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.


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.


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
  • The cannoli are exceptional, but take a few minutes to prepare, as they fill them to order (so they don’t get soggy)
  • They only accept cash, so have some handy.
  • 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.

Leave a Comment

  • It’s nearly impossible for my husband to walk past a pastry shop without stopping in and I have learned to embrace the practice. We can always “save them for later”. 🙂

    • Everywhereist

      Agreed. Even if you don’t feel like eating the sweets immediately (which is merely a theoretical for me, since I always feel like eating sweets), you can save them for later!

  • I know you tease about the size of your hips, but I truly don’t know how you and Rand get away with eating all the glorious food you do. I’d be the size of an elephant by now! Actually, I think I’ve gained weight just reading your blog!

  • I’m from Philly. We have our North End too—only it’s in South Philly. I’m thinking of heading there right now. They have those cookies too—-and the cannolis. They have a warning label “Apply directly to hips”.

  • If only I wasn’t lactose intolerant … and chocolate? really hmmmm…. YOU LIED about not liking chocolate!

    • Everywhereist

      I think “lied” is a bit harsh, no? 🙂 I just said I wasn’t as obsessed about chocolate as the next person (in part because, you know, it gives me headaches. But that *might* have been the brain tumor. So since I had that removed, I’ve ventured into eating chocolate again.)

      And let’s face it – some folks are OVER THE MOON OBSESSED about chocolate. And frankly, I’m not.

  • You are so kind to share your baked goods with your husband. I usually refuse to share, make him buy his own, and then eat half of his.

    Also, thanks for the heads up about Modern Pastry. I’ve been a diehard Mike’s fan, but look forward to trying something new next time I’m in the North End.

    • I say go for it and test out the theory! Steve versus Taste Buds!

      I’m not obsessed with the stuff but I am very picky about it and DO enjoy the very good chocolates. I don’t like milk … or white chocolate (cause it isn’t even chocolate) I love my truffles handmade or my chocolate at least 70% cocoa. Maybe … you just don’t know your magic dosage! AND there is always Tuscan Hot Chocolate. OMGod’s … that stuff is just all kinds of awesome.

  • I was praying for this post after your cannoli teaser in the last one. I will have some sweet dreams tonight!

  • Liz

    That little plate of cookies just brought back a wave of memories for me too. My favorite cookies growing up and nearly impossible to find now.

    Been to Boston for work, but not recently, and the little bakeries in the North End were my favorite discovery. Unwrapping a white bakery box back in the hotel room after a 13-hour day inside an expo center was the best.

    Thanks for the memories.

  • I could live inside of that cappuccino it looks so delicious.

  • Select Registry

    When I saw this post I was hoping you would bring up Mike’s Pastry! I went to school in Boston and was told countless times to go there. I finally went there this year (right before graduating, tear) and it totally did not live up to my expectations! Too bad I didn’t know about Modern Pastry when I still lived in Boston…

  • Funny, my husband and I always debate what cannolis are better, Modern Pastry vs Mike’s, we always end up in Modern Pastry, I have never tried their cookies, I will next time now that I read your description! glad to read you and your husband had a good time in my adopted city.

  • Melissa

    O. M. Goodness! I went there in 1987!! I bought a Ricotta Pie for the family.

    When I stepped out into the street a bird pooped on the box! I was disgusted, but an old woman heard me and said it was GOOD Luck! Ummm, OK!

    Boy did that bring up an interesting memory from the depths of time!

    I’m happy to hear they are still there and still serving mouth watering treats! 8*)

  • Maura

    I’ve been enjoying your blog for ages, but this is shamefully my first post. My apartment is a hop from Neptune Oyster. I would have full on squealed if I saw you on the street. So glad you enjoyed the North End and all of it’s quirky, delectable loveliness. Thanks so much for this blog – one of the best parts of my day.

  • My two clearest memories of the North End from the 10 years I lived in Boston are almost getting beat up for carrying a courier bag (“Nice purse, you expletiving expletive”) and Whoopie Pies that were worth any beating.

    And because you started it with that first caption: “This was the largest auto I could afford. Should I therefore be made the subject of fun?”

  • Tough call here- I love old neon signs almost as much as I love desserts and pastries and cookies. Who cares! I love it all. And now Modern Pastry will be added to my list of Fabulous Places to Visit during my Boston weekend 🙂

  • Jen

    I can’t believe you are in my neighborhood! I nearly died when I saw this in my Google Reader.

    If you are still around, check out Monica’s Mercato for their chicken salad sub … or any sliced meats. Boys (and several Bruins players) seem to love their Italian subs.

    if you like to cook at all, or know anyone who does, check out Polcari’s Coffee. It’s like you fell into an Italian grandmother’s cubbord … but its run by hilarious italian men.

    Also, take a walk along the Harbor Walk. Gorgeous.

  • Sounds yummy. Maybe the next vacay I plan needs to be to Boston. Since I have never been, it would be perfect, really. Your sweet tooth sounds like mine. Fortunately my husband doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I would be less likely to be asked about sharing! 😉

  • Bri

    It reminds me of N. Beach in San Francisco…except that Dianda’s Bakery is in the Mission. They make my favoritest cake of all times, which I still eat whenever possible (and I’m gluten intolerant). This doesn’t matter though and I’ll gladly suffer the consequences every few years for a Saint Honore Day cake. It’s cake, but it’s pastry, but it has crunchy sugar on the bottom and cream puffs on top!!! You can’t go wrong!

  • I used to live in Boston, but failed to visit this place:-( It looks delicious. I love the look of the cappuccino’s too! It is so hard to find a really good capp in the US!

  • Amy

    I grew up on those cookies, too!!! I LOVE them. I’m originally from an Italian neighborhood in Philadelphia. Our bakery was only 2 blocks away. I live by the motto that dinner is only an excuse to eat dessert 🙂
    Safe ( and delicious ) travels to you!!

  • I used to live in Boston too. Mike’s is overrated if you ask me. Never been to Modern Pastry, but looks like a nice find!

  • LOVE that sss-phach–a–telle (wikipedia pronounces it waaaayyy differently, like it’s an Arabic word??) I head it for the first time in my 67 years a few years back and I was in heaven…’Many-layered’ is self-explanatory and so accurate. I can’t help it, but to me, It looks like a pastry quahog (but I’m a Rhode Islander,) and we’ll find quahogs anywhere. Fortunately the pastry tastes so much better.

  • I LOVE the North End. I used to lived near Boston (a very long time ago) and would frequent The North End more than any other part of Boston. A couple of years ago I took a trip with my 4 and 5 year old kids. I dragged them all over the place and told them their prize would be a stop at Mike’s Pastry. My favorite place. But I’m now intrigued and must go back to visit Modern Pastry. Yummy.

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