Dyker Heights Excursion: Italian Bakeries and Over-the-Top Christmas Lights

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Grandma's is particularly inviting on a rainy night
Perhaps you've heard about the Christmas lights displays in the mainly Italian neighborhood of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, that inspired a PBS documentary, Dyker Lights. But the spectacle has to be seen to be believed--wend your way through 77nd to 85th Streets between Eleventh and Thirteenth Avenues, and be amazed. Yes, that really is a 30-foot Santa. Yes, that balcony really is populated with reindeer heads swiveling back and forth in unison. Yes, the electricity used to illuminate just one house could power a small city.

Luckily, the walking or biking tour can end at the business district on Thirteenth Avenue, where you can fortify yourself with confections from the Italian bakeries that line the thoroughfare. The bakeries are kicked into high gear for Christmas, peddling panettone, Christmas cookies, fruit cake, and Neapolitan struffoli, those pyramidal stacks of small, yeasty doughnuts covered in honey and multi-colored sprinkles.

Start at Aunt Butchie's Cakes (6903 Thirteenth Avenue at Bay Ridge Avenue), which is known for its chocolate mousse cake. Grandma's Bakery (7208 Thirteenth Avenue at 72nd Street) offers good lard bread, a plethora of butter Christmas cookies, and very serviceable seven-layer cookies. On to Mona Lisa Bakery (7717 13th Avenue at 77th Street), where you can get fig cookies, ricotta torte, or a grain pie (pizza di grano). Finally, at Tasty Pastry Shoppe (8218 Thirteenth Avenue at 82nd Street) crunch on flaky, orange-ricotta filled sfogliatelle and zeppole.

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