|Here in the Belmont section of the Bronx, an old Italian neighborhood is polishing up its faded image with a peppering of new restaurants, cafes and pastry shops to compliment the staid establishments that your father's father used to frequent. Arthur Avenue is once again a street you feel compelled to walk along well into the evening hours.|
Enzo's of Arthur Avenue is turning two this year and has been a smash hit almost since its doors opened. It is owned and operated by Enzo DiRende (his first restaurant, also called Enzo's, is in Morris Park). DiRende is a local through and through. As a kid he worked as a bus boy right next door to Enzo's at his father's place, Dominic's. A student at Fordham University and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he opened his first restaurant nearly 12 years ago.
Enzo's celebrates simple, hearty fare with no fuss, and generous portions. Pasta, veal and chicken are the stars, with sauces and vegetables playing a muted but stellar supporting role. Mostly Italian, the wine list is strong on pairing with food and friendly on the wallet. The staff is amazingly friendly and attentive, as if this was their first and only calling. I've eaten at Enzo's many times and haven't had a bad meal yet.
Enzo's draws a faithful crowd of regulars and it can get quite crowded on a Saturday night. If you're like me though, you're just as comfortable eating on a barstool, chatting up the bartender, as you are at one of its dozen or so tables.
|My latest visit was a spur of the moment decision. It had been an incredible day spent outdoors. It was a warm, August evening and I just wasn't up to standing over the stove, and Enzo's just happens to be only a few blocks away.|
When I arrived, I discovered I wasn't the only one without the ambition to cook for himself. The place was standing room only. I squeezed into a gap at the bar, ordered a Peroni, and waited for the other patrons to be shown to tables. Less than 10 minutes later I was ensconced at the bar with my favorite bartender Alex conducting the night's orchestra.
Alex started me another beer while I perused the menu, but I had already made up my mind as to what to order before ever arriving at the restaurant. One person simply cannot eat an entree all by himself, so I decided to have a couple of appetizers instead.
|Enzo's has come up with this fantastic baked polenta starter that is so light and fluffy, that I suspect they've doctored the dish with something illegal, but I can't prove it. The polenta is silky and completely free of grittiness. It comes topped with a light, but very flavorful sauce of tomatoes, beans and bits of sausage. The broth is so clear, but by no means watery. There is a flirtatious hint of tomato, and just enough sausage to act as counterpoint to the beans. By the last couple of bites you're wishing for a bowl of sauce just for dipping.|
|A hard act to follow, but I knew Enzo's could deliver with something to satisfy the appetite they had just peaked: fried meatballs with onions and peppers. Put away any thought of comparison to sausage and peppers. This dish is in a completely different league.|
The chef combines ground veal and ground beef with herbs and a little egg to act as a binder. I've dissected these babies in search of breadcrumbs and have never found any. They're just pure meaty goodness. The outside of the meatball is pleasantly crunchy without being hard. The inside is flawlessly moist and seasoned. The onions and peppers are always perfectly cooked; a little caramelized, and never ever mushy. I have to stop myself from shoveling them into my mouth whole. This is one dish you want to savor.
Alex had recommended a Rosso di Montalcino - a Tuscan Sangiovese clone - and it brought out every subtle nuance of the dishes. Thanks to New York's enlightened capping laws, I was able to "doggy bag" the unfinished bottle and had a pleasant reminder of my meal with the next night's chicken Caesar salad.
|Enzo's of Arthur Avenue is located at 2339 Arthur Ave. (between Crescent and 186th Streets), in the Bronx. You cannot go wrong with the place. It's great for a casual meal, or a place to impress the in-laws. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up, and now forbid you to mention it to anyone else!|
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