For over 70 years, Modern Pastry’s charm was anchored to its reputation as a North End staple for landing killer lobster tails and Old-World pastries in a cozy, somewhat cramped space that harkened back to the good old days when family-owned Italian storefronts with limited real estate lined Hanover Street. But co-owner John Picariello saw that the perpetual packed house was more a mark of its needing to expand, than a reason to stay the same.
“My dad, an old Italian, would say ‘Oh, you’re fine the way you are,’ but I would respond, ‘Dad, we’re losing business because [customers] can’t get in,’” he says.
So last year, he purchased the neighboring space, which previously housed the Piccola Venezia restaurant, for a full-scale expansion, which brought with it all the history the 1910-built structure possessed, including a pre-finished and unused public seating area in the basement. Enter Dave Ferrone, manager of the now-open Modern Underground restaurant located there.
“I come in here and I’m like, ‘We really gotta redo the bar [down] here if it’s going to be usable,’ so I came in and redid it myself,” says Ferrone. “So now I’m stuck here,” he says, and adds with a laugh, “I went from not working to this. I liked the not working part much better.”
The new space is minimalist save for an abundance of flat screen TVs. Along with draft beer and wine, the eclectic, simple menu includes items such as succulent Steak Tacos ($10.50), Barbecue Spring Rolls, ($10.50), and the Angus-beef Modern Burger ($10.50). Picariello says the meat is sourced from a North End butcher, in keeping with the spot’s status as a true neighborhood joint.
“I’ve been here my whole life, and my family has been here 85 years now,” says Picariello. “It’s getting harder and harder to know our neighbors. I [used to know] everyone on the street; I could go from building to building to building. This is a good way to get to know the people that still live here.” He adds, “It’s a spot to sit down, watch the game, have a beer and a burger in the neighborhood. Good, simple food made from scratch.”
As if to punctuate that idea, while I was visiting, Picariello’s octogenarian father strolled in. After several moments of chitchatting with diners, he broke out into a bellowing Italian song for a few measures before glancing at the TVs and saying: “Okay that’s enough … I gotta go watch the Bruins.”