A Bronx Cheer from a Neighbor
Finding the Best of the Bronx, New York
By Cathie Arquilla
I live in a small town called Pelham in lower Westchester, NY, that borders the Bronx. Pelham Bay Park, the largest park in all five boroughs of New York City, is within walking distance from my house.
Best of the Bronx, NY
It is in the north-eastern Bronx, encompassing Orchard Beach, and is neighbors with City Island.
Smack dab in the middle of the Bronx is the world-renowned New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo, and Fordham University.
There are some very upscale residences and places in the Bronx, but unfortunately, outside of New York State, the Bronx has the reputation of being a rough place.
My kids would say sketchy, my parents would say tough… If they were referring to the South Bronx, just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, they’d be correct. But the South Bronx is also the birthplace of hip-hop culture and so much more.
Two World-class Bronx Spots
For the less intrepid traveler, and to stay safe, I’m recommending two undisputable, world-class, would-get-on-a-flight-for destinations in the Bronx–The New York Botanical Garden and Arthur Avenue! And I live 20-minutes away!
When you live so close to travel destinations like these, you tend to take them for granted. I did until Covid hit.
Then, both the NYBG and Arthur Avenue became my placeholder for travel, my “travel near,” therapeutic, go-to adventure escapes.
KUSAMA at NYBG
Because it is outdoors (except for the Conservatory and the grand Library Building), the Garden welcomed visitors throughout the pandemic.
I went a lot to escape lockdown and seek calm. Like any garden, it is nature’s curation. The exhibition, constantly changing and surprising.
Right now, the NYBG is hosting an extraordinary show called KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature. I fancy myself “in the know” when it comes to renowned artists.
Yet, I admit Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama was new to me until the Garden showcased her celebrated work.
Viewing Kusama at NYBG, I suspect (ahem), is something like psychedelic tripping. You see a large-scale bejeweled reflective amoeba, a gigantic pond surfing dancing starfish sculpture, a dotted tentacled friendly alien beast that either wants to house or hug you!
Kusama is known for her infinity rooms. The Garden does a great job of safely allowing visitors to see her signature dotted reflective pumpkins that seemingly surround you and go on forever.
The entire Kusama spectacle is in a loving relationship with the plants, trees, sky, and earth that is the NYBG. This is not to say that the NYBG does not deliver at other times.
It absolutely does, but if you can get to Kusama, which ends October 31st, do! Your heart and head will spark joy!
Again, with or without Kusama, the NYBG should still be on your New York City bucket list. It is the most comprehensive botanical garden in the world. Visitors enjoy music, dance, poetry, and lectures in this 250-acre verdant landscape.
A field trip to the NYBG is always a favorite for New York school-age kids. Any child or child at heart visiting will be delighted by garden topiaries and hands-on plant learning.
Little Italy in the Bronx
Follow up NYBG with a visit to one of the most authentic Italian neighborhoods in the country, Arthur Avenue–a 6-minute drive, 18-minute walk, from the Garden.
Pelham is no stranger to first and second-generation Italians, so I got my “go-to” list from my neighbors, the Pintauros and Troianos. However, what is considered the best in one family, may not be for another. And they will go to the mattresses to defend their Arthur Avenue opinions, including where to park!
The Arquilla Arthur Avenue Short List
Here is my list of stores and restaurants both recommended and that I personally love. My last name is Arquilla, and my Grandma Rose from Abruzzi would approve.
Teitel Brothers: A floor-to-ceiling Italian gourmet product paradise! It has been in the exact location and family for over 100 years. Notice the inlaid Jewish star at the foot of the entrance. This was installed in the 1930s in solidarity with Jews suffering in Europe at the time.
It proudly labels the business as Jewish-owned. Both wholesale and retail, 95% of the products are imported from Italy. Try the Sardinian olive oil, and unparalleled parmigiana Romana, and everything else for that matter!
Casa Della Mozzarella: The name says it all.
Madonia Brothers Bakery: Don’t even try to choose between the olive bread and the prosciutto bread. Get both. The taralli, pepper and fennel crackers in the shape of little figure eights or circles are crunch-tastic.
Arthur Avenue Retail Market: This deserves a better name! Here, many vendors are under one skylight roof, and it feels like a neighborhood market in Testaccio, Rome.
From butcher to baker, to cigar maker, it IS little Italy, the Bronx. We like Mike’s Deli (back right) for ridiculously lavish and huge deli subs.
As for delicious Italian restaurants on Arthur Avenue, everyone has their favorite. Especially folks from Pelham, but standouts are: Trattoria Tra Di Noi, Roberto’s, and Zero Otto Nove.
NOT a Movie!
Cue the Godfather music, and you’re a bit player in a Coppola movie. BUT this is not a movie. The food is the real deal, authentic, fresh, current, and outstanding.
Tra Di Noi: For me, Trattoria Tra Di Noi is all about a long, satisfying lunch, with ladies who lunch, (and gossip) or a sexy late lunch, party of two.
Tra di noi means between us and it feels that way too. Red check tablecloths, oversized portrait murals, of opera stars no less, set the stage. The food is the performance and it is bravissimo.
Daily Specials at Roberto’s
Roberto’s: Try the daily specials. These are determined in the morning after the shopping is done. When they have them, I enjoy the soft shell crabs–lots of garlic, lemon, and butter. Eh, what’s not to like!?
The fresh pasta in cartoccio–pasta cooked in tin foil, gets no words, just sighs of satisfaction from my husband.
Zero Otto Nove: Get the wood-burning brick oven pizza for sure and fancy it up with a cocktail. Zero Otto Nove has a bar any paisan would love.
Sit in the back patio to be transported (via trompe l’oeil painting) to the streets of Salerno. Why Salerno? Chef/owner Roberto Paciullo is a native of Salerno.
He is also the chef/owner of Roberto’s, however, the restaurants have different vibes and specialties.
As for parking, I head for Hoffman St. Parking, but taking public transportation to get to NYBG or Arthur Avenue from New York City’s Grand Central Station is an easy 20-minute train ride.
Just remember to bring a bag to carry your bread, mozzarella, cannolis, taralli, ravioli, sopressata…
What’s More in the Bronx
If you have more days in your “Bronx Tale Itinerary,” consider the beloved Bronx Zoo or a tour of historic Woodlawn Cemetery where New York’s finest, both notables and known to loved ones only, are laid to rest.
City Island is worthy of its own travel story, too!