The Cannoli Wars

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My daughter’s first tour of Boston as a newly arrived student was, no surprise, steeped in history...  a subject that she would be avoiding altogether in any future studies.  But, the tour paid off by satisfying her sweet tooth.  Welcome to Boston’s North End, home of Paul Revere's house, the Old North Church and so on, now intermingled among several streets that are lined almost exclusively with Italian restaurants.  

On a previous trip, we ate at one.  It was good, but not great, and I don't remember it's name.  Among the abundance of options, the “best” Italian restaurant is yet to be answered.  In my most recent trip, we asked a couple who lived in the city for their favorite.  “I don’t know.  We go to two of them, but I don’t remember their names.”  The just know the way.  I guess it's either "Let's go to this one" or "Let's go to the other one."

Not so helpful.

Less elusive are the premier bakeries in the neighborhood, Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, which are separated by approximately 100 yards (which seems appropriate as a field of competition).  Whether hostilities exist between the companies, I don’t know.  But a quick “vs.” search on Google shows that the public tends to choose sides.  So, I’ll join the fray.  I will say that I don’t think either one is hurting the business of the other.  The lines of both are frequently out the door and down the sidewalk.  And if you go, bring cash.  

We’ll let the competition begin with curb appeal, namely, advertising.

modern pastry

Mike's Pastry, Boston

Not even close.  Mike’s has an understated, traditional look, but I’ll favor the neon sign any day.  Round 1 goes to Modern.

Next up, the boxes.  You see people walk around with the boxes from each, which makes sense in a town that 1) has little parking and 2) lots of people on their feet.  I haven’t figured out where they’re taking their pastries. Certainly, many probably live in the city, but… it’s not like you’re shopping for fruits and vegetables to make a meal.  It’s dessert.  You buy it, and you eat it.  In any case, again we have the traditional vs., well, not so modern (pun intended), but at least artistic.

Mike's Pastry

Modern Pastry

The discoloration on modern is a camera issue, by the way.  In any case, muddy street or not, I’ll take the art.  Modern wins again.

Well, let’s move on to customer experience.

Mike's Pastry

Modern Pastry

Mike’s has the antique tin ceiling tiles and is otherwise rather plain.  Modern looks, yeah, more modern and nicer.  But!  And this is an important But! Mike’s may be an organized chaos, but you get served a lot faster, as any of the helpers behind the counter can take your order, put it in the requisite box, and take your cash.  I’ll take the speed.  As far as seating… well, that’s another reason people take it with them, I suppose.  In order to maintain adequate room for the buying hordes, tables likely reduce the receipts per sq.ft.  Anyway, if you’re on the go in Boston, Mike’s takes this category.

Now, that said, while the masses at each are virtually indistinguishable, this gentleman had the appearance of a man long accustomed to enjoying his pastry, possibly at his table, and in his daily casual wear.  Major style points for Modern.  But, I still have to favor speed. 

Round 4!  Interior display cases.  In this instance, I only have one for Mike’s, and plenty for Modern.  First up, Mike’s:

Mike's Pastry

Look’s fairly delicious, yes?  Then Modern:

Modern Pastry

Modern Pastry

Modern Pastry

Well, the number of pictures isn’t really haphazard.  Mike’s is blocked by tons of people, while you have to walk by each display case in Modern to place your order.  Still, Modern wins for variety, presentation, and, gosh, I’m hungry again.

Round 5:  And, this one isn’t fair, and it counts double.  The Cannoli.  Mike’s offers other pastries, but they all but specialize in Cannolis.  You look up at the board, and you say, “I’ll have this one, that one, and the other one.”  And it’s yours.  You just have to make the choice(s).  Such as?
      • Plain Ricotta Cheese
      • Yellow Cream Cannolo
      • Chocolate Cream Cannolo
      • Chocolate Chip Cannolo
      • Pistachio
      • Caramel
      • Chocolate Mousse
      • Espresso
      • Amaretto
      • Hazelnut
      • Chocolate Ricotta
      • Limoncello
      • Strawberry
      • Oreo
      • Peanut Butter
      • Florentine
      • Chocolate Covered
Well, here’s a random customer enjoying a tasty Expresso cannoli:

Mikes Pastry Expresso Cannoli

Let’s get a close up of that sugary sweet smack to your taste buds:

Mike's Pastry Expresso Cannoli

Here’s my favorite (so far), the Hazelnut:

Mike's Pastry Hazelnut Cannoli

That’s powdered sugar on top, which is completely optional.  It seems a full dose is two taps from the pourer, a light dose equals one tap.  I had the Amaretto also – very cherry in its flavor.  Below is a Florentine. 
 Mike's Pastry Florentine Cannoli

Unfortunately, I don’t know that there’s a description of what’s in these.  You just look at the pictures on the wall and say, “That one looks good.  I’ll get that.  Wait. Maybe that one.” Then count your cash (only), do the math, and narrow your choices from there.  

Over at Modern, the cannoli shell is made and waiting for you, and it will not be filled until you specify your preference of yummy goodness.  I’m regrettably a bit short on photos of their cannolis, but… there’s this one:

Modern Pastry Cannoli

That’s something chocolate for my daughter and, I think, a hazelnut for me.   You’ll note that these a bit shorter than Mike’s.  The cream filling is a matter of taste, of course, but I find Modern to have a bit more egginess in it’s flavor while Mike’s cream is a medium for 100 proof sugar.  Also, Modern only has one filling, where Mike's has at least several.  At this point, due to flavor, options, and size, I favor… Mike's!

That results in a 3-3 tie, which 1) shouldn’t upset the locals that a Southerner is playing favorites in an exclusively northern conflict and 2) begs continued investigation for, in popular risk selection parlance, increased differentiation.  

Guess I'll have to go back.

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