As some of you may remember, an earlier article here looked at Victoria’s Diner, an eatery in Boston’s Newmarket Square area that is open 24 hours for a few days a week, and it was mentioned at the time that there appear to be only two 24-hour non-chain restaurants in the city, and only one is open 24/7 (the South Street Diner in the Leather District). What wasn’t mentioned in that article is that there is another 24/7 independent spot that, while not a restaurant, is a place where you can get to-go meals along with a wide variety of pastries and baked goods. And it’s interesting to note that while Bova’s Bakery in the North End has been around for more than 80 years, many people still don’t realize that this Salem Street shop is indeed open all day and all night—and some actually consider it an “urban legend” that the place is open 24 hours, even though it is clearly posted on the shop’s website. (And it is best not to reason with these people, because they clearly have never had a piece of tiramisu at four in the morning, but that’s another story for another day.)
Bova’s first opened back in 1932 and has been seen over the years as an alternative to the often-packed Mike’s and Modern on nearby Hanover Street, while also finding a bit of a middle ground between those tourist-heavy shops and the almost exclusively local Maria’s on Cross Street and Parziale’s on Prince Street, the latter of which is just around the corner from Bova’s. The store is located in a rather cozy corner of the North End (so cozy that a restaurant that calls itself Theo’s Cozy Corner resides a block away), away from the hustle and bustle of Hanover Street and within sight of the landmark Old North Church, which means that tourists do sometimes find this place though it remains mostly a local favorite. Bova’s is pretty small so it can feel crowded if even one or two groups walk through the door, though it is rarely as packed as the aforementioned Mike’s and Modern. The layout of the store is pretty simple, with the display counters to the left having a variety of pastries, the counters to the right being filled with cookies (and behind the counter, various breads), and further back, food items that can be heated up as to-go meals.
The options at Bova’s can be overwhelming, as the display cases are packed with nearly every kind of old-school Italian treat possible. A few highlights include whoopie pies with real whipped cream, chocolate-dipped biscotti, cannoli with or without chocolate chips and with mini versions available, decadent frosted anise cookies, creamy tiramisu, some of the best half-moons in the city (and you can call them black-and-white cookies if you want, but that means you’re a Yankees fan), flaky lobster tails, all kinds of colorful Italian cookies, and the ever-popular pizzelles. Some of the freshly baked breads available include great takes on scali, French bread, Tuscan white, foccacia, and several others, while those who are looking for lunch or dinner can choose from subs, sweet-tasting Sicilian pizza slices, some rather large arancini, and calzones. Service at Bova’s can range from ultra-friendly to gruff (and it often depends on how crowded the place is), with the former being the case much more often than the latter, and prices are generally right where you would expect them to be for most items, though it can be difficult to leave the place without spending a lot of money unless you invest in a good pair of blinders before walking through the door.
You always hear the argument “Mike’s or Modern?” when it comes to North End pastry shops and bakeries, but you don’t often hear Bova’s (or Maria’s or Parziale’s, for that matter) come into that particular conversation, which perhaps is how the other places want it in a strange sort of way, since they’re more in the way of neighborhood shops. It isn’t quite a hidden gem, but Bova’s remains a classic spot after all these years, and if you’re jonesing for several hundred calories of sweet treats well after the sun goes down (or shortly before it comes up), this is certainly about the only game in town.
BOVA’S BAKERY. 134 SALEM ST., BOSTON. BOVABAKERYBOSTON.COM
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.