Cannoli Contenders in Boston’s Historic North End
A night out in Boston’s North End is bound to present some challenges. Whether you’re comparing restaurant metrics on Yelp, or trying to find your Uber in the cluster of cars on Hanover St., perhaps the most difficult challenge you’ll encounter will be leaving room for dessert. If you’re someone who can muster up enough willpower to forego those last few bites of Linguine Fra Diavolo, both Mike’s and Modern Pastry offer a wide range of well-deserved treats to finish the night. Though the two rival bakeries claim to have the best and most authentic Italian pastries in Boston, the experience that they offer customers, as well as their signature cannolis, could not be more different.
From the outside, the establishments look the same. Their neon signs illuminate the faces of young couples lined up on the curb and the gawking passersby. Only after you have shuffled over the threshold do their distinct characteristics and quirks become more apparent.
At Mike’s, you are greeted by the heavy aroma of pure sugar: crushed oreos, raspberry sorbet, chocolate frosting. The fluorescent overheads reflect off silver cases displaying rows of cupcakes and stacks of pizzelle. Blue and white balls swing from the ceiling as workers secure to-go boxes with twine from a spool whirring inside. The floor is decorated by a constellation of pennies and nickels that have slipped from palms and pockets. They are cash only, and things move fast.
While Mike’s advertises their expansive cannoli range with colorful graphics that read like a Warhol piece, they don’t neglect the classic Sicilian. The crunchy shells are made in-house and stuffed with enough creamy ricotta—each bite threatens to send whatever remains shooting out the other side. Finely chopped pistachios satisfy Instagrammers and foodies alike with a pop of color and earthy taste. It makes sense that you never see anyone leave Mike’s without a box.
Across the street, Modern Pastry’s door barely closes as patrons continuously funnel in and out. The smell of anise and chocolate clings to your clothes. Cans of coffee and hot chocolate line the walls. Bouquets of biscotti wrapped in cellophane top tables stacked with panettone. Binders boasting pictures of wedding and birthday cakes splay open on the counter where you queue to order your desserts. Overhead, a sign suspended from the ceiling swings every time the front door opens. With true Italian assurance it reads: “You want cannoli? WE HAVE CANNOLI!”
Unlike Mike’s, where the desserts are pre-made and ready to go, Modern does not fill their shells until they are ordered. This process prevents the shells from becoming too soft or soggy, and keeps them perfectly flaky. Though the bakery outsources for their cannoli casings, I’m told from “somewhere in Italy,” their ultimate product is unbelievably fresh tasting. Another notable difference is the size of Modern’s cannoli. While Mike’s rendition is significantly bigger—think the size of a fist—those at Modern don’t get much longer than a finger. Modern’s take on the Sicilian, however, features pistachio pieces that are larger and more roughly cut, adding for even more texture variety. Customers are treated to a dessert that mimics, if not competes with, what you would find in Italy.
Though there’s undoubtedly some major differences between the two stellar bakeries, it’s clear that finding a damn good cannoli is one challenge you won’t run into in Boston’s North End. Enjoy one while looking for your Uber and, of course, bring a full box home.
Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113
Modern Pastry, 257 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113