By Renee Cho

Little Italy in the Bronx

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After a day at the Bronx Botanical Garden or the Bronx Zoo, you might be looking for a place to pick up a few groceries or have a good dinner before heading home. Travel only a few minutes southwest to Arthur Avenue and 186th Street, the "Little Italy of the Bronx". You might be familiar with Arthur Avenue from Arthur Avenue Bread, the delicious chewy peasant bread for which this area is famous. But Arthur Avenue itself is charming to explore, with its many family-run stores, bakeries and restaurants.

The most exciting discovery we made was the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, a cavernous arena with dozens of vendors of fresh vegetables and fruits such as figs, tomatoes, peppers, fennel and other specialties used in Italian cooking. There is Mike's Deli, which is chock-full of Italian cured meats, cheeses and olives. Other vendors offer Italian pottery and cookware, drinks, olive oil, pasta, plants and flowers, pastries and more. Wandering from booth to booth, hearing the sounds of spoken Italian, it really feels as if you're in a marketplace in Italy.

Along the avenue are many small stores selling cheese, bread, dried beans, meats, seafood and other Italian delicacies. It's fun just to walk up and down and poke your nose inside. On a nearby street, we discovered Addeo Bakers, where we bought some breads and Italian cookies.

At dinnertime, we found two crowded restaurants with authentic Italian cooking, Dominick's and Roberto's. I'm sure we would have had a terrific meal at either place, but we ended up at Roberto's because the wait was shorter. Our dinner was reminiscent of dining in Italy, with grilled octopus and antipasto for starters, mozzarella and basil, zuppe di pesce, penne with vodka sauce, pasta with prosciutto, and more. For the faint-hearted, there's an Arthur Avenue McDonald's down the street, but that would defeat the purpose of visiting this great neighborhood.

If you yearn for Italian products but just can't make it to Arthur Avenue, a new website - www.arthuravespecialties.com - may satisfy your cravings. It's the brainchild of Frank Maselli, a Yonkers resident. If you place your order for meats, cheeses, pasta, olives, bread or seafood, he will personally visit the Arthur Avenue area, make the best selection, and ship it to you the next day.

Where to find it Arthur Avenue Retail Market, 2344 Arthur Avenue. Open 7am-6pm daily.

Mike's Deli, 2344 Arthur Avenue, (718) 295-5033.

Addeo Bakers, 2352 Arthur Avenue, (718) 367-8888.

Arthur Avenue Bakery, 2413 Arthur Avenue, (718) 365-8860.

Dominick's, 2335 Arthur Avenue, (718) 733-2807.

Roberto's, 632 Crescent Avenue (186th Street and Belmont Avenue), (718) 733-9503.

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