When my manager mentioned that the Bronx Botanical Orchid Show was just off of the famous Italian Arthur Avenue, I didn’t hesitate for a second to buy tickets and plan a Saturday around food and flowers. With the sun shining and the birds chirping, it felt like the perfect spring day as Sonia and I schlepped up to 198th street, cameras in hand.
After walking through dozens of beautiful orchids (which has over 20,000 species) and throughout the garden, we had worked up a serious appetite for a good Italian meal. Not knowing what to expect about this renowned Arthur Avenue, we were a little taken aback by the blasting 1980’s radios and the worn out awnings of the first two blocks. But I had arrived with a plan, and after reading dozens of Yelp reviews about Zero Otte Nove, nothing could stop me from having an old school Italian lunch in an apparently Tuscan setting.
We were instantly reminded about our displacement from Manhattan when we were greeted with a smile and seated immediately. And with all of the Italian waiters and the wood-fire oven in plain view, if we really concentrated and tried to imagine, we sort of felt like we are in Florence. Sonia and I attempted to eat lightly by ordering three antipasti: the antipasti freddo with meats, cheeses, and eggplant, the bufala caprese with a cannellini bean salad, and an insalata di arugula with pear and goat cheese. Considering we were starving, we did an awesome job of shoveling two baskets of fresh, salty focaccia before our food arrived just minutes later.
Everything we ordered was straight forward and delicious, especially the massive green olives on our antipasti plate, but we couldn’t get over the fact that everyone around us was tearing apart piping hot, fresh and crusty pizzas. Everywhere we turned, a long strand of cheese stretched from plate to mouth, and we couldn’t help but feel we ordered wrong. Just as we were close to tears, the waiter came to talk to us, and after a little back and forth, he said something that was like an answer to our prayers. “Would you like to try a little pizza on me?” Before he could finish his sentence, Sonia and I shrieked in happiness as if we had just won the lotto. And the pizza was as good as we had expected – he kindly brought out both the fresh pizza margarita and the pizza caprese with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and arugula. We had no intention of eating the entire thing but of course, who were we kidding.
Lesson learned: don’t try to eat lightly and avoid eating what you really want – you’ll end up having to rely on the waiter’s good intuition to make you happy! Zero Otte Nove was absolutely delicious and exactly what I had hoped for: a laid back environment, a family Italian feel, and a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I definitely recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area, or as a piggy back event for the Botanical Garden visit. But if you’re not – don’t fret: they’ll be opening one on 21st street in just two weeks. Fortunately, living in Manhattan you never have to wait too long for anything.
Grade: A (mostly for the pizza)
Location: 2357 Arthur Ave off of 187th St