NEW YORK (AP) — A visit to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx means one thing: Italian food.
Fresh mozzarella, handmade pasta and hero sandwiches loaded with ham, tomatoes, peppers and cheese — it's all here in the delis, restaurants, shops, cafes and bakeries along Arthur Avenue and East 187th Street.
Some of the best-known places include Tino's Deli, Madonia Brothers Bakery and an old-school, family-style restaurant called Dominick's. But there are many other places to sample the neighborhood's bounty. Stop in at the DeLillo Pasticceria cafe, where display shelves overflow with cookies and pastries, for a sublime cappuccino and cannoli. Check out Borgatti's pasta store, where you can watch egg noodles being made on the spot. Borgatti's take-home specialties include fettucine made from squid ink and ravioli.
A must on any trip to the neighborhood is the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. This indoor venue is home to a shop where cigars are rolled by hand, a produce market, a T-shirt souvenir store, and Mike's Deli, a favorite stop among politicians and celebrities. In early April, Ohio Gov. John Kasich was photographed stuffing his face at Mike's, tearing into sandwiches and several helpings of spaghetti while stumping for votes in the New York Republican presidential primary. A scrapbook on display at the deli shows photos of other famous visitors — including Robert DeNiro and Hillary Clinton — chowing down and posing with enormous hunks of cheese and whole salamis.
David Greco, whose father founded Mike's Deli, recommends the Michelangelo hero, with prosciutto and heavenly fresh mozzarella, as one of the best things on the menu. Just be careful to keep the seeded top of the sandwich roll face up. If you don't, Greco will come over and say, "Your bread's upside down. It's bad luck."
Arthur Avenue is located in the Belmont section of the Bronx. Belmont bills itself as the "real" Little Italy, contending that it is a more vibrant Italian-American community than Manhattan's Little Italy, which has shrunk in recent decades to just a few blocks.
But while the Italian flavor of Belmont's culture and retailers remains strong, the population of Italian-American families has declined over the decades. The local mix now includes Latinos, Albanians and students from nearby Fordham University. Yet you can still find old women chatting away in Italian in the back row of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, surrounded by marble columns, stained glass windows and statues of the Madonna.
And while it's not unusual to find foodies and tourists — including visitors from Italy — on Arthur Avenue, there's a certain type of shopper that Greco likes the best. "My favorite customers," he says, "are the grandmas."
If You Go...
ARTHUR AVENUE: Located in the Belmont section of the Bronx; http://www.arthuravenuebronx.com and http://www.bronxlittleitaly.com/ . Mike's Deli is located inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, 2344 Arthur Ave., http://www.arthuravenue.com . DeLillo cafe, 610 E. 187th St. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 627 E. 187th St. Borgatti's pasta shop, 632 E. 187th St.
GETTING THERE: Directions at http://www.arthuravenuebronx.com/directions/ . The Arthur Avenue retail market is just under a mile from the B or D subway line's Fordham Road station. Or take Metro North Railroad from Grand Central in Manhattan to the Fordham station in the Bronx and walk about a half-mile to the market.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden.