More noms in Cambridge

Here’s a brief photo-log of activities on Saturday. The frigid morning was devoted to a trip to Boston’s North End, historically the Italian section of the city. It retains much of its charm though, like the entire area, it’s getting gentrified.

When I was an impoverished graduate student, I would treat myself to a cannoli at the Modern Pastry Shop, which is still there—with its distinctly un-modern sign.

I would have a regular cannoli, which was filled with the ricotta mixture to order. Now they have fancy pre-filled yuppie cannolis with chocolate and the like, which must get soggy as they await purchase.

They have other scrumptious-looking pastries as well, but I always went for the cannoli:

Polcari’s, a family-run operation, has been purveying coffee in this area since 1932, and looks pretty much as it must have 90 years ago. They also sell Italian groceries, spices, and candies:

The interior:

The Union Oyster House, which has been serving people since 1826, is one of the oldest still-operating restaurants in America. It’s pricey so I never went there as a student, but my parents took me when they visited Boston. Some information from Wikipedia:

The Union Oyster House has had a number of famous people in history as diners, including the Kennedy clan and Daniel Webster. Webster was known for regularly consuming at least six plates of oysters. Perhaps most surprising, in 1796 Louis Philippe, king of France from 1830 to 1848, lived in exile on the second floor. He earned his living by teaching French to young women. Labor economist and president of Haverford College John Royston Coleman worked here incognito as a “salad-and-sandwich man” for a time in the 1970s and documented the experience in his book The Blue Collar Journal.

The food is traditional New England fare, including seafoods such as oysters, clams, and lobsters, as well as poultry, baked beans, steak and chops. The toothpick was said to have been popularized in America starting at the Oyster House.

And the food is very good. They even have Indian pudding, my favorite New England dessert.

Nearby is the Haymarket, which on Saturdays turns into an outdoor fruit and vegetable market, even in cold weather like Saturday’s. Here are some peppers on sale:

For dinner I took my hosts to Olé, an excellent Mexican restaurant in Inman Square in Cambridge. It was beginning to snow when we went, and several inches accumulated during the evening.

The bar has gazillions of types of mezcal and tequila, and was packed despite the weather.

Their best appetizer is guacamole made right beside side of your table, so you can specify what you’d like in it (we had everything but cilantro, which I cannot abide as I have the wrong allele). It’s served with their homemade chips:

Just the ticket with one of their famous margaritas!

I am chagrined and embarrassed to say that I ate duck: Pato con mole, described as “pan-seared marinated duck breast with authentic homemade mole, mashed potatoes, and local vegetables. It was splendid, and I mourn the loss of the duck.

Here are Tacos Baja: “beer-battered fish with jicama slaw, cilantro-garlic aioli, and sesame seeds:

Olé is only about three blocks from the best ice-cream joint in the Boston area, Christina’s Home Made Ice Cream. It’s a humble joint, but they make and serve dozens of flavors of ice cream, all good. Bostonians love their ice cream, and will tramp through a blizzard to get it. (The place became full shortly after I took this photo.)

Here’s the menu the night we went for dessert. The best flavor, burnt sugar, is at the top, but notice the others, including khulfi (an Indian flavor with cardamom and rosewater), Kahlua, green tea, salted caramel, pumpkin, and Laphroaig, undoubtedly made with the smoky whisky. I wanted to try Laphroaig (they give you tastes), but it got too crowded. I will be back tomorrow, though.

I got two scoops: burnt sugar (the brown one below), and ginger, a good combination. I claim that Christina’s burnt sugar ice cream is the best ice cream available in America, and most who have tried it have agreed. I’ve directed many people visiting Boston to Christina’s, but sadly few of them go. They don’t know what they’re missing


  1. mike cracraft
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    That duck did not die in vain 🙂

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Now they have fancy pre-filled yuppie cannolis with chocolate and the like, which must get soggy as they await purchase.

    Damn, that’d be enough to cause Clemenza to change his mind to, “Leave the cannolis; take the gun.” 🙂

  3. Liz
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Tying up loose ends at Bukowski’s this morning. Got coffee up the street. How many dogs in sweaters are there, though? Cambridge is good.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Webster was known for regularly consuming at least six plates of oysters.

    That’s what gave ol’ Daniel the puissance to kick the Devil’s ass in the courtroom.

    • Tom Besson
      Posted January 20, 2020 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Webster aside, I wish Jerry would stop extolling the oysters’ virtues. They are so overrated. I ate twelve of them once, and only eight of them worked.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 20, 2020 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Not being a STEM major, I’m not 100% on my ability to reduce fractions, but if my math is right, I have to agree with Mr. Meat Loaf that two outta three ain’t bad. 🙂

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Duck at a Mexican place. Now that is different.

  6. Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I am a great fan of mole sauce. A local Mexican restaurant combines it with their enchilada sauce, and two abide together in great harmony.

  7. Mark R.
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Guacamole made in a molcajete is the best. I don’t know why…maybe the texture. For anyone who cooks Thai food, a molcajete is the perfect tool for making fresh curries. It grinds hard plant matter like lemongrass, chilies and galangal much better than traditional mortar and pestles made from marble or wood.

    Baja tacos are hard to beat. Never had mashed potatoes in a Mexican restaurant- they look delicious and a little chunky (the way I like them).

    Let us know if you tried the Laphroaig ice cream. I haven’t had Laphroaig in years, but still remember the intense peated character of that particular scotch. It’s hard for me to imagine that flavor in ice cream, but I’d love to try it.

  8. darrelle
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    That picture of the restaurant in falling snow, looks like a magical evening.

    Every time you go to that ice cream shop and post pictures of it I get jealous! And Laphroaig ice cream? I’d really like to try that.

    Duck in authentic dark mole? I completely understand. I would not have been able to pass that up either.

  9. Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Although we do not know one another. I would like to just say. I have read bits and pieces of your blogs for a few days now and would just wanted to let you know i think your doing a great job and I hope you continue you efforts to in trying to inspire an individual. Thanks for just being you. R.K.H.

  10. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I’m confused. You regret the death of the duck you consumed but have no words of pity for the poor mole that also died so that you could feast. Poor mole, minding it’s own business, burrowing around underground and suddenly it’s on your plate! Cruel world indeed. 😭


  11. Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I totally would make the same decision on the cannoli. Those chocolate chip monstrosities are from the “if a little is good, a lot must always be better” culinary school to which I do not subscribe.

    Side question. I don’t know Italian but I’m guessing “cannoli” is plural. So did you have a cannole? Google Translate didn’t help as it has no Italian-to-English translation for “cannoli”.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Cannolo – like ravioli/raviolo – a word I have only heard uttered in Italy (“someone eat that poor ravioli”) – apparently in English we put more than one at a time on a plate!

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Apparently ravioli is so stuck in the dictionary that raviolo auto corrects (it just did it again but I caught it this time.)

    • dallos
      Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      “Cannolo is a diminutive of canna, ‘cane’ or ‘tube’.[3]

      In Italian, cannoli is grammatically plural; the corresponding singular is cannolo ([kanˈnɔːlo], Sicilian cannolu), meaning “little tube”. In English, cannoli is usually used as a singular, and cannolo is rare.[4]”

      • Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

        I knew the experts would help me out. Thanks! If someone tries to correct me by telling me one is a cannolo, I will explain that I’m speaking English rather than Italian.

      • Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        A bit like the sandwich shops in England that sell various kinds of paninis [sic]

    • merilee
      Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Probably a cannolo. Plural cannoli. Cannole would be the plural of cannola.

    • Posted January 20, 2020 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      But does anyone other than Stephen Fry ever use the term “graffito”?

      • Posted January 21, 2020 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        I’m afraid I do – sad but true. Don’t start me on paparazzo!

        • merilee
          Posted January 21, 2020 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          Me, too😬

  12. darrelle
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never spent much time in Boston but I’ve had two great eating experiences there. Both times were during stop-overs while traveling to Armagh, Quebec.

    The 1st picture, of Boston’s North End, brought this to mind. Though I’ve no real idea where the heck we were, given your description and the picture it may have been the North End. There was about 6 of us in a rental car, lost, hungry, looking for a place to eat dinner. We spied what looked like a restaurant on the ground floor of a multistory brick building similar to the ones in the picture and, miraculously, found a place to park about a block away.

    When we walked up to the restaurant we couldn’t find a way in! We decided to try a door a good way down the sidewalk as nothing else presented itself. Immediately inside the door was a staircase. In the lead I started up the stairs, lifting my head to look up to the landing, and there at the 1st landing standing with legs spread, hands clasped casually in front of him is a 275 lb 6’5″ man in a nice suit with a neutral expression on his rough face. He was very intentionally taking up all the space and blocking the way. He said, “You’re not allowed up here, you’ll have to leave.” I said, “Ok, sorry, we were trying to find a way into the restaurant right there (pointing)” He then kindly told us how to get to the restaurant, which was ridiculous. No one who didn’t know in advance would ever find out how to get in.

    Oh, but it was worth it. It was, of course, an Italian restaurant. Just exactly as you might imagine a multi-generation owned authentic Italian restaurant with a mafia Don sitting in a back room at his regular table with a large cloth napkin tucked into his shirt. And they had exactly what we had all been talking about having for dinner. Lobster. They must have had 20 different preparations of lobster and we each got lobster a different way. It was all delicious. Mine was the best lobster I’ve ever had, with the possible exception of my own I cooked for a big dinner party once.

  13. Joe Dickinson
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    A ate at the Union Oyster house in 1969 as a guest of noted Cal Tech geneticist Edward B. Lewis, later winner of a Nobel Prize. I was just finishing up my Ph.D. and had applied to him for a postdoctoral position. We both were attending a scientific conference in Boston (probably Genetics Society) and we arranged an interview over lunch. I was offered the position but declined in favor of a faculty position at Reed College. I later took my family there and my (very young) son held up a roasted potato (or something) and asked “So, is this an oyster?”.

  14. Frank Bath
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Don’t mourn the duck when you have fed and saved so many, now one has done the same for you.

    • Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Can you feed dead human bodies to mealworms? If so, Jerry could leave his body to the mealworm farm and literally feed many future ducks.

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        We’ll sing a quick round of “On Ilkla Moor Baht’at”

    • Dominic
      Posted January 21, 2020 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      I assume it was wild?

  15. sted24
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I share our host’s fondness for the cannoli of the North End. My time in Cambridge (1978-84) overlapped, I think, with his. We never met, although I had several friends at the MCZ. And I enjoyed being introduced to the pet echidna as consolation.

    Ice cream: I like it, of course. But I remember one summer back then suddenly noticing that there were more ice cream parlours than book shops in Harvard Sq. Did this presage the End of Western Civilisation?

    Not quite. But perhaps an early sign of Haidt’s ‘coddling’.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    That duck dish looks great.

    I ate duck a couple weeks ago, first time since you started putting up the posts about Honey. Tasted great, but I experienced a bout of tristesse afterward (or maybe it was just a touch of indigestion). 🙂

  17. Terry Sheldon
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Since Laphroaig is the whisky I cut my teeth on (and still my favorite), I’d say that a road trip to Cambridge is in my future!!

    • Dominic
      Posted January 21, 2020 at 3:40 am | Permalink

      I’d say a trip to Scotland would be better!

      • Terry Sheldon
        Posted January 21, 2020 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        Definitely! I need to visit my plot at the distillery!

  18. merilee
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    That Mexican food is making me droooool. The burnt sugar ice cream, too. Cannoli leave me cold.

  19. Nicholas K.
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I love Boston’s North End. When I’m in Boston, I cannot resist Mike’s for cannoli. A dozen oysters, a cup of chowdr, and a pint of dark beer (Harpoon) at Union Oyster House is perhaps the best afternoon snack ever on a day of touristing.

  20. Posted January 20, 2020 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Everything looks good and I want some!

    Jerry and I have similar taste in foods, except for cilantro which I love in certain dishes. Of course, it’s possible to get cilantro that’s too mature; the young sprigs tastes best, and the stems are rather earthier and pungent, especially to cilantrophobes.

  21. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 20, 2020 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    For me, no trip to “the area” is complete without a chourico and linguica grinder … er, grindah.

  22. Dominic
    Posted January 21, 2020 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Ice cream in winter seems a bit odd to me! 🙂

  23. Posted January 21, 2020 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    If you’re still in Cambridge and looking for great food, I strongly recommend Craigie on Main at 853 Main Street. Get there in time for the burger (they make a limited number).

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