As one can imagine, parking will be scarce in and around Arthur Avenue during the next few days.
This old fashioned, Italian section of Belmont is putting its finishing touches on Christmas and other holiday traditions that draw people from all over America to appreciate and enjoy.
The vast neighborhood of Arthur Avenue and its surrounding blocks can be difficult to navigate for newcomers in general; add in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers and one can truly miss out without some proper guidance.
Fortunately for many first timers, Danielle Oteri can be of some much-needed assistance.
She runs a taste-testing tour of Arthur Avenue’s best bakeries, pastry shops, Italian delis and much more.
Naturally, she calls it the Arthur Avenue Food Tours.
While her Belmont tours run all year long, Oteri says there’s just nothing like Arthur Avenue at Christmastime.
“This is the only place left in New York City that is still authentic in true Italian tradition, especially during the holiday season,” Oteri said, calling Manhattan’s Little Italy a “corporate Disneyworld-like bland mess,” with the exception of Di Palo’s Deli.
Since her family previously owned Vincent’s Meat Market on the famed avenue since World War I, her insight on the ‘real Little Italy’ has been passed from generations.
That’s in addition to her rigorous research and study of Italian culture in the Bronx.
The tour begins at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, which has proverbially ‘decked the halls’ as far as the eye can see.
As a matter of fact, inside the market is enough panettone cake to feed the crew of a navel vessel on a trans-Atlantic voyage.
First Oteri stops at Egidio Pastry Shop on the corner of Hughes Avenue and East 187th Street.
While she explains the shop’s history since 1912 to a couple from Harrisburg, PA over fresh cappuccino and cannolis, other shoppers flock to the special Christmas section of fig cookies, roccoco, torrone, and…more panettone.
Next on the list is somewhat more savory, Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles.
Famous for his hand-crafted ravioli and other cheese-based pastas, the store’s owner Chris Borgatti is in the midst of his busy season.
“Ravioli, manicotti, and lasagna, those are some of the biggest sellers now,” he said holding fresh-made lasagna noodles in hand.
Borgatti even hands out a sauce recipe sheet to customers after ordering.
Pointing to a customer that just bought five pounds of his mouth-watering lasagna, he said, “you can’t get that much anywhere else, especially at a good price.”
As a matter of fact, that’s another reason Oteri is so fond of Arthur Avenue.
“This is also one of the last places in New York that has realistic pricing. Truly anyone of any background can shop up here and sadly, that doesn’t happen anymore around the city,” she said.
Up next is a cheese lover’s paradise by the name of Joe’s Italian Deli at 685 E. 187th Street.
Reputed for some of the best mozzarella in the city, the deli is known best by locals and FDNY members.
“Honestly, if you want to know where all the good stuff is, just follow the firefighters,” Oteri seriously joked.
The walls up and down at Joe’s are filled with Christmas baskets waiting for pickup.
Jam packed with cheeses, sauce, olive oil, quality Italian meats and more, these Christmas delicacy baskets go for an upwards of $150, and some even more.
After a few more stops, the tour returns to the festive retail market where Oteri offers old-fashioned grandma, square pizza and a chicken parmesan hero from Café Al Mercato to those who came along for the ride.
By this point in time, the market is seeing a flux of holiday shoppers from all over the Metroploitan area, Manhattan, Westchester, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
This reporter suggests that anyone still needing to get holiday shopping done on Arthur Avenue not prolong it past 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve.