Boston has a large contingent of Italian immigrants dating back to the late 1800s, and the cultural footprint of Italians in Boston is still quite strong. In the North End, Italian restaurants line the narrow streets, with city-dwellers and tourists alike looking for their favorite eats. It is only natural that an area of Boston with such a rich culinary tradition would care deeply about the quality of its desserts, especially cannoli.
Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry are widely considered to have the two best cannoli in the North End, but Bostonians can’t seem to agree on which of the two they prefer. Everyone loves a good food feud, so I felt it would be appropriate to try both myself and give my two cents.
Leading up to my taste test, I asked around campus to see what those from the Boston area had to say about the controversy. In my philosophy class, one friend was adamantly pro-Mike’s, which surprised me. Later in the week, another friend expressed their pro-Modern views with a passion. Seeing how fired up people got about the two pastry businesses made me even more excited to form my own opinion.
Both bakeries are in the North End, easily accessible via the Green Line. I took the T from Davis Square to Park Street, stopping at Harvard Square to pick up someone I knew. At Park Street, we transferred to the Green Line and headed toward Lechmere. After getting off at Haymarket, we walked a very scenic few minutes to Mike’s and Modern, which are only a few storefronts down from each other. Mike’s had a line out the door and down the street, while Modern had a more modest line, so we stopped there first. A standard ricotta cannolo is less than $5 at Modern, but they only accept cash, so be prepared. After ordering our cannoli, we walked a couple of blocks to the seafront and sat on the dock. Modern’s cannolo was relatively small, with a fresh, gooey ricotta filling. The shell was thick and firm, maintaining its structural integrity as I took each delectable bite. Both the cheese and the shell were sweet, but not overpowering. The flavors were quite distinct from one another. I didn’t feel like I was eating a nondescript sugary amoeba, which is sometimes the case with pastries. Modern’s cannolo, was, in short, delicious.
Mike’s cannolo was next. After an agonizingly long wait, and another $5 fee, I was greeted with a behemoth of a cannolo. This monstrous pastry featured slightly less runny ricotta cheese, opting instead for a pastier texture. Unlike the Modern cannolo, the shell was flakier, and broke exactly where I expected it to during each bite. The cannolo was very sweet, obscuring the flavor profiles of the shell and the cheese. Here, I felt like I was eating a sugary amoeba. It was delicious, to be sure, but I couldn’t distinguish the flavor of the shell from the flavor of the cheese. With that being the case, I hereby declare this column pro-Modern. That being said, both were delicious, and I highly recommend checking out both businesses to form your own opinion.