I arrived in Boston on Monday April 19th, the day of the city’s massive marathon, and by afternoon the downtown was teeming with lean runner types in ceremonial turquoise and yellow windbreakers. I was hungry but had to be somewhere soon, so I found a nearby sandwich shop that Chowhounders favored called Chacarero. Not knowing exactly what it was, I ordered the “original”, which, as I suspected, turned out to be their claim-to-fame sandwich. It consisted of a thin cutlet of grilled chicken, muenster cheese, tomato slices, steamed green beans (“for that Chilean touch”), and an avocado/jalapeno guacamole-like spread. Although I didn’t love the bread (which was dry) or the pre-grilled chicken slab, overall it was pretty yummy and I scarfed it all up. Later, I walked up to the Italian North End for dessert. On the way, it seemed as though every other person had a “Mike’s Pastry” box in their hands – taking their cannoli with them to – where? I opted for the alternative, just down Hanover St, known as Modern Pastry. It was a cramped, hot space that was slammed with patrons. I ordered a ricotta chocolate-dipped cannoli, which was filled to order, and a “lobster tail”. The cannoli was divine, but the lobster tail was even better. First of all, it was about the size and shape of a loaf of ciabatta bread, so I saved it for the next night in my hotel mini fridge. It consisted of a number of layers of phyllo dough stuffed with a ricotta/custard/whipped cream mixture. The phyllo was a little crunchy, but the filling was so good that this was one of the best pastries/desserts I have ever had.
Breakfast the next morning was taken at the hotel’s $22 ($27 with tax and tip) buffet line, which was notable only for the fact that I was staying at the Omni Parker House, originator of “parker house” rolls (and, supposedly, of the boston cream pie). I had a roll with breakfast; it was buttery and good.
For dinner that night, I headed for Pizzeria Regina, back in the Italian North End. Regina is the most famous pizzeria in the city, and I had heard countless recommendations for their pies. Walking the charming narrow streets was pleasant, and I arrived to find a line of about 25 people snaked along the sidewalk outside the door. Undettered, I waiting briefly until a waiter came out asking for party counts so he could maximize table usage. When I said “1”, he at first seemed surprised, then informed me I could bypass the line and take the one seat left at the bar. “It’s purgatory”, he warned as I entered. In fact, the seat was adjacent to the bar, at bar height but tucked into a tiny corner practically on top of an ancient radiator. And although its location offered me a view of almost nothing except an old wooden wall, I took the seat gladly. I ordered a 10” margarhita pie and burned my mouth badly when I anxiously chomped into the first bite. The crust was crispy but not especially thin, the sauce was sweet, and there was a hefty amount of fresh basil and oil on top, plus a few stray sliced olives from somewhere. It was quite good, but I wouldn’t say it was a great or particularly memorable pizza. Regardless, I was glad I had tried it.
The next morning, I walked over to long wharf early (where my conference was being held) as I wanted to check out the boulangerie at Sel de la Terre, a fancy restaurant adjacent to the conference hotel. What I found was a tiny counter with only a few croissant offerings. I ordered a plain one and a honey-flavored greek yogurt and sat on the wharf in the bright morning sun and ate, surrounded by some ultra-pricey yachts, as well as a couple of homeless drifters still asleep under their blankets. Looking right into the sun, I could see the planes landing at Logan airport just across the bay.
After the conference was over, I had just enough time to walk briskly down to Flour bakery, across the river in what appeared to be the formerly industrial, now arty section of town. The bakery was really charming and I had a tough time making my selection. It wasn’t lunch time yet, so I chose a homemade granola bar and an almond croissant to take back on the plane with me to my wife.
At the airport, I was expecting a lot of food choices, this being Boston – a major airport, right? Unfortunately, my location in Terminal A left me with the choice of Legal Seafood Express, Lucky’s Grill, Wendy’s, Panda Express, and Dunkin Donuts. I kind of wanted a burger, so I reluctantly chose the Lucky’s Grill. It was definitely one of the worst burgers and fries I’ve had in quite a while – Wendy’s would actually have been much better, and for about 1/4 the cost (disclaimer: my company was footing the bill). Everything about it screamed “frozen”. In the style of our times, it was absurdly massive. Well, really, I knew what to expect – industrial food – but still I felt stupid for choosing it and kind of wrong for even eating it. I did not want to finish it. Later, before I boarded the plane, I ate the granola bar from Flour to cleanse my palate and to remind me of the simplicity, and exquisiteness, of real food.