Italian Eats at Arthur Avenue, beautiful rose gardens, and even a holiday train exhibit
Never been to the Bronx? Chances are that your first foray to this wildly under-appreciated borough will be to visit the beautiful New York Botanical Garden or to chow down on Italian specialties at the historic home of pasta, Arthur Avenue. If that's the case, I say go for it, and then come back again and again because there truly is an endless supply of unique communities and their histories to be explored in this amazingly diverse borough.
While the South Bronx neighborhood of Belmont has its roots in a strong Italian community, the neighborhood (much like the rest of the Bronx) is home to an ever-changing mix of immigrant populations from all over the place. Today, Belmont is made up of mostly Puerto Rican and Albanian immigrants plus the many Fordham University students from across the road. In fact, don't be surprised if you see restaurants that simultaneously serve Chicken Tikka and Albanian roasted peppers.
The Grand Concourse
Hop off the B/D subway at Fordham Road and you're thrust into the thick of the Grand Concourse, a massive street surrounded at its crossing with Fordham Road by vendors, street carts, crowded shop windows, and one of the most diverse cross sections of people you'll ever see. Modeled after the Champs Elysee during the height of the City Beautiful movement, this artery connecting the Bronx to Manhattan is truly a bustling center of activity.
Arthur Avenue Streets and Markets
Walk past Fordham University and head down Arthur Avenue to witness a world that seems as if it has almost gone, a community founded on Italian culture and standing proudly as one of America's last great Little Italys. From pasta shops to cheese mongers to butchers and mom and pop restaurants, you can find pretty much anything you want here - and certainly at half the price of gourmet Manhattan counterparts. The great folks at Serious Eats did an excellent review of all the best spots to buy Italian ingredients here.
Come hungry and bring a good shopping bag, because there's no way you're leaving without some perishable souvenirs.
Arthur Avenue Retail Market
Stop by this covered market bazaar for fresh sopresatta sandwiches, buckets of olives, endless cases of cheese, beautiful tins of olive oil, and even some cigar rolling. All not to mention the famous Arthur Avenue Deli, famously featured on "Throwdown" with Bobby Flay.
How did this home of Mediterranean delights come to be, you ask? Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had a vision to construct covered markets to house some of the more than 50,000 pushcart vendors that operated on the sidewalks of 1930's New York City. And thus, Arthur Avenue Retail Market was constructed in 1940 with over 117 stalls for vendors and merchants.
Did I mention those beautiful olive oil tins? Nothing beats 'em.
How about that cigar rolling, folks?
Lunchtime: Italian restaurants galore
Its hard to go wrong with the selection here. Wander down Arthur Avenue until you find a spot that smells like garlic and has a line, and you'll know you've arrived. We ate at Zero Otto Nove which was good (minus slightly too thickly cut pasta) but I'd be curious to try some of the many other options here as well.
Wander through this beautiful campus and its grounds on your way from stuffing yourself with carb goodness at Arthur Avenue to walking some of that off at the New York Botanical Gardens.
The New York Botanical Gardens in summer...
These gardens are absolutely stunning, no matter what time of year. Come in the summer for the rose garden festival (as we did below) or stop by in the winter for the famous holiday train exhibit (also loved this one!). Young, old, lazy, adventurous - come all. You can either walk the massive grounds on foot or hop aboard a charming trolley that will narrate your whole adventure through this sprawling, absolutely massive garden.
... and in winter!
The magical yearly holiday train exhibit is a site to see whether you're 5, 25, or 85. This fully functioning track runs across bridges and through tunnels in the stunning setting of the garden conservatory. All the buildings along the track are unique replicas of NYC landmarks, all entirely made out of plant matter. Biodegradable AND festive, my friends. (Not to mention insanely detailed and artistically impressive)
Mapping your trip