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By Patti Morrow
It never gets old. Strolling through the narrow streets of Boston’s North End, known affectionately as “Little Italy,” is always a multi-sensory stimulating event. From the sumptuous smells of homemade pasta dishes wafting from the small restaurants, the vibrant New England-accented banter of the pedestrians, to the colorful and festive façades of the shops and bars, tourists and locals alike flock to the area any time of the year.
But the best reason to come to the North End is to devour the celebrated cannoli. All other pastries pale in comparison and none better can be found. Anywhere. Period.
A rolled up, deep fried but flaky shell generously jammed with fresh, rich, and slightly sweetened ricotta cheese cream filling then dusted with confectioner’s sugar, the cannoli comes as close as anything to heaven on earth.
Enter the two legendary giants, diagonally facing off on Hanover Street: Mike’s and Modern, and the so-called rivalry that has been playing out for decades.
Founded in 1942 by Mike Mercogliano, Mike’s Pastry is famous for its consistently long lines, especially during the summer, which sometimes stretch out the door and down the street. Even though they also sell cookies, biscotti, cream puffs, breads, and numerous other baked goods, they are renowned for their numerous and dazzling variations of cannoli. Mercogliano, who passed away in 2012, was quoted in a Boston Globe article, “If you want low-fat cookies, don’t come in Mike’s – they taste like clay.”
Modern Pastry Shop, another authentic Italian bakery, has been owned and operated by three generations encompassing 70 years of baking assorted Italian treats in the North End, and boast over 150 years of “Old World” Italian recipes and techniques. “The world may have changed since the 1930’s, but our original recipes and time honored traditions for creating our confections have not,” the family claims. Modern is always busy, though not to the state of chaos as Mike’s.
“Tourists go to Mike’s; locals go to Modern,” I’d always heard. Having lived in New England nearly all my life, I had always gravitated toward Modern. I’d have none of the decadent cannoli variations offered by Mike’s – I’m a cannoli purist, true to the un-tampered with original. Why mess around with perfection? In my opinion, creating perfection out of the classics highlights true culinary talent.
But whose is really the king of cannoli?
Mike’s has the edge on size and appearance. Their gargantuan presence conjures images of my mama’s rebuke, “your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” Still, I’ve yet to leave even the smallest cannoli morsel on my plate.
Not to be overlooked, however, is that Modern does not pre-make their cannoli. Smaller, with a more delicate shell, they are always made fresh to order.
Only one way to resolve the dispute for certain – the tried-and-true blind taste test. Laden with my trusty pink blindfold, I purchased one of the treats from each place and set out to let the world know. After being fed a bite from each cannoli (my hands would have given it away due to the difference in size), a conclusion was reached.
The verdict? Holy cannoli, I surprised everyone, including myself, by choosing Mike’s! How could that be? I’m a born-and-bred New Englander! The shell was just as crisp as Modern’s, but the creamy filling was lighter, smoother and slightly less sweet, letting the subtle cheesy flavor of the ricotta shine through. Just to be sure, I repeated the blindfold test with Jill, and sure enough, she chose the Mike’s, too.
But let me finish by saying I did finish. Both cannoli, that is. No matter which bakery you choose to patronize, you can’t go wrong consuming what are undoubtedly the best cannoli in Boston, maybe even the world.
Read More Travel Tips by Patti Morrow:
Patti Morrow was born with incurable wanderlust, eventually leading her to a career as a freelance travel writer and photographer. She specializes in women’s adventure travel and has traveled throughout most of the United States and 35 countries abroad.
Patti has been published in numerous media, including International Living, Women’s Home Journal, Travel Post Monthly, MORE magazine, WAVEJourney.com, and Diva Toolbox and was featured on Tori Johnson (of Good Morning America) Spark and Hustle.
She is the editor of Luggage, Lipstick and Laptop, an online resource for women’s adventure travel, and is a member of ITWPA, AWAI, Intrepid Travel, Media Kitty, and TravelWriters.com.