When the weather is nice, my favorite thing to do is hop on my bike and ride up through the Bronx to Pelham Parkway. This stretch of road is beautiful, and it leads to the largest park in New York City. I once earned the inestimable respect of my pub-trivia peers by naming it, as well as the second-largest, also in the Bronx. Go ahead, take a guess.
Okay, I kind of gave it away with the Pelham Parkway thing, but you would have got it anyway, right? Pelham Bay Park is not only incredible in itself, it also boasts Orchard Beach, City Island (home of the largest active fishing community in NYC), two great golf courses, batting cages, driving ranges, two wildlife sanctuaries, horse rental for riding, an old mansion with gardens maintained by volunteer gardeners, as well as "the famed Treaty Oak" where some white dude swindled some Indians out of most of New York in 1654.
Of course none of these reasons is the reason I go there. I go there for a delicatessen in the Country Club neighborhood. This is a neighborhood entirely separated from the rest of NYC by the Bruckner Expressway, the park, and the ocean. It's old, working-class Italians who couldn't afford to live in the famous Italian parts of New York. Nearly every house has got lawn ornaments and flags of the USA and Italy. Plus a few Ireland. It's hard to keep the Micks out of anywhere, especially in New York.
This place has got hands-down the best delicatessen in New York. Naturally, as I've said before, that carries with it the collateral distinction of being the best delicatessen in the world.
We devoured all of the mozzarella immediately, but here's a shot of the fresh linguine, the fresh sausage and marinara served with a healthy (or not) grating of Parmesan cheese.
Of course, now that I'm writing about it I can't remember the name. But it's on Ampere Avenue. Not Arthur Avenue, although that's fine in its own way.
Last time I rode up there, I nearly couldn't ride back. I had a bag strapped onto the back of my bike with sesame bread, three pounds of fresh linguine, a three-pound ring of sausage so spicy you've gotta take a break, and a liter of marinara sauce like you've never had in your life. But strapped to the handlebars was my gem, my Aladdin's treasure, my undiscovered country, my mozzarella.
I know you've tried "fresh" mozzarella instead of that stringy stuff they have down at the Pizza Pit, and you like it. I know you've even looked at that buffalo mozzarella in whey and thought "twelve bucks? No way!" but then thought again "you know, even so, I'm gonna have to try that." You may even have found out about the new stand they just put up at Fairway under the bridge at 135th street where you can watch the lady hand-form the mozzarella right in front of you. And naturally, if you're a long-time foodie, you've thought about making the trip to Joe's Dairy or Murray's Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village.
These are excellent pursuits, and I endorse them heartily.
But I'm tellin' ya, this cheese was a revelation to me. Sarah and I actually broke into the Fairway before it opened so we could get our hands on the freshest mozzarella the lady makes at the stand. We stood around in the closed store, dodging employees until she could form the balls from the curd, we were that enthusiastic. We got lots of dirty looks from employees, and the manager stood in our way when we tried to check out. Nonetheless, it reaffirmed for us the conviction that fresh mozzarella is worth the possibility of jail time. That mozzarella was certainly worth the danger, fresh, still wet from the salty whey on the outside, soft but substantial strings like muscle on the inside, a bite that can result in a squeak on the teeth just like fresh Wisconsin cheese curds.
That hypothetical jail time would have been a hard burden to bear, but we would have suffered it for that fresh Fairway cheese. But we would have leaped, bounded ecstatically to the jail for the mozzarella from the Country Club deli we had just had the day before. Yes, the Fairway stuff was great, but it didn't have that rich, milky ooze of flavor all the way through. It didn't make us lick our fingers and try to get more. It didn't make us call our friends and say "what are you doing right now? Can you come over? You've gotta try this cheese!" We just stood there in the kitchen, plastic wrap drunkenly splayed out and ripped apart, wielding an inappropriate knife, cutting off piece after piece until the whole thing was gone.
I admit, the experience of undergoing long physical duress in pursuit of something always makes it sweeter. Riding my bicycle across the Araya Salt Flats in Venezuela, running out of water after 10 kilometers and having to pedal the next 100 with none because I was counting on a support driver who elected instead to remain in town and try to impress girls with the pickup truck he was driving, our pickup truck, certainly made the ice cream at the end taste great. Actually, I didn't have any ice cream, all I had was water and frickin' arepas which I had been eating every day and night all week. Corn meal, water, pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, fry in oil. Delicious, right? Hah. You can survive on it though. It tasted pretty good after that bike ride, though. I don't know why I'm saying that. It's a lie. I was barely even conscious. My companion had to drag me into some poor person's home and ask them to take care of me. And the arepas sucked.
My point with that little digression is that I know that sometimes when you work yourself up for something, especially if you exhaust yourself physically trying to achieve it, you tell yourself that it's better than it is.
I know this, I recognize it, and I'm still telling you this cheese is like nothin' else in this world.
Maybe next time I'll figure out what the name of the place is.