Morris Park, a family-oriented neighborhood just east of the Bronx Zoo and south of Pelham Parkway, is more than meets the eye.
While it’s not the most scenic area to explore, with bodegas, barbershops and hardware stores lining its commercial streets, you can find quite a few gems worthy of your time.
The once-Italian neighborhood, which is now home to a large Latino population, has mom-and-pop bakeries, halal grocery stores and highly rated eateries that are much beloved by its residents.
So whether you find yourself there on business or want to expand your trip to the zoo into a day in the Bronx, you won’t have to go far to find something to do.
Treat yourself at Conti’s Pastry Shoppe
Do not miss out on Conti’s. Entering the near-century-old bakery at 786 Morris Park Ave. is like stepping back in time to simpler days. The shop’s original tin ceiling, wooden walls, terrazzo floors and marble soda fountain — and most of all its confections — welcome you as you step inside.
If you stop by in the morning, we suggest you order Conti’s delicious oatmeal and top it with fruit, brown sugar and a variety of nuts, or order a muffin (apple crumb, banana nut, double chocolate chip and more), a bagel or a croissant with Nutella — all which range in price from $1 to $5. Take your order to the back, where plush seats await.
It might be early, but don’t leave before perusing the dessert counter, where you’ll find a rainbow of sweets from Italian cookies and Linzer cookies to pieces of cake and eclairs.
The Linzer cookies are delicate and filled with a healthy helping of jam — we checked.
Cool off or zone out at River Park
Stop and see the Bronx River and a striking waterfall that cascades over a dam within River Park, which is south of the Bronx Zoo. While it’s on the way to Morris Park, this is a nice park to sit and contemplate as the waterfall’s gentle wind cools you. It’s a favorite for grilling out, too.
The dam itself was built in the late 19th century to provide power to a mill that used to be on the Bronx River’s west side, according to bronxriver.org.
See what’s growing at River Garden
Across the road at 1086 E. 180th St., corn, tomatoes, lettuce and many more veggies, fruits and herbs grow across an 18,000-square-foot community garden run by GreenThumb, an urban gardening program. If you go in on Wednesdays and Saturdays (between noon and 8 p.m.), you can also check out its bee colony and meet a volunteer.
Check out the city’s most beautiful subway station
Amid the vinyl and brick-sided houses, one building stands out. The East 180th Street Station for the number 2 and 5 trains is like an import from Italy. Its stucco walls, red clay roof, and arched entryways deserve a gander.
Built in 1912, the national landmark was originally the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway administration building, but the railway went out of business in the 1930s and it has only housed the subway since, according to the New York Times.
When you see it, look for the figure of Mercury, the god of travel, under the clock on the building’s facade.
Grab lunch at La Masa or dinner at Patricia’s
By now, you’ve probably worked up an appetite, so we suggest stopping in at La Masa, a Colombian eatery at 1000 Morris Park Ave. that has "famous homemade empanadas," among other Latin favorites.
For $10, you can choose four empanadas, corn or flour, for $10. If you choose the corn dough, flavors include chicken, beef, cilantro lime chicken, pork, shrimp salteados and sausage and peppers. The flour dough offers many more choices, including Nutella and pizza flavors. Wash it all down with a passion fruit frozen margarita.
La Masa is open for lunch between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the week, brunch on the weekends between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and dinner.
If you’re in the mood to take advantage of the authentic Italian the neighborhood boasts about, head to Patricia’s at 1082 Morris Park Ave.
Patricia’s has been known for its Neapolitan-style pies for about three decades. The restaurant, which features white tablecloths, a crystal chandelier and smiling waiters, offers a romantic yet homey setting to scarf down Italian favorites.
If you ask for a table in the back, you can watch cooks prepare your pizza through the glass wall partitioning the restaurant and kitchen.
Former State Sen. Jeff Klein is a regular, and told us he likes his pizza with anchovies and sausage.
Grab a drink and shoot some pool
Before you head home, it’d be a shame if you didn’t check out Morris Park’s nightlife. Head over to Kirvens at 736 Lydig Ave. for a drink at this fairly new bar that features a downtown Brooklyn vibe seen in its reclaimed wood bar, walls of art and hanging lights. Locals rave about its beer selection, its live music nights and themed specials.
We also suggest hitting up the billiards for a night of laid-back fun. Park Billiards Café & Sports Bar a little farther north and east at 2020 White Plains Rd. has 31 Brunswick tournament tables. It’s $12 an hour Thursday through Sunday nights (and $2 for each additional person), $8 an hour during the day, and $10 an hour during the week after 6 p.m.
Park Billiards also has a 30-foot bar that serves a full menu (small plates, burgers, pizza) and has a happy hour from 5 to 8 p.m. every day.
How to get there:
Subway — 5 train to Morris Park and Pelham Parkway stops; 2 train to Pelham Parkway; and 6 train to Buhre Avenue
Bus — Bx21 on Morris Park Avenue; Bx31 on Williamsbridge Road; BxM10 Express on Morris Park Avenue; and Bx12 Select Bus Service on Pelham Parkway