Friday, June 5, 2015

Café Al Mercato: My Big Fat Italian Secret!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”-Jean Recine, French Dramatist

I hate to admit it, but Recine was right!  Recently, revealed to the world one of my best-kept secrets:  That Café Al Mercato is amazing!  Now that the Cannellini has been spilled, I’m pretty sure their lines are going to be longer than usual!  Uncool,, very uncool!

Located in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, Café Al Mercato isn’t really a restaurant in the usual sense; it’s more of an open-air café… only indoors.  The décor is basically nonexistent! You have the counter where you order; the display of their amazing Italian delicacies; and 12 wooden tables where you can sit and enjoy your food.

I discovered the Café on my first visit to the market, which is famous for their fresh baked Italian bread; homemade pasta; artisan-made cured meats; fresh produce; and imported Italian products.  After a few hours of exploring, the café’s sign caught my eye and the smell of baking pizza caught my nose.  I rushed over and was greeted by the Café’s incredible bounty.  The rice balls, pizza slices, artichoke hearts, and pasta were all steaming hot and ready to be enjoyed. From the first taste, I knew the café would be a closely guarded selfish little secret of mine.

Why a secret?  It’s simple; these hidden gems provide respite from the daily stress of work, politics, and my personal life.  They allow me to disappear from the world and enjoy some, corny as it may sound, “me time.” If everyone knew about them, then I’d lose the privacy I enjoy there.  Also, the cafe is always packed and the less of you that know about it, the shorter the lines.  It’s both emotional and practical for me.

You might be asking yourself:  Why should I go all the way up to the Bronx when I can order food from Papa John’s or Domino’s?  What makes this pizza spot really that much different from the one in my neighborhood?  In order to address these questions, I’ll have to reveal a few secrets about my favorite Italian oasis in the Boogie down!

The first secret is a remarkable one: The café’s owners draw from the extraordinary pool of ingredients in the market to craft their menu!  So when you partake of a pasta dish at the café, you’re enjoying the homemade pasta from a vendor a few feet away. Those delicious salty meats in your hero came from the Italian artisan butcher across the Cafe.  The veggies in all your pasta dishes came from the market’s produce vendors. It’s this commitment to producing delicious food and overall authenticity that keep me coming back. 

The Café’s pasta menu features a unique variety of flavorful dishes.  I love the Penne Genovese (Penne with sun-dried tomatoes tossed in a homemade pesto sauce with grilled chicken) and Raviloi alla Angelina (cheese ravioli in a light cream tomato sauce with sun-dried tomatoes and a slight touch of vodka).  Whenever I visit, I ask for the Rigatoni Primavera, made with broccoli, zucchini, Holland peppers, and mushrooms, which are dressed with Italian herbs, garlic, and oil.  The pasta is always al dente and delicious; the fresh crunchy vegetables are perfectly paired with the garlic, oil, and herb dressing.

Café al Mercato’s pizzas are also outstanding.  When was the last time you had a slice of pizza with sautéed broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, and fresh mozzarella? I doubt your local greasy pizza joint has a Fig Pizza Pie, made with fresh prosciutto, mozzarella, and imported Mediterranean figs.  Do you think Little Cesar’s has anything that good?  Not on your life.  I’m partial to the Lasagna Pizza (Mozzarella, ricotta cheese, and a homemade meat sauce) and their Bruschetta Pizza (plum tomatoes, red onion, chopped basil, and celery).

Second secret:  The pizza sauce is a closely guarded family secret!  After tasting a slice of the Lasagna Pizza, I complemented one of the owners and asked about the delicious sauce.  He told me it was an old family recipe that would go with him to the grave.  As a joke, I asked him what was in it and how to make it. He chuckled, told me to kiss his ass, and then threw a garlic knot at me.  It was also delicious!

The third and final secret:  The Café’s staff is willing to modify their menu to ensure you enjoy your visit!  This may not seem like a big deal, but few places have this flexibility and commitment to customer satisfaction.  I can’t tell you how many places have refused to take my order because I asked for a slight modification to something on their menu.
A few years back, I asked if I could have the Broccoli rabe and breaded chicken cutlet on a hero instead of with pasta and, without hesitation, they made it for me.  No fuss no muss!  This hero has become my favorite sandwich at the Café.  I love how the slightly bitter broccoli rabe, sautéed with garlic and butter, complements the moist and well-seasoned breaded chicken cutlet.  Sometimes, I ask for marinara sauce, but usually I prefer it plain.  This hero is simple, flavorful, and delicious.

Now that the heart and soul of Café Al Mercato has been laid bare, take some time to visit and enjoy their wonderful menu.  If you see me there, just wave and leave me alone.  I’ll be enjoying my solitude with a hero and an X-Men comic book!  Now it’s your turn to visit! Go taste for yourself! ¡Buen provecho!

Café al Mercato

2344 Arthur Ave

Bronx, NY 10458


HOURS: Monday-Sunday 7:00 am-5:30 pm

ATMOSPHERE:  Fun and casual.

SERVICE: You order and pay at a counter.

SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.


RECOMMENDED DISHES: Pizzas, Various heroes, and salad.

BEVERAGES: Tea, Soda, Coffee (Espresso and Cappuccino) and Hot Chocolate.
PRICE RANGE:  Moderate $2-$30