The neighborhood where South Medford and Somerville’s Winter Hill and Magoun Square meet is a bit of a treasure trove of good eats, with everything from Nepali to Brazilian to Portuguese to Chinese to Italian options, and this last one really reflects the history of the area. South Medford in particular has been an Italian-American neighborhood for over a century now, and while many other Italian neighborhoods in the Boston area have mostly disappeared or been gentrified, this tight-knit area continues to hold onto its Italian roots. Most diners tend to head to Main Street in the heart of South Medford to various bakeries and pastry shops, restaurants, and Italian markets, but there is one spot further up by the Somerville line that is completely off anyone’s radar but is a must for old-fashioned bakery pizza along with other Italian and Sicilian goodies. Never heard of Italo? You’re definitely not the only one.
Italo Bakery sits on a part of Main Street that doesn’t really seem like the same Main Street in the commercial part of South Medford, as this part of the road veers off from the busier part of Main Street while Main Street seems to turn into Medford Street as it heads into Magoun Square. (As always, there is no rhyme or reason to Boston-area roads.) This, plus the fact that the shop is set off from the road and actually sits at the corner of Bow Street and Albion Street in what is basically a tiny concrete village green (again, there is no sense to any of this), makes Italo extremely easy to miss. The storefront itself looks a bit like that of a convenience store or a little market; the only giveaway to it being much more than that is the signs above the awning that say “The Best Bread & Pizza.” Inside Italo you’ll find a no-frills place that is strictly meant for takeout, with display cases of pastries and baked goods along with bread and pizza sitting behind the counter, while some Italian products such as olive oil, cookies, and pasta are displayed along the walls.
While Italo isn’t exactly a one-trick pony, many customers tend to come here to pick up bread and pizza only. That makes this place a lot different from the aforementioned Bob’s down the street, which sells countless food items and is more of true market and deli than a bakery. Among the breads here is a fantastic scali that seems to scream out “Boston,” since these braided sesame seed-covered loaves are extremely difficult to find outside of the local area. Italo sells a variety of freshly made Portuguese sweet breads as well, which makes sense because the surrounding area is also home to people with Brazilian and Portuguese roots. The pizza sold here is your basic, simple, and utterly delicious bakery pizza, or “grandma” pizza (and yes, that’s an actual term) that is cut into squares and has a rich sauce that is both sweet and acidic. Slices at Italo are almost ridiculously cheap, so even if all you have left is a handful of quarters, you should still be able to grab a couple of slices. (Italo is cash-only, by the way.) One other item to keep in mind is the Italian cookies, which rival those you might find in Boston’s North End, including the ones found at the excellent Bova’s Bakery.
If you live in South Medford, you more than likely know about Italo Bakery, but ask someone who lives more than a mile or two away from this humble little shop and you’ll probably be greeted with a blank stare. It’s indeed the ultimate neighborhood food shop in a way, with old-fashioned Italian foods, friendly people behind the counter, and prices that won’t even come close to breaking the bank. If you like hidden gems, they don’t come much more hidden than Italo.
ITALO BAKERY. 509 MAIN ST., MEDFORD.
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.