This, to me, is what unchained restaurants are all about. We were in the North End of Boston a couple Saturday nights ago, in a restaurant called Panza on Hanover Street. The narrow restaurant was busy, even at 5 p.m., because of the pending Boston Marathon a couple days away.
There is a large window that opens to the street, letting in fresh, cool air and spilling the chatter and conversation onto the busy sidewalk. We’re at a table near the open kitchen, six of us happily crowded around, mulling the menu that offers a wide variety of promising Italian cuisine.
We had spent the day soaking in the sun along the waterfront benches near the aquarium, which we also had visited. We then walked through the curving streets of the North End to find, of course, the Old North Church and to hear of Mr. Revere’s exploits. A wonderful tour o f the oldest active church in Boston, which, incidentally, also has the oldest continuously operating clock in America.
Behind the circa 1723 church is the Revere Mall, an oasis lined by brick walls that hold plaques of famous North End residents, such as Thomas Cass, an Irishman turned American who led the famous Ninth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
At Panza’s, I enjoy fresh crusty bread and a Harpoon Ale. We order a wonderful calamari appetizer served with a spunky cherry pepper aioli that immediately sets us on the right path. I opt for the veal picata over linguine. It is wonderful. Perfectly cooked chunks of veal enveloped in a white wine lemon sauce, with capers and artichoke hearts. Niece K had a wonderful lobster ravioli dish, while Sister-in-Law B had what might have been the other top entrée, a seafood risotto that offered shrimp and scallops with its beautifully flavored arborio rice.
The entrees, in the heart of what I consider a very expensive city, were mostly around the $15 to $18 range. An outstanding value.
We didn’t get dessert, though we asked the waiter what all the buzz was about Mike’s Pastry, a shop just down the street. We had noticed a few fellow walkers carrying boxes of Mike’s delicacies earlier in the day. Our waiter mentioned that while Mike’s had the tourist buzz going for it, the Modern Pastry right across the street was its equal. Both places had long lines just to get in, so we actually walked right by both, a hard but dietarily correct decision.
I loved Boston. It had been a long time since my last visit. A great walking city and a great place to encounter fascinating historic buildings and monuments amid the hustle and bustle of a modern metropolis.
Not far from the Old State House, we unexpectedly discovered the Irish Famine Memorial. An honest appraisal is offered of the hostile greeting many Irish fleeing the famine of 1845-50 encountered, and how the Irish eventually gained a powerful foothold in the city. The memorial park includes a sculpture of a starving Irish family in despair and a series of informative plagues that tell the story of the million Irish who died and the estimated 2 million others who were forced to leave their homeland. It was a surprisingly powerful stop for me.
I also had a chance to tour The First Church of Christ, Scientist, which is on Huntington Avenue. My brother, niece and I were strolling in that area after three others in our group were dawdling too long at the boutiques and shops of Newbury Street.
The church is part of the world headquarters of the Christian Science Church. It is an amazing structure, with the original section dating back to 1894 and an addition completed in 1906. The “newer” annex has a pipe organ with more than 13,000 pipes, making it one of the largest pipe organs in the world. The dome of the annex is spectacular, and our tour guide told us the church can hold 4,000 people. The Christian Science Monitor is nearby, and an imposing administrative building and beautiful reflecting pool make up part of the church complex.
We didn’t plan on stopping in but the church was so imposing and so grand we wanted a look inside. Again, it was a surprise and a treat to see such a building. And, no, the tour guide didn’t touch on the controversies that surround the church and its views toward medicine, and that’s OK. I was there for the architecture.
We also visited the glorious Old South Church, which is at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and has a map filled with pins showing where the runners are from. Across the street is the Boston library and its lavish reading rooms and imposing lamps adorning the outside.
It was way too long since I’d been to Beantown, and I was very glad for the chance to get back.