Once best known for its baseball legends and particular accents, Boston is different from other US cities. Bostonians are fiercely loyal to ‘Beantown’; All universally proud of their own, what they do, and how they do it. This is a town where restaurateurs, servers, bakers, and deli owners care about the food they create and serve. The result shines on every plate.
Boston specialities like chowder, subs, grinders, and lobster rolls now cozy up to French rotisserie, Crudo, and sashimi on menus across town. Chefs, servers, and retailers are always up for a laugh with a relaxed approach to good Boston food.
TAKE A TOUR
There is no better way to learn about a city and its people than a food tour. We walked the streets of Boston’s North End with Michele Topor’s Boston Food Tours. There isn’t anything Michele doesn’t know about the North End — America’s oldest Italian community. Her knowledge, insights, and genuine love of the neighbourhood come from someone who has lived here for nearly 50 years
As you walk down the cobbled streets you hear “Michele” again and again; she has known many of the shopkeepers and personalities since they were kids.
Down a hidden alley the tour starts at Bricco Panetteria where the bread is verace (true), with a starter from Naples. Fine choux pastries are fresh-filled to order with lightly sweetened ricotta cream. Bellissimo!
In 80 years, little has changed at the neighbourhood favourite Polcari’s Coffee. Walk-in and you feel the warm whoosh of spice and coffee aromas. The store is filled from floor to ceiling with dried beans, lentils, licorice root, Italian seeds, and those tiny, Puntini candy. Many of the old North Enders who now live in the suburbs return weekly for authentic ingredients.
At Maria’s Pastry Shop the exceptional cannoli are also only filled when you buy. Delicate amaretti, brightly coloured, handpainted marzipan ‘fruit’, torrone, crispelle, and more are all prepped and baked on-site. V. Cirace & Sons is a wonderland of wine treasures from around the world. It’s also home to one of America’s finest ranges of Grappa.
Editor’s Note: Due to Covid-19 Michele is currently not taking tours.
By the 1930s, more than 44,000 Italian immigrants called the North End home in an area less than one square mile.
Lucia is classic Italian-American – red sauce and big servings. Artist Frank McWade’s murals are reminiscent of the old-school version of Italy. The Frattaroli family brought many specialties from their home of Abruzzo along with plenty of traditional Italian hospitality.
This is Boston food that somehow seems familiar. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of the Sopranos and Arte’s Nuovo Vesuvio. Speak with North End born and bred Manager Frank Iudiciani and he’ll let you in on a few of Lucia’s and the neighbourhood’s long-held secrets.
Start with a perfect Caprese — tomato with buffalo mozzarella blessed with good aged balsamic and EVO. The veal is paper-thin while the tiramisu is silky with lingering limoncello.
BOSTON PUBLIC MARKET
Opening in 2015, the market is home to more than 40 local farmers, food entrepreneurs, bakers, and fishers in a space designed to educate as much as sell. Everything sold at the market is produced or grown in New England.
Red’s Best (with the help of 21st-century technologies) aggregates the catch from over a thousand small-boat New England fishermen. When you buy from Red’s Best you know the name of the boat, the fishermen, and the site of the catch. Buy to cook at home or grab a superb lobster bisque or clam chowder that must be eaten with oyster crackers.
Stillman’s Farm produce is ‘Conscientiously Grown’ and exemplifies that seasonal and local is most definitely colourful and best. Union Square Donuts’ artisan treats run from vegan specialties to bacon-topped maple.
Lunch or dinner at Tasting Counter is a whole new ball game. (When in Boston…) There are no tips or gratuities at this fine diner. You buy ‘tickets’ online. There is no regular a la carte menu. In place of tables, we sit at a u-shaped kitchen bench. There isn’t a wine list either – the sommelier pours well-considered drops. Chefs serve you as they craft each plate only centimetres away.
Do we call it progressive, innovative, experimental, or simply unconventional? Certainly, it is a game-changer for Boston. and Chef/owner Peter Ungár’s environmentally conscious, 100% natural philosophy is evident in every aspect – from the menu to the restaurant’s design. Located adjacent to a brewery on an industrial estate in Boston’s suburban Somerville, the unassuming exterior doesn’t give much away.
Seating just 20 around a U-shaped bench, lunch’s welcoming bites of sourdough puff with mascarpone, onion, and gruyere are served with a glass of French NV. The lightest, tiny gremolata dumplings are served in a lighter than air ‘soup’ of hen of the woods mushrooms, soured cream, sea urchin, and preserved lemon.
Dried black olive dots bring an earthiness atop the Atlantic Sea Bream (served with an Oregon Swick Wines Mouvedure 2016) Two more elegant courses and a palate-cleansing Schisandra berry tea follow.
A chestnut dessert incorporates dates, hazelnuts, and foie gras. Wow! The parting morsels? The prettiest canelé of goat milk caramel, a juniper, a jewel-like cranberry fruit jube, and a fennel sugar, pumpkin seed praline sprinkled chocolate drop.
Peter Ungar must have known something the rest of the world didn’t. It what must now be considered COVID-safe, at the end of it all, you just say thank you and go. No tip, no credit cards. And to remember this remarkable lunch you leave with a tiny menu with the matched wines also listed. Genius.
SELECT OYSTER BAR
Chef Michael Serpa had already made his mark on Boston dining as executive chef at the acclaimed Neptune Oyster Bar when he went solo and opened Select Oyster Bar in 2015. Now his buzzy, casually swanky Back Bay restaurant is a happy place to be on a Friday or probably any night of the week. Lucky locals sip artisanal cocktails and slurp local oysters at the zinc-topped bar.
The wine list is suitably seafood friendly and the recommended Anderson Valley Roederer Estate Brut Rose NV is a flawless start with the peekytoe crab salad and whipped avocado. A hazelnut aioli dresses charred romanesco cauliflower alongside shallot, parsley and lemon. Flavours are refined, not fussy with dressed Maine lobster served simply and superbly chilled with fines-herbes and lemon.
Many of us travel to eat. We may not be travelling far right now but add Boston to the top of your list in 2021 or 2022. Boston food represents the best of American dining. Diverse, formal, relaxed, seasonal, and local. It’s also those smiling faces that deliver each tasty morsel that makes for an unforgettable and delicious time.
Disclaimer: This Magnificent Life were hosted by Discover New England and Fairmont Copley Plaza
Read more about the historic and elegant Fairmont Copley Plaza here