Someone reminded me today of what used to be the best bread in NYC – Zito’s. Sadly it closed its doors in 2004, after 80 years in business.
When I moved to NYC in 1986 I stumbled across Zito’s within the first 2 days, as I strolled across Bleecker Street, exploring my new city. It was a cold October day and the smell of warm bread beckoned me inside. I sampled a whole-wheat baguette and was hooked. I made the pilgrimage to Zito’s regularly for the next 18 years, weekly while I lived in NYC and then at least once a trip when visiting during the years following my departure from the best city on the planet. The thought of Zito’s brought back a flood of pleasant memories about what would become my perfect NYC day, that I repeated for many years, until Zito’s closed its doors.
My perfect outing always started with Zito’s. After purchasing a whole-wheat baguette I would walk a few doors down to my favorite lunch spot on Bleecker & Carmine. It was an Italian soup counter called the Bleecker Luncheonette. They had a soul-warming green minestrone soup that would warm your heart.
Bleecker Luncheonette changed to a full service Italian restaurant 5 years after I arrived in NYC, killing its old world charm. The pasta was still good, but I always preferred the old days when it was a family-run counter with barely enough seats to hold the old-timers during a cold rainy lunch hour.
My Zito’s journey over the years actually included four stops on a typical outing, and that outing was always best on a Tuesday. A few blocks from Zito’s and the Bleecker Luncheonette was a great storefront selling freshly made pasta, called Rafetto’s. Rafetto’s cheese & spinach ravioli, in a box of 50 was a staple dinner for my 12 years in the city. Even after moving to the West Coast, every time I would visit NYC (and still when I go back) I would pick up a few boxes of ravioli and haul them back home.
On Tuesdays it was a double bonus, when across Houston Street, Joe’s Dairy was smoking a fresh batch of buffalo mozzarella. You could smell the smoke from 2 blocks away. I would push through the smoky threshold, shuffle across the sawdust on the floor, and buy myself a soft ball of smoked cheese.
A bowl of hot minestrone soup, a loaf of whole wheat Zito’s bread, a batch of Rafetto’s cheese & spinach ravioli, and a ball of Joe’s smoked mozzarella… those were the days!