date published: August 11, 2008

Panorama’s guide to Boston’s beloved Italian neighborhood
by Panorama staff

Alba Produce Market (18 Parmenter St.) is where North End locals get much of their fresh fruit and vegetables. Something to remember about this tiny shop: no touching allowed! Point to what you want and friendly proprietor Bruce Alba will hand it to you.

Bova’s Bakery (134 Salem St., 617-523-5601): Need a calzone at midnight? Sfogliatelle or éclairs at 3 a.m.? The North End’s only 24-hour bakery fills the streets with the aroma of fresh-baked bread and pastries at all hours of the day and night.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (refer to freedom trail listing), on Hull Street, is a stop on the Freedom Trail and the second- oldest cemetery in Boston. Many Revolutionary War patriots are buried there, and, not coincidentally, British Redcoats often used their grave markers for target practice, resulting in musket ball marks still visible today.

Designer fashions and cosmetics, which can be found at the North End’s ever-expanding collection of stylish boutiques. Within the last few years, the once less-than-chic neighborhood has welcomed hot shops like Alison Barnard’s denim emporium In-jean-ius and her more nightlife-inspired second shop, Twilight; the retro-fabulous vintage shop The Velvet Fly; contemporary women’s clothing emporium Casa di Stile (371 Hanover St., 857-233-4885); and high-end cosmetics shop A Matter of Face

Espresso (or cappuccino, if you prefer) is the fuel that keeps the North End going. And North Enders don’t sip their preferred beverages at Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, either. The neighborhood is packed with authentic and charming cafes serving the steamy brown elixirs (as well as pastries, sandwiches, liqueurs and more), including Caffe Vittoria and Caffe Pompei (refer to restaurant listings), Caffe Paradiso (253 Hanover St., 617-742-1768) and Caffe dello Sport (308 Hanover St., 617-523-5063).

Feasts and processions celebrating various Catholic saints fill the streets of the North End most every weekend during the summer. The festive events center around parades where statues of the saints are carried down main streets and often feature street vendors selling delicious food, cooking demonstrations and music from live bands. Two of the summer’s biggest festivals are scheduled for this month: The 98th annual Fisherman’s Feast (honoring Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca) August 14–17 and the 89th annual St. Anthony’s Festival August 29–31.

Garden, St. Leonard’s Peace: In the midst of all the frantic tourist traffic that envelopes the North End, this beautiful and calm oasis for reflection just off Hanover Street is filled with exquisite roses and is a wonderful spot to take a moment for yourself.

Historic houses: A prime attraction on the Freedom Trail, the Paul Revere House (refer to freedom trail listing) is Boston’s oldest domicile, and one-time home to the Revolutionary War-era legend. Less known, but just as worth scoping out, is the Skinny House at 44 Hull St., a four-story home that’s just 10 feet wide at its widest point—and currently occupied!

Improv Asylum (refer to comedy listing) is the North End’s top spot for chuckles, guffaws and belly laughs, where talented comedians put on improvised shows which change nightly thanks to audience participation.

Jewelry: Skip the imposing fortresses on Newbury Street and check out High Gear Jewelry (refer to shopping listing) and Shake the Tree (67 Salem St., 617-742-0484). The former specializes in pieces influenced by top designers and also makes custom pieces to order, while the latter stocks eclectic and unique gifts and accessories, including mixed-media jewelry by designers like Wendy Mink and Stephanie Robb.

Kennedys: Although of Irish descent, Massachusetts’ first family has a connection to the North End, with family matriarch Rose Kennedy’s birthplace being located in an unassuming apartment building at 4 Garden Court. Meanwhile, just adjacent to Cross Street, the Rose Kennedy Greenway & Memorial Garden welcomes visitors with its verdant splendor.

Langone Park: Designed in 1894 by legendary architect Frederick Law Olmstead’s firm, Langone Park is alive all summer long with residents and visitors enjoying the playground, softball diamond and three regulation bocce courts.

Mike’s Pastry, Maria’s Pastry Shop or The Modern? The eternal argument rages over which bakery serves the best cannoli. Mike’s (300 Hanover St., 617-742-3050) is the best-known, the Modern (257 Hanover St., 617-523-3783) boasts Old World charm with its old-school neon sign and Maria’s (46 Cross St., 617-523-1196) hand-fills its cannolis for you right when you order. It’s hard to go wrong with any of them, so why not try them all?

Nightlife: The North End is a particularly happening spot after dark. In addition to its never-ending supply of great restaurants for romantic meals, the neighborhood boasts spots like Stanza dei Sigari (refer to restaurant listing), an upscale cigar bar popular for “guys night out” and—just blocks away on the waterfront—The Living Room (101 Atlantic Ave., 617-723-5101), a great spot for lounging, cocktails and gathering with friends.

Old North Church: Another stop on the Freedom Trail, this house of worship (which still hosts daily services) was where the “one if by land, two if by sea” lanterns were hung to warn colonists of the British marching on Lexington and Concord (refer to freedom trail listing).

Pizza: Pie lovers will think they’ve found heaven in the North End, with delicious pizza places to be found around every corner. A few of the tastiest are the legendary Regina Pizza (111/2 Thacher St., 617-227-0765), a favorite since 1926; Antico Forno (refer to restaurant listing), home to amazing and delicious brick-oven creations; and Ernesto’s Pizza (69 Salem St., 617-523-1373), which serves up diverse slices and pies to go that put other takeout joints to shame.

Quattro formaggi: It means “four cheeses,” and North End restaurants take the idea to heart. To sample formaggi in its purest form, visit Ristorante Fiore (250 Hanover St., 617-371-1176)—home to the area’s only roof deck patio—and try its quattro formaggi, a chef’s daily selection of domestic and imported cheeses served simply with poached pears in a Chianti marinade.

Ravioli is on almost any Italian menu, so you’d be right to assume North End eateries have a multitude of scrumptious ways to fill these perfect pillows of pasta. Visit Terramia Ristorante (refer to restaurant listing) to try the ravioli di fichi con maiale (fig-stuffed ravioli with pork medallions); Assaggio (refer to restaurant listing) for decadent lobster ravioli in a lobster cream reduction; or G’Vanni’s (2 Prince St., 617-720-3663) for pumpkin ravioli served with burnt butter sage sauce.

Slush: Legendary Polcari’s Coffee (105 Salem St., 617-227-0786) has been known for its java and dried legumes since 1932, but come summer it also draws a crowd outside for its cool and refreshing lemon slush, which is scooped directly from a bucket hanging outside the front door.

Tours: Exploring on your own is fine, but sometimes you want to see the North End through the eyes of an expert. Michele Topor’s North End Market Tours reveal the best spots to buy meat, produce, baked goods and any other tasty delights, while Guild Nichols’ North End Secret Tours bring little-known historic curiosities and off-the-beaten path sites to light. Refer to tours listings.

Umberto, Galleria: Looking for a quick, cheap spot for lunch? The no-frills Umberto (189 Hanover St., 617-227-5709) serves up fantastic pizza slices and arancini at cheap prices to eager crowds, but make sure you get there early—they close the doors once the pizza’s gone, whenever that happens to be.

Veal is a staple dish in Italian cuisine. Get some “veally” good chow at Massimino’s, home of the stuffed veal chop; Florentine Café, where the veal alla crema is served with shrimp, onions and roasted peppers in a sherry cream sauce; and Ristorante Saraceno, known for its veal scaloppini with prosciutto seasoned with fine herbs. Refer to restaurant listings.

Wild boar: You won’t find this little piggy at the market, but at popular eatery Lucca (refer to restaurant listing), you’ll find gnocchi al cinghiale—potato gnocchi served with slowly braised wild boar in a sweet-and-sour tomato ragu—on the menu.

X-tremely large portions: Most North End restaurants leave their patrons fully sated, but La Famiglia Giorgio (112 Salem St., 617-367-6711) takes it to a new level. Finish the misto di pesce—a plate of clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp served over two pounds of pasta—and you get a free T-shirt.

Yoga: After scarfing down the misto di pesce, some fat-burning physical activity is called for. Luckily, the neighborhood has its own yoga studio—North End Yoga (256 Hanover St., 617-227-YOGA)—where you can rediscover your chi, sweat a little and ponder the importance of balance and restraint.

Zuppa Inglese: Really, though, isn’t restraint overrated? End your trip to the North End with some cool, creamy gelato at Napoli Pastry (120 Salem St., 617-742-0809) or Gigi Gelateria (272 Hanover St., 617-720-4243) and sample this delicious flavor based on the English dessert trifle, which incorporates hints of custard, egg nog and sweet cake.

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