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Jun 27, 2008 11:10 PM

North End Pastry

I have a surprise visit to the North End early tomorrow AM and will need to grab a pastry and coffee around 8.45, or however long it takes to hoof it to the Govt Center T stop before 9.30.

It's my understanding that the most reputable players are Mike's, Maria's, Modern, and Bova (which I understand to be more bread oriented).

I'm severely uneducated about Italian Pastry. I'd like to try a signature dish. Also, those who have read my Cambridge thread know I have a bad reaction to sweets (I sound like a dummy for pursuing a pastry anyways, but sometimes a less-sweet pastry can work if cut with coffee. I'm not going to give up the chance to try something new).

So, if you were to look for a not-too-sweet classic pastry item, what would you choose? I've had a cannoli before but that's it. Everything else looks really intriguing.

Also, where would you choose to get it? I'm hoping I can make this thread a little more publicly beneficial by initiating a throwdown.

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  1. I always go to Mike's....heard he's from Woburn and so am I so I like to give them my business. I love the Italian cookies. Ricotta pie is something pretty traditional you may want to try.

    Sorry I'm not a whole lot of help.

    13 Replies
    1. re: rizzo0904

      My first thought went to ricotta pie as well - the cookie-like crust might be too sweet for you, but the filling is probably okay. I favor Modern over Mike's, and I think Maria's tends even further towards the less-sweet end of the spectrum. I think that of the three, you may find that things are sweetest at Mikes.

      Another couple of items you might enjoy are sfogilatelle (a flaky, many-layered crisp pastry shell with a ricotta filling), or a lobster tail, similar pastry and about twice as big, filled with yellow custard or a whipped cream type of filling.

      They're not super-fancy pastry, but biscotti go very nicely indeed with coffee and are not too sweet; sesame cookies might also work.

      1. re: Allstonian

        I went to Maria's today and couldn't decide between a sfogilatelle and a Regina (sesame cookie). She comped me the cookie - what a sweetie! :)

        I didn't like the sfogilatelle. The flavor was nice, but it was very dough and not flaky or crispy, as it appeared on the outside. Are they supposed to be like that? I think that kind of filling inside a lighter pastry would be killer. I'm not sure if I should try another one or a lobster tail, or if all Italian-American pastry dough is that chewy.

        The sesame cookie was awesome. Perfect with Maria's very chocolatey coffee. I might be going back tomorrow, but I'm not sure if I should go to Modern over Maria's, or if I should give a sfogilatelle/lobster tail another shot, or try a cannoli or a ricotta pie. Any info on the chewiness would be much appreciated.

        1. re: twitchology

          At Maria's and Modern, I've only had cannoli, but the lobster tails I've had at Mike's have been splendid and flaky, not chewy.

          1. re: twitchology

            If you can't tolerate over sweet I would avoid the Mike's lobster tail. The pastry is nice and flaky, but I find the filling too sweet/rich. I barely ate half of one before I felt sick.

            The cannoli at Modern is not bad on the sweet scale and was crispy.

            1. re: viperlush

              I'd go one further and say if you can't tolerate overly sweet, avoid pretty much anything at Mike's.

              The Italian cookies at Modern are great, as are their almond biscotti. I also like their sfogliatelli and ricotta pie.

              Maria's is always my back-up to Modern's when the line is too long there...which is way too often.

            2. re: twitchology

              imho the best sfogliatelle in the world are at Modern Pastry! The dough should be crispy on the outside, and flaky throughout. It's basically Italian puff pastry, and it's rolled into a million layers. shouldnt be chewy.

              Only thing I ever get at Maria's is the chunky chocolate cookies. They are heaven. But for most things, I like Modern best.

            3. re: Allstonian

              Second Modern, I'll take a warm sfogilatelle anytime! Also Rum Baba's, Ricotta Pie or a Lobster Tails full of cream and of course, some handmade vanilla almond torrone! Oh man, I'm getting to the point where I need a fix!

              1. re: treb

                However, neither rum baba nor torrone would be at all appropriate for someone with an extreme sensitivity to sweetness.

                1. re: Allstonian

                  OK, I got a little carried away but, how can you leave Modern without some? Besides the OP said they were 'severely under-educated', just trying to help with Italian pastry literacy.

              2. re: Allstonian

                Just for the sake of accuracy, a lobster tail is filled with a mixture of 1/3 each sweet custard, ricotta filling, and whipped cream.

                1. re: terrystu

                  That may depend on the bakery - according to the Mike's website "The white fresh cream filling of the Santarosa was replaced as well with a yellow custard filling, thick, chewy and delicious. The modern day versions of both of these that Mike's Pastry carries are both the white cream and yellow cream filled," which suggests two different options, not both fillings in one pastry. Maria's offers "Lobster Tail - a popular favorite. Flaky pastry filled with a vanilla mousse cream." Modern's website doesn't describe their lobster tails, but the photo shows one split open and it appears to be filled with a whipped cream type of filling.

                  1. re: Allstonian

                    I frequent all three pretty regularly and have talked to the bakers and/or managers/owners at various times and they all say that their lobster tail is 1/3 sweet custard, 1/3 ricotta cream, and 1/3 whipped cream. The older lady at Maria's - who I take to be the owner, but I'm not sure - told me they refer to it as "vanilla mousse cream" simply for the sake of brevity. This mixture is the classic Italian lobster tail cream, and I doubt many Italian bakeries would want to tamper with it.

                    1. re: terrystu

                      Had the lobster tail at Maria's recently. They fill them to order, and they were not stingy with the pastry bag--they loaded it up nicely and I couldn't eat for 8 hours afterward.

                      I had my doubts about the lobster tail pastry because the last two times I'd eaten them (at other remain nameless) the filling was glorified airy plain whipped cream, which I didn't enjoy and assumed it was the standard filling.

                      Thanks to this thread, I tried it again at Maria's and wow, what a home run.

            4. I tried a mini ricotta pie at Maria's last weekend, and while I really liked the filling, I found the dough again chewy, dense, and while not rubbery like the sfogilatelle I had, it definitely wasn't good - like an undercooked empanada.

              I think I'll try Modern tomorrow. What's the go-to item there? I'd like to try a full size slice of ricotta pie.

              1 Reply
              1. re: twitchology

                For me, the "go-to" pastries at Modern are their cannoli. However, since you're interested in expanding your horizons, do try a slice of ricotta pie. (The mini pies are tempting, but the crust-to-filling ratio is thrown off, as I think you found.)

                EACPinot mentions below that Modern had bread, but I've never ever seen any. However, it's entirely likely that I've never been there early enough.

              2. All the locals go to Modern,just as I learned to do 20 years ago, it is the best.
                They have intriguing and beautiful pastries. The "Lobster Claw" that can be sliced carefully and shared is to die for. Their Biscotties are amazing, one cannot go wrong in this little unpretendious pastry job....they also, if get there early enough, have marvelous bread...

                4 Replies
                1. re: EACPinot

                  I second this. Mike's is for tourists, and they cover half of their pastries in chocolate chips and other nonsense. Ugh.

                  At Modern, everything is good, and they don't prefill the cannolis (which makes them soggy). You should try all three cannoli fillings- ricotta, yellow custard, and chocolate custard. Also try the excellent ricotta pie, paragina (, and sfogliatella/lobster claws ( The custard in those pastries doesn't tend to be as sweet as the other things you could get there (torrone, etc). This might be tough- after all, you ARE going to a pastry shop :).

                  If you are ever there around Easter and can get your hands on some, try the wheat pie. It's totally addictive. Yum!!!


                  1. re: sfumato

                    I had Modern's ricotta pie yesterday - it was very mildly flavored, but the crust was much better than Maria's - the filling was marginally sweeter but still OK for me with coffee. Anyways, I felt pretty satisfied...

                    ...until I came back for a standard ricotta canolli today. Oh my god, I've been missing so much. I'm looking for excuses to go into Boston again tomorrow to get another one, but I'm afraid work calls :( :( Too bad they don't deliver.

                    What's paragina? It looks like a square ricotta pie.

                    1. re: twitchology

                      Parigina is sponge cake soaked with rum and filled with cream and has crispy layers of puff pastry on top and bottom. It is my favorite cake in the world -- as made by Modern. Not too sweet, and just wonderful!

                      You should also try their Quaresemale!

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        It's my favourite, too! It's like an Italian Napoleon of sorts. Modern's cream filling is like a nice smooth custard. YUM!

                2. I tried the ricotta pie at Modern today and it was awesome. A little sweet, but I can usually counteract with coffee, which I did (although Maria's had surprisingly good coffee). The crust was also different from what I'm used to, but I definitely liked it more than Maria's. I'm definitely headed back tomorrow.

                  1. I'm really intrigued by pizzelles...are they all anise flavored? Who does the best? I found some at Broadway Market in Cambridge but held off since I didn't know how long they'd been on the shelf.