Mike's versus Modern

Soon after moving to Boston I learned that there's this area called the "North End" where Bostonians and tons of tourists go for an Italian meal and an Italian pastry dessert, usually a cannoli. Even a mile or two away from the North End, you will often see people walking around with a little white box with blue lettering:

I ask dozens of people every day for their opinions about restaurants, and the most frequent topic about which I could elicit opinions was the Mike's versus Modern Pastry debate. It's not even really a debate.  It goes like this: most people who live in Boston will tell you that tourists go to Mike's but that those who know go to Modern.

So when my friend Matt came to visit me from Orlando, after we dined at Giacomo's in the South End, we meandered our way, trying to burn off at least a few calories in preparation, up to the North End to do a Mike's versus Modern cannoli taste test.

We went to Modern first. The line to this small operation was out the door, as I'm sure it always is, or at least always is in the evening.  We finally got in.

This guy was amused by my picture taking. I wasn't specifically trying to get a picture of him or these women, just the fact that they have a handful of highly prized tables in the store.

Some of the things they had on display looked really good, but we were on a cannoli mission.

Mmm... I wanna try that some time.
When it's your turn, be prepared to tell the people exactly what you want.

Before I get to the taste test, let me tell you about the experience at Mike's.  At least when we visited in the evening, it was jam packed full of people with no line. You have to elbow your way to the front, ready to order, despite the fact that place is lined with cases of irresistible-looking, over the top treats.

But we made it and got the cannoli and got out. These things cost like two bucks each, at both places, by the way. We were going to set up these nice blind taste tests for each other with the exact same forms of the cannoli from each place, but unfortunately Mike's didn't have the exact kind of cannoli we'd just gotten from Modern, so we had to get the closest one.

Ricotta Cannoli in a chocolate dipped shell from Modern
Ricotta Cannoli with chocolate chips from Mike's
We took turns closing our eyes while the other of us cut a bite out of the center, so that we wouldn't know which was which based on chocolate coating or chips.

Our verdict was unanimous. We both preferred Modern and found their cannoli to be less sickeningly sweet than Mike's. I could taste more yummy egginess in the Modern cannoli, whereas every bite of Mike's was a headache-inducing sugar smack straight to the brain. Part of the issue may have been that we were both really still super full, which always makes sugar more punishing, but I did have another Modern Cannoli at a later date when I was somewhat less full, and it fit my memory.

Another Modern Cannoli, this one topped with powdered sugar

I should note I haven't really cared much for any of these cannoli on either occasion.  Super sweet Italian pastries just don't seem to be my thing.

Other things at Modern:

Matt also wanted to try an eclair.
It was great, but it sort of just tasted like an eclair to me.  The bread was a bit crunchier than a lot of eclairs, but it didn't strike me as amazing.

And I had to get this torrone thing: chocolate and fluff and espresso beans.

Take a look.
This, it would turn out, would be my favorite thing I tried at either place.  I imagine that this is what Willy Wonka's Scrumdiddlyumptious bar was like, considering the way I wanted to tear through the chewy monster and devour it all in one sitting.


Whatever it is that Italian people do differently to their espresso, I'm not a fan.  It always tastes burnt and muddy.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Torrone
This treat was too sweet too. I just can't deal with milk chocolate anymore. If you want to reward or spoil a child though, here's the ticket.

The other nice thing about my second trip to Modern was that we got there in time to snag a table, which placed us next to a couple of octogenarian Italians, one of whom was either the owner or closely related. We couldn't really tell what the heck he was saying most of the time, but we was sweet and definitely called us beautiful several times each.

Trip 3:

Cappuccino: As opposed to the espresso, this was really good. It must be that the bitter burnty-ness of Italian espresso works well with milk and a little chocolate topping. It'd been so long since I had had milk. Yum.

Lobster Tail: Flaky crispy pastry stuffed with a nice light cream, pairs well with espresso drinks

Tiramisu: Fine

Mike's Pastry on Urbanspoon

Modern Pastry on Urbanspoon

And now listen to Philip Zimbardo explain how some cultures (those closer to the equator, where the climate stays constant so that there's less planning necessary) are more present-oriented while others are more future-oriented.

I find it fascinating that the Catholics are more present-oriented than the protestants, though of course it makes total sense.  The Catholics really did get some things right, even if the whole thing is totally flawed.  If you can take ritual for its own sake, rather than always trying to get something out of it, then going to church can be quite a good thing.

We've gone over the deep edge in this country, overly focusing on an ever receding future and never taking the time to enjoy the present moment.  Most of us have basically programmed out of ourselves the ability, so then we try to meditate and do yoga or eat a lot or masturbate or have sex or whatever it is that we do to try to enjoy the moment, but we do it in a spirit of trying to get something in the future, thus we really just want to get through the effort, and the only respite we ever get is when we can, finally, finally, fall the fuck to sleep.

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