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 – Going Dutch

2009 marks the 400th anniversary of New York’s “discovery” by a Dutch expedition led by explorer Henry Hudson. Way back in 1609, Hudson (who was actually British) and a small crew of Dutch sailors steered their vessel through the small gap between Staten Island and Long Island and into New York Harbor.

Before them laid a vast wilderness, thick with old-growth forests and teeming with wildlife like beaver, oysters and bears – just the spot to found a new colony that would come to be known as New Amsterdam. From 1625 until 1674, when the colony was turned over to the English, the Dutch ruled over the harbor and islands that would one day become the great city of New York.

More than 400 years later, little evidence of this once thriving Dutch presence remains. You would expect at least a few windmills or some tulips, right? Yet if you know where to look, the signs of New York’s historic Dutch presence are all around you. Whether you’re hanging out at the swanky Gansevoort Hotel, meeting up with a friend near Stuyvesant Town, or dunking a doughnut in your morning coffee, Dutch influence on American history is stronger than you might expect.

Ever wanted to discover the secrets of New York’s surprisingly rich Dutch history? And what about visiting The Netherlands today? We’ll get a “taste of Amsterdam” without ever leaving New York City. This week at Undiscovered New York, we’re going Dutch. Click below to see why.
The New Amsterdam Trail

Just in time for the 400th Anniversary of Hudson’s famous voyage, The National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy has released a self-guided walking tour documenting the history of Dutch New Amsterdam. Using a free map and downloaded audio, visitors can experience the legacy of personalities and places that define New York’s Dutch legacy.

Starting at Battery Park, visitors make their way north stopping to learn about the (in)famous Dutch purchase of Manhattan from the Native Americans, Dutch architecture and the defensive fortifications that gave Wall Street its name. Starting this July, a guided tour will also be led by National Park Rangers.

Dutch Food
Though it may seem that Dutch influence over New York vanished in the 17th Century, it remains very much alive in New York to this day. This is particularly true of our favorite foods like cookies and doughnuts, which are strongly influenced by the cooking techniques of early Dutch settlers. If you’re looking to get taste of contemporary Dutch cuisine, check out Manhattan’s Danku restaurant. The eatery serves a variety of Dutch specialties including Kroket pastries as well a variety of specialties like Nasi Goreng from Indonesia, another former Dutch colony. For a slightly more authentic taste of Netherlands-style Indonesian cuisine, check out Java Indonesian Rijsttafel in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood.

Dutch Arts & Culture

Not only can you take a tour of Dutch History in New York, you can also experience it firsthand through the city’s wide range of Dutch-themed art exhibits, events and cultural celebrations. Art lovers in particular have a wealth of options. The Museum of the City of New York is offering a range of Dutch exhibitions this summer, including a show of contemporary Dutch photography and a closer look at the life of explorer Henry Hudson. Visitors hungry for more Dutch art should head to The Met to check out their vast collections of European Paintings including those by Dutch experts like Van Gogh and Vermeer.

Dutch culture doesn’t stop at New York City – further upstate in New York is Kingston, among the earliest Dutch settlements in the state. The city is celebrating this year’s 400th Anniversary with a range of activities, including expert lectures on Dutch gardening and displays of historic Dutch weapons. If you need further motivation to head upstate, check out Undiscovered New York’s tour of the Hudson River Valley from last year.

Eating mallorcas in Old San Juan

This past weekend I had an opportunity to experience the many pleasures of Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan neighborhood. Ringed by massive stone walls and the imposing El Morro fortress, the historic heart of this former Spanish colonial capital provides a virtual feast for the senses. As I meandered the area’s narrow cobblestone streets, I passed by block after block of majestic, pastel-colored colonial facades. My ears picked up strains of salsa music cascading from upper story windows, while groups of old men sat chatting, playing dominoes in the area’s tiny local parks.

But perhaps the most overpowering sense was the delicious smell of baking bread that came when I opened the door to La Bombonera, arguably Old San Juan’s most famous bakery and cafe. This old gem has been churning out homemade pastries and bottomless cups of coffee for tourists and San Juan regulars since it opened in 1902. The menu is just the basics – coffee, pastries, simple entrées, and what is arguably the house specialty, the mallorcas. Mallorcas are a sweet pastry which is typically grilled and buttered, then topped with a generous heap of powdered sugar. If you’re feeling particularly ravenous, grab one with ham and cheese in the middle. The sweet of the powdered sugar and dough combined with the savory taste of the ham and the cheese is heavenly. I ended up ordering two. I’m told the house coffee is also superb – they brew using a monstrous contraption brought from Havana in 1898. Take that, Starbucks.

So if you find yourself in Old San Juan some ungodly bright Saturday morning, hungry and hungover from one too many piña coladas the night before, make sure to stop by La Bombonera. But get there early – the line is probably already out the door.