Modern Pastry, North End, Boston

Posted on
Sep 20, 2012
Posted in: City Guide, Food

I love Boston’s North End.

I’ve been there countless times on my own, while Rand was busy with work and meetings. But on this last trip to Boston, he had some free time to head there with me.

I may have done a little happy dance, because there is nothing greater than being able to show my husband around a place that I’ve explored without him.

“WAVE TO THE PEOPLE. BLOW THEM KISSES.”

We walked through the tiny alleys and winding cobblestone streets. We passed old men on their morning walks, and little cafes serving cannoli and torrone and countless other sweets that I remembered from my childhood. I inadvertently eavesdropped on a few conversations in Italian and excitedly translated them for Rand, who smiled and shook his head at me.

This is precisely how I behave whenever we are in Italy, and for good reason: Boston’s North End feels not far off.

We passed by a crowd in front of Mike’s Pastry, but I waved Rand on.

“I know a place that is better,” I said. And less crowded, to boot.

And just down the road, in front of a neon marquis, I stopped, and told him that this was the place. The sign said “Modern Pastry.” I’d visited before plenty of times. But never with Rand.

Even though we were supposed to have lunch in an hour, we decided to pop in. One of the things that’s magical about our relationship is this: neither Rand nor I believe in the concept of “spoiling one’s appetite.” Sometimes we have dessert before lunch. It’s positively grand. And it just might be the secret to a happy marriage.

Modern Pastry is filled with desserts that span the cultural spectrum from Italian to Italian-American to American. There are sfogliatelle and tiramisu, red velvet cupcakes and black-and-whites. There are rich whoopie pies and barely sweetened anisette waffle biscuits.

Piles and piles of torrone – Italian nougat candy.

They have some of the best cannoli I’ve had in my life (no hyperbole), but what I truly love is the collection of cookies that sits on the shelf behind the cashier. They remind me of the ones my mom would get from the Italian bakery near our house in Florida. The woman who ran the place would chat with my mother in Italian while I would pick out a few cookies and petite fours, systematically doing the damage to my teeth that I now pay for.

But, oh, even after all those cavities and fillings, the novocaine and the drilling, I’d argue that it was worth it.

Usually, when I try as an adult to capture the flavor of something from childhood, I fail. Things taste differently as time passes. Maybe the recipes change, or we perhaps we’re the ones that change. But not these sweets. They taste exactly as they did when I was little. I ordered two each of my three favorite kinds: pink and green sandwich cookies filled with dark chocolate, and little striped cakes enrobed in chocolate, meant to evoke the Italian flag.

“These are amazing,” I told Rand.

“Awww, you got two of each so I could have one?”

“Um … YES.” I replied. Sure. Let’s pretend that was the reason.

We dunked the biscuits into our enormous cappuccinos, rendering them squishy and soft and making the chocolate in them melt just a little bit.

This was it. In this little cafe in Boston, were the tastes of my childhood. And before just before a decadent lunch, on a sunny afternoon, I shared them with my husband.

And believe me when I tell you: my appetite was anything but spoiled.

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Tips for visiting Modern Pastry:

  • Don’t let the line deter you, but do note that little old Italian women may walk in and cut right to the front of it – just like in Italy
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  • The cannoli are exceptional, but take a few minutes to prepare, as they fill them to order (so they don’t get soggy)
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  • They only accept cash, so have some handy.
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  • There aren’t too many places to sit, but I’m a big fan of getting stuff to go – the little white pastry boxes, tied neatly with a red and white ribbon, are adorable. Opening one up in your hotel room feels like you are unwrapping a present.

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