by Amanda Portis
Photography courtesy of Julia Smithing
It is hard to think about Boston and food without the mind wandering to the North End. The aroma of garlic fills the streets along with classic Italian music and the chatter of mealtime conversation. The heart of the North End, Hanover Street, is lined with businesses ranging from high end restaurants, bars, mom-and-pop pizza shops and renowned bakeries. Also present is what seems to be an age-old debate.
Two shops reign supreme in the culinary feud for Boston’s best cannoli: Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry. Just about every Bostonian has an opinion on which place truly delivers the best Italian dessert.
Mike’s Pastry, located at 300 Hanover St., is the bakery’s original location and closest to BU’s campus. However, it is not the only store as the company has recently expanded with two auxiliary locations: Cambridge and Somerville.
Along with the expansion, another testament to the bakery’s success is the winding line that often leads out the door and to the nearby corner of Hanover and Prince Street, especially on weekend nights. Despite the daunting length, the line is said to move fairly quickly, and advocates of the shop say that the cannolis are definitely worth the wait.
First opening their doors in 1946, Mike’s is known for being a small town business with strong family values, unchanging with expansion and modernization.
“We come to work every day. We put our heart and soul in every pastry. We love what we do,” said Angelo Papa, the owner of Mike’s. “We have the most wonderful team. Every employee is part of our Mike’s family.”
There are over a dozen different flavors of cannolis to choose from, and a fall favorite is their limited-time-only pumpkin spice cannoli.
"I love all the different flavors and options they have for their cannolis, and how you can always try a different one when you go,” said McKenna Canty (COM ’21).
Beyond the cream-filled shells, Mike’s also sells lobster tails—a traditional Italian dessert mimicking the look of a lobster tail—cookies, gelato and many more sweet options.
Modern Pastry’s North End location is at 257 Hanover St. This is not the company’s only shop; they have another bakery is located in Medford, Massachusetts.
Modern is also subject to the same long lines as Mike’s, especially during the weekend. Their desserts attract large crowds who are all craving authentic Italian desserts to-go.
Modern has been a staple in the North End for over 70 years. Despite expansion and modernization, Modern has stayed true to its family values.
“[Modern Pastry] is a family-owned and operated Italian bakery,” said a spokesperson for Modern Pastry. “We love being an old neighborhood gathering place and seeing the customers we grew up with now bringing in their children and grandchildren.”
Modern’s cannolis are made to order: the customer hand-picks their desired shell, cream filling and toppings. It also has a large menu which lists far more than just cannolis. Other offerings include traditional Italian desserts such as lobster tails, pizzelles, ricotta pies and specialty cakes.
The two competitors serve fairly similar menus within close proximity to one another, and this makes it hard for consumers to not make opinions on which bakery they like more.
Jorge Nario (CAS ’20) said, "Mike's is a staple of Boston. Whether you like it or hate it, everyone knows it."
In spite of this customer-created feud, both bakeries are successful and highly popular with Bostonians and tourists alike. There is no actual feud between the restaurants, as neither company wishes to outshine the other or monopolize the market.
“We do not compete. We make pastries, and we respect every restaurant and bakery in our neighborhood because we know they love what they do and work as hard as we do,” said Papa. “If they don’t like our cannoli, they can find the one they like in other bakeries.”
Instead of a feud, it is a debate of personal preference based on taste, line length or tradition.
“I have been coming here [Mike’s Pastry] for as long as I can remember. My parents would take me and my brother here for dessert whenever we were in the area.” said Matthew Casey, a Boston local.
Every customer has the choice of taking either the white and blue box—characteristic of Mike’s—or Modern’s white and red box from Hanover Street. There is no right or wrong answer to the debate, just personal preferences.