11 April 2014

Friday Favorites: 13 Best Reasons to Visit Boston (A baker’s dozen plus)

Boston’s Italian North End: I love this area—lots of great Italian food shops and
stops!   One year I brought home this decorated Marzipan Lamb (it was Easter time) from **Maria’s PastryShop. A must stop no matter what season. (Tip: Chocolate edged cannoli shells--they only fill them when you order them....)

**Polcari’s Coffee: Another North End institution I never miss. Friendly guys, fresh roasted coffee beans, a ton of tea, spices and oils and Italian candies, recipes, advice and more in this very cool shop that’s been here since l932.

**Mike’s Pastry: There’s rivalry between pastry shops in the North End for who makes the best cannoli --but I don’t think you can go wrong at any of the sweet places. At Mike’s, there’s always a line and a crowd of people, but the women behind the counter have plenty of experience packing up any and all of your sugar fix buys in Mike’s signature white boxes, tied up with string suspended from above—just like old country general stores you see in the movies.

**Trattoria di Monica: This is the quintessential trattoria in my book, cozy
(only 25 seats), candlelight, exposed brick walls and fabulous food and wine.
(and they take reservations!)

Another year I did one of Michele Topor's  food tours of the North End which covers many of these North End places plus lots more (including tastings!). It’s super fun and a good way to cover ground if you don’t have a lot of time. 

Boston tourist-y stuff:
**Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: This beautiful and romantic museum is one of my all-time favorites.  Built around a Venetian Palazzo styled-courtyard (the museum was designed by Gardner whose favorite art city was Venice). It opened in l903 and has all sorts of nooks and crannies. It feels more like someone's personal home/mansion than a museum.

If you visit right now (April) you can see the Hanging Nasturtiums display. Every spring, hundreds of nasturtium vines are hung above the courtyard, cascading down in a colorful curtain. (Vines are planted the previous summer and wintered in the museum.) The display is annually set to coincide with Isabella's birthday April 14 and/or the week before Easter. The first time I visited I timed it so I would be there to see it. At that time, the Gardner Cafe, now called the G Cafe also prepared a special "nasturtium focused" menu. When my daughter-in-law, Danielle and I ate there after our visit, we oohed and ahhed throughout our meal--each course was not only delicious but as pretty as a painting. (Be sure to make a reservation.) 

Security is very tight at the museum (no doubt due to the famous art heist that took place here in 1990) so it sometimes feels abit constraining (you are scolded if caught taking any photos--ahem).  If you find Gardner as interesting as I did, you may want to read the book, "Mrs. Jack". It's a fascinating look at the woman who amassed this collection. With a reputation not always befitting the socialite of Boston's best society, one favorite story about her goes that she attended a formal Boston Symphony Orchestra event wearing a headband with "Oh, you Red Sox" emblazened on it--which apparently "almost caused a panic" at the time. The museum does charge a fee-- unless your name happens to be Isabella. True.

Boston first timers:
You have to follow the **Freedom Trail (it's a 2.5 mile path (just follow the brick pathway--it takes you past most of the historic Boston sites--but misses L.A. Burdick's chocolate shop--see Cambridge entry below-- for some reason)

**Stroll Beacon Street 

**Visit Quincy Market /Faneuil Hall: I was there at Thanksgiving/Christmas one year. Note the famed "Golden Grasshopper" weathervane--placed atop Faneuil Hall in 1742. (Do not ask me the meaning.) Faneuil Hall was expanded in 1826 to include Quincy Market. Lots of shops and eating areas

**Take a photo of Boston Common sign

**Wander the Public Garden (beautiful in the spring; often musicians there playing music)

Cambridge highlights:
Don’t call Cambridge a Boston neighborhood. It’s a city unto itself. And another very cool place to explore—especially if you love bookstores.
Harvard Square is the area where all the shops, restaurants are located—including some of my favorites:
**Harvard Bookstore: if you only get to one bookstore, it has to be this one: 

 **L. A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates:  A superb shop with magnificent chocolate and pastries. I recommend the “Harvard Square” chocolate pastry. When I was there it was hot chocolate weather--and their hot chocolate was delicious! Their cute signature “chocolate mice” make very nice souvenirs for your “special friends”—you know who they are I hope—back home in Minneapolis. 

**Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers (near the Harvard Bookstore): a Cambridge institution. Serves more than two dozen varieties of burgers with great names and descriptions (they change with current political and social issues it seems). Order any burger, plus a frappe (it’s like a shake—dozens of flavors) or my favorite drink: their lime rickey. People swear by the sweet potato fries (very good) but I REALLY loved the onion rings. Bring cash—they don’t take credit cards. 

**Harvard Yard: this is the 22 plus acres enclosed by fences (and gates) and the oldest part of Harvard University. Across the Old Yard from Johnston Gate is the statue of John Harvard. Note his shiny left shoe. Somewhere along the line the tradition of rubbing his left shoe for good luck started, Kevin told us.