Bronx Broccoli Rabe From a Brother From Corona

11 Oct

Fratelli Pizza Café
404 Hunts Point Ave

It was a clear Tuesday evening as I, accompanied by Zio, headed toward the Hunts Point Market where the Fratelli Pizza Café, our destination for the night, was located.  Traffic was backed up on the Willets Avenue Bridge, most heading north towards the Major Deegan and Yankee Stadium where the Yankees were about to begin their game. We were heading east and once we found ourselves under Bruckner Boulevard, the traffic completely vanished leaving us, literally, the lone vehicle on the road. The spooky feeling became almost post-apocalyptic as we turned onto Leggett Avenue, passing chop shops and auto glass and tire repair shops, the road still practically barren.

Turning onto Hunts Point Avenue, there was a bit of activity around an adult entertainment establishment called Mr. Wedge and soon after Hunts Point Avenue became a one way street, we located our destination. We could hear a pounding bass beat coming from the Hunts Point Triangle, another adult entertainment establishment located right next to the Fratelli Pizza Café.*  A few of the “entertainers” and their clients were sitting in a make-shift café outside of the club sipping beers from a bottle and eying Zio and I curiously.

Pre or post pizza entertainment at Mr. Wedge.

The pizzeria was small, just a few tables and, since it was part of the “triangle” at the end of Hunts Point Ave, narrow with an entrance on the other side of the building. There were a variety of pizzas on display behind the counter that looked old and tired, including one, to my horror, with pineapple. Despite my best efforts to disguise it, there was no doubt that my disappointment was obvious. The proprietor, noting the look on my face asked if he could help us. I told him we were waiting for others.

The pineapple and bacon slice

I chose Fratelli’s because I had heard that they were famous for their broccoli rabe pizza as well as their sautéed version, made fresh and supplied by the nearby Hunts Point Market. Scanning the drab offerings behind the counter, there was no sign of what I and many Italian-Americans consider absolutely essential comfort food. Broccoli rabe’s appeal, with its bittersweet flavor, especially combined with garlic, olive oil, and crushed red pepper, goes directly to my nerve center immediately stirring a rare combination of feelings including but not limited to pure pleasure, child-like happiness and a primal sense of contentment.

I asked the proprietor, who introduced himself as “Joe,” if broccoli rabe was available. He assured me that it was. I inquired how he prepared it on the pizza. He showed me a square pie, adorned only with tomato sauce where cheese and broccoli rabe would be added he called a “Grandma.”

While we were conversing, one of the tightly-clothed “entertainers” entered from next door, and ordered a hero. I noticed a picture of Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack taped onto the plastic counter along with a small photograph of  writer,  television personality, and former chef, Anthony Bourdain.

“Bourdain says we have the best garlic knots he’s ever had,” Joe proclaimed proudly adding that a segment on Fratelli’s broccoli rabe was filmed by Bourdain and his crew for his Travel Channel program, No Reservations.

Tony and two of the “brothers.” Joe on his far left.

Rick arrived soon after, and giving the high-heeled entertainer wide berth, also examined the pies on display, taking time, I noticed, to dwell on the unfortunate pineapple slice.

Our group, collectively, could be considered pizza snobs. We had been to many of the Tri-State area’s greats; Patsy’s in Harlem, Totonno’s in Coney Island, Grimaldi’s near the Brooklyn Bridge, Sal’s in Mamaroneck, and, of course, the remarkable DiFara, so our standards were high. Maybe we were expecting too much from a 24-hour pizzeria situated next to a strip joint.

Joe took me around to the other entrance to show me the accolades Fratelli’s received from the Village Voice including “Best Broccoli Rabe.” Eugene and Gerry, Mike from Yonkers being conspicuously absent, arrived and we told Joe to go ahead with making a Grandma pie with broccoli rabe.

“Are you connected with the Fratelli’s on Eastchester Road,” Eugene asked Joe.

Joe shook his head.

“The Fratelli’s in New Rochelle?”

Again, Joe responded in the negative. “There are a lot of Fratelli’s around. I’m from Corona.”

We told Joe from Corona to go ahead and make us a Grandma pie with broccoli rabe, a plate of sautéed broccoli rabe, and some of those Bourdain-praised garlic knots. While we waited, Joe brought us out the Fratelli’s version of an amuse bouche of what he called a “Christina” pie.

“This is also one of my most popular,” he said. The “Christina” was a square pie with tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes and topped with fresh mozzarella. The display version he showed me was not impressive, but after reheating was, remarkably, brought back to delicious life; the crust nicely charred, the tomatoes flavorful and the cheese still fresh. Maybe our first visual impressions were wrong.

The Grandma pie minus the broccoli rabe.

The Grandma pie came out, steam flowing from the huge square pie overflowing with broccoli rabe. A few moments later, Joe brought out a aluminum take-out dish with the sautéed broccoli rabe and a plate of garlic knots.

“What you do,” Joe from Corona explained. “is slit open the garlic knots and slather some of that broccoli rabe inside making a kinda garlic knots broccoli rabe sandwich.”

We took his advice and the tender, perfectly sautéed broccoli rabe worked magnificently with the “best garlic knots ever.” Our enthusiasm was evident in the way we were devouring mounds of the greens with absolutely no worries about potential next day consequences from all that roughage.

“When the woman from Channel 7 was here,” Joe said, casually dropping another television plug for his establishment, “she asked how I made the broccoli rabe. I said that’ if I told her, I would have to kill her.’ I can’t believe she actually used that.”

After a few forced chuckles, we resumed eating, Two slices of the Grandma pie remained along with a few of the dregs of the sautéed broccoli rabe and a couple of garlic knots. “I’m done,” Zio groaned.

Bronx broccoli rabe

I couldn’t eat anymore nor could Rick. Gerry and Eugene, sitting at another table shrugged, their eyes on the remains.

“Well if they’re not gonna eat it. . . .”  Eugene said as he and Gerry scooped up the last two Grandma slices without any hesitation.

From behind the counter, Joe lifted up a tray that held a  Sicilian pie and showed it to us. “I make my Sicilian differently than other places. I put the cheese under the sauce. People come from all over for it.”

We nodded. He no longer had to work us. We were convinced.

*The “Hunt’s Point Triangle” has since our last visit, closed and Fratelli’s has expanded, taking over the entertainers dance space.

5 Responses to “Bronx Broccoli Rabe From a Brother From Corona”

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  1. Adventures in Chow City: The First Decade « Fried Neck Bones…and some home fries - March 27, 2012

    […] Broccoli rabe pizza, the choice meal of strippers. Bronx Broccoli Rabe From a Brother From Corona […]

  2. Today’s Slice: Artichoke (and Spinach) Pizza | Fried Neck Bones...and some home fries - April 12, 2013

    […] Despite my pizza purist upbringing, I’ve now learned to not totally disqualify a slice that is excessively decorated. I am a big fan of the “salad” pizza if done right. Louie & Ernie’s “white” slice is a Hall of Famer, as is the broccoli rabe pizza from Fratelli’s on Hunt’s Point (see A Slice of Ernie Ottuso Square and Bronx Broccoli Rabe From a Brother From Corona respectively). […]

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