Italian Bakeries Face Off!
Take a walk down Hanover St. in Boston’s North End in the late afternoon, or perhaps after dinner, and you’ll find a line of eager patrons waiting outside of Mike’s Pastry, stretching down the block. Diagonally across the street, a line just as long stretches out in front of Modern Pastry. Every visitor to Boston is told that Mike’s is a “must”, but many who live in the North End claim Modern Pastry is where it’s at. Although I’m not particularly interested in Italian desserts, I had to find out for myself what the hype was all about.
Around 6:30 PM on a Saturday evening, my boyfriend and I decided to join the line in front of Modern Pastry (257 Hanover Street, Boston, MA). After 30 minutes, we finally made it to the front of the line. Already, as we stepped through the doorway, I suspected that we had just wasted quite a bit of time. The first counter after you enter the store is a small gelato case. Behind it, we could see gelato cups and spoons strewn across the floor. This is not a place I’d ever come to for gelato! Above, on the walls, were several hand-written signs indicating the cannoli selection.The gelato was followed by a case of chocolates, and a few slices of pizza and some arancini in a heated display.
It’s past the hot food that the L-shaped counter shows off its pastries. Cake slices, tiramisu, creme brulé, and of course, cannoli – deep fried pastry tubes filled with cream. I was not impressed by the appearance of most the cake slices – the topping on the strawberry cheesecake looked as if it came straight from a can, but the cannoli looked promising.
I was pleasantly surprised by the classic ricotta cannoli. I didn’t think I would enjoy it but it was good. The chocolate creme version however, tasted like store-bought chocolate pudding stuffed into a shell. A slice of ricotta pie was my favourite out of the three pastries we purchased. It had the creaminess and density of a good New York style cheesecake.
On a Sunday after brunch, around 2 in the afternoon, there were no lines at all in front of either Modern or Mike’s Pastry, so we decided to check out Mike’s (300 Hanover Street, Boston, MA). We walked right in. Mike’s has a much larger space. A long, U-shaped counter forms a perimeter and wide-eyed customers peer at each display before approaching the counter to place an order.
There is a big selection of cakes by the slice, from carrot to red velvet, huge lobstertail pastries and other cream-filled goodies, ricotta pie, and biscotti. I decided to skip the cannoli this time and try a pasticiotto – a small ricotta-filled pie. It was terrific! It had a sweet cheese filling in a slightly crispy shell.
If you live far from the North End, it can be a long drive for Italian pastries. However, Newton has its own little bit of Italy in the Nonantum neighborhood. Antoine’s Pastry Shop (317 Watertown Street, Newton, MA) is a family-owned bakery where you’ll find cheesecakes, apple dumplings, and hot cross buns in addition to Italian cannoli, tiramisu, rum slices, whole ricotta pies, and ricotta cheese cups. So, how did the cheese cup stack up against Mike’s pasticiotto?
Antoine’s pastry was delicately and evenly dusted with icing sugar. (At Mike’s on the other hand, the tart is plain and the sugar is optional. If you request it, the girl behind the counter adds sugar with a heavy hand). Flavour-wise, Antoine’s and Mike’s ricotta tarts were almost identical. However, Antoine’s crust had a softer texture, was slightly thicker, and wasn’t as crisp. There was also slightly less ricotta filling, as you can see from the photos. While devouring it though, I barely noticed.
The Final Word: If you’re craving Italian goodies and happen to be near the North End, Mike’s or Modern Pastry might hit the spot. But if the line is sprawling out the door, you’d better be buying a dozen ricotta tarts to make it worth the wait.