Ode to the North End

I groggily pawed for my cell phone, alarm blaring, at the ripe hour of 6:15 AM. After a full day of travel and excitement ending just a few hours before, needless to say, I was in no shape to be peeling myself out of my safe cocoon of slumber. An early morning flight in from NYC had been followed by frantic scurrying to FedEx to get printouts (incorrectly done), a delightful yet rushed lunch at Ames Street Deli waiting for said re-prints. My team and I set up a rum staff training and wrapped up the night with a few cocktails at Wink and Nod, a gorgeous bar that reminds me of what it would look like if someone’s eccentric great-aunt from Key West came in to spruce up a cigar lounge. All the while, I was fielding e-mails and putting out fires for upcoming events in NYC this weekend. C’est la vie productif!

Mai Tai @ Wink & Nod. Gorgeous.

Mai Tai @ Wink & Nod. Gorgeous.

Rolling directly into a pair of yoga pants, I headed over to exhale Battery Wharf for a 7:00 AM yoga class. The streets were silent – by the water, the world hadn’t started to wake up yet, and the morning was salty and crisp. Waving hello to the boats along the pier, I scurried upstairs to the comfortable space – thanks to a gorgeous little thing called ClassPass Flex, I’m able to continue my membership even when I’m on the road.

Battery Wharf, Boston. It's so, so, so, early.

Battery Wharf, Boston. It’s so, so, so, early.

After an inspiring class and more awake than I had anticipated, I bounded out onto the sidewalk again, and raised my hand to hail a cab once more – but something stopped me. Checking my map, I realized that I was a mere few blocks from the North End, Boston’s “Little Italy” that I had swung through briefly while riding along with a sales rep the day before. A young guy, he had deftly backed his car into a parallel spot, confidently strode down the street nodding and waving to people he knew (or didn’t, I think it’s just the Boston way) and grabbed a cup of coffee there, regaling me with tales of the cannoli wars of Boston. Apparently, there are staunch loyalists to both – Mike’s or Modern – and natives can get pretty heated in their die hard support of one or the other. Grabbing a drink a bit later in the day with my cousin’s boyfriend James, I casually asked him which he preferred. “Modern,” he replied without skipping a beat. I had to try.

How far to Italy from Boston?

How far to Italy from Boston?

Wandering down a narrow cobblestone alley in the North End, Yelp directed me to Vittoria Caffe for a cappuccino, and upon entering I realized it was the exact same place I had been taken to the day before. The grinning barista made me a rich cappuccino as I poked around the stunning shop with these intricate coffee machines that probably outdate me by a few decades. Stepping back out on the street, I found Modern Pastry Shop’s two storefronts down the road past a sign that pointed the way to all corners of Italy. Apprehensively opening the door, I found 6 tables nearly all full with older locals, who clearly knew what was up. At 8:30 AM they were already ready with their coffees and pastries, thumbing through the newspaper or idly chatting away. That place smelled like heaven. I ordered a cannoli – did I want toppings on it? I think there were a few options but I zoned out as soon as I heard “chocolate chips” and my brain started salivating. Is that even possible?!

The girl at the counter disappeared into the back, and after what seemed like an exorbitantly long time to a person waiting for a pastry, she brought out this glorious, golden shell filled with a perfect creamy filling coming out of both ends, almost completely covered in the tiniest chocolate chips.

I sat at Giovanni’s table (whoever Giovanni is, I’d like to thank him for the prime people watching real estate) and as daintily as possible, gobbled down my delicious breakfast (calories burned from my early AM vinyasa flow were, in my head, canceling out whatever was going on at the moment). Unbelievable. I bought five more before I left (bet you think I’m going to say I ate them all). I brought them back to the hotel for my team, all needing a hair of the dog to treat their mild hangovers. Literally, what is a better hangover cure than glorious Italian pastries?!

Modern Pastry. Giovanni knew how to appreciate cannolis.

Modern Pastry. Giovanni knew how to appreciate cannolis.

I could have stayed all day. Between the slightly seedy old Italian restaurants (that I’d feel uncomfortable sitting in with my back to the door), cigar shops, and gorgeous scenery, the North End captured my heart. Many “Little Italy” neighborhoods don’t feel authentic – while Boston’s certainly doesn’t feel like strolling the streets of Milan, the sun dancing off of the cobblestone streets definitely captured my imagination and made me want to go back as soon as possible. And eat a shit ton of those pastries.

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