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Day 34: The cannoli taste test

Posted by Adam Sell  August 3, 2008 11:25 PM

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boston60_logo.jpgI'm Adam Sell and I have two months left before I leave Boston. My challenge? Do something in the city every day. Have ideas for my adventure? Send me an email.

There are and will be some days throughout this project on which prior commitments make it impossible for me to get out and visit or do anything. For these days, I have set out to visit the site for that day ahead of time. This is one such entry — I completed it on July 15.

I have a confession to make: I didn't go into this pastry sampling with a completely open mind. When I decided on the four places in the contest, I had a favorite right off the bat. It's the pastry place my family has been visiting since before I can remember, and I deliberately sampled their cannolo last in the hopes that it would completely blow me away. (Yes, I'm using the proper "cannolo" for a singular pastry, and "cannoli" for plural pastries.)

The idea for the cannoli taste test came to me out of one of my many arguments with friends over which North End bakery produces the best pastries. Almost everybody I speak with goes for Mike's Pastry, or infrequently, Modern Pastry, both on Hanover Street. But I've always been a Bova's boy, subscribing solely to that little 24-hour place on the corner of Prince Street. Those three were the foundation for the pastry parade, but we needed a fourth. I've on occasion heard good things about Maria's on Cross Street, so we threw that in for good measure.

I should also admit that this wasn't a scientific survey by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn't a blind test; I ate them as I went along. But I did have a small measure of methodology: I had to get the same type of cannolo from every shop (ricotta, with powdered sugar, but only if they offered), and eat it ASAP. I've had healthier dinners in my life.

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I wasn't even sure what I was looking for, really. I was kinda hoping my cannoli-eating instincts would kick in as the evening progressed. Either that or I could summon my Grandma's Italian blood to point me in the right direction. Boy, I've got a tough job, don't I?

The first place I stopped was Maria's. The fresh-filled cannolo there was generously coated in powdered sugar, which threatened to mar my dark t-shirt. Oh, how I suffer for my art. The filling was smooth and a little bit thinner than I'm accustomed to in my cannoli. I kinda liked it that way, to be honest. It didn't overpower the shell, though it was a little bit messier. I've found since being young that there is almost no way to eat a cannolo cleanly. I give my brother partial credit for eating all of the filling before even touching the shell, but that's violating the spirit of the pastry. The decent-sized cannolo here cost me $2.50.

After Maria's was Modern. This cannolo too was fresh-filled, which I've decided is something I like. Makes the presentation seem more personal. But the shell on my Modern cannolo was drier and flakier than the Maria's shell, and threatened to break (and did so) far more easily. Additionally, the filling was thicker and grittier than back on Cross Street. I made my notes and trooped onward. A smaller pastry here was $1.50. The size of the dessert wasn't my main concern throughout, so I aimed for the smaller ones in order to preserve room for later.

And then I came to Mike's. This is, among my friends who live in the city, the end-all, be-all of Italian pastry. I was never completely sold, but as I've mentioned, that's due in large part to my substantial bias toward Bova's. Alas, I felt I needed to give the supposed cannoli epitome a try. Mike's, I'm told, fries their own cannoli shells, something that was evident in how much thicker and crispier it was from the previous two. I hadn't thought to ask at Maria's or Modern if the shells were homemade, and their websites don't indicate either way. The filling of Mike's large cannolo, which cost $2.50, was similar to the one at Modern: thick, kinda gritty, and sweeter than the Maria's filling.

At last, I reached Bova's. Home! Stepping into the familiar storefront, I had my hopes up that I could write that Bova's lived up to my every expectation. Sadly, that is not the case. The small cannolo's shell was nearly soggy, as it wasn't fresh-filled, and was thicker still than Mike's and Modern. This one too was gritty and sweet, but overall, the sogginess of the shell was overpowering, and I reluctantly made the note that my $1.50 Bova's cannolo was just not great.

My surprise winner:
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Maria's. The shop I only threw in there to make a round four destinations served the best cannoli, from my admittedly amateur perspective. I fleetingly thought about going back a second time to each shop, and averaging my experiences into one rating, but I knew that would be pushing my luck. So it is to Maria's I will go in the future when I seek cannoli. Although I'm sure I'll find a reason to keep stopping by Bova's. Midnight lobster tails, anyone?

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Stephanie Callahan is a native Bostonian who loves cooking, traveling, spa treatments, and being on the ocean.

Meghan Colloton is a Bostonian who loves traveling, channeling her inner Julia Child, and trying weird things -- from food to bungee jumping.

Milva DiDomizio is a New England native who's fond of cooking, singing, and Boston's arts and culture scene.

Rachel Raczka is a Bostonian who enjoys buttercream frosting, gin cocktails, and conquering cobblestone streets in high heels.

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Emily Wright is a native Cape Codder who enjoys exercising, baking, and the occasional guilty pleasure action movie.

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