Sicilian pizza awaits you at L&B Spumoni Gardens.
BATH BEACH — Call it the Pizza Trail.
You can walk from the Bay Ridge shoreline to popular L&B Spumoni Gardens in Gravesend on a single road: 86th Street.
On this approximately five-mile trek, you’ll see a slice of southern Brooklyn. The street cuts through Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, then serves as the dividing line between Bensonhurst and Bath Beach and after that heads into Gravesend — and to the metal picnic tables outside L&B Spumoni Gardens.
The real estate you’ll find along the way is a vivid mix of suburban homes on large lawns, 20th-century rowhouses with garages and porches, fine old apartment buildings and storefronts thronging with customers.
The famous pizzeria that’s your ultimate destination has been in business since 1939. It started out as a factory that made spumoni, which is a type of gelato. (I’ll give you more details about this dessert when I get to L&B.)
Before you start your stroll, here’s what you need to know about the pizza at L&B. Yes, Neapolitan-style round pies and triangular slices are available. But you’re walking five miles to have a quintessential Brooklyn Experience, so you really should order the pizza squares for which L&B is famous.
They’re topped by red sauce, with layers of cheese underneath and big, bread-like crust on the bottom. Veteran food critic Robert Sietsema says this type of pizza with the cheese below the sauce is sometimes called “the upside down Sicilian style.”
It would be a good idea to go there soon, while the weather is still warm enough for you to sit outside. But if you decide you want to eat there when the weather’s cold, fear not. L&B has a glassed-in porch and indoor dining room.
If you don’t live in Bay Ridge, you might want to take the NYC Ferry to the neighborhood stop and stroll down Shore Road to get to the spot where 86th Street begins. The ferry service launched in June 2017.
The houses on Shore Road are an eyeful in the best possible way. Many are perched on hilly lawns.
The start of 86th Street is at the corner of Shore Road.
The houses on the first block of 86th Street between Shore Road and Narrows Avenue are big and beautiful, with ample lawns. On the next several blocks after that, the stand-alone houses vary in size from mansions to homes that look rather small on their street-facing sides but stretch way, way into their deep lots, so they’re really big.
Everybody’s still got green lawns, though it’s autumn. The day of my walk, the leaves on the trees were still green, which was lovely. Soon, they’ll change to their fall colors, which will look wonderful too.
Two big, old-fashioned houses at 130 86th St. and 132 86th St. looked especially pretty.
Um, drag racing?
Since you’re doing this walk in the daytime, these blocks of 86th Street near the shoreline are tranquil and charming. Nighttime is a different story. Drag racing is a problem after dark. Yes. Drag racing. No. I’m not kidding.
But the only thing the city Department of Transportation has been willing to do is paint median-strip lines instead of building concrete pedestrian islands, my colleague Meaghan McGoldrick recently reported.
Anyway. Since it’s daytime and you can enjoy the scenery without the roar of illegal drag racers, stop for a moment to look at 8524 Ridge Boulevard, which is on the corner of 86th Street.
The red-brick mansion stands on a hill with tremendous trees. City Buildings Department records suggest that the house was built in 1926 and a renovation was completed just over a decade ago.
Time for a coffee break
There’s one more quiet residential block — the one between Ridge Boulevard and Third Avenue — before 86th Street becomes a busy retail corridor.
On this quiet block, you’ll see barrel-shaped limestone houses that are probably a century old.
There’s all kinds of great stuff on the retail blocks. Most notably, Century 21, the famous department store with discounted designer brands, is at 472 86th St. The salesclerks don’t allow photos to be taken inside the store, so I can’t show you the vintage Louis Vuitton handbags or the racks of beautiful clothes.
Since you’re walking five miles, surely you’ll want a cup of coffee at some point. There are a zillion excellent spots to pick one up.
I stopped at Mocha Mocha Coffee at 8602 Fourth Ave. on the corner of 86th Street.
They make crepes and the pistachio baklava is really good. They serve loose-leaf Turkish tea in a carafe with a tiny hourglass beside it so you’ll know how long to let the tea steep.
The busy retail blocks continue until the corner of Gatling Place, where 86th Street passes over the Gowanus Expressway. You can stand on the sidewalk and watch the rivers of traffic flowing on the highway down below.
Lovely Dyker Heights houses
After you cross busy Seventh Avenue, you’re in Dyker Heights.
On the south side of 86th Street between Seventh and 14th avenues, you’ll find Dyker Beach Park, which includes a vast golf course. The north side of the street is lined with houses.
Come back another day for a separate stroll around Dyker Heights. You’ve probably come here to see the neighborhood’s famous holiday lights. The suburban-style houses and big lawns are eye-catching in the daylight, without any yuletide decorations.
One of the many lovely neighborhood homes you can see without detouring from your walk to Gravesend is at 1265 86th St. It has a pointy-roofed conical turret and a front lawn full of tremendous trees.
Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, side by side
When you cross 14th Avenue, you’re in Bensonhurst or Bath Beach, depending on which side of 86th Street you’re walking on.
On the north side of 86th Street, which is Bensonhurst, there are some places with a very suburban feel, such as strip-mall-style retail buildings with parking lots and an Outback Steakhouse on the corner of 15th Avenue.
Bay Ridge Chevrolet at 1575 86th St. has a Corvette convertible in the front window that you have to look at. It’s a thing of beauty. I say this as someone who is usually indifferent to the charms of automotive design. I don’t even drive anymore.
On the south side of 86th Street, which is in Bath Beach, there are a couple blocks of single-story retail buildings with stone facades and tiny turrets that kind of suggest miniature castles.
Near 17th Avenue, on the Bensonhurst side of 86th Street, there’s a beautiful row of yellow-brick houses with rectangular window bays. These homes look like they were built a century ago. They’re so pretty.
There are excellent restaurants and bakeries in many storefronts between here and L&B Spumoni Gardens. Of course you’ll want to come back and try some of them when pizza’s not foremost in your mind.
I managed to stay out of these tempting restaurants. But I did duck into El Tamarindo, a deli at 1729 86th St. that carries foods from Mexico and Guatemala, to buy a tamarind paleta (which is a frozen fruit bar) seasoned with chile powder. Those things are irresistible.
Grocery shops and grand banks
Overhead subway tracks appear above 86th Street where it converges with New Utrecht Avenue.
This part of the street is very busy on weekends. In addition to the restaurants I just mentioned, there are lots of grocery shops with home furnishings stores and sneakers stores mixed in.
On a couple of corner sites, distinguished bank buildings inject a note of grandeur.
For instance, a former Dime Savings Bank is at 1901 86th St. on the corner of 19th Avenue. It has columns and looks like a Classical temple. It was built in 1929.
It is now a Chase Bank branch.
On the corner of 23rd Avenue, there’s a dignified HSBC branch. Its address is 2301 86th St. The handsome stone building has a dome on top of it that’s visible from several blocks away. Buildings Department records say the bank was constructed in 1926.
The records also indicate that in the 1990s, this was a branch of Republic National Bank, which HSBC later acquired.
An online summary of Republic’s history says that in 1974 it merged with Kings Lafayette Bank, which had 18 Brooklyn branches. I think that’s what this bank must have been.
According to a New York Times obituary of a retired chairperson of Kings Lafayette Bank, that institution was created by the 1965 merger of Lafayette National Bank and Kings County Trust Company. I do not know which of these two banks was the original occupant of 2301 86th St. during the first four decades of the building’s existence.
Readers, did any of you have a bank account at 2301 86th St., or work in the area, before the 1965 merger? If so, please let me know what the bank was originally called.
Gravesend at last
Engine Company 253’s landmarked firehouse stands at 2425-2427 86th St.
The eye-catching brick building was constructed in 1895 and 1896. The Parfitt Brothers, an important architectural firm of that era, designed the Dutch Renaissance Revival firehouse, a city Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report says.
When you get to the firehouse, you’re in Gravesend, the maps I brought with me indicate. Some of the things I read about Engine Company 253 say it’s in Bensonhurst.
I’d spent so much time taking photos and staring into shop windows that daylight was starting to fade at this point on my stroll. So I picked up the pace on the final blocks of my Pizza Trail.
I crossed busy Stillwell Avenue and then Avenue U. On the other side of the intersection of West 11th Street, the sign for L&B Spumoni Gardens appeared. The pizzeria’s address is 2725 86th St.
Of course I tried the pizza squares. They were delicious. Feel free to argue the merits of thin-crust pizza versus thick-crust pizza amongst yourselves. As far as I’m concerned, pizza isn’t like political parties. You don’t have to pick a side if you don’t want to.
Of course I tried the spumoni. You can get pistachio, chocolate and cremolata in a single serving. It was delicious.
As I ate, sunset faded into night. The letters “LB” lit up in neon on top of the restaurant. They’re the initials for Ludovico Barbati, who founded the business 80 years ago.
If your stroll to this beloved pizzeria only took you a couple hours and you have daylight to spare, when you’re done with dessert you should walk over to Gravesend’s historic blocks where Lady Deborah Moody settled in the 1600s.
A landmarked home that’s popularly called Lady Moody’s House and was constructed on land she owned is at 27 Gravesend Neck Road.
If it’s late and you want to get home, the D train’s 25th Avenue station is just a few blocks away.