A trip to the Bronx Zoo doesn't always guarantee time for sit-down meals, and those with after-safari dining plans might be in the mood for a snack to keep them satiated until their red sauce affair at Roberta's or Mario's. Now just a vestige of its once glorious past, Arthur Avenue remains justifiably famous for a few mainstay delicacies: most notably Calabria's wonderful soppresata and Casa's namesake mozzarella. With the encroaching heat, a 2-pound hunk of dripping cheese is far from the ideal portable snack; but who can control themselves when faced with the succulent wonders of fresh mozzarella? Like the superhero's sidekick, a bunch of bocconcini, bite-sized mozzarella balls, is just the thing.
Fresh mozzarella can still be found on Arthur Avenue at three locations: at the cheese-centric Calandra ($6 for 5 balls), old-school sandwich impresario Joe's Italian Deli ($7.99 a pound), and, most famously, Casa della Mozarella ($7.99 a pound), where customers can sneak a peek behind the cash register to catch a glimpse of the mozzarella making in action. You'll have to choose between salted or unsalted; at Casa the bocconcini are also available with a fresh tomato salad, and at Calandra you can find them marinated in olive oil with garlic, black pepper, chili flakes, and parsley.
So, where should you buy yours?
Despite the singular focus on cheese, Calandra comes out on bottom. The knots are more like knobs, denser and less flavorful than their competition. I couldn't help but feel like something was missing: they lacked the tug of the others, as if the flatness of the flavor was captured in the body of the cheese. Cheerful creaminess was largely absent, overtaken by a wanton absence: a reluctant, "meh." Those swimming in olive oil offered more by way of flavor, but are ultimately too oily to be taken alone.
Casa's are noticeably fresher than the rest and can be downed in one fell swoop. Good bocconcini, in all their undressed simplicity, are one of the world's perfect snacks: taken with a glass of minerally white wine or on their own, they're a reminder of all the quietly good things we often overlook.
Pair your bocconcini with a soda from local company Bronx Pop, which sells soft drinks in unabashedly nostalgic flavors that recall old-timey soda jerks. Grab a root beer, maybe a lime rickey too, and head on out.
Joe's Italian Deli
Casa della Mozzarella
604 East 187th Street, Bronx NY 10458 (map)
2314 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY 10458 (map)
About the author: Chris Crowley is a former Serious Eats intern and the author of the Bronx Eats column. You can follow him on twitter here, or pay a visit to his new food blog, Sound Bites, over on Wordpress.