I think it is about time we settle a Boston debate. Which popular cannoli spot in the North End is the best? (For this post, I am only discussing the cannoli rivals Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry. I do acknowledge that there are endless places to get cannoli in Boston.)
If you have not had the pleasure of having your own cannoli experience, let me briefly explain. Cannoli are Italian pastries that originated in Sicily. These pastries have a crunchy, tubular shell with a creamy filling, most traditionally a ricotta cream. In the US, cannoli are most commonly served with the ends dipped in mini chocolate chips.
Boston, being the Italian-American cultural center that it is, takes their cannoli very seriously. I would say that locals and tourists alike enjoy taking part in the cannoli eating, especially if you are Italian. Both Mike’s and Modern most often have a line out the door and down the block, full of people waiting for to get their hands on these cannoli.
I have been waiting for the right opportunity to do a cannoli comparison, but I was not interested in spending a half hour in line. On a cold January day, however, I was out in the North End when there was no line at either place. I got caught in a hail storm mid afternoon while no one was out. (Maybe they were wise and had checked the weather). I ducked into Modern Pastry to dodge the hailstorm. I was ready to try some cannoli. I picked up a pastry at Modern and then braved the weather to go down the block and get one from Mike’s before heading home.
To make this a fair comparison, I ordered the same style cannoli from both shops: a plain shell with ricotta filling, dipped in chocolate chips and dusted in powdered sugar. This is the most traditional style, though you can find endless varieties all over the North End. One of my favorites is a cannolo with a Nutella cream filling. I am getting hungry just thinking about that now.
As I was eating my cannoli, I took turns taking bites of each. With each bite, I was focused on a different aspect. I needed a wholistic experience to evaluate these cannoli.
My first evaluation was for the shell. I want to see a crisp, thin shell with a noticeable crunch when you bite into it. Then, I wanted to taste the filling. Is it light and creamy? Can you taste more of the ricotta or the powdered sugar? Finally, how does the cannoli taste as a whole? Is there a proper ratio of filling to shell? Are you able to get all the textures and flavors together?
Let’s do a side-by-side comparison.
Modern’s cannoli are smaller than Mike’s but are more expensive at $3.75 per pastry. The first positive of Modern, however, are that they fill each cannolo to order. There are no cannoli sitting in glass cases, like many other pastry shops around. I therefore fully expected the shell to be hard, and it was. I got an excellent crunch when I bit into the cannolo. The shell is sturdy but also thin, which is what I want to see.
The filling in this cannolo was delightful. I distinctly tasted the ricotta. The filling was light and deliciously creamy. Overall, this was a good cannolo. It had a pleasant balance of textures between the crunchy shell and the smooth filling.
Mike’s cannoli are enormous and are sold at $3.50 per cannolo. I was concerned that the cannolo would be soggy, because Mike’s does pre-fill their shells. However, their shells are so thick that they can hold the cream filling without going soggy. They still had a great crunch to them.
The filling was very sweet. I could not taste the ricotta very much because I was only tasting powdered sugar. The ratio of filling to shell wasn’t terrible, but I found the size of this pastry to be daunting. I barely could fit it in my mouth.
In my humble opinion, the winner of the cannoli battle is Modern Pastry. Despite the higher price, their pastry had everything I want in cannoli. The shell is thin and crunchy, and they fill each shell to order. The filling had a great texture and was ricotta forward…not too sweet. I thoroughly enjoyed eating this cannoli.
Mike’s, on the other hand, had a shell that was way too thick and a filling that was way too sweet. I found their cannolo to be too big. The eating experience was just not as pleasant. If I wanted a really big, overly sweet pastry, I’d go for one of these. I’ll admit that Mike’s does have a larger variety of fillings for their cannoli, but I think I’ll stick with the classic version from Modern.