EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
Growing up in New York as a die-hard Yankees fan, there wasn't much about Boston that excited me. Except seeing the Yanks win at Fenway, of course. In fact, like many New Yorkers I think I spent most of my life unfairly judging the entire city simply because of a century old sports rivalry. But all rivalries aside, I recently discovered a few bright spots in Beantown.
In August, Nicole and I spent a few weeks in Springfield, Massachusetts, where I do my military reserve duty. From Springfield it's a quick drive into Boston, so we decided to make a day out of it. We packed up some Bulletproof picnic lunches, got Cecilia dressed, and hopped on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The scenery along the "Mass Pike" is magnificent right around the colonial town of Sturbridge. Already in late August, we could see tinges of red and yellow in the New England foliage, catching a glimpse of fall on our way east to Boston.
PARK THE CAR IN HARVARD YARD
We stopped in Cambridge just outside Boston to have lunch near the Charles River and walk around Harvard University (another rivalry for me). The red brick and industrial vibe of some of the old alleys made perfect backdrops for some great street style shots for Nicole's site. After visiting some dear friends nearby and exploring the pedestrian friendly Medford neighborhood, it was time for dinner.
Scouring Yelp for a place we could get a grassfed burger, we landed at The Kirkland Tap and Trotter in Somerville. The five star reviews were spot on. Chef Tony Maws is a real innovator in the kitchen, and with The Kirkland's open floorplan, you can watch the culinary magic unfold. The wait staff was super friendly and the early dinner crowd was more than happy that Cecilia was with us. Outstanding service, trendy yet kid friendly atmosphere, and a delicious burger, all for about $20 per person.
BENVENUTI A BOSTON
From Somerville, Boston is a quick ride just across the Charles River. As night fell, we meandered around downtown for a few minutes. We decided to spend the precious few minutes had left in our day trip exploring the North End, Boston's version of Little Italy. As New Yorkers of Italian descent, we figured Boston probably didn't have much in the way of an Italian quarter, so it wouldn't take long.
We we so wrong. When we got to the North End, we found the roads blocked off for a street festival. Between the lights, mobs of people, and familiar smell of fried dough, or pizza frit' as we knew it growing up, we had to check it out. We were delighted to find that Boston's Italian community was celebrating the Festa della Madonna della Cava, a festival honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We walked the length of Hanover Street and to my surprise I heard more Italian being spoken there than I had anywhere in the U.S., except maybe on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
We grabbed a doppio espresso and a couple of Italian cookies for Cecilia before making a visit to the North End's historic St. Leonard's Catholic Church. If you enjoy spectacular art and architecture, not to mention a peaceful spot in a busy city, I recommend stopping by. It was the perfect pit stop before the final surprise of the evening.
As we walked north along Hanover Street toward the car, a band had taken the stage at the far end of the block. The lead singer sounded remarkably like Barry White. As we got closer, we noticed it looked a lot like him, too. Finally, as he started his intro to Never Gonna Give You Up, we knew that it actually was Barry himself. We watched him perform a set, grateful for the free show and the chance to hear the iconic bass-baritone live for the first time.
Boston's North End truly embodied what it means to be Italian American: tradition and hospitality, delicious cuisine, beautiful sacred spaces, and lively street festivals. We definitely left wanting more, with a newfound respect for the city and it's great Italian community.
NOT BLIND TO BOSTON'S BRIGHT SPOTS
As we made our way out of the city, blindly following Google maps back to Springfield, we passed Fenway Park. The bright stadium lights were on and we could see the fans standing in the bleachers high above. They weren't playing the Yankees, but it didn't matter. I still wanted to be there with them enjoying the game. I had forgotten all about the Yankees (and New York) by now, if only for a moment. Between the red brick of Harvard Square, the perfect burger in Somerville, and the vibrant culture of the North End, Boston had changed my paradigm and won my heart. In just one afternoon, we truly found some bright spots in Beantown.
I guess sometimes you just have to take off the blinders.