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August 24, 2010

Qualifying for Boston: Top Ten reasons to take up marathoning

Pepe's pizzaI was on vacation -- not Atkins.

While visiting my parents in Connecticut last week, my husband and I took an overnight trip to Boston with our kids, one of my sisters, and her two children.

We did enough carbo-loading there to prepare for a marathon, though I'm afraid there was no 26.2-miler to justify any of it. Just a few easy jogs around Boston Public Garden, admiring the swan boats and barely working up a sweat.

We did get to burn some of it off hustling down 12 flights of hotel stairs during a late-night fire alarm that, luckily, turned out to be false.

If only we'd walked back up the stairs afterward. We'd intended to do that since every guest in the hotel was lined up for the elevators. But as we headed for the stairs, a hotel staffer took pity and directed us to the service elevator. We got to ride up with the laundry guy and two airline pilots.

The brush with pilots impressed my 5-year-old son, even if the ride did nothing to negate over-consumption of fresh pastas, breads and pastries in Boston's North End, the Italian neighborhood where my grandparents grew up and my great-grandparents settled as immigrants.

I'd eat my way through the North End again -- and start running longer, if need be.

Which brings me to this week's list:

Top Ten reasons to take up marathoning

No. 1. Mike's Pastry cannoli

Creamy, lovely ricotta-filled pastry. I've encountered nothing in Baltimore that comes close.

No. 2. Mike's Pastry cappuccino

The perfect drink with that cannoli, even after my rascally nephew lobbed a spoonful of his lemon ice into my cup.

No. 3. Trattoria Il Panino's lobster ravioli

The fresh pasta, filled with sweet lobster meat, came in a creamy crab sauce. Worth every fat gram.

No. 4. Il Panino's crespelle

My husband ordered these savory crepes, filled with fresh ricotta and spinach. They were almost too good to share, but he gave me a bite.

No. 5. Bread

Before our entrees arrived at Il Panino, we had wonderful Italian bread, the crusty-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside kind with a web of irregular holes, served with fruity green olive oil and a splash of balsamic for dipping. It could have been Wonder Bread for all the kids cared, since it was late and they were starving. But the grown-ups knew what a treat it was.

No. 6. More bread

I bought a crusty loaf to take to my parents' house at my favorite North End grocery, Salumeria Italiana. I wanted to get olive oil, olives and balsamic vinegar, too. But the kids needed to keep moving, so all I got was the bread. Short of cash, I used a credit card to buy a single $5 loaf. There would have been something wrong with that -- charging a loaf of bread -- if the bread hadn't been so good. Back at my parents' house, we turned some of it into bruschetta. The next day, I toasted two slices for an avocado sandwich that I ate on the ride back to Baltimore. 

No. 7. Eggplant Parmesan sandwich, Il Panino Express

Moving our four-kid crew around on the T, across streets and along sidewalks sometimes felt like herding cats. Which is why we wound up eating lunch at the informal offshoot of the trattoria where we'd eaten dinner the night before. We might have ventured farther afield, but there it was, right by the cash machine we'd just hit. We had no regrets. My $6-something chicken Parm sub was enormous and delicious. I could only eat half. I gladly carried the rest back to Connecticut, where not a scrap went to waste.

No. 8. Gnocchi al pesto, Il Panino Express

My 7-year-old daughter is a big fan of this dish, which we make at home. It wasn't technically on the menu at this restaurant, but they had gnocchi, they had pesto, and they were willing to put them together for us. The sauce had an intense basil flavor and the little potato dumplings were pleasantly springy.

No. 9. Pizza

I'd heard raves about Galleria Umberto from a co-worker, on a pizza blog, and on a North End sidewalk, where the line spilled out of the no-frills lunch spot not long after noon on a Monday. I can't say the Sicilian-style slices lived up to the hype -- to me, it was average pizza -- but with a big gang to feed, the price was right: $1.75 a slice. Panini were $2 each. And it was fun watching the guys behind the counter work like crazy to keep the orders coming.

No. 10. More pizza

We didn't wait for Boston to start pigging out on Italian food. We hit Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on the way up from Baltimore. The pie: sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and on half, for mom and daughter, fresh mushrooms, on a thin crust with just the right mix of char and chew. It covered a huge serving tray that the waitress plunked on the windowsill beside our booth. The restaurant is celebrating its 85th year this year. How could we pass it by?

The Pepe's pie that launched a carb spree. Photo by math-hubby 

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 5:22 AM | | Comments (10)


What a terrific neighborhood. My wife and I were there in July. If you enjoy Italian food this is the place for you. Eat in a different restaurant every day for months. However, exercise is a must. Just briskly walk along the History Trail everyday (end to end of course) and you’ll be fine.

Hey Laura,

I recently moved to Cambridge and biked over to the North End for some pizza. I went to Regina Pizzeria and it was pretty awesome. Afterwards I got an espresso cannoli from Mike's Pastry.

I'm new to the area though and there are a million places in the North End to try. Can you give me some advice on must-eat spots? I'm interested in both the cheap eats and the better of the high end places for when the parents come to visit and take me out.


The clam pizza at Pepe's is worth the wait-otherwise Sally's.

now i really miss EL

we dont live in boston, this means nothing to msot of us, but good to know you had a good trip.

now can we get back to regular Top 10s that actually deal w/ restaurants in bmore that we can use and not boston or random subjects? thanks

Did you see the place that is on the Freedom Trail and sells chocolate covered brownies on a stick? Your choice of dark, milk or white chocolate. Brilliant idea.

I see nothing wrong with a top ten about Boston food.

Anything new on the search for a new restaurant critic?

I'm afraid I missed the brownies. Can't believe my kids didn't spot them! ... As for the critic, they seem to be working on it. LV

Welcome back from vacation, LV. Hope it was restorative.

Once more unto the breach...

Thanks, LL. The time off was wonderful. LV

now i really miss EL
we dont live in boston, this means nothing to msot of us

(Is that you, Sheila?)

Right, because Elizabeth Large sure didn't take a million trips and write about them in excruciating detail. Cutting edge stuff like the series on what's in her daughter's fridge in LA and Chicago.

I have done much cannoli research and have been to Mike's a lot (the Daily Catch, right across the street from Mike's is a fabulous restaurant (try the calamari meatballs)), but while the cannoli at Mike's are good, those from Vaccaro's right here in Baltimore are so much better.

PS there's nothing wrong in my book with a top ten from someplace else.

I have a couple suggestions for Corey, who was looking for other North End dining spots.

One is Giacamo's, which had a heavenly lobster ravioli when I last ate there 10 years ago. We considered going there this time, but the line was out the door and down the block. (Not the sort of thing that four kids were going to stand for.) And that was on a Monday night.

I also have enjoyed Antico Forno on Salem Street, just a block away from Hanover's restaurant row. Wonderful breads and pastas.

For dessert, while Mike's is my favorite, Modern Pastry (also on Hanover) is terrific, too. If you like torrone -- the almond-studded nougat candy -- try the fresh stuff they make at Modern. You'll never go back to the stuff in the cute little boxes.

Thanks for the tips Laura!

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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