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.

Undiscovered New York: Is the “Real” Little Italy in the Bronx?

Welcome back to this week’s installation of Undiscovered New York. New York has a longstanding love affair with all things Italian. From the Feast of San Gennaro to some of the world’s best pizza outside Italy, to our town’s infatuation with the Cosa Nostra, it’s hard to deny that Italian culture has strongly influenced New York culture. In fact, many visitors come to New York specifically to check out Little Italy, a well-known strip of Italian restaurants and shops around the intersection of Mulberry and Grand Street in downtown Manhattan.

For those who came to check out Little Italy, have a cannoli and grab some calamari at Umberto’s, it’s certainly a fun time. Seems like a good dose of Italian culture, right? What if I were to tell you there’s another, some would even say better, Little Italy in New York? Well that’s just what I’m trying to tell you paisano, and it’s in the Bronx.

Curious? Why not click that link below and find out the story behind Arthur Avenue, New York’s other Little Italy.
What is it exactly?
When discussing the Bronx’s very own Little Italy, we’re generally talking about the intersections of 187th Street and Arthur Avenue also known as Belmont by locals. The area surrounding this intersection is a virtual feast of Italian American and immigrant culture in New York, offering a huge array of authentic Italian food markets, butcher shops, bakeries, old school red sauce joints and plenty of Italian gift shops.

Enough with the chit-chat, what can I eat?
If you like Italian food, welcome to paradise. Ground zero is probably the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, a one-stop Italian bazaar full of all kinds of hand-made Italian foodstuffs like sausages, olives and freshly made pasta. Once you’ve worked up an appetite (probably immediately) stop by Mike’s Deli for one their amazing sandwiches stuffed with Italian meats like prosciutto. Don’t forget to hit some of the other area favorites, including Teitel Brothers for Italian specialties like olives and anchovy paste, Terranova Bakery for some hearty Italian-style loaves, Calandra’s Cheese for some mozzarella, and Madonia Bros. for some superb cannoli filled on the spot.

What else should I check out?
The best part about Arthur Avenue is that you can make a day out of your visit. Not only is Arthur Avenue home to Italian culture – lately it has become home to a large populations of residents from Mexico, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania. The Bronx Zoo and Bronx Botanic Gardens are also both within easy walking distance of Arthur Avenue. Both sites are as good a spot as any to take a leisurely stroll or nap and perhaps sleep off that sausage and peppers you had for lunch. And if it’s baseball season, you’re no more than a 10 minute subway ride from a Yankees game.

How do I get there?
Perhaps the closest subway stop to Arthur Avenue is the Fordham Road stop on the B and D lines. From there, you can jump on the Bx-12 or just walk your way a few minutes east. Another alternative is the Metro North Fordham Road Station, which stops nearby.

A very special “Thank You!” to Steph Goralnick, for all the awesome photos in this story.