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Modern Pastry

I have a couple questions about Modern versus Mike's (I've done some board sleuthing and haven't found any answers). Is Modern the place to go even if I don't like cannolis? I'm more of a fan of cake, brownies, and cookies (usually with some amount of chocolate). Does Modern have more stuff than their pastry case displays? I've gone in a couple times to get a glimpse of what they have, and it doesn't seem like much. So any recommendations? Every time I go to the North End, I tell myself to get something from Modern, but I instinctively go to Mike's (especially for the huge M&M cookies). But this week I'm determined to go to Modern. Is the strawberry cheesecake too rich or is it really good?


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  1. Try Maria's, around the corner facing the artery parks on Cross St next to J.Pace. It's old world goodness. And cheaper. The cookies are terrific and the various other pastries - like sfogliatelle (filled with ricotta) and the lobster tail (filled with a cream filling) - are super. I haven't had her cakes.

    4 Replies
    1. re: lergnom

      I agree - go to Maria's. Both Modern and Mike's lack authenticity and are there for the tourists not the folks who appreciate real Italian bakeries.

        1. re: RichardinJP

          I've lived in Boston most of my life, so am not a tourist, and I prefer Mike's. I don't understand why just because a place is popular it is deemed a tourist trap.

          1. re: pollystyrene

            Well I don't understand why a place is popular just because it is so big. They have a huge counter. Some of the young ladies who work behind the counter are nice.

            Maybe it is deemed a tourist trap because they have these nice plastic bags that say "Mike's Pastry" that all the tourists walk the freedom trail with, and take back to their hotel on the T.

            To me the problem with Mike's is that their products just aren't very good. Pretty much everything I've ever tried from there is just too sweet. And for me to say that, with the sweet tooth that I have, it must really mean something. Most of their items don't seem very fresh either.

            The more people who to to Mike's, the shorter the line at Modern, so I'm not complaining.

      1. In my opinion, there is nothing worth getting at Modern aside from cannolis. Nothing is impressive to me there, nor has it been for most of the people I know who have had other stuff there. Although they do sometimes have these pretzel rods dipped in chocolate and caramel that are supposed to be amazing, but they never have them when I go in for a cannoli. If you aren't bothered by rude service, the cheesecake at Lulu's right near Modern is really good. My pal gets the lemon meringue cheesecake every time and loves it. Have fun!

        10 Replies
        1. re: chicken pot pie

          Just don't get the cupcakes at Lulu's. They're dry and among the worst I've had. I don't think the NE bakeries are good for cookies, brownies, etc. I love Mike's, but whenever I've strayed from cannoli and lobster tails, I've been disappointed. I remember a peanut butter fudge brownie that was particularly dry and bland. Maybe you should stick with the M&M cookies!

          1. re: chicken pot pie

            Does not sound like you are even going to the same bakery... I have eaten nearly everything they make at one point or another and the pastries never cease to amaze. See my post below. If you are categorically trashing what I believe to be one of the best pastry shops in Boston, please detail a few more things that you have actually eaten that were bad. If you are eating chocolate dipped pretzels that is not much of an example of an Italian pastry...

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Did not mean to offend. I am not categorically trashing Modern. I tell everyone I know to go there for cannoli. However, was not impressed with eclair, chocolate mousse-style cake, tiramisu, cheesecake, strawberry shortcake-type thing, others... Never actually ate the pretzels, as I said in my post, but heard they are awesome. Ricotta pie was good, I am sorry I neglected to mention that. It's all just a matter of opinion. I thought that was what this board was about: sharing opinions. I don't claim to be an authority on the North End just because I live there. I was just sharing a response to a post regarding what to get at Modern, aside from cannoli. I would probably not get anything other than cannoli. Have a good day.

              1. re: chicken pot pie

                Aaaah I understand. I don't mind if you dis a place with some detail and the place desserved it. In short we agree. Pretty much anything they do that has an American ring to it: cheesecake, strawberry shortcake, eclairs, etc. is not really noteworthy.

                That said, anything old-school Italian usually shines. Do yourself a favor and try something ITALIAN at the ITALIAN bakery. You probably won't be disappointed. Their cassata, macaroons, torrone, and florentines in particular shine.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  Had a damn fine custard zeppole there this afternoon. Could have used more cherries, but then, there are never enough cherries in anything for me.

                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                    I believe custom only permits 2 or 3 cherries in the making of zeppole.

                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                      Thos are zeppoli di San Giuseppe which they only make this time of year. YUM!

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Yep, we know that. I'd been hoping for a visit to Modern while they're in season.

                        What I can never remember is the season when they make the ricotta pie with wheat berries - is that for Easter?

                        1. re: Allstonian

                          Think it is the few weeks surrounding Easter proper.

              2. re: chicken pot pie

                Everything I have ever had at Modern Pastry has been outstanding, especially the ricotta pies. I've been to all the local bakeries and similar bakeries in Philadelphia. None surpasses Modern Pastry to me.

              3. I'm more of a Modern than a Mike's fan myself, quite like the amaretti con pignoli. Service has always been cordial to me. Maria's is my go-to for sfogliatelle; I really should try other things there. Maybe time for a little North End cookie crawl.


                2 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  You really have to try the riccota pie with the chocolate layer in the middle at Maria's. It's positively the most amazing treat I've ever had.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    Yup - the pignoli cookies are good at Modern - does Mike's even make them?

                  2. Modern blows Mikes out of the water. Pretty much anything they make is awesome. Mike's is mostly junk, made from commercial mixes for tourists. Modern quite the opposite. The only thing I eat from Mike's is the black and white cookies and the pistachio cookies.

                    From Modern, just go in and try something, anything, not just cannoli. Their chocolate truffle bars are insane as are their Florentine cookies, cassata, Almond macaroons, ricotta pie, etc. etc.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      That said, I think it's best to stick with Italian pastries at any of the Italian bakeries in the North End. I've been pretty consistently disappointed at Modern when I've strayed away from the Italian specialties to such items as the eclairs and the black and white cookies (I will have to try one at Mike's!)

                      So if your preference is indeed "cakes, brownies, and cookies (usually with some amount of chocolate)" then I think you're not going to be impressed at Modern (except possibly by the excellent Florentines), or at Maria's for that matter.

                      1. re: Allstonian

                        I am shocked at the long lines out the door whenever I pass by Mike's. Do they pay all the concierges in town for tourist business?

                        1. re: joebloe

                          I actually quite like the cannoli at Mike's (which are all I've really had there) though I like the ones at Modern more. It's just kind of an institution and something people associate with the North End. There is much better street/stand food than you find in Faneuil Hall, but people still flock there. It's not necessarily a bad thing and every city has places like that (not that Mike's has the same amount of historical significance as Faneuil Hall, but you see my point).

                          1. re: joebloe

                            Although Mike's might be average by Boston standards, I've heard from visitors to Boston (yes, I talk to tourists sometimes) that it's far and away better than can be found in many parts of the U.S.

                            In that case, Modern might make some tourists' heads explode, and that would be bad for tourism overall, I think.

                          2. re: Allstonian

                            I agree, it would never even occur to me to eat a brownie or non-Italian cake at Modern.

                          3. re: StriperGuy

                            I love the dark chocolate Florentines at Modern.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              I've had good ricotta pie from Mike's and they sell a wider variety of marzipan animals (lambs for easter or, in my case, for a Seder).

                              I have a strong preference for Maria's, as noted above. I used to like Modern a lot but they renovated to make it look like a Milanese pastry shop, keeping only the sign, and it's not the same for me without the torrone piled on the side, etc. I've never been a big Mike's fan but none of these places suck.

                            2. I think this is one of the questions that everyone has their own favorites. Its based on not only taste, but what you grew up on. I personally really like Mikes...but, it is also the place that I went as a kid, so there is that familiar taste. I don't really get the cookies/brownies and such, I always go for the Lobster Claws, which are so amazing at Mike's. It is all about the cream in the middle and a fresh outside, and it is made perfectly there. But, I have never heard a bad review of Modern either!

                              1. Piling on the Florentines at Modern -- a friend who visits from NYC always takes a few pounds home. The pignoli cookies at Mike's are okay, but much better at Maria's.

                                1. I've been a fan of Modern since 1967 and I find Mike's to be very commercial and most of his product has been frozen.
                                  For the past 2 years I've been going to Luberto"s Bakery in Revere and find it every bit as good as Modern, if not better. They have a far larger selection of goods in their cases.
                                  Give them a try.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: janzy

                                    I had some cookies from Luberto's that a friend brought to a party, and they were incredible! In the North End, my go to bakery is Maria's. We love their cookies, and especially their sfogliatelle! I may have to try to find Luberto's, though, as their cookies were awesome! I'll go into Mikes as the wife likes their large peanut butter cookies, and their ricotta pie isn't bad. At Maria's I usually only get cannolis. but the wife's not a fan of them so we don't get them too often. Everything I've had at Maria's has ben outstanding.

                                    1. re: kimfair1

                                      If you are a traditional cake, brownie fan, which I totally get, try the half moons at Modern. My family are ricotta-pie "moes" and will not eat it from anywhere but Modern. I am too, but sometimes I Jones for something different. Their Florentines are the bomb, and another addiction of mine is their rainbow cookies... a cakie, almond, almost petit four type thing with three layers of bright color and robed in chocolate. NorthEnd bakeries are more pastry shops vs. "bakery-cakery". I don't always want fluffy pastry with cheese/cream/lard. I actually just had to pickup a ricotta pie this weekend and wanted a small cake....but not from the NorthEnd. I stopped at Trader Joes for Milk and was heading to Quebrada in Arlington when I spied a small vanilla cake at TJ for 6.99. This was one of the, if not THE BEST little vanilla cakes I've had. and the Ricotta Relatives all went for the little cake. Go figure.
                                      This was quite a surprise...I looked at ingredients and did not see any hydrogenateds, which is something that turns me off; i.e. crisco in frosting.

                                      1. re: Buddernut

                                        By "half moons" at Modern, do you mean the black and white cookies? Because I've been deeply disappointed by Modern's version.

                                        1. re: Allstonian

                                          Yup, but my my definitition its a "Half-moon" because its cakey and larger vs. a black and white being a bit more cookie like and a bit smaller. Also the half-moon has traditional frosting, vs. the black and white has more of an "icing". You could well have had a bum half moon from Modern as I have noticed that since the rehab of the interior, I've gotten a stale, and sometimes sub-par product from time to time. The 3-4 times I've had the half moons there were fresh with creamy frosting. Once I had them and they were hard & tasted like they had been frozen.

                                  2. My sense has always been that Mike's cannoli filling is more blended, creamier and sweeter, i.e., less authentic while Modern and Maria's both use real ricotta, and so is a little grainier and less sweet, i.e., more authentic.

                                    And this being the main reason why Mike's is more preferred by the general public - sort of why the Pepsi challenge appeared to show that people preferred Pepsi - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepsi_Ch...

                                    Can anyone confirm whether this is in fact true?

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                      That makes perfect sense in my case. I like Pepsi much better than Coke. You're implying that's because it's sweeter? If grainy and less sweet is authentic, give me creamy, sweet ersatz stuff any day. I like to keep the sweet tooth happy.

                                      1. re: pollystyrene

                                        "You're implying that's because it's sweeter?"

                                        I think it's some sort of genetic / evolutionary impulse that we naturally have a bias for sweet = safe to eat, nutrition. The Pepsi Challenge was scientifically flawed because it exploited this bias.

                                        I suspect Mike's cannoli filling psychologically works in much the same way.

                                        Don't fall victim! Insist on real sweetened ricotta in your cannoli! ;)

                                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                          Really? We're genetically predisposed to think sweeter is safer? Sounds like some gene mutation perpetrated by the Dental Association. Interesting, though, if counterintuitive. So the next time the line's too long at Mike's, I'll get one of those grainy old authentic things from Modern and wash it down with a delectable Pepsi. Ahhhh. Thanks for all that edifyin', Bob Dob.

                                          1. re: pollystyrene

                                            Not safer, but tastier. We are genetically predisposed to prefer sweet things, as they were usually higher in calories and for animals who don't have it so easy to find food readily, this is a good thing.

                                    2. There was an article in the Metro today about the switch to trans-fat free ingredients due to the ban, and the owner of Modern was quoted as saying they had to re-jigger about 70% of their recipes (and how much poorer in taste the owner thought they were). I'd be curious to hear from anyone who's tried their bake goods over the next few days to see if they notice a drop in quality.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: kobuta

                                        Oh, I did not know that was in effect now for every establishment. But it makes me wonder why a place would complain about having to switch. It means their products will have to be fresher and cannot hang around for a week and retain the same texture. I know crisco products make for a nice "crumb", but Quebrada has been doing it for years and their products are fabulous. Thanks for the info.

                                        1. re: Buddernut

                                          The article said the owner was bemoaning the fact the food industry hasn't caught up with this health trend in offering suitable subsitutes for these ingredients. He didn't name any particular item, so I don't know what ingredients are affected (though he did say he was particularly worried about the frosting). While he needed to rework a lot of recipes, another baker said only a small percentage of hers needed reworking, so it seems to vary from baker to baker. This is only in effect for Boston, and as far as I know, does not affect those outside of the city of Boston.

                                          1. re: kobuta

                                            the Modern has some great items outside of their canolis
                                            the Paragina , Sfogliatella. Homemade Torrone, and Florentine's
                                            are excellent as are the Lobster Tails which are also filled fresh..and are good for probably 3 people...Maria's is also very good...

                                            Mikes has the reputation and the tourists..they make and freeze many of their items that stand up to it..which can lead to a not so fresh taste.

                                            1. re: kobuta

                                              Another baker on the news tonight said people were returning cakes, complaining that they'd been sold old product, when it was just the new trans-fat free recipes.

                                              I wonder if the Modern in Medford will change their ingredients too. I'm all for healthy and avoid trans fats when I can, but not if the product tastes stale and "off".

                                        2. I usually stick to cannoli and florentines at Modern but a friend told me to try the lemon cookies about a year ago, and they were great. No chocolate, which I also usually look for, but quite tasty. They look like anise cookies, small, round, with white icing, but they don't have the sprinkles that the anise cookies have. They are usually packaged in clear bags near the front of the store. When I haven't seen them I've asked and they are often out of them - I think they only make them a couple of days a week.

                                          I had the strawberry cheesecake once a few years ago, and it was ok but I didn't like it enough to want to order it again.

                                          1. I went to Modern last week for a Cassata Cake (Sicialian rum cake) - it was by far the best I have ever had. So good that we went and got another one for another birthday this weekend.

                                            1. I was there tonight and the line was out the door. The lines move way too slow that I have left because they do not put enough help on. This has happened to me the past three times I have been down in the North End.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: macadamianut

                                                That's why I will end up at Mikes some nights. Modern is so slow that even when there isn't a line I feel like I have to wait for ever. Even when there is a line at Mikes it's easy to get in and out.

                                                1. re: macadamianut

                                                  They had three people working the line this afternoon -- which is as many as they can fit back there -- and the line was still out the door. The problem is not the employees, it's the clientele. We always know what we want by the time we get up there, and we're paid and out the door very quickly once our order is placed. The problem is folks like the people ahead of us, who end up ordering a dozen different items, but doing it one and two pieces at a time, with a lot of "What's that? No the one next to it. Is that any good? Okay, then what about the one next to that?" Direct your ire there, not at the employees.

                                                2. The non-cannoli item I like the most at Modern are their biscotti and butter cookies. I also like their sfogliatelli and pasticciotte (sp? mini ricotta pies)

                                                  I would also like to put in a good word for Maria's, she's my go-to when Modern is too crowded (which is like 80% of the time). Maria's was the only business open on her block during the peak of the Big Dig construction, and I'm so glad she survived during that time. I like her ossi di morti cookies (seasonal, I think)

                                                  1. So I ended up going and here's my report. I went into Maria's first, just to see what she had: I got some M&M cookies because those are my favorite cookies (though Mikes' win), and I got something called totos (I think). It was a chocolate spice cookie: very good.

                                                    Then I went to Modern. Some people have mentioned the wait: it was way too long. There were only four people ahead of me (or maybe three, one might have been a couple) and it took 15-20 minutes. I think the people behind the counter are the biggest reason for the long wait. They move so slow. When it was finally my turn, they kept me waiting for about 3 minutes doing who knows what. Anyway, on to the pastries. I got the ricotta pie and chocolate mousse. The chocolate mousse was pretty good, though I wasn't a fan of the thing on the bottom. I think it was fried or something: I'm not sure why it was there. I thought the ricotta pie was very good. I'm a big fan of it. So I think I'll keep trying stuff from Modern, but not if the line is more than 5 people.

                                                    I have one question about their tiramisu. I got the tiramisu from Mike's once and it was so sweet that I almost got sick. I don't think I had ever had something that sweet. Is Modern's overwhelmingly sweet? I want to try it, but if authentic tiramisu is that sweet, I don't want anything to do with it.


                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: rep123max

                                                      Your assessment of the line (and how dreadfully slow it moves) at Modern is spot on. When they renovated a year or two ago, I had high hopes that they'd lay out the place in a way that helped that line move faster, but no such luck.

                                                      Your assessment of the way-too-sweet tiramisu at Mike's is in line with every product they make, IMO (at least all the ones I've tried there). It is less sweet everywhere else, I'll bet.

                                                      1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                                        I personally think Modern in the North End "likes" to see a line...... a really big line. It adds to the Buzz and the Folklore of the place. I know customers can be painfully indecisive when they finally get to the counter.... but it does not help tourists and others when there is no description of what a pastry is. When you see a green mound.... you just don't know what the heck it is. And the help behind the counter....I'm sorry, they don't make the effort to move the line. They move at a snails pace and sometimes have bad attitudes. Like a page out of Durgin Park.
                                                        But it is what it is...
                                                        I go to the Medford location quite a bit ....Less stress.

                                                        1. re: Buddernut

                                                          I completely agree about the lack of description. The pastry case is terribly positioned. While waiting in line, you can't see what they have. Once you can finally see what they have, you can't tell what it is. So you have to wait until your turn to figure out what everything is and then decide.

                                                    2. FWIW, I just got home from Boston and had an amazing piece of chocolate fudge cake from Mike's; husband had an eclair. YUM! They don't make it like that in Virginia! :)

                                                      1. It's all been said here, but my vote goes to Modern for the 'real' italian items (I'm a sucker for anything filled with Modern's ricotta) and I order cassata and cheesecakes from them about times 6 a year for family birthdays/occassions. As for Mikes, which I haven't been to in years so things may have chnaged but from what I remember, I do have to say that Mike's seemed more efficiently/professionally run. But I always got the senes that items there weren't entirely fresh -- things weren't obviously stale but they had that mass-produced and overrefridgerated feel to them. There is just something about Modern that feels ore authentic (despite the clueless counter service from anyone not related to the owners). I haven't tried Maria's, but think I will next time.