Bensonhurst: A NYC Food Neighborhood
Bensonhurst is a Brooklyn neighborhood that has long been a stalwart of Italian families, businesses and merchants. Located in the southeastern corner of the borough, some still refer to this neighborhood as Brooklyn's Little Italy for its large Italian immigrant legacy and food markets, despite the fact that it is now also home to Chinese, Mexican, Polish and other ethnic groups.
At the end of every summer the neighborhood is host to the annual Festa di Santa Rosalia, or as the locals call it, The Feast. This is a street fair held on 18th Avenue, from Bay Ridge Parkway (75th Street) to 66th Street, to honor St. Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily's largest city.
But you don't need to wait for St. Rosalia's party to visit Bensonhurst and shop at its many excellent Italian food markets. Take the D or N train to the heart of the neighborhood -- 18th Avenue -- its commercial main artery that is also known as Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard. This is real neighborhood, with the surrounding blocks filled with two-story, two-family homes with more than a few religious statues displayed in the small, well-kept front yards, and children walking home on their own from the neighborhood schools.
Along the 20 block stretch of 18th Avenue, from about 64th to 84th Street, plus a few nearby locations on 17th and 15th Avenues, there is a growing number of Chinese fruit and vegetable stores, and at the western end of the Avenue there are a few kosher markets that have spilled over from the adjacent Borough Park neighborhood which is said to have the largest orthodox Jewish population outside of Israel. But keep walking east and you'll feel like your in a Roman neighborhood for there you'll find some of New York City's best Italian pork stores, salumerias, bread bakeries, mozzarella makers, fresh pasta, fruit and vegetable shops, grocers, and pasticcerias (Italian cakes, cookies and pastries). In the midst of all this, unexpectedly there is also a well-stocked Polish food market and a unique Mexican-Italian grocer.
Here are some of the best:
Bari Pork Store
6319 18th Avenue at 64th Street
Cured meats, pork products, Italian groceries, dry pasta, prepared foods. Excellent service from people who really know what they're selling.
7001 18th Avenue at 70th Street
Pasticceria and bakery with elaborate Sicilian cakes, cookies and other sweets including marzipan in such unexpected shapes as artichokes, fennel and other fruits, vegetables and animals. Excellent gelati.
Queen Ann Ravioli & Macaroni Co.
7205 18th Avenue at 72nd Street
Big selection of fresh pasta and their house brand of dry pasta; some cold cuts and grocery items.
Tribuzio Meat Market
7714 18th Avenue at 77th Street
Large selection, good prices, real butchers.
Cristoforo Colombo Bakery
6916 18th Avenue at 69th Street
Breads, cookies, and pastries.
Il Fornaretto Bakery
7616 17th Avenue at 77th Street
Excellent breads since 1927. The house bread, baked in a brick oven, is a large, flavorful white round loaf, plus there are semolina, and whole wheat breads. The prosciutto bread and onion panini are worth a journey.
Lioni Latticini Mozzarella
7803 15th Avenue at 78th Street
Fresh mozzarella and other Italian cheeses plus a large pasta selection. There are two storefronts on the block -- one is the retail store and the other is a sandwich shop that also sells grocery items.
Papa Pasquale Ravioli
7817 15th Avenue at 78h Street
Fresh and dry pasta popular for its large selection of ravioli.
Frank & Sal's Prime Meats
8008 18th Avenue at 80th Street
A large, full-service grocery store with a butcher and cut-to-order meat department, large cheese and dairy selection, huge variety of fresh and dry pasta, produce, Italian grocery items, and prepared foods. Not the kind of place where you get the attention as in a smaller market.
In addition to all the Italian markets, here are two other markets with hard-to-find grocery items:
Lajkonik Polski Sklep
7722 18th Avenue at 78th Street
A Polish grocery store that sells kielbasa, fresh and frozen pirogies, bread, Polish grocery items and candies.
8003-8005 18th Avenue at 80th Street
Italian and Mexican grocery items including large selection of Goya and La Morena canned goods, flour and corn meals. Inexpensive.
If you get hungry while shopping -- and how can you not -- an excellent place to stop for lunch or dinner is Il Colossea at 7704 18th Avenue. With a full bar, a coal-fired pizza oven, superb seafood, a long list of house pastas, white tablecloths, and friendly and charming service, this restaurant serves authentic southern Italian food.