Seacoast friends have a night out in Boston's North End
Good food, Italian heritage and historic sites make for a special neighborhood
Story by Ken Palm, Photos by Judy Palm
Hanover Street, the gateway to the North End One of many restaurants along street with flowers
Lured by the prospect of authentic Italian food, a visit to Boston's oldest neighborhood is a great night out. It's maze of interconnecting narrow streets are lined with tenement row housing and packed with more than a hundred restaurants, mostly Italian. Walking along, the senses pick up aromas of olive oil and garlic as they mix with the gentle salt sea breezes from Boston Harbor. The restaurants are known for their mouthwatering fresh fare and the diversity of their menu offerings. A beautiful array of Italian specialties are on display at pastry and candy shops.
Sip a cappuccino and enjoy a cannoli at an outside cafe and listen to the locals speaking Italian which gives the visitor an insight into culture. Step inside and there is a good chance you will see a football game (soccer) piped in via satellite from Italy. Walk around and take a peek at flowered balconies and look down alleys to see hidden courtyards tucked behind buildings. The "Freedom Trail" meanders through it with many historical sites. Tourists visit by the thousands.
Surrounded on three sides by water this is Boston's North End, where the city got its start.
Ida's, established in 1951.
All the restaurants in the North End have specialized cooking styles from different regions of Italy. Some are expensive, and some are moderately priced. Some make their sauce thick and pasty, and some thin and light. Their recipes have been handed down from one family member to another for generations. The ingredients are bought daily, so you know that everything is fresh.
My wife and I have been going to the North End since 1965. We have dined at more than 50 restaurants and have not had a bad meal. Since moving to the New Hampshire Seacoast we have bragged about how good the restaurants are in the North End. Our neighbors at North Beach in Hampton called us on our claim. We set a date and went in last year. We were four couples and had such a good time that we went in again this year in early July with the same results.
The restaurant we picked was Ida's on Mechanic Street, an alley off Hanover Street. This piece is not intended to be a restaurant review, but everyone raved about their meals. The pasta was cooked just right. The sauce was thin and light. The seafood dishes were perfect, and you could cut the veal with a fork. The entrees are moderately priced and come with a salad. Add a glass of wine or an Italian beer: Bellissimo
North Beach neighbors enjoying themselves at Ida's (Front L to R) Kathy and Larry Feltz, Sue and Paul Cowette (Rear) Ken and Judy Palm, Kay Keriazes and Jack Gale
The North End is the birthplace of the American Revolution. It was here on April 18, 1775, that Paul Revere saw two "signal lanterns" lit atop the steeple of the Old North Church that signaled that the British were coming by sea to head north toward Lexington and Concord. Revere was stationed along the Charles River. When he saw the signal he went north and met up with William Dawes to warn the people. Revere was captured by the British, but Dawes continued on to warn the people of Lexington and Concord. He was immortalized by Longfellowï's poem "Paul Revere's Ride" (listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere).
Freedom Trail passes in front of the Paul Revere House
The Paul Revere House still stands in North Square, a section of the North End. Built in 1773, it is now a museum. Across the cobbled stone street is the Piece/Hichborn House built in 1711. The Hichborn's were Revere's cousins. It was built in Georgian style with a small garden and park in front.
190 foot spire of The Old North Church Sign at entrance to Copp's Hill Burying Ground
The Old North Church (Christ Church) is on Salem Street with a park behind it that extends to Hanover Street. The park has statues, including one of Revere on his horse facing Hanover Street. Up Hull Street just north of the Old North Church is the Copps Hill Burying Ground. It was originally called the North End Burying Ground and is the second oldest cemetery in Boston. It is the highest point in Boston and the British placed artillery there and fired shells across the water to Charlestown during the battle of Bunker Hill.
Copp's Hill Burying Ground
There are two thousand tombstones and ten thousand people buried there. They are mostly family plots. Increase Mather and his son Cotton were pastors of the original North Church (not to be confused with Old North Church) located at the top of North Square. They were Puritan religious leaders of the time. Prince Hall, a freed slave, is buried there. He fought at Bunker Hill and started the Lodge of Black Freemasonry. He also fought for the inclusion of black children in the public schools.
St. Stephen's on Hanover Street
Boston has always been a destination for immigrants coming to the new world. Its North End section became home to Europe's dispossessed. Its harbor and commercial businesses offered low paying jobs that were not available in Boston proper. The Irish began arriving around 1815. The biggest influx occurred in 1847, the worst year of the potato famine in Ireland. They had to suffer the indignity of seeing signs in front of business establishments that read "No Irish need apply". However, their stock rose as they became better educated, better skilled and developed the ability to take advantage of political influence. John "Honeyfitz" Fitzgerald became the first Irish mayor of Boston. His daughter Rose was the mother of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy. She was born at 4 Garden Court Street in 1890 and had her funeral from Saint Stephen's Church (originally called New North Congregational Church) in 1995.
Around 1870 European Jews started arriving. They set up shops and businesses along Salem Street. Many arrived with skills in needle trades and found work in the clothing industry. Bova's Pastry shop at the end of Salem Street was once a grocery store called "Greenies" specializing in Kosher foods. It evolved over time to become the Stop & Shop Supermarket chain.
In the 1890's as the Irish were moving out to other parts of Boston and points north and south the Italians started coming in greater numbers. They built the first Italian Catholic Church in the United States, St. Leonard's. They started the tradition of honoring Patron Saints with festivals on summer weekends. Pastene, importer of Italian products, started as a pushcart operation in 1848. They have the distinction of being the oldest family-owned business in the United States. Prince Spaghetti started in the North End. Remember the commercial of Anthony Martinetti running through the streets of the North End with the declaration that "Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day"? Italians brought their culture, traditions and cuisine with them for us to enjoy. Now 2d and 3d generation Italians operate restaurants and shops that their grandparents built.
When we finished our meals at Ida's, we headed over to Cafe Victoria located on Hanover Street for a cappuccino and cannoli. Its facade has a big cigar sticking out above the entrance. Inside it has tin ceilings and marble top tables. One of the many places where friends meet friends.
As we left the North End, we turned and took a look up Hanover Street. The street was busy yet the pace was slow. Someone in our party commented: "This place has character and having dinner here is a night to be remembered."
Fiore, one of the many restaurants with outside seating
If it's pizza you want, Regina's is the place, in business since 1926.There's always a line at night.Some tidbits about North End: