Thursday, October 26, 2017

Foodie Fun on Arthur Avenue

butcher shop
Lamb, pork, pancetta, veal, rabbit, pheasant, tripe, brains--you can find it all at Biancardi's.

Italians instinctively know that food and love go together like spaghetti and marinara sauce. I was lucky to learn that lesson early while growing up and feasting on delicious Italian food crafted lovingly by my grandmother Josephine. Nana spent many hours in her small, cozy kitchen preparing a variety of Italian specialties as only she could, but it was her ravioli and meatballs that we loved the most.

The smell of simmering sauce would permeate the air tempting our taste buds as we approached the porch. Without fail, my dad would make a bee-line for the kitchen, grab a fork and stab a meatball from a simmering pot, inevitably dripping sauce on his shirt in an effort to escape her smack as she shooed him away. I think they both secretly enjoyed the ritual.

Years have gone by and they are gone, but every time I bite into a good Italian meatball, or indulge in a decadent dish of ravioli, I'm reminded of how much I miss them both and wonder if either of them visited Arthur Avenue at some point in their lives.

I recently learned of the foodie destination located in the Belmont section of the Bronx thanks to a local travel  travel agency that offered a bus trip to the area. It piqued my curiosity, so I signed up and was soon exploring the neighborhood also known as "the real Little Italy."

Chockablock with Blocks of Shops
No matter where you live in these United States, you're likely noticing the demise of the "mom-and-pop" establishments. The fact that many continue to thrive in this small area is a testament to their grit and determination.

Many of the businesses are passed down from generation to generation. Maria Cappiello is just one of the individuals who shared her "Arthur Avenue" story with me. Her father was born in 1929 in a cold water flat above his parent's butcher shop on the famous street. "He and his brothers all became butchers and his sister married a man who worked in the store. That man went on to open a deli in the market that is still thriving today," said Capiello, whose mother arrived from Italy in 1951, moved to the neighborhood and frequented the shop. Cappiello said she spent many fun times on Arthur Avenue visiting both sides of her family in the 1970's and 80's and  returns to this day with her children to visit and dine in the old neighborhood.

Danielle Oteri, founder of food tour company "Feast on History," also has familial ties to the area. Her great-grandfather Albino Oteri opened a fish market on Arthur Avenue in 1916.Today she shares stories with tourists who come from miles around to stock up on provisions and take a leisurely stroll around town to indulge in bits and bites of this and that.
Treats along the way include salami and freshly made mozzarrella at Joe's Italian Deli. (Photo Courtesy of Danielle Oteri, Feast on History)
"We have many amazing mom-and-pop shops and our goal is to keep people coming back," said Oteri. And it appears they do. Many individuals who rode the bus with me knew the routine and  brought coolers along to stow their purchases for the ride home.

Oteri takes guests to 12 iconic establishments where they can taste products and learn more about the history of the businesses, many which have survived for years, like Tino's, known for its pizza (shown below), subs, dried pasta and an impressive selection of olive oil and vinegar.
Tino's delicatessen is another stop along the tour. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Oteri, Feast on History)
A popular stop along the way is Calabria's pork shop known for its "sausage chandeliers." A few of the stand-out products include soppresatta, capicollo and a paprika-coated Italian bacon named pancetta Calebrese, "It's a butcher shop devoted solely to pork, which used to be more common years ago," said Oteri, adding that they butcher and cure all their own meat onsite, rather than in a warehouse. "The quality is magical," she said.
Pork chandeliers at Calabria's (Photo courtesy of Feast on History)
Cheese lovers will find a little slice of heaven at Calandra's, which has been in operation since the 1930's. "At one time Calandra's used to sell ricotta only," said Oteri.
cheese shop
A shot of the interior at Calandra's 
Today Calandra's offers an array of cheeses, pasta, sausage and more. I spotted the curiosity pictured below on one of the shelves and learned later that it's a lemon-flavored antacid that hails from Italy and is often taken after meals as a digestive. Galeffi is touted as "thirst-quenching" and "refreshing." The blurb on the bottle gave me a chuckle. It promises a taste that is superior to prior versions. Later research revealed that it is used as a substitute for Brioschi, which has gone out of business. But enough about indigestion...let's talk ravioli!
Galeffi--an Italian product used to aid digestion
Another Bronx institution located not far from Calandra's is Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles, founded in 1935. The third-generation, family run, specialty pasta shop has been recognized by the Food Network and Epicurious Magazine and was awarded a 29 out of 30 for quality by Zagat's Marketplace survey. All I know is that the overstuffed cheesy pillows were among the best ravioli I've ever tasted.
Borgatti's, founded in 1935, was where I purchased some of the best ravioli I ever tasted.

truffle oil
Purchases made during my trip.

Also worthy of mention is Teitel Brothers. The third-generation, family run business traces its humble beginnings to Jacob and Morris Teitel, a pair of Austrian Jewish immigrants who made their way to America by way of Ellis Island. It's been reported that Jacob speak Italian before he mastered English because his neighbors were predominantly Italian. For more than a century, the family has been doing business on Arthur Avenue and customers continue to flock there for Italian gourmet specialty items like imported olive oil, canned tomatoes, aged vinegar and fresh sausage, to name but a few.

A must-stop for pastry lovers is Egidio Pastry which dates back to 1912 and is known as the oldest pastry shop in the Bronx. The shop remained in the family until the 1990's when the last daughter (who was in her 90's at the time) sold it to a woman of Italian descent by the name of  Carmella Lucciola. "Carmella still uses all the original recipes written by hand on onion skin paper stored in a box in the kitchen. Bakers continue to refer to those recipes," said Oteri.

And no trip to the area is complete without a stop at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market where you'll find Mike's Deli, which earned national attention when Bobby Flay challenged proprietor David Greco to an eggplant Parmesan throw down. To find out who won, you can visit the webpage here. 

During my visit, I even witnessed a few fireworks while strolling between the stalls. An older woman and a younger female (whom I assumed were family) were engaged in a heated exchange. The younger one stormed off the job while the men just smiled and shook their heads; they knew better then to get involved. Don't ask me how I know. Ahh, nostalgia.

Farmer's Market
Scenes from Arthur Avenue Retail Market, taken from my perch at the Bronx Beer Hall.


Peter's Meat Market in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market
The retail market carries nearly everything you'll need for a splendid repast, from meats, to cheeses, to pasta, fish and more. The Bronx Beer Hall is a relative newcomer that opened in 2013.  Located in the heart of the action, it specializes in beer from local breweries and provides the shopper with a chance to take a break, grab a bite and enjoy an adult libation. I unloaded my packages on the bar and savored a glass of Cabernet before heading back out to explore. 

Restaurants Aplenty
Arthur Avenue is no place for those watching their "carb" intake, so save up those calories and  consider ditching the diet before visiting. I never experienced the food at the restaurants on Arthur Avenue since my time in the area was limited. Nonetheless, I did manage to snack along the way, tasting a little here and a little there.

Having heard much about Michelin-recommended Tra Di Noi (meaning 'between us'), I made it a point to poke my head inside to snap a picture of the old-school, red-checked tablecloth, Italian mainstay.
Italian Restaurant
Italian restaurant
Tra Di Noi is listed on TripAdvisor as the #1 restaurant in the Bronx. 
The intimate trattoria ranks number one on TripAdvisor with its classical Italian cuisine . Chef Marco Coletta, who once cooked for Italian nobility, brings over 50 years of cooking experience to the table. It's definitely on my list of places to try when I return in May. 

Walk off those calories

During my exploration, I stumbled on the Bronx Library Center, where I bought a few books and browsed amidst the stacks. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a thriving library in a busy shopping area.  

Other Bronx destinations worthy of mention include the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens both located in Bronx Park. The Bronx Zoo, is known for being the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States and is among the largest in the world averaging approximately 2.15 million visitors each year. 

The nearby botanical gardens are recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Dating back to 1891 the destination spans 250 acres and attracts nearly one million visitors per year. Events and exhibitions are listed on their website.
The New York Botanical Garden features an impressive collection of plants, rotating exhibits, educational programs and a host of events according to season. (Photos courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden)
The NYBG features a Holiday Train show, which runs from November 22, 2015 through January 15, 2018
These are but a few of the age-old institutions that make Arthur Avenue what it is today. Have you visited? I'd be interested in knowing about your favorites before I return.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Exploring Patsy Cline's Humble Roots in Winchester, Virginia

Patsy Cline marker
A marker in front of the house where Cline grew up.
For Patsy Cline fans, it’s difficult to believe that the year 2017 marked the 54th anniversary of the legendary singer’s death, but fans and devotees continue to keep her memory alive.
Movies, books, musicals, plays and even blogs pay tribute to the life of the iconic performer and recording artist. A loyal fan club, run by her daughter Julie Fudge, is still going strong. Those interested in sharing their enthusiasm can learn more about the club here.  
For the devoted Patsy Cline fans who enjoy her songs, sing her praises and are just plain “Crazy” about her, the pilgrimage to Winchester is a must. 
A few weeks ago I visited her humble abode located in a residential section of Winchester at 608 S. Kent Street where tours are conducted from April through October.

The modest house on Kent Street in Winchester, Virginia where Patsy Cline grew up

Born to a Teenage Mother
Few would have predicted that future stardom would blossom from Patsy Cline's humble beginnings. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932 to a 16-year-old seamstress mother and a 43-year-old blacksmith father, the road was often rocky for the family, who, by all accounts, moved around quite a bit. After the father left the household in 1948, the family settled into the small Kent Street home pictured above.  
Cline, who was introduced to music at an early age, often sang along with her mother Hilda in church. To make up for the income lost when the father left, Patsy dropped out of high school, working as a soda jerk and waitress. Despite her circumstances, the burgeoning young singer held tightly to her hopes and dreams. 
Cline admired stars of the era like Jo Stafford and Hank Williams and in 1947 convinced a radio disc jockey to allow her to perform on his show. The talent coordinator, impressed by her potential, invited her back. This, in turn, led to more appearances at local establishments where she would sport her signature fringed Western outfits. 

Copies of Cline's original sketches are on display in the dining room. Patsy would design the costumes and Hilda would sew them.

Patsy Cline sketches

Western costumes
Replicas of Cline's costumes hang in the dining room.
Patsy Cline gained national attention in 1957, when she landed a gig on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Singing her now-famous song, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” she wowed the audience, sending the applause meter into the stratosphere. “Walkin’” shot up to number two on the country music charts and climbed to number 16 on the pop charts, officially earning her the distinction of being one of the first country singers to achieve a “crossover” pop hit record.

From Triumph to Tragedy
Cline reached the height of her popularity in the early 1960s when she was named the number one female artist in 1961 and 1962. When she released, “I Fall to Pieces,” it, too, became a crossover hit and climbed to number one on the country charts and number six on the pop charts, once again demonstrating her wide appeal.  She went on to receive acclaim for a string of hits before tragedy struck.

On March 3, 1963, Cline sang at a benefit held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City for the family of disc jockey “Cactus” Jack Call, who had died in an automobile accident approximately one month earlier. Dense fog prevented her from flying out of town the following day. Although friend Dottie West tried to convince her to take the 16-hour drive back to Nashville in the car, Cline opted instead to fly out on a small Piper PA-24 Comanche plane on March 5, ignoring reports of continued inclement weather which included high winds.

Cline’s manager, Randy Hughes, untrained in instrument flying, took the helm and on the evening of March 5, 1963, crashed the aircraft in the driving rain approximately 90 miles from Nashville.  Cline was dead at the age of 30.
Ten years after her death, in 1973, she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Fans Keep Her Memory Alive
To this day, fans remain dedicated to keeping Patsy Cline’s memory alive. Her childhood house is open to tours, guided by dedicated volunteer docents who are eager to share details of the singer’s short life.
The dining room of the Patsy Cline house where many costumes were created.
"It is a joy to meet the people who come from all over the world to visit the home of the legendary singer. Her music is still played and is very popular even though she died more than 50 years ago. I am proud that she grew up in the same community where I was born and live," said docent and volunteer Joyce McKay.

Kitchen of the Patsy Cline House

Patsy Cline living room
Living room of the Patsy Cline House

kitchen nook at the Patsy Cline house
Kitchen nook overlooks the large backyard where the family grew vegetables.

The living room where the family watched Patsy perform

Fan Mark Borchers said he wasn’t exposed to Patsy Cline until 1980, when he took advantage of an introductory offer to purchase six eight-track tapes for a penny as part of his enrollment in a music club. “One of those was the Patsy Cline Story. "I played that tape to death and still have it to this day,” he said. Borchers, who read a book about Cline, learned her mother Hilda’s general address and decided to send her a note. Hilda wrote back and that was the beginning of a meaningful friendship. Not only did Borchers learn details on how to join the fan club, but he was eventually invited to Hilda’s house where he dined with the family and even held Cline’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy. “Hilda retrieved it from the closet and I held it in my hands--talk about a special moment in a young man’s life,” said Borchers.

Paying Respects
Having finished my tour of the house, I took a moment to pay my respects to the singer who is laid to rest at nearby Shenandoah Memorial Park with her beloved husband Charlie Dick. Her unassuming grave can be spotted behind the funeral home. Be sure to bring along at least one penny to lay on her grave--a tradition that's said to bring good luck.

Patsy Cline is buried in the Shenandoah Memorial Park next to her husband Charlie Dick.
To learn more about the Patsy Cline house, or to plan a visit, be sure to visit the web page at

Friday, September 8, 2017

Daytripping along the Lafayette Trail in Havre De Grace

Located in Harford County Maryland at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace is a scenic and small walkable town that is ideal for a laid-back getaway.

Those who read this blog regularly may have noticed a recent post about several beautiful B&Bs located conveniently within walking distance of restaurants and shops, specifically the Vandiver InnLa Cle D'or Guest House and the Spencer-Silver Mansion. The elegantly appointed Bed and Breakfasts are not only rich in history, but are also located on the Lafayette Trail, which is a fantastic way to see the highlights of Havre De Grace. The scenic walk is demarcated in blue on the sidewalks of the town and leads visitors on a three-mile-long path to highlights like historic structures, parks, museums, and marinas.

Traversing the Lafayette Trail

Located on the Western Bank of the Susquehanna River, the Susquehanna Museum at the Lock House is the first stop along the Trail. The private, not-for-profit educational institution educates visitors on the importance of canals in facilitating early trade and commerce in the area. Visitors learn about the building of the 45-mile canal that ran from Havre De Grace to Wrightsville, Pa and the "locks" that were devised to raise and lower canal boats to adjust for the difference in elevation as they passed through the channels. 
The Lock House Museum
A model interprets how the locks operated
Toll log at the Susquehanna Museum at The Lockhouse

The sturdy, two-story structure overlooking the Susquehanna was built in 1840 and was home to the lucky lock tender (what a view) and his family. The house also served as an office for toll collections. Free tours are available to the public from April through October.

Next stop is the Tidewater Grille where we enjoyed lunch and a nice view of the Bay. In keeping with the theme, I ordered a lunch of clams, shrimp and mussels.
The deck at the Tidewater Grille

Lunch of clams, shrimp and mussels

Further along the trail at 408 North Union Avenue sits the old Pitcock Hardware Building which dates back to 1890. Today it operates as the Bahoukas Antique Mall and Beer MuZeum.
Visitors can browse a large collection of antique toys, furniture, sports memorabilia and other vintage items. Be sure to visit the second floor to inspect the plethora of breweriana on display.
Bahoukas Antique Mall and Beer MuZeum is housed in a former hardware store that dates back to 1890.
Breweriana located upstairs at Bahoukas

Not far from Bahoukas is the old Chesapeake Hotel. The structure, built in 1896, is particularly noteworthy because it was a favorite of Al Capone, who would book a room there while visiting the nearby Graw Racetrack. We learned a little more about "The Graw" thanks to Annie McLhinney-Cochran, who operates McLhinney's Speakeasy Museum and International Market located in downtown Havre De Grace.

According to McLhinney, Maryland was the only state that refused to embrace prohibition. "Capone gambled here because he could drink," she said. Today the Chesapeake Hotel operates as a restaurant by the name of the Backfin Blues Creole De Graw.

Quite close to the Backfin Blues is a nondescript structure once known as the A.P. McCombs Building, built by the founder of the Havre Republican newspaper, now known as "The Record." Today it houses JoeRetro, a vintage Market, featuring gifts, vinyl records and new, used and upcycled items. I found a cool Pyrex necklace there. The store features the largest collection of Pyrex cookware I have ever seen.
Keep an eye out for another, much fancier A.P. McCombs building in town--you can't miss it. The beautiful pink dwelling done in the Queen Anne style is located at 120 S. Union Avenue and was built in 1880.
This attractive, pink Queen Anne style house once belonged to newspaper mogul A.P. McCombs
Statement necklaces crafted from broken Pyrex.
Drinking, smoking and cards--a convenient gift for the enablers out there

An A.P. McCombs building that is a little more utilitarian in style. Now home to JoRetro.
A little further along the trail is the Henry Harrison Hopkins House built in 1868. Today it operates as La Cle D'or Guesthouse, an elegant B&B which features an outstanding collection of antiques.
An alcove at La Cle D'or

The Lapis Lazuli room at La Cler D'or
The patio at La Cle D'or
La Cle D'or from the front
Next on the Lafayette Trail is one of the largest houses built as a private residence in Havre De Grace--the Spencer-Silver Mansion. It, too, operates as a Bed and Breakfast.
The Spencer-Silver Mansion dates back to 1896
An alcove in a bedroom of the Spencer-Silver Mansion
Within sight of the Spencer-Silver mansion is the Vandiver Inn. The Inn operates as a B&B and has been the site of many "I Dos," which is appropriate since it was a gift to a bride from her husband. Murray Vandiver served as State Secretary and Treasurer of Maryland and as Mayor of Havre De Grace.
Bed and Breakfast
A view from the front of the Vandiver Inn
This porch was made for relaxing at the Vandiver Inn
Take the Lafayette Trail down to the Bay and you'll see the old Bayou Hotel.  The four-story fieldstone building opened in 1921 when Jazz was all the rage. It was forced to close its doors in 1932 due to a fire. Upon re-opening, further losses were incurred when "sinkboxing," the favored form of duck hunting in the area, was outlawed. The Depression proved to be its death knell and in 1934, the hotel went out of business. The structure later became home to Franciscan nuns before it was sold in 1953 and converted to apartments. Years later, after a period of extensive renovations, developers transformed the hotel into luxury condominiums.
The Bayou hotel, popular during the Jazz Age, still stands today.
The Concord Point Lighthouse is stop number 41 on the Lafayette Trail. The oldest, continuously operating lighthouse in the country was once slated for demolition before a concerned citizen's group banded together to save it.  I was shocked to see how small it is!
The Concord Point Lighthouse is the oldest, continuously operating lighthouse in the country.
Nearby at 720 Concord Street is "The Keeper's Dwelling," which dates back to 1827 and served as the original lightkeeper's house. The honor of serving as lightkeeper was bestowed upon John O'Neill for his efforts in keeping the Brits literally "at bay."
A front view and the inside of "The Keeper's Dwelling"
The Keeper's Dwelling is open from 1 to 5 p.m.on weekends from April through October.

Further on down the road at 201 St. John Street is the Seneca Cannery, which has been repurposed into a large antique market. If you want to get a flavor for an area, visit a local antique market. A few months ago I visited Strasburg, Pennsylvania and discovered an array of old railroad artifacts from lanterns, to conductor's logs, time tables and an old doctor's case used on a train. Guess what I found at the Seneca Cannery? That's right, decoys--more than a few of them--and a lot of cool other things too. Oh and if your relatives have any old, wooden clothespins, it might be a good idea to keep them around. They're selling for $10 a pop.
Decoys on sale at the Seneca Cannery
An antique sewing machine repurposed into a lamp
And, of course, we know what these are--the one in the middle is selling for $10
There are many more stops along the Lafayette Trail. For those who enjoy shopping, Havre De Grace offers plenty of opportunities for that as well, with its blocks of shops selling anything from giftware, to jewelry, to art and apparel.
I purchased one this artifact candle at Blue Heron downtown. The artifact was a liberty coin. 
I think my favorite shop in Havre De Grace was Glyph. Located at 233 St. John Street, Glyph sells high-end stationery, writing instruments and other unique and interesting items that make perfect gifts. I just had to take a picture of this beautiful gift wrap.

There are plenty of restaurants from which to choose in Havre De Grace. For lunch, I recommend The Vineyard Wine Bar located at 142 N. Washington Street. While there, I enjoyed a delicious chicken salad wrapped in naan.
I finished every bit of this delicious chicken salad wrapped in naan and served at The Vineyard Wine Bar 
A unique place I stumbled on during my trip was Washington Street Books and Music. I entered expecting a typically sedate book store, but encountered something else entirely. Can I really call it "new age," these days? Abba blared over the sound system, while rows of 20-somethings browsed through comic books that lined one of the walls. Situated around the retail space chockablock with crystals, toys, minerals and other curiosities, were dozens of floor-to-ceiling glass cases displaying an array of costumes. I soon realized that this was more than a bookstore. The owner, seeing my quizzical look, explained that an adjacent room contained even more costumes. It turns out that he is a movie buff and is in the process of creating an entertainment museum. To date, the store boasts a collection of 250 movie costumes, scripts, and props from more than 70 different films. It's a shame I couldn't get decent pictures due to the glare, but I'll share one below just to give you an idea.

This dress was worn by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie, "The Hunger Games." 

Exploring Havre De Grace can be done leisurely in a period of two or three days and if the weather is nice, don't neglect to "walk the boards" of the scenic Promenade.
Sights from the Promenade above and below.

If you, too would like to walk the Lafayette Trail, brochures are available at the Havre De Grace visitor's center located at 450 Pennington Avenue, or you can download the mobile app by visiting and tapping the "Walk the Lafayette Trail" logo.

Now's a great time to visit since most museums close at the end of October and don't re-open until April.