Modern Pastry: Five steps to ordering in Boston’s North End

The line was nearly out the door when I stepped up to Modern Pastry. Though its neighbor, Mike’s, gets all the attention, every Bostonian knows that Modern is the best in the city, and just the thought of a cannoli from that establishment elicits Pavlovian salivation. I hadn’t been back since moving to New York six years ago, but everything was as I remembered … except the scale. Though the bakery hadn’t changed in size, my senses were nearly assaulted by the colors, cakes and smells. I hadn’t remembered just how powerful a presence Modern has.

The variety with which you’re faced upon entering can be intimidating. Everything looks great, and it can be a nightmare trying to decide what will actually go in your bag. I knew exactly what I wanted, but I have a history with the place. For a first-timer, or even an old pro with broader horizons, whittling your order down from “everything” can be a daunting undertaking.

Meanwhile, the other people in that long line are unlikely to have a lot of sympathy. There are plenty of locals mixed in, which is why the line tends to move quickly. They know how to order. So, if you hold one up with a series “ummmms” and “errrrrs,” you’ll get more than a few dirty looks.

So, how do you place your order, look like a seasoned veteran and avoid the ire of the locals? Follow these five simple steps:

1. Set boundaries: do you know how much you want to spend? That’s an inherent constraint on your order. If your budget is small, know right away that you’ll have to make some difficult choices. Be ready to live with them. Also, it’s smart to accept that you won’t walk away with everything you want, but let’s be realistic: you could spend the rest of your life trying to eat the results of your dream order.

2. Have cash: Modern doesn’t take credit cards. There are plenty of signs to this effect, which means you’ll have to give up waiting and dash off to an ATM. If you don’t bring cash with you and aren’t traveling alone, have one person wait while the other runs to get some green. Be sure to run, because as I mentioned, the line does move quickly.

3. Think ahead: look around as soon as you step inside the door, and give yourself a second to get over the shock. It’s going to happen. Then, focus. Make some tough decisions, and get your order straight. By the time you get to the counter, you should have it rehearsed and be able to spit it out quickly.

4. Don’t tell your life’s story at the counter: sure, you can slip in a pleasantry, but don’t forget why you’re there: to order pastry. The staff has already served a lot of people, and there will be many more behind you. Don’t add to their stress by chatting about how quaint the shop is or how much fun you’re having in Boston.

5. Skip the tables: you’ll know to do this if you read the many signs: to eat at the tables, you sit down first, and someone will come by to take your order. There’s a way things work at Modern Pastry, and the rules are in place for a reason.