July 19, 2011

The North End: Where the streets wear crowns

I haven't posted in a while. I actually haven't written much of anything in a while. I keep staring at the four calls for submission for upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul book titles that are sitting in my inbox, but as the submission deadlines creep closer, I continue to surrender to the lazy days of summer, procrastinate, and produce nothing worth sending. Good thing Mike makes a steady paycheck because I'm not even earning grocery money right now.

I guess this writing hiatus is my summer vacation. Any money we could have spent on travel went toward Dana's Peru experience. (She's back and had a brilliant time - except for her camera having been stolen. Thank goodness for Facebook, from which she pilfered friends' pics and patched together a terrific album of photographic memories.)

In lieu of travel to a foreign place this summer, Mike and I have developed a pleasing routine of traveling into Boston's North End every few weeks to soak up the Italian ambience and eat some of the best food on the planet. What I love about the North End is that it's simultaneously touristy and authentic. Daytrippers share the narrow streets, church gardens, pastry shops and restaurants with locals and with students from nearby Suffolk University, many of whom rent North End apartments.

The North End is a dense, bustling neighborhood where festive decorations arc over streets and alleys to announce the next in summer's lineup of saints' feast days and festivals (or harken back to last Christmas when they were put up and never taken down); where some of the wrought iron fire escapes climbing the red-brick sides of apartment buildings lead to killer roof decks; where Boston Harbor glistens at the end of tiny, downhill-sloping passageways; and where it's impossible to get a bad meal. The gastronomic bar is set high in the North End, and, with lots of outrageously competent competition, any establishment serving mediocre fare will be panned in the press and shuttered in short order. Many North End restaurants are decades-old institutions.

On our most recent North End excursion we lucked out and snagged two bar stools at the Cafe Florentine on Hanover Street at dinnertime. The bartenders were gracious and professional, the food flawless. Mike's chicken parm was as good as he's had, and my boneless duck breast in tomato sauce over fat, fluted-edge pappardelle was a succulent treat.

On our way back to the car, we cut through North Square. As we stood on a corner checking out the menus at the square's excellent restaurants, I commented to Mike that only in Boston can you enjoy a superb meal while looking out the window at Paul Revere's house.

"Paul Revere's house?!" exclaimed a woman walking by with her friend. "Where is it?"

"Right there," I said, pointing to the low, steep-roofed wooden structure tucked between brick buildings plenty old but centuries newer than the revolutionary silversmith's.

"Wow!" she exclaimed, "I'm so glad we heard you say that! We would have missed it!" as the friends darted off to take in the historical gem. I told her the house might be closed for the day and that I hoped they could at least get a peek into the side garden.

As they rushed off over North Square's cobbles, cameras already lifted to capture the old brown clapboard abode, I felt like calling out, "Have you seen the streets wearing crowns?"