If you’re in the neighborhood, having planned a day of cultural errands that include the New York Botanical Garden or the Bronx Zoo, you’ll want to add Arthur Avenue Retail Market to the agenda. An area not yet revamped and pushed into the 21st century, Arthur Avenue still has tables of old men dining in front of establishments that aren’t quite restaurants, fish markets spill out into the sidewalk, and its butchers hang rabbits from meat hooks. Here, street side noises collide with Old-World melodies, and the resulting din is as palpable as it is impossible to place.
Leaving the grid, after all, is about getting a healthy dose of disorientation.
The Bronx’s Italian enclave is isolated by design (it takes 20 minutes to walk to the nearest subway) and self-satisfied by nature. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, a hub of storied institutions and uncommon characters. Inside, shop keepers play card games at their sales counters, humidors store cigars behind neon Al Capones, and nearby shelves sag under the weight of vinegar, specialty foods, and gallon-sized tins of olive oil.
Toward the early part of the afternoon, you’ll probably find tables of elderly couples socializing, their circle obscured by piles of shopping bags; but by evening, the crowd grows more animated. It’s almost musical how the butchers at Mike’s Deli (2344 Arthur Ave, 718.295.5033, arthuravenue.com) orchestrate the chaos from behind a curtain of hanging meats. Third-generation owner David Grecco was recently declared the Eggplant Parmigiana Champion on Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay.
When it’s time for a little fresh air, pull up a stool at the sidewalk seafood bar at Randazzo’s Fish Market (2327 Arthur Ave, 718.367.4139). They serve clams and Blue Point oysters on a half shell ($1 per shuck) with fresh lemon and at least a half-dozen hot sauces to choose from. If you linger, you’re likely to get some friendly advice at no extra charge from locals who insist “oysters are good for the energy.” Then take some gelato to the garden for bocce. You’ve never had a picnic shopping experience like this one.
How to get there: Belmont’s Little Italy is accessible via MTA on Bronx-bound B and D trains. Exit 182-183 Streets. You can also take Metro North and get off at Fordham. (Mike’s Deli at Arthur Avenue Market, 2344 Arthur Ave., Bronx, 718.295.5033, arthuravenue.com)