How hot was it when the group from Better After 50 and I went on a walking tour of¬†Boston ľs North End? It was so hot you could bake a pizza on the sidewalk (ba-dumbum).¬†The extreme temperatures however, did not deter us as we followed our guide,¬†Michele, up and down the streets of the ‚Äúoldest residential neighborhood in the United¬†States.‚ÄĚ While the North End is also an area rich with Revolutionary War history,–the¬†Old North Church is there–we were on a reconnaissance mission that had to do solely¬†with food; Italian food. It helped our efforts greatly that Michelle lives in the area and¬†knows its ins and outs like nobody ľs business. She exhibited an encyclopedic¬†knowledge of Italy and all things Italian, and getting her local ľs perspective on things¬†was priceless.

Michele tried (unsuccessfully) to keep our chattering to a minimum as she regaled us¬†with tales of a bygone era when immigrants from far-off places like Ireland, Poland,¬†Germany, Portugal, and Spain settled in the little enclave near the water. Ultimately it¬†was the Italians who stayed and firmly established themselves in the area. For the first¬†time, residents from Genoa, Milan, and Naples found themselves living steps away from¬†each other. Deeply rooted to their regional traditions, each group worked hard to¬†maintain its autonomy, and thus many types of Italian cuisine can be found in the myriad¬†restaurants that dot the streets. And it ľs not merely restaurants for which this waterfront¬†community, just one square mile, is known. The variety of bakeries, wine stores,¬†pizzerias, and salumeria (delis) located there pack a punch that even Rocky Balboa¬†would be in awe of.

‚ÄúPasta water should taste like the sea.‚ÄĚ – Michele Topor

Our first stop was a little gem of a place: Maria ľs Pastry Shop on Cross Street. Away¬†from the two other more-well-known-and-overcrowded-but-not-as-good unnamed shops¬†from around the corner, Maria ľs may not be on everyone ľs radar–but it should be.¬†Pastry cases lining the walls are filled with an array of cookies: amaretti, cannoli shells¬†waiting to be filled with rich marscapone cream, biscotti studded with nuts and jewel-like¬†candied fruits, and toto, chocolate spice cookies that I would sell my soul for, to name a¬†few. Also there to tempt us were delicate lady fingers, handmade marzipan, and¬†chocolate torrone. It ľs a great (and quiet) place where you can sit and enjoy handmade¬†dessert without throngs of people getting in your way.

‚ÄúEggplants that have a dimple on the bottom contain fewer seeds.‚ÄĚ Michele Topor

The huge chalkboards covering the walls of De Pasquale ľs Pasta Shoppe on Cross¬†Street, listing the varieties of pasta that are available, should clue you in to the fact that¬†this place is serious about their pasta. In addition to the homemade fresh, including¬†ravioli and gnocchi, they also carry imported Italian artisanal pastas–the kind that are¬†thick and chewy, and take you back to that little trattoria in Rome that you loved so¬†much. The shop is also a deli, and has a wonderful selection of meats, cheeses, rustic¬†breads, olives, peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes: everything you need for a fantastic al¬†fresco picnic on a summer evening in Boston. Two of the things I loved most about De¬†Pasquale ľs were the two stainless steel kegs by the front door–one containing¬†Calabrian olive oil and the other, balsamic vinegar. You can bring your own containers,¬†open the spigots, and fill  Ľem up. Our mini lesson on the nuances between good olive oil¬†and extraordinary olive oil, and the different grades of balsamic vinegar ended with a¬†tasting.

‚ÄúCutting the fat from prosciutto is like removing the bubbles from champagne.‚Ä̬†Michele Topor

Step into Polcari ľs and you will be bathed with the aroma of spices that have permeated¬†the wood shelves and floors since 1932. Situated on Salem Street, this grocery is a¬†veritable bazaar filled with those spices, in addition to nuts, legumes, grains, oils,¬†vinegars, coffee, and the biggest jar of Nutella this side of Italy. It ľs a bit of what little is¬†left of the old world charm of the area.

‚ÄúThe best licorice comes from Calabria‚ÄĚ – Michele Topor

V.Cirace & Son, Inc. is a beautiful wine and spirits shop on North Street. There Michelle¬†explained for us the apertivi, liquori, and digestivi–the before, during, and after dinner¬†libations that are part of a traditional Italian meal. A little sampling of cold Limoncello hit¬†the spot, and I made a note to put the Blood Orange Crema liqueur on my ‚Äúto buy‚ÄĚ list¬†for the next time I visit.

Our group, Better After 50, is a woman ľs group, and what more perfect place to dine,¬†have a glass of wine, and chat than in a wonderful restaurant owned by a woman? Artu,¬†on Prince Street, is owned by Nancy Pelczar, a powerhouse restaurateur (owner of two¬†restaurants), and it was our last stop, a perfect coda. As we took a welcomed respite¬†from the heat and crowds on the North End, we dined on bruschetta topped with slivers¬†of summer squash, crisp arancini (rice balls), and perfectly grilled skewers of rosemary¬†scented chicken. Listening to Nancy talk about her family, the trials and tribulations¬†(and psychology) of running a business–management issues, employee relations–was¬†very enlightening–and empowering. The entire day, in fact, was empowering for me.¬†And encouraging. I am close to the one-year mark of my relocation to Boston, and while¬†it ľs been a wild and wonderful adventure, I have not met very many women with whom I¬†could bond and share life stories. In just one afternoon I met ten such women, thanks to¬†Better After 50. The day was a success on many levels. I look forward to returning to the¬†North End armed with the tricks of the trade that were provided by Michele. And¬†perhaps I ľll bring a friend!

‚ÄúItaly, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest¬†person happy.‚ÄĚ – Bertrand Russell

Finding Food And Friendship in the North End with BA50 was last modified: by

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