I just spent a wonderful weekend catching up on life with my best friend from college. Thanks to a package she bid on at a charity event, we enjoyed a stay at the Battery Wharf Hotel in the North End. The package also included a food-themed walking tour through the neighborhood — Boston’s Little Italy — with Boston Food Tours.
The tour lasted three hours, which I initially thought seemed long, but time flew by as we visited several highly-regarded purveyors in a roughly nine block radius. Our knowledgeable guide, Beth, certainly knew her material; she provided copious amounts of information on the shops and owners, the foods and beverages tasted, as well as Italian traditions — traditions she knows well after living in Turin, Italy for one year of her life.
If you happen to visit Boston, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this tour… you will learn so much about the history of the neighborhood, as well as some fantastic Italian cooking tips. And if you don’t have the time to tour, at least try to visit the neighborhood and some of the shops from the photos below. Now that the old, unsightly raised highway that cut-off the neighborhood has been redirected underground, it is extremely easy to manuever, especially if one is touring North Church, the Paul Revere house, or Faneuil Hall.
BRICCO PANETTERIA & BRICCO SUITES
Bricco Panetteria is located down a narrow alleyway on Hanover Street. Just follow your nose when you spot the sign below. Fabulous artisan breads with no additives. We sampled the Proscuitto and Parmesan bread… oh, so good. And if you want to stay in this neighborhood — and smell freshly baked bread each morning — the owner, Frank De Pasquale, offers several apartments available for short-term rental in the same courtyard.
BRICCO SALUMERIA & PASTA SHOP
Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop is located next to the Panetteria. They make their fresh mozzarella several times per day. Other items freshly made in house include: regular and filled pastas, artisan breads, basket cheese, pasta sauces, and both American and Italian-style (panini) sandwiches — the subs looked incredible!
Our guide gave us a lesson on Modena balsamic vinegar which was quite helpful. The vinegar is produced from cooked grape must and then aged at least twelve years, thus the high price. Italians use this vinegar more as a condiment than a base for a salad dressing. You can search for authentic Modena Balsamic by looking for bottles with the letters D.O.C. printed on the label.
We tasted an incredible Modena Balsamic which was sweet, thick, and delicious — Beth said she loved a drizzle on her greek yogurt. I have got to try that!
MARIA’S PASTRY SHOP
Maria’s Pastry Shop is located at 46 Cross Street, directly across from the Rose Kennedy Greenway which is the fabulous park that Boston created during The Big Dig. Maria Merola operates this shop which opened in 1982. Maria is best known for her made-to-order cannoli (voted Best in Boston), but she also makes other pastries and sweets (beautiful marzipan fruits) from Naples. Most cannoli are way too sweet for my taste; this one was perfect — fresh, crunchy shell with lightly-sweetened vanilla cream.
Polcari’s opened in 1932, and has been operating at the same location ever since. It really is unlike any place I’ve ever seen — floor to ceiling wooden shelves stocking traditional Italian pantry items along with miscellaneous jars and containers filled with items I’d never seen before, such as licorice root.
There are 35 types of coffee beans including green — if you prefer to roast them yourself — and over 150 types of dried herbs and spices which are sold to order according to weight on their 100 year old scale. Numerous teas, dried legumes, various extracts for creating your own cordials or liquors, and many different flours also can be found among the treasures here. They also have an old-fashioned Italian lemon slush machine — perfect for hot summer days!
There is a dear story about the history here… The original owner’s son — Ralph Pocari — did not have any children so he hired several boys from the neighborhood to help out in the store. One of those boys — Bobby Eustace — stayed on after growing up, eventually inheriting the shop from Ralph when he passed. Bobby runs the shop now with his cousin, Nikky — their two sons were manning the counter during our visit. How sweet is that?!
This is a teeny tiny shop filled with seasonal produce, including many Italian varieties not often available in typical grocery markets. Our guide showed us the inside of a fava bean pod; she also taught us how to pick an eggplant with fewer seeds — it’s the seeds that make it more bitter. You will just have to do the tour to find out the secret!
MONICA’S MERCATO AND SALUMERIA
Monica’s Mercato is another shop with it’s own precious story: it is run by three brothers who adored their mother and her cooking. The shop’s walls are covered with photos of Monica Maxwell Mendoza who passed away in 2006.
The market won “Best Sandwich in Boston 2015” by Boston Magazine. It is known for it’s sandwiches and house-made pastas. The pizzeria is around the corner and in a basement. My friend and I dined at the trattoria on Saturday night. We had a difficult time deciding what to order — everything sounded amazing. Great wine list, excellent food. I loved my sweet potato gnocchi with broccoli rabe and sausage. The fried zucchini blossoms were light and flavorful.
Jimmy Fallon has been friends with the Mendoza brothers for over 20 years, and loves to visit when he is in town.
V. CIRACE & SON, INC.
V. Cirace & Son, Inc. is a third generation family-owned wine store in operation at the same location since 1906. They have wines and liquors from all over the world, but are especially known for their extensive Italian selection of wines, Grappa and Amaro.
We received two tastings. One, a limoncello served ice-cold. And secondly, an Amaro. I have never tried Amaro before; it is a traditional digestif, often extremely bitter. Beth served us one that she liked since it was less bitter than most, and had a decidedly cinnamon taste. Since I failed to photograph the bottle, I cannot remember the name, but it could be Amaro Abano (?) which is a mildly bitter amaro with hints of licorice and cinnamon. Sipping on this would be an extremely pleasant way to conclude an evening.