I was honored to recently be able to visit the legendary Madonia Brothers Bakery on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and actually get taken into the back room by owner Peter Madonia to see where all the baking magic happens. I was thoroughly amazed not only by the interesting bread making and other large bakery equipment but the intense level of cleanliness and organization. Hundred of loaves of breads in more than a dozen varieties where lined up on large metal sheets that slipped neatly into large carts.
The actual baking is done very early in the morning so I missed a live demo but the 65-year-old former chief operating officer of The Rockefeller Foundation gave me the 411 on all the types of bread and sweets that Madonia makes. I was surprised to learn that Peter Madonia only went into the three generations old business after his brother who was running it got killed in a car crash around 13 years ago. He is obviously doing a great job as the shop is always well-stocked and is always full of customers.
The staff behind the luxurious handmade wooden counters at Madonia Brothers Bakery seem super enthusiastic to be working there and it’s wonderful to watch them fill the cannolis. Unlike other bakeries, your cannolis get filled after you make an order. This guarantees ultra-freshness. You can get them with or without powdered sugar. I got mine with sugar and after I sat down in a nearby park to eat a couple, my black wool coat was covered in white. This heavenly indulgence was certainly worth the price of me sending my coat to the dry cleaners.
While I was visiting Madonia Brothers and sampling six or seven different types of bread, the one that caught my eye the most was the onion bread. As you may have noticed, most onion bread only had little flecks of black onion on top–the Madonia Brothers’ version has lots of big chunks of sauteed onion on top and it’s anything but black. The onion is moist and mouthwatering and placed on the top center of each oblong loaf.
Yelp! readers have unanimously voted Madonia Brothers’ olive bread as their favorite and people do seem to come from near and far for it–not to mention notable restaurants in the tristate area making it their regular “table bread.” The above classic Italian round rustic loaf is also among the most popular breads sold to restaurants and regular customers. Peter Madonia told me that he can take restaurant orders for bread same day and get the orders out within a few hours depending on distance.
I got a big kick out of seeing what I call “hardcore Italian hard-to-find classics” that I grew up with like the small very hard loaves of bread above that my father and grandfather referred to as “biscotti” (although it is nothing like the sweet biscotti that is served with coffee today and is so popular at cafes around town and even Starbuck’s). My father and grandfather would soak these in water and then top them with cubed tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and fresh herbs from my grandfather’s garden in Paterson, NJ.
I was also excited to see Taralli in all sorts of flavors from garlic to plain inside the glass counters at Madonia Brothers. In Italy these are often dunked in wine but over the years I just had them before dinner kind of like a different form of a breadstick or cracker. I love these golden rings because they are super crunchy, flavorful and filling. You don’t see them so much anymore and I remember them being served at older Italian relatives’ houses when I was a kid in the 60s. The only place I have seen them in the past 20 or 30 years was at the Queen Restaurant in downtown Brooklyn by the Brooklyn Courthouse. I was so thrilled to be able to have them again at Madonia Brothers this past Sunday.
I could spend all day looking at the assorted cookies, cannolis, quiche, biscotti and breads at Madonia Brothers. This was my first visit but I think that they are going to have a customer for life in me. I noticed that their prices were at least 40 per cent lower for comparable items at gourmet emporiums such as Citarella and Dean & DeLuca in the Manhattan (and Madonia Brothers’ items are likely fresher especially since you can ask for a bread from the back if you wish).
The classic butter sprinkle cookies that I used to have growing up are here as well. The Madonia Brothers have actually only been doing the “sweet stuff” since the 60s but they excel at it. The Black And White are so soft and moist here that they would pass muster with the cast of Seinfeld and would actually even deserve to be the centerpiece of an episode if that legendary show was ever resurrected!
Let’s not forget Madonia Brothers’ super moist Rainbow Cookies which have a cakier texture than most. My nine-year-old nephew Frank went crazy went he saw these and he managed to eat six of them in five minutes despite being a rather petite kid. He urged me to try them and I was impressed with how they were so different from other Rainbow Cookies I had eaten from run-of-the-mill American bakeries. These were freshly made and not overly sweet like the ones I ate in the past. They have the most lovely hint of almond paste. The MB’s pignoli nut cookies are easily the best I have had because they are just so moist and teaming with nuts.
Madonia Brothers is located at 2348 Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. Their official site is www.madoniaarthuravenue.com. You can order off the site and have items delivered for a shipping fee anywhere in the country. That’s great news if you are not a New Yorker because once you try Madonia Brothers, it’s going to he hard to go to your local bakery for anything (especially bread)! Upon leaving Madonia Brothers Bakery last Sunday, I realized why they wound up in the stage set of the traveling tour of A Bronx Tale and why so many NYC mayors and presidential candidates have visited. You just walk in and you feel so comfortable, like you’ve been going there all your life. You’ll love not only the vast selection and quality of the baked goods but the family atmosphere as well.