Delta Sky: The Tastes of Italy

Posted By | Posted On Sep 30, 2000

September 2000

Bostonians — And why they can’t stay away from the North End
Endgame: From zuppa to noci in Boston’s North End

THE TASTES OF ITALY

While its heritage and architecture certainly merit a visit, most people come to the North End to eat. And there is no better guide to one of the premier food neighborhoods in the country than professional chef Michele Topor, of the awarding-winning tour service Michele Topors LArte di Cucinare. Topor knows all the best bakeries, greengrocers, salumerias, wineshops and restaurantsas well as the history and culture of the North Endand she shares her knowledge on her inspiring 3-hour walking tour.

While it would be unfair to single out one shop on Topors tour, mentioning two or three might be equitable. Salumeria Italiana is the A&P of the Old World. Crowded on its shelves are pastas of all shapes and varieties, cheeses and meats, olive oils from pale gold to deep green, and other specialty Italian imports available almost no-where else.

Marias Pastry Shop is a dessert art gallery, with cookies, pastries, pies, marzipan and divine cannoli prominently displayed. Maria also bakes traditional specialty items at the year. Her torrone, a dense brick of chocolate and almond, is a bite of heaven itself.

Cirace Liquors is where the good life really puts its feet up. The selection of wine is impressive enoughItalian wines have their own roombut it is the collection of aperitifs, digestifs and grappas that takes ones breath away. At the conclusion of Topors tour, youll vow never to cook an indifferent meal again.

SHOP BY DAY, DINE BY NIGHT

Once referred to by a cynical local as “The Marinara Trench” for the emphasis on red sauce, the North End has experienced a restaurant renaissance in recent years. Italian-American cuisine has been supplanted by Italian proper, and Northern Italian has leavened the pervasive Neapolitan influence. Culinarily speaking, Boston isnt “Scranton, with clams” anymore, as “The Sopranos” once memorably put it. People come to the North End not just to “eat Italian,” but to dine at some of the best restaurants in Boston. Chef Boyardee couldnt sell pasta from a pushcart in the new North End.

But how to navigate through the red sauce to find the islands of cucina alta? Topor illustrates the difference with the simple and delicious eggplant parmigiana. Now thats Italian. Chicken and veal parm, however, arent. They were adaptations designed for the American palate. Read the menus out front and judge for yourself or read on.

Start with the marvelous three Ms: Marcuccios, Maurizios Ristorante Italiano andMamma Maria. They are the Bach, Beethoven and Brahms of the neighborhood, serving classic Italian cuisine in stylish surroundings. Mammas has pride of place, occupying a former town house facing North Square, across the street from Paul Reveres house. (Some say he engaged in serious carbo-loading here before his midnight ride.) Look for regional Italian fare at Mammas, such as fettuccine aragosta or osso buco alla Milanese. The roasted fresh wild boar with wild fruit must at Marcuccios and the Sardinian roasted rack of lamb at Maurizios are signature dishes the way John Hancock had a signature.

If “S” is your letter of the day, Sage, Trattoria Scalinatella and La Summa are superb alternatives. La Summa is an out-of-the-way, family-run place with fresh homemade pasta and Sicilian specialties like Mom used to make (she still does here). Scalinatella is a second-floor aerie with a wine list that does justice to the brilliant authentic fare. Sage, a boite on Prince Street, is owned by Anthony Susi, whose father once owned a butcher shop in the neighborhood. After trotting the globe (from Italy to San Francisco), the prodigal son returned, eventually to purchase Sage last year. The left coast influence is pronounced on the Cal-Ital menu and wine list.

At Antico Forno youll find a Northern Italian accent; Euno Ristorante incorporates Asian and French elements, while Terramia offers upscale dishes from central Italy.

NEARING THE END

The new immigrants to the North End are more likely to arrive by BMW than by boat. The influx of outsiders, many of them from the financial services firms downtown, leads many to fear for the future of the neighborhood. After the Big Dig is completed, after the Central Artery is buried and the North End opens up, whoand whatwill follow?

Rudy Franchi, owner of The Nostalgia Factory, a vintage film poster and memorabilia shop, fears the worst. “What saved the North End was the Artery,” he laments. “This will be the end of it when they tear it down. The invasion will come from the financial district.”

The members of the staff of Fast Company are some of the earliest barbarians at the gate. The whiz biz magazine squats in the periphery of the neighborhood on North Washington Street. Why? Depressed real-estate values because of the Big Dig, says Alan Webber, founding co-editor. “Were more interested in fun, accessibility, affordability and some entertaining amenities when you head out at lunchtime,” he says. “Weve all put on a few pounds since we moved into the North End.”

History and public policy arent on the side of those who would like to see the North End preserved as a time capsule. Once there was a Boston neighborhood called the West End. Now little more than a designation on a map, it was razed to make room for the very same Central Artery the Big Dig is now seeking to replace.

So the residents of the North End await an uncertain future doing what they do best. They eat, they cook, they carry on with an Old World charm that we can only envy. Walking the quiet mid-morning streets, I feel as if Im on some giant Paramount back lot among character actors from central casting. I suspect that if I peek behind the faade Ill see Cecil B. De Mille sitting in the directors chair, exhorting me not to look at the camera. May he never shout “Cut!” May the picture never end.

THE BEANS ABOUT BOSTON

Visit www.northendboston.com (617-720-2283 or e-mailfolks@northendboston.com). Another excellent source is the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.bostonusa.com or 617-536-4100)

Sky contributor Josh Passell is also the Boston editor of The Shuttle Sheet for passengers of the Delta Shuttle.

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