September 7, 2012

Visiting "Beantown"

Famous Street sign on the corner of Hanover and Richmond Streets
By Giovanni di Napoli

It’s been a while since I visited Boston. In fact, the last time I was in Beantown the Big Dig was just beginning and the "Curse of the Bambino" was still not lifted. Having done all the typical tourist stuff last time around, my companions and I decided to take it easy and stay primarily in the North End, Boston's "Little Italy." I say primarily because there was no way I would miss the opportunity to return to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (the highlights of our museum excursion will be covered in an upcoming post). We were determined to enjoy a little dolce vita on Labor Day Weekend before making our way further North to the Feast of the Three Saints in Lawrence, Massachusetts. 

Not surprisingly, the North End is a food lover’s paradise. Whether you’re drinking an espresso at Caffe dello Sport while watching your favorite Serie A Club, enjoying the fine dining at Cantina Italiana, or indulging your sweet tooth at Mike's Pastry Shop, you won’t be disappointed. With so many options to choose from, the hardest part was deciding which establishment to try first. 

Luckily, a friend recommended The Daily Catch (323 Hanover St.), a modest little trattoria serving delicious Sicilian style seafood and pasta, making my decision easier. The long line in front of the restaurant was a promising sign. The food was fresh and everything was cooked to perfection, making the wait worthwhile.
The Daily Catch was definitely the catch of the day
Due to the close seating arrangements (the place can only serve about a dozen customers at a time) we got to talk to some regulars. They made a few helpful suggestions, including Regina Pizza, Boston's original and highly regarded brick oven pizzeria. Like most pizza lovers, they were passionately devoted to their local favorite. I'm told the one on 11 Thatcher Street is the only pizzeria worth trying. I returned the favor by telling them the next time they're visiting NYC they should try Numero 28 Pizzeria (28 Carmine Street) and Kesté Pizza and Vino (271 Bleecker Street), two of New York's finest.
Regina Pizza, a North End institution
In-between meals we walked off our food and did some sightseeing. More than just a dining destination, the North End offers a variety of experiences. In addition to the many eateries one will find boutiques, parks, social clubs and, of course, plenty of historical sites. The beauty of it is that they're all within walking distance from each other.
A public shrine dedicated to all the Saints
Among the many sites we saw were the Paul Revere House, Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church. Perhaps a bit less prestigious, but just as interesting nonetheless was the various Southern Italian mutual aid society buildings. [E.g. The Sant' Agrippina di Mineo Benefit Society and The Madonna Del Soccorso Society] We tried stopping by, but unfortunately they appeared to be closed for the holiday. I did however get to snap a photo of the elaborate standard in the lobby of the Maria SS Della Cava Society building.
Maria SS Della Cava Society standard
We also stumbled across a fascinating public shrine dedicated to the Saints on Battery and Hanover Streets. At night this splendid little sanctuary is lit up like Christmas. Along Boston's Inner Harbor is beautiful Christopher Columbus Park, which is home to the austere Massachusetts Beirut Memorial honoring nine local Marines who lost their lives on October 23, 1983 while serving on a peacekeeping mission in Beirut, Lebanon.
Details of the Massachusetts Beirut Memorial 
Not far from Paul Revere House is North Square (America's oldest public square) and historic Sacred Heart Italian Church. Formally Seamen's Bethel the church was purchased by a group of Italian immigrants in 1871. Remodeled in 1888 it was the first church in Boston entrusted to the Scalabrini missionaries. Sadly, the doors were closed when we arrived, but an interesting bronze relief of John Baptist Scalabrini by local sculptor Richard Aliberti graces the facade of the building.
(L-R) The facade of Sacred Heart Church and a close-up of Richard Aliberti's sculpture
Without a doubt, my favorite part of the North End was Saint Leonard's Church (1873), the first Catholic Church built by Italian Immigrants in New England. Like Sacred Heart, a bronze statue by Richard Aliberti hangs on the church exterior. It depicts the Saint surrounded by the Stations of the Cross. There is also a serene sculpture garden outside the church's side entrance where locals gather to meditate, pray or just enjoy a moment's peace from bustling Hanover Street. There, we were greeted and invited in. The interior was remarkable; rich with paintings and amazing architectural designs, the walls were lined with statues of saints, including Saint Lucy, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Peregrine and Saint Anthony. A heart-rending Pieta especially struck me.
(L-R) The facade of Saint Leonard's Church and a close-up of Richard Aliberti's sculpture
Our short stay in Boston was a real treat; it was as educational as it was relaxing. We met a lot of friendly people who were more than happy to offer tips on how to better enjoy our trip. Amusingly, whenever someone learned the reason for our visit was to attend the Feast of the Three Saints up north in Lawrence, to a man they said we should see their Fishermen's Feasts and Saint Anthony's Feast: "They are like nothing anywhere else." In addition to the many reasons to visit Boston again, these events have given me another two.
A look inside beautiful Saint Leonard's Church
Photos by New York Scugnizzo