photo by Kristin Kammerer
Little Italy—Italian delis like this one on top help give a distinct,
Old World flavor to Boston’s North End
Here is Panorama’s survey of the flavors,
sights and attractions that make this beloved neighborhood unique
The North End is one of the only places where finding a “typical” restaurant is the ideal. There are a few things you can count on when you go out to eat here. First, the cuisine is authentic and consistently delicious, whether Old World Sicilian, traditional Northern Italian or Mediterranean fusion. And though the ambience could be boisterous, romantic or somewhere in between, the setting is usually intimate, with diners rubbing elbows with one another in crowded dining rooms—all part of the European feel.
After dinner, take a walk along Hanover Street—the North End’s main drag—and drop into a coffee shop such as Caffe Vittoria for a cup of cappuccino, a cannoli and a cigar. The cafes are an integral part of the North End dining experience. Mike’s Pastry is constantly overflowing with customers hoping to get a taste of their scrumptious confections, while the gelati and espresso selections attract locals and visitors alike to Caffe Graffiti.
As culinary aficionado Michele Topor
demonstrates on her acclaimed North End Market Tour, it is at local stores
like J. Pace & Sons or Salumeria Italiana where the magic of North End
dining begins. Local food vendors are just as important as the
neighborhood’s chefs. Their selections of giant rolls of cheese, fresh
produce, cases of olive oil and herbs and spices attract shoppers of every
order. For sweet tooths, Dairy Fresh Candies on Salem Street is like a
Technicolor dream. The legendary shop, which has been around since 1957,
offers chocolate-covered pretzels, nuts, gourmet jams and hundreds of
One of Boston’s most well-known attractions is, of course, the Freedom Trail. Three of its sites are located in the Hub’s oldest neighborhood: Boston’s oldest home, the Paul Revere House, which was built circa 1680 and occupied by the famed silversmith/patriot/midnight rider and his family (including 16 children!) from 1770–1800; Christ Church, a.k.a. the Old North Church, which is Boston’s oldest standing church (built in 1723) and served as the signal tower that spurred Revere on his jaunt through the countryside; and Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, founded in 1660 as the Hub’s second cemetery, which serves as the final resting place of many colonials, including the Puritan preachers of the Mather family and Edmund Hartt, shipwright of the Navy’s flagship U.S.S. Constitution.
History doesn’t end there, however. As if the ubiquitous Paul Revere weren’t prominent enough, there’s also the statue of him on his horse that resides in the pleasant, tree-lined plaza—named, naturally, the Paul Revere Mall—off Hanover Street adjacent to the Old North Church. St. Stephen’s Church—known as the New North Meeting House when it was first erected in 1714, and rebuilt by Boston architect Charles Bulfinch in 1802–04—lies at 401 Hanover Street. This Italian Renaissance-style house of worship (converted to a Catholic Church and renamed in 1862) is the only existing example of church architecture in Boston by Bulfinch, the planner behind the State House and Faneuil Hall in Boston and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Of note is its bell, cast by Revere, and its status as the baptism site of Kennedy family matriarch and former North End-er Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1890—back when the Irish, not the Italians, dominated the area.
There’s more than history to explore, though, as several tours of the area highlight the many wonders of this vibrant neighborhood. Boston By Foot offers a North End walking tour Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. For a unique perspective, take the Historic Boston Walk entitled Sophie Tucker: Jewish Immigrant of the North End on August 31 at 11 a.m. Local actress/historian Linda Myer impersonates the legendary Jazz Age performer as she guides visitors through the neighborhood’s Jewish community of yesteryear. Last but certainly not least, given the area’s current Italian makeup, is the North End Market Tour, led by culinary expert Michele Topor.
Refer to listings in Sightseeing and
In keeping with its Old World character, the North End observes many traditions imported from the shores of Europe. One such annual rite is the appearance of weekly Italian feasts and processions throughout the summer that enliven this already spirited locale. From August 23–25, the 83rd St. Anthony’s Feast jubilantly parades a statue of St. Anthony—brought over from Montefalcione, Italy in 1919—through the labyrinthine North End streets. Christened the “Feast of All Feasts” by no less than National Geographic, the festival also offers traditional and contemporary music and food over the course the three days. The St. Lucy Feast, another long-standing tradition, follows on August 26 with even more processions, music and, of course, food.
Tired from parading through the
neighborhood’s thoroughfares? Have a seat at the Improv Asylum on Hanover
Street to take in the wild antics of this innovative comedy troupe. The
Asylum offers off-the-cuff fun and hilarity at its original North End
venue. A new resident cast performs the improv set entitled Allah in the
Family on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A special presentation of the
long-form improv show Alter Ego, a piece based on comic book super heroes,
takes place on August 22 at 10 p.m.
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|Keeping Up with the
Italian culinary expert Michele Topor gives an insider’s view of the North End
by Meredith Pitts
you believe that great pasta could change your life? Although it
sounds unlikely, after spending a morning with Michele Topor and her
North End Market Tour, guests come away with a new appreciation for
the diverse and healthful Italian culinary heritage. Topor’s tour
explores the side streets of the North End, journeying from shop to
shop and offering tidbits about an Italian pastry here and cooking
tips there, spicing up the proceedings with heart-warming anecdotes
about the people who live in this vibrant enclave.
Can you give readers a sneak peek at some of the shops you visit?