Everything Old is New Again at Ann & Tony’s
Ann & Tony’s Italian Restaurant is home-grown Bronx history. Since 1927, the family-run restaurant has had its fair share of Christmases on Arthur Avenue. Ninety of them, to be exact.
“Christmas time, I remember it just being a party all of December,” recalls Ralph Napolitano Jr., who runs his great-grandfather’s business with his older brother Tony, the head chef. “Everything was decorated, the bar was flowing, everybody was drinking, Christmas music playing and everybody just always having a good time.”
The Napolitano brothers keep those memories alive with two annual Christmas parties held every December for their customers. “What we do is we have an oldies band play,” explains Ralph. “Everybody puts on a Santa suit and serves and we try to bring back to that Christmas I remember when we were kids.”
The brothers serve their grandmother’s classic dishes. Rumor has it that second-generation Ann Napolitano, their grandmother, prepared those dishes the night of her wedding. “She cooked my grandfather’s favorite dishes with his favorite ingredients,” says Ralph. She paired chicken, veal and shrimp with prosciutto, artichoke hearts, mozzarella, olives and mushrooms in a white wine sauce. “They got married in Mt. Carmel church and held the reception at the restaurant,” further details Ralph. The same church that still stands today on E. 188th St, just a few blocks down from the restaurant.
Ann and Tony’s wedding portrait still hangs in the restaurant, a source of pride for a family obsessed with their mission.
“One of the many reasons [my great-grandparents] opened the restaurant was because you would always have a place to go and you always have something to eat,” says Ralph. “That’s why this restaurant is more than just a dish of food. It’s a set of principals values and traditions.”
Ralph and Tony take time to reflect on those values on Christmas day when they close the restaurant and host a private celebration. “We get Ralph’s family, my family, we bring some friends down,” says Tony. “Just us, cooking and drinking and eating.”
Starting with the hot and cold antipasto - shrimp and calamari with artichoke and eggplant, mozzarella and prosciutto. The dinner goes on for five more courses.
“Most people think that after the appetizers the meal is over,” says Tony as he laughs. Apparently, that’s not even the half of it. After antipasto, the Napolitano’s feast on traditional Italian-American pasta dishes, like spaghetti or rigatoni served with meatballs or Italian sausage. After the Italian food courses are over, they serve up more traditional turkey and trimmings. “Don’t even start with the desserts,” he says.
“We have 30 people over but we can feed an army of 100,” explains Tony. “It’s ridiculous, but I'd rather have more than less.”
“How lucky could you possibly be,” says Ralph with his kids and Tony’s kids laughing at the table behind him. “Every Saturday and Sunday I come here and a whole slew of people come from all around. Come to see us, hang out with us. Strangers we never met. I get to meet them, and I get to know their names. I get to learn who they are. Why would you want to give that up?”
For Napolitano brothers, there doesn’t seem to be a good answer to that question. Ann & Tony’s looks like it’s going to be around for many more Christmases to come.
Ann & Tony’s is located at 2407 Arthur Avenue on the corner of E 188th Street in the Belmont neighborhood. Their show Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business is available on demand on CNBC.