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If your summer plans include a family trip to the New York Botanical Gardens or Bronx Zoo, take a detour to Arthur Avenue before heading home or back to your hotel. Insiders consider it the real “Little Italy”. Authentic or not, the food was delicious and it’s a worthwhile detour if you’re visiting attractions in the Bronx.
How can you tell if someone’s from the Bronx? Words with “oi” such as “point” are pronounced “pernt” and the zero in the middle of 3-digit street names is dropped completely. “Take a right at 2 Ninth Street,” as directed by a cheese vendor means he’s sending you to 209th Street. It’s an important thing to know before heading to New York’s northernmost borough.
My parents met, married and had 3 children in the Bronx before relocating to the “country”. Although I still live only 25 miles away from my first home, I don’t return there often enough. In the Belmont section of the Bronx, located on Metro North’s Harlem train line or by car off the Mosholu Parkway, there’s a pair of attractions worth seeing.
Family-Friendly Bronx Attractions
New York Botanical Gardens
The New York Botanical Garden is a wonder to explore in every season. The iconic glass dome of the Enid Haupt Conservatory, in my opinion, should be as recognizable as the Empire State Building. It’s beautiful. There are over 250 acres in the Garden, including cultivated beds and borders, hothouse displays and a forest. Stroll through the Thain Family Forest and you’ll hear rushing water and birdsong, not cars honking.
The NYBG also hosts major exhibitions throughout the year that are extremely popular. The Orchid Show is the highlight of March for the winter-weary and the Holiday Train Show is another reason that New York is the ultimate destination for Christmas travel. Large scale sculptures installations change periodically. Through October 2017, massive glass displays by Dale Chihuly are drawing crowds during the day and for special nighttime illuminations.
The Bronx Zoo
Right across the street from the NYBG is the Bronx Zoo, the biggest urban zoo in the United States. Taking kids to visit is one way to introduce young eyes to the wonderful differences between our country and the rest of the world. For older children, it’s a great opportunity to talk about imperiled animal species. Perhaps there’s a budding conservationist in your family? If you’re planning a trip, keep in mind that admission is free on Wednesdays, although donations are encouraged to support the work of the zoo’s managing agency, the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Shop First; Eat Later
Whether you spend your day in the Bronx stalking tigers or sniffing peonies, you’re going to want to eat. And that’s when you head to Arthur Avenue, a little slice of heaven that’s literally right around the corner from the parks. You can walk there in about 15 minutes, but keep a firm hold on children as the roads you’ll cross are wide and busy. Uber’s an option too. Or, if you traveled by car, you can find metered street parking.
I recommend getting your shopping done before you eat to avoid the disappointment of finding the pasta shops have closed by the time you’ve finished your espresso. I bring an insulated bag with a freezer pack in it to make sure my treasures stay food safe. And don’t be afraid to ask for a taste of something before committing. I usually only purchase homemade, lightly salted mozzarella, but I got a nudge from a guy on line who encouraged me to try the Prima Donna, a Dutch cheese that’s a cross between Gruyere and Parmesan. A quick taste and a 1/2 pound of it ended up in my cooler bag.
Besides picking up cheese at Calandra’s, you’ll want to get some ravioli at Borgatti’s. They’ve been making pasta for over 80 years. And the breads, biscotti and “filled while you wait” cannoli at Madorna’s Bakery are delicious.
The Arthur Avenue Retail Market
When you are ready for your meal, you can try any of the number of red sauce restaurants that line both sides of Arthur Avenue, including Dominick’s, Pasquale’s or Enzo’s. There were long waits at all of them on my last visit and I didn’t want pizza, although the smells of crispy crust wafting out of Full Moon were tempting. Instead, based on the recommendation of the same cheese shop guy, I headed to Mike’s, located in they way back of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market.
Sit at one of the family style tables, peruse the paper menus on the table and wait patiently for a server to take your order. If you’re as lucky as me, a Yankees game will be on the tv and your table mates will provide lively conversation while you wait. I was in the mood for gnocchi, a potato pasta that we started calling pillows. At Mike’s you can order it with any sauce. I went with a traditional bolognese that I scooped up with slices of soft Italian bread. Coupled with a glass of homemade wine, it was heaven in a bowl.
Walk it Off
Of course, consuming a giant bowl of pasta didn’t stop me from getting a scoop of gelato on my way out the door. If you’re visiting with kids, they’ll probably enjoy this familiar sweet treat. And if they need to sprint off some energy before heading home, Ciccone playground is at the corner of 185th and Arthur Avenue. It’s got two large play structures.
And a bocce court. What else would you expect?
What’s your favorite pasta dish? Do you cook it at home or eat out?