Marzipan, mozzarella and music on Bensonhurst’s 18th Avenue
Mark your calendars. The avenue’s Festa di Santa Rosalia starts on Aug. 22.
There’s a retail corridor where people know what the word latticini means, where the hot new store is an old movie theater and the most glamorous building you’ll see is a church from the 1820s.
Welcome to 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, where the local shopping reflects residents’ Italian, Chinese and Polish heritages.
The neighborhood’s annual Festa di Santa Rosalia starts on Aug. 22. (Santa Rosalia is the patron saint of Palermo, by the way.) This is a good time to brush up on your knowledge of 18th Avenue shopping options, in case you decide to attend the festival, which runs through Sept. 1.
The first spot you should see on your shopping stroll is the old Walker Theater. If you take the N train to the 18th Avenue Station, you’ll wind up just steps away from the old movie house on the corner of 64th Street.
The 1920s theater was named after the mayor of that era, Jimmy Walker.
The marquee still hangs in front of the theater, which stopped showing movies in 1988. These days, the name on the marquee is Target.
Other retailers — including most recently, Annie Sez and Mandee — had been tenants of the fine old theater at 6401 18th Ave. before Target arrived in October 2017.
Prior tenants kindly left decorative friezes intact inside the theater. Target has carefully renovated them. They’re beautiful. My photo doesn’t do them justice.
This Target sells terrific toys. For instance, a $29.99 Barbie is an entomologist — it says so right on the box, so your kid will learn the correct spelling of the word. The playset includes tiny scientific equipment such as a magnifying glass that really works and miniature replicas of insects and their habitats. There’s a cocoon that flips open to reveal a butterfly.
A glamorous savings bank
Another glamorous building stands near the Target store. The former South Brooklyn Savings Bank, on the corner of 18th Avenue and 64th Street, has a fabulous stone frieze depicting an eagle over the front entrance.
The bank’s original name is carved on the building’s stone facade. Currently it’s a branch of Santander Bank.
South Brooklyn Savings Bank was founded in 1850 under a slightly different name. In 1975 it became Independence Savings Bank, a name that older-generation Brooklyn residents remember.
The most beautiful fruit that money can buy is sold on 18th Avenue — but not at a produce stand.
Marzipan oranges, lemons, apples, pears and such, which look so so so realistic, can be found at a Sicilian pasticceria. This pastry shop, which is called Villabate Alba, is located at 7001 18th Ave.
Even if your family’s not Italian, you may be familiar with marzipan desserts, which are made of finely ground almonds, egg whites and sugar. You may have bought them at various tradition-loving Brooklyn bakeries such as Carroll Gardens’ Pasticceria Monteleone, which I visited in the spring.
But more about Villabate Alba, run by third-generation members of the Alaimo family. It’s known for its cannoli. This time of year, the gelato counter draws a crowd in the evenings. The cakes, pastries and breads are all crave-worthy.
The bakery has been in business since 1979 — Anthony Alaimo shared its history in an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle a few years ago.
Lilting Italian-language music wafts over the sidewalk from a sound system at S.A.S. Italian Records at 7113 18th Ave. Of course you have to go inside and see what’s up. How can you resist?
You will find a gift shop with offerings imported from Italy.
There’s a vast collection of music — on cassette tapes and CDs — plus eye-catching $18 plates with sea creatures painted on them, religious memorabilia, pasta-makers and espresso machines.
There are kitchen gadgets, like a $12 pastry cutter whose blades are two little wheels, one with ridges to slice ravioli dough and the other a straight-edge to cut noodle or breadstick dough.
S.A.S. Italian Records, a part of the 18th Avenue retail scene since 1967, spills music out into the street.
Chinese desserts and palate-pleasing Polish food
If you need a quick snack on your stroll down this Bensonhurst retail corridor, Chinese desserts are sold at IBakery 18 Inc. at 7118 18th Ave. Tasty egg custard tarts cost $1 apiece — the same price Chinese bakeries on Sunset Park’s Eighth Avenue charge.
If you need palate-pleasing Polish food, there’s a terrific deli called Lajkonik Polski Sklep at 7722 18th Ave.
In a refrigerator case, you’ll find delicacies like just-made containers of vegetable salad for $2.99 and $4.49-per-pound pork stew. Packages of pierogi are priced at $4.49 per dozen.
There are herbal teas with all kinds of healthful purposes and more types of bottled sauerkraut than you can count. There are packaged Polish candies and cookies.
As for the name of the shop, the Lajkonik is a man dressed like a Tatar who rides a hobby horse. He is a symbol that memorializes raftsmen on the Vistula River who saved the city of Krakow from Tatar invaders in 1287.
Latticini and marinara sauce
Frank & Sal Prime Meats at 8008 18th Ave. sells salami and sausage and has a butcher’s counter in the back of the store. But it’s also a terrific place for vegetarians to shop.
The mozzarella is made in-house. In Italian-themed Brooklyn food shops, spectacular cheeses like this are what people are talking about when they say latticini, which means “dairy products.”
At Frank & Sal, a freshly-made piece of mozzarella the size of a softball is priced at $9.11.
The list of other vegetarian-friendly foods includes just-made marinara sauce that’s $5.99 for a large container, a vast selection of olives, beautiful produce and a gazillion brands of pasta from Italy.
If you weren’t raised by Italian cooks, you’ll possibly see pasta shapes that are unfamiliar to you. For instance, I found a 1.1-pound, $5.99 bag of tripoline made in Gragnano, a region where pasta dough is extruded through bronze shapes and dried in the open air.
The tripoline are strands of pasta with ridges on one side. The strands are clumped together in nests that separate when you put them in boiling water.
A country church
A piece of the countryside was fenced off nearly two centuries ago to serve as a churchyard for a congregation that has been in this area since 1677.
This snippet of countryside, with tall trees and a grassy lawn, is located at present-day 8301-8232 18th Ave. on the corner of 84th Street. It’s the setting for landmarked New Utrecht Reformed Church.
You don’t have to be interested in religion to be wowed by this Georgian Gothic-style building, which was constructed in 1828. It’s a living piece of New York history.
Its façade is partly made of stones that date back to the 1600s. They’d been used to construct the congregation’s original church, which was torn down when it was time to build a new one.
The stones had served as ballast on ships that came over from Holland in the 1600s, a Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report about the New Utrecht Reformed Church says.
New Utrecht Reformed Church’s present-day congregation spent 15 years repairing the 1820s house of worship, which was closed during that time. Religious services were held in the Parish Hall. The historic church reopened in December.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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