial knowledge on you—it’s a wood burning, brick oven. Not coal. Not gas. Not convection. Not steel. And heat doesn’t take a back seat. We are talking temperature at or over 900F˚. The result is a beautifully colored crust and a dressing that is guaranteed to remove the skin from the roof of your mouth.
This is traditional pizza, the way it has been made in the Old Country for hundreds of years. Please understand, I am not hating on Rubirosa, or Artichoke, or Lombardi’s, or Totonno’s. All of these are delicious products, well worth eating. What I am simply pointing out is that there is a version that is true, created a certain way, respecting origin, using certain tools and ingredients, and available through my most favorite of places in the entire metropolis: Arthur Avenue.
Please don’t be scared of the Bronx. Whatever satisfaction you may have from drowning yourself in Poutine at 3AM in the East Village, I bet you dollars to Pomme-Frites that I can guide you toward a very unique place, for an experience that you will want to re-create with friends.
It is on Arthur Avenue that you can find la vera pizza Napolitana—real Neapolitan pizza. The restaurant is called Zero Otto Nove, and ‘Holy tomato sauce Batman!’ the telephone exchange for Naples is 0-8-9.
The restaurant itself escapes most of the hokey crap you find on Mulberry, below Spring St. Upon walking in, one may feel underwhelmed—the bar is small, and not very purposeful, but serves as a sort of ante-room for the dining room. After passing through a small, arched, grotto-esque hallway, you enter the main dining room and BAM, on your left is a massive, roaring forge that churns out a true-to-form pizza. Ignore the tacky wallpaper. Forget about the silly birthday song which I PROMISE will be played while you are there. Focus on the reason you came—the best, truest, most delicious pizza in New York City.
At first, I would suggest a pizza margherita. And I say first because if you’re there to eat pizza, you’ll have multiple pies. It takes less than thirty seconds in the crucible (wood stoked, of course) to turn the thin dough into a perfect vehicle for the sweet sauce and the FRESH mozzarella cheese. That’s another thing—real pizza is made with real, fresh mozzarella (that’s pronounced, mutz-a-del.) As mentioned earlier, the roof of your mouth doesn’t stand a chance. You can select from a substantial offering of additional toppings, should you be feeling fancy, but starting with the basics is highly recommended.
The restaurant offers a very comprehensive selection of classic Italian dishes, and since it is surrounded by outstanding purveyors, everything is as fresh as can be. While I tend to be turned off by large menus, the dishes here are typically very satisfying. When I last ate there, I had delicious Striped Bass with fresh tomatoes and capers cooked in white wine. If you screw that up, you’re dead to me. They did a very decent job.
But, like I’ve been belaboring, go there for the pizza. It’s worth your while, your money, and the roof of your mouth.
Author’s note: Zero Otto Nove has a sister restaurant with the same name in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. This restaurant is not the original (although under the directorship of the same chef/owner), is massive, and does not offer the cultural immersion such as the location on Arthur Avenue. Make the trip to the Bronx. Trust me.
Coming soon in ARTHUR AVE PART II:
Cossenza’s Fish Market: Clams, Oysters, and the “Great Civil Compromise.”