Sfinciuni e Arincini/ Slices and Rice Balls
Today is day 20 of the 30 day challenge to eat the cuisine of a different culture everyday, losing weight, saving money and making friends in the bargain. With only a third left on the plate it's been no challenge making friends and it works out that I've tasted something new and learned a ton about cooking and pride each day. In Boston’s Italian North End (Nahth En), acquaintances that’ve grown up there like to say there are two kinds of people; Italians…and people who want to be Italian. Most would agree that many things Italian are terrific like fashion, sports cars and food, lots of reasons to be proud including the Galleria Umberto Rosticcerria. In Italy a Rosticceria is a fast food restaurant except the food is good. Since 1965 and at the Hanover street location since 1973, the faithful line up out the door most days for Sicilian pizza, arrincini rice balls and more very good things, that is until they run out. (*This is often early in the afternoon).
Today’s mission is to pick up lunch and dinner in a strategic shopping strike on the old neighborhood. First pahk for free on Hanover. Call Umberto and order as the line is out onto the street, stop at Salumeria Italiana for bread, buratta, and prosciutto. Next visit Albee the Green Grocer for a tip on tomatoes and super fresh basil (enough for sandwiches and pesto). The scene at Mike’s is absurd (tourists) so today is a Modern Pastry Day. (4 cannoli/nuts&sugar-almonds instead of pistachios). Modern is however, still filling cannoli to order which is proper.
With shopping bags in tow (and wafting basil like a chain censer) bypass the conga line of Umberto patrons, down the left to the relatively short phone-order (only) line. The layout of the long narrow lunch room is Spartan. Awesome travel poster seens of Itly are the décor. Ralph and Paul have been working this counter always and as they efficiently take the orders, box the food and do the math, the line seems to grow longer kind’ve like a run on the bank. Everyone is not wrong. Known in Palermo as Sfinciuni, this pizza is a tremendously delicious stand alone, often lost in this city’s ocean of stuff called pizza. Great giant rectangles are broken down with pizza cutters into mangiareable size rectangles. Devotees like me prefer the crispy outer edges and char kissed corners. The sweet tomato sauce and local cheeses (mozzarella, pecorino) meld with the slightly spongy yet light dough and a road map of oil rivulets on bubbly browned slices which makes for many a religious experience. The dough is available to go home with you but the sauce is not for sale. Peroni Beer, the pale malty hoppy and pleasantly bitter Italian Pilsner pairs perfectly if you are eating there. There is also humble vino by the glass, soda and bottled water. Some recommend the wine with the soda (old habits).
The Arancini or rice ball at Galleria Umberto is also an outstanding version of the golden risotto globe, rolled in breadcrumbs filled with a deep tomato beef ragu which is studded with peas. Sicilians have been bobbing these orbs in oil since the 10th century and at the Umberto, they get it so right. This comfort food, which gets its name from the round "orange" look needs no sauce on the top as some do in other cities. That would be gilding a Sicilian lily.
Also on the menu are pannini (pastry tube encased rollades of ham n’cheese), pizzettes (think bagel and pizza have a love child), panzarotti (rosemary flecked potato cheese fritters), and calzones including a salami ricotta that I had somehow never tried. Go figure.
Galleria Umberto is one of those fixtures that haven’t changed. It has resisted the gentrification of the old neighborhood and in the words of one longtime patron, “When is goes so goes the Nahth End”. Let’s hope not. Honest food done well and consistently happens here along with friendly service where your face is recognized and a strong handshake is proffered. If you speak Italian you will be greeted in Italiano. And you do: pizza, arrincini, pannini, pizzette, panzarotti, and calzone.
Open Mon-Sat 11am-2:30pm
Galleria Umberto Rosticerria
289 Hanover Street
Boston, MA 02113-1810
151 Richmond St, Boston, MA 02109
257 Hanover St, Boston, MA
289 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113
Two minor amplifications: the panini also have salami in them, along with the ham and cheese, and the pizzette -- which I recently tried for the very first time after over 15 years of going to Umberto -- has the same ragu as the aranchini inside it. I was surprised to learn that, because I'd always assumed it was just dough with sauce and cheese on top!
Also, if you're planning on going spurred by this review: you have until about 1 p.m. Thursday. Umberto is always shuttered for the length of July.