New York is a mixture of many different ethnicities and immigrant groups, and one of the most historically present groups in New York has been Italian immigrants. In fact, New York City is home to the world’s third largest population of Italians outside of Brazil, Argentina and, of course, Italy. As such, Italian-Americans in New York have a strong sense of identity and have held on to their ethnicity in their food. I figure I am talking from a bit of experience here given that I am Italian myself, so I decided to choose a restaurant from an Italian neighborhood in the Bronx my family used to visit often.
Arthur avenue is known as the “Little Italy” of the Bronx, and is considered amongst the community to be the “real” Little Italy as the more well-known counterpart in Manhattan has become a commercialized tourist attraction. There’s plenty of restaurants, markets and stores that all have Italian foods and ingredients to offer. People often like to say certain phrases here and there in Italian, everyone knows where the good restaurants are, and there’s sometimes word going around of how to spot who is connected with the Mafia (but that’s a story for another time.) The most notable thing for anyone visiting is certainly the food, and it is a center for authentic Italian food in the city.
Dominick’s is an Italian restaurant founded in 1962, and it’s a really strange place for people who aren’t used to it. It looks kind of plain on the inside and outside, and it’s not very big either. The interesting part is that they have no menu, and they don’t tell you the prices. The seating is all done in a communal style. You don’t get a check either, and everything is paid in cash. You pretty much go in, the waiter names a bunch of Italian dishes they can make that you choose from (or they can choose for you), and once you’re done they tell you how much it costs. It’s been like this for more than fifty years now and has no signs of changing. Basically, one has to eat at Dominick’s a few times to learn how to eat at Dominick’s. It’s also known for serving Italian food outside of the stereotypical pizza and pasta that people first think of when Italian food is mentioned. Dominick’s is known for its seafood like clams, veal dishes, and especially the artichokes. I don’t know exactly why, but everyone always talks about the artichokes.
There are plenty of Italian restaurants in New York, especially in the neighborhoods that have historically been home to a concentration of Italian immigrant families, such as Little Italy. Pretty much all of these restaurants are just Italian names with a possessive “s,” like Mario’s or Enzo’s. Dominick’s always stood out, however, and is probably the most well-known restaurant on Arthur Avenue amongst Italian-Americans. Everyone who has ever frequented the neighborhood knows it, and anyone who has been to Arthur Avenue before always wants to visit Dominick’s again whenever they come back. It is unique not only for the style of food it serves and the culture it comes from, but also for the traditions it has upheld for over fifty years.
New York City is home to all kinds of foods from many ethnicities, and as much as these different types of food may mix together, it has been and continues to be important for people of these immigrant backgrounds to preserve their culinary traditions. These culinary traditions are passed on from generation to generation, and people identify with their people by what food they eat. It is important for a place like Dominick’s to remain unchanged for as long as it has to preserve the traditions from which a large community of people derive their identity.
When it comes to Dominick’s, people are very particular about its traditions. At some point they added a single menu with prices on it in the restaurant for people to look at, and a few Arthur Avenue natives scoffed at the addition clearly meant to accommodate newcomers to this place they identify so heavily with. Everything about the restaurant, from the communal family-style seating to the cash-only policy, is a reflection of the immigrant families that have settled in this community and want to uphold their culture and traditions while living in New York City.
These days, restaurants centered around a certain ethnicity are either on the rise or not as popular anymore, depending on how you look at it. More recently, fusion-style restaurants have grown in popularity as people have experimented with the “melting pot” of cultures that exists in America and especially New York City. Still, there’s something to be said about the importance of restaurants that have historically offered an authentic culinary experience surrounding a certain ethnicity and still stand today. Dominick’s is somewhat of a landmark for the large Italian-American community in New York City and for visitors to the community such as my family as well. It has always and continues to uphold and preserve the traditions of Italians living in New York City, and is an important place for all immigrant families looking to experience their own culture while in America.
Staff, Eater. “Great Pasta, Big Portions at Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue.” Eater NY. Eater NY, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 17 May 2017.
Rubenstein, — Hal. “Dominick’s Restaurant.” NYMag.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017.
Beckwith, Tyler. “Dominick’s: A Bronx, New York Restaurant.” Thrillist. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017.