Brooklyn’s Little Italy — changing, but still Italian

Brooklyn’s Little Italy — changing, but still Italian
Photo by Bess Adler

In a borough that’s constantly changing, it’s comforting to know that at least one neighborhood can maintain most of its old-school charm.

Bensonhurst is still very much the Little Italy it has been since the 1950s. And some of the best classic Italian-American eateries and shops are between 70th and 80th streets on 18th Avenue, also known as Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard — another nod to the neighborhood’s Italian heritage.

There’s a bakery with the best cannoli in town, a record store with the latest in Italian pop music and a meat market that makes all its sausage in-house.

But just because the Italian-American standbys are still going strong, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room on 18th Avenue for other internationally flavored businesses.

“We’re still here, doing what we’ve done for the past 20 years, but the neighborhood is changing,” said Frank Gassoso, owner of Frank and Sal’s Prime Meat Market near 80th Street.

The strip is also home to great Chinese restaurants, a Polish grocery store and even a Mexican buffet. You can basically eat and shop around the world in 10 blocks, which is just what this paper did.

Frank and Sal’s Prime Meat Market

This super store of Italian foodstuffs has been a Bensonhurst shopping destination for the past 20 years. Home cooks can get everything they need here to be the next Chef Mario Batali, including imported San Marzano tomatoes and house-made sausages. But the best thing about the meat market may not be the butcher shop, but the cheese section. The pungent smell of the parmegiano-reggiano draws a line down the aisle.

Frank and Sal’s Prime Meat Market [8008 18th Ave. at 80th Street in Bensonhurst, (718) 331-8100].

Polsk Sklep

For those who prefer kielbasa to Italian sausage, this two-year-old Polish deli may become your favorite place to shop. Pols Skelp has at least five different kinds of pork and veal kielbasa, a smoked sausage, on any given day. There are also Polish cheeses, house-made strudel and two shelves worth of packaged Polish chocolate.

Polsk Sklep (7722 18th Ave. between 77th and 78th streets in Bensonhurst, no phone)

Villabate Alba Pasticceria serves some of the best Sicilian pastries in town. Try not to drool.
Photo by Celeste Hunt

Mexican Ayometla

We love all-you-can-eat buffets, and Mexican Ayometla has one of the best deals in the neighborhood. For $5.50, you can fill your plate with delicious braised meats like pork carnitas, along with heaps of rice and beans. The café-style eatery also offers quesadillas, tacos and our favorite — cemitas, an overstuffed sandwich of meat, avocado and cheese.

Mexican Ayometla [7620 18th Ave. between 76th and 77th streets in Bensonhurst, (718) 331-3069]

Bensonhurst Wine and Liquors

Whether you want a $10 bottle of red or a $50 bottle of Belvedere Vodka, Bensonhurst Wine and Liquors has got you covered. The shop is bigger than most grocery stores, and the booze selection is as good as it gets in the area. We like the selection of Chilean wines, especially the Gato Negro brand that sells three bottles for $12.

Bensonhurst Wine [7506 18th Ave. between 75th Street and Bay Ridge Avenue in Bensonhurst, (718) 236-4453].

Exclusive V.I.P. Fashion

This fancy dress shop has black tie event threads in all price ranges. You can splurge on a designer sequenced gown for close to $1,000, or find a $75 bargain that would be appropriate at any wedding.

Exclusive V.I.P. Fashion, [7209 18th Ave. between 71st and 72nd streets in Bensonhurst, (718) 234-4448]

Queen Ann Ravioli

Fresh-made pasta is the name of the game at this specialty store. The folks at Queen Ann make all kinds of noodles, from the tube-like, Neapolitan-style macaroncelli, long strands of pappardela and even squid-ink pasta. But the main draw is the ricotta-filled ravioli. The store makes boxes of them every day for customers to buy in bulk and heat up at home.

Queen Ann Ravioli [7205 18th Ave. between 72nd and 73rd avenues in Bensonhurst, (718) 256-1061].

Hand Pull Noodles and Dumpling House

This place isn’t just a Chinese take-out shop, it’s a showcase for the culinary arts. Patrons can watch the cooks roll, stretch and damn near play double-dutch with dough to make long strands of pasta for the restaurant’s delicious soups. Make sure to order a side of dumplings or pork steamed buns. They’re also made in house, and they’re a bargain at eight for $4.75.

It doesn’t get any better than Bensonhurst Wine and Liquors for all your booze needs on 18th Avenue.
Photo by Bess Adler

Hand Pull Noodles and Dumpling House [7201 18th Ave. between 71st and 72nd streets in Bensonhurst, (718) 232-6191].

Sas Italian Records

Sensory overload is probably the best place to describe this family-run shop.

“We sell everything Italian that isn’t edible,” said owner Silvana Conte. The place is a cluttered museum of soccer memorabilia, silverware, magazines and of course, records. You can check out an album by the singer Ponza — the latest Italian pop sensation — or take a trip back in time with records of 19th-century Neapolitan folk music. And just in case you still have that old boom box in the back of your closet, Sas sells hundreds of cassettes.

Sas Italian Records, [7113 18th Ave. between 71st and 72nd streets in Bensonhurst, (718) 331-0539].

Louie’s Lighting and Furniture

If you want your home to look like an IKEA showroom, this is not the store for you. Instead of trendy furniture, Louie’s is filled with weird, wild pieces. Everything is extremely ornate, especially the Aladdin-style genie bottles, tribal pottery, glass chandeliers and slightly creepy heirloom dolls. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

Louie’s Lighting and Furniture [7109 18th Ave. between 71st and 72nd streets in Bensonhurst, (917) 662-1987].

Villabate Alba Pasticceria

Diabetics beware: Villabate Alba will give you a sugar rush of an epic proportion. This 40-year-old family-run bakery serves some of the best Sicilian pastries in town. The six glass display cases are stacked with cannoli, almond-flavored treats called cassatas and even custom cakes that could stand up against the ones on Ace of Cakes. Villabate also serves gelato the true Italian way: sandwiched in a brioche bun. Trust us, a sweet, doughy bun is way better than your typical ice cream cone.

Villabate Alba Pasticceria [7001 18th Ave. between 70th and 71st streets in Bensonhurst, (718) 643-1610]. Closed Mondays.

Spicy Bampa

If your tongue can take the heat, order up the hot pot special at this Sichuan restaurant. The dish is basically China’s version of fondue, as it’s a bubbling cauldron of oil, chilies and peppercorns that cooks raw meat and veggies within minutes. The $15 hot pot buffet comes with a platter of sliced beef and lamb, head-on shrimp, noodles, greens and cabbage. It’s enough food to feed a family of four — if you’re family can handle the tongue-numbing sensations that come with boiling, pepper-laced oil.

If you’re in the mood for some Ponza or 19th century-style Neapolitan folk music, look no further than Sas Italian Records. The family-run shop, now run by Sergio Conte, even sells cassettes.
Photo by Celeste Hunt

Spicy Bampa [6920 18th Ave. between 69th and 70th streets in Bensonhurst, (718) 236-8088].

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