He might be reveling in the national spotlight, but Mayor Thomas M. Menino is, at heart, a neighborhood guy who revels in the ribbon-cutting and getting his picture hung in burrito shops. So who better to take us on a Greatest Hits tour of Boston's outlying neighborhoods -- and an introduction to the vibrant intersections and commercial squares where so many real Bostonians live, eat, and shop. Take the mayor's advice, practice saying "Nomah," and consider yourself an honorary local.
Roslindale Square, recently renamed Roslindale Village, the commercial center of this sprawling neighborhood, is at that delicate, perfect point of gentrification: The old mixes seamlessly with the new. Menino suggests some of the newer shops and dining fare along tiny Birch Street,
including the artsy boutique Zia and wrapping-paper purveyor Sandpaper. The best part of the Square? Except for one ice cream shop, the mayor says, "there are no franchises" in sight.
If you're willing to venture through the tunnel for breakfast, one suggestion rolls off the mayor's tongue: Betty Ann Food Shop. In this land of ubiquitous doughnut chains, Betty Ann's is unique; its coveted doughnuts are baked from scratch on-site, with no preservatives. "But you have to get there early, because they only make a certain amount every day," Menino warns -- come too late, and you're out of luck. The bakery is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 to 10:30 a.m., Saturday from 7 to 11, and Sunday from 7 to 10.
In one of Boston's largest neighborhoods, Menino suggests several sites that show off Boston's cultural and ethnic evolutions. First, he says, spin through Melville Park, "the first gentrified neighborhood in our city:" a grand, leafy section of sprawling Victorians off gritty Dorchester Avenue. (To feel truly local, call it Dot Ave., pronounced "Dawwwt.") Then, for a modern taste of Dorchester's Irish heritage, visit the Blarney Stone or CF Donovan's -- two examples, Menino says, of how "all those buckets of blood over the years have turned into these professional-type restaurants."
Long before he launched the Hawaiian pineapple industry and made a fortune in tropical fruit, James Drummond Dole was born in 1877 in Jamaica Plain, where his father served for 40 years as pastor of the First Unitarian Church. You can tour the Dole Family Home, Menino notes, among the "painted ladies," Victorian mansions in Jamaica Plain's elegant Sumner Hill.
This is Boston's student mecca, and perhaps that accounts for the international flavor of its affordable restaurants. On streets like Allston's Harvard Avenue, "You have the whole United Nations," Menino says. In Brighton, he suggests giving a nod to the vibrant commerce of New Boston with a visit to the world headquarters of New Balance Shoes, in a high-tech office park called Brighton Landing, and its factory outlet across the street. Then, he says, jog over to the Stockyard Restaurant for an old-fashioned steakhouse meal.
In the 1930s, when he was known as Malcolm Little, future civil rights leader Malcolm X lived with his sister, educator Ella Little-Collins, in a house on Dale Street. Today, the Malcolm X House is a private home and not open to the public, but it boasts a commemorative plaque and a spot on the Roxbury Heritage Trail.
"You want to go for a walk?" the mayor says. "Go to Millennium Park," a former landfill that the city capped and topped with soccer fields, open space, and seven miles of paths. If you want to purchase the fixings for a picnic, consider one of Menino's favorite haunts, the upscale Roche Bros. supermarket on Centre Street.
This is the mayor's own neighborhood, and true to his roots, he offers two examples of the local Italian market, both on River Street. Marascio's Market is a purveyor of homemade sausages and other traditional delicacies. A half-block away, Tutto Italiano is a more modern variation on the theme. Both are "good for your cholesterol," Menino claims.
Roslindale: Sandpaper, 16 Birch St., 617-323-3610 / Zia, 22 Birch St., 617-327-1300. MBTA: Orange Line to Forest Hills, then #34 bus.
East Boston: Betty Ann Food Shop, 565 Bennington St., 617-567-1479. MBTA: Blue Line to Wonderland, then #120 bus.
Dorchester: Melville Park, bounded by Dorchester Avenue, Park, Washington, and Centre streets / Blarney Stone, 1505 Dorchester Ave., 617-436-8223 / CF Donovan's, 112 Savin Hill Ave., 617-436- 6690. MBTA: Red Line to Savin Hill.
Jamaica Plain: Dole Family Home, 14 Roanoke Ave. For information about Sumner Hill tours, call the Jamaica Plain Historical Society at 617-522-1150. MBTA: Orange Line to Green Street.
Allston-Brighton: New Balance Shoes, 20 Guest St. (headquarters), 617-783- 4000; 40 Life St. (factory outlet), 1-877- 623-7867. MBTA: Red Line to Alewife, #70A bus / Stockyard Restaurant, 135 Market St., 617-782-4700.
Roxbury: Malcolm X House, 72 Dale St. MBTA: Orange Line to Forest Hills, then #44 bus.
West Roxbury: Millennium Park, off the VFW Parkway on Charles River Road, near West Roxbury High School / Roche Bros. 1800 Centre St. 617-469-5747. MBTA: Orange Line to Forest Hills, then #36 bus.
Hyde Park: Marascio's Market, 1893 River St., 617-361-6847 / Tutto Italiano, 1734 River St., 617-361-4700. MBTA: Orange Line to Forest Hills, then #50 bus to #33 bus.