As strange as this may sound, my first three visits to The Bronx were all for fitness-related reasons: a Bronx Zoo run; a 5 Borough Bike Ride; and a Merrell Mud Run. My most recent adventure to The Bronx, however, was inspired by a purely pleasurable reason: to eat Italian food.
Most people associate Manhattan's Mulberry Street with Little Italy. There you can certainly experience the few remaining streets of the old Italian immigrant neighborhood, replete in its Italian restaurants, gelato stands, and souvenir vendors, but it feels more like an overcrowded theme park visit. For a real Italian neighborhood adventure with goodies to bring home and cook, then the trek out to Arthur Avenue is well worth it.
My adventure began with a 1.5 hour subway ride, which wound its way through more culturally diverse neighborhoods than the World Showcase at Epcot Center by starting from lower lower Brooklyn [my Italian neighborhood] all the way up to Fordham Road in The Bronx. Unfortunately, one un-Disney like moment involved observing a purse snatching and the victim's perfectly executed efforts at self-defense.
The colorful walk from Fordham Road to Arthur Avenue makes it glaringly obvious you are not in Brooklyn anymore. On Fordham University's Rose Hill campus, solemn Revival Gothic architecture stands in contrast to the verdant nearby sites of the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. In a few short walking minutes, though, the Belmont section of The Bronx offers an Italian eating mecca at Arthur Avenue and about 187th Street.
The best souvenirs for those who cook come from the numerous stores sprinkled in between restaurants and cafes. All types of fresh seafood are available [this is a popular location to buy ingredients for the Feast of the Seven Fishes], and you can even indulge that craving for fresh oysters served at a stand-up sidewalk counter outside the store!
The markets sell giant cans of San Marzano tomatoes and arborio rice in large bags at incredibly low prices. [See photos above]
The bakeries display an unbelievable array of every type of Italian cookie, including my favorite pignoli cookies and biscotti, in addition to the freshly baked bread with aromas guaranteed to revisit you in your dreams. Some of the fresh produce is even sold straight from the van!
Bring a cooler, cash, and an appetite. Arthur Avenue will supply the rest.