The Modern: North End's Best Cannoli

Cannolli chart at the Modern

Even before my love of Italian cuisine was ignited, I fell for cannoli. What’s not to like about a tube of fried pastry dough filled with a sweet, creamy filling? Between my sweet tooth and appreciation for foods with a fan-base, I was enamored with the cream filled pastry before I took my first bite.

You had me at cream-filled pastry

Originally a Sicilian pastry, cannoli is a beloved pastry of all Italian Americans. A fried pastry shell filled with sweetened ricotta or pastry cream, the cannoli is a dessert with many variations. Some argue a cannoli isn’t a cannoli if it isn’t piped fresh. Others say ricotta is the only proper filling. Italian pastry chefs argue over authentic cannoli toppings like powdered sugar, pistachios, chocolate chips and sprinkles. Though cannoli may seem like a simple dessert, this crunchy-creamy confection has the power to start culinary wars.

In the Italian neighborhood of Boston, there’s a sort of Capulet and Montegue division of cannoli eaters that inspires heated arguments between North End couples and families when ever it’s time to eat dessert. In the North End, the Capulet family would be played by 50-year old Mike’s Pastry
and the Montegue clan would feature the 70-year old Modern Pastry shop.

I was inducted into the Mike’s Pastry camp the day I had my first bite of cannoli by a life-time Mike’s pastry customer. By default, I remained a dedicated customer of Mike’s throughout my decade living in Boston. But after ten years away from my East coast city, I felt it was time to test my affiliations.

After a side-by-side taste test (that required some crafty hiding of competitor pastry boxes) I must proclaim The Modern the clear taste test winner. Though Mike’s will always hold a special place in my heart—they were my first cannoli after all—I must admit they are not the best cannoli shop in Boston*.

Modern Pastry, North End Boston

The key reason for the Modern’s win is the crispness of its pastry shell. By piping the cannoli to order, the Modern’s pastry maintains its structural integrity and crisp texture. With its sweetened ricotta filling, the Modern cannoli is, in my estimation, the perfect expression of the classic Italian dessert. Its beguiling texture and perfectly sweet filling makes sharing a near impossibility. The vanilla cream cannoli is velvety and sweet, but in my opinion doesn’t match the simplicity of the ricotta filled classic.

Ricotta Pie at the Modern Pastry

Be sure to try their ricotta pie and Sfogliatella when available!

The best cannoli in the North End Boston

The Modern is a lovely place to enjoy a pastry and cappuccino and listen to the old men chat in Italian at the neighboring tables.

Interior of the Modern Pastry, No. End

*Why not Mike’s?
Though Mike’s Pastry makes its cannoli fresh daily, their cannoli sit on the shelves for hours after being piped fresh that morning. The result, the pastry dough’s fried shell is slightly soft, and doesn’t have the crunch a freshly-piped cannoli should have. The ricotta filling is dense and sweet—almost too sweet for my palate—and requires a good strong cup of coffee to balance things out.

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

17 Comments

  1. Karen
    February 3
    Reply

    I’m a Modern pastry girl, too. It’s also a much more civilized environment. You can actually sit and have coffee. At Mike’s, I always feel like I have to run out immediately after I get my pastries.
    Hmmm… perhaps that explains the relative ubiquity of Mike’s boxes around town…

  2. 5 Star Foodie
    February 3
    Reply

    I am putting this on our list of stops for summer trip to Boston. The cannoli look wonderful!

  3. Leah
    February 3
    Reply

    I still think Neal’s dad makes the best cannoli in Boston, but I’ll have to try the Modern next time we’re there because I totally agree- fresh-filled is key. Thanks for the insight!

  4. Jen
    February 4
    Reply

    I’m ashamed to admit that in the almost five years I lived in the North End, I never tried a cannoli from Modern. The reasons for this pastry mishap are many, but that’s a whole post in itself :) I did, however, buy many bday cakes from the shop—amazing! Now, I will return to try them! Great post!

  5. white on rice couple
    February 5
    Reply

    Ugh, do we have to go all the way to Boston to get this Cannoli? It sounds like a fabulous place! You had me at “crispy pastry shell”.
    Please, tell us where to get the best Cannoli in LA, will ya? I’m dying for it now…

  6. Brooke
    February 6
    Reply

    WOR–the good news is, both the Modern and Mike’s will ship their cannoli to you! You pipe it yourself and you’re good to go!

  7. Chez Us
    February 6
    Reply

    We LOVE Mike's and go there when we are back in Boston. Lenny grew up going there & now it is our thing .. we will have to give the other guy a try when we are back there this year. Will report back!

  8. chez us
    February 6
    Reply

    ps….. are you from Boston?

  9. Brooke
    February 6
    Reply

    Chez Us–I grew up in Massachusetts on the North shore (Newburyport area and Gloucester) and lived in Somerville for something like 6 years. I miss Cambridge/Boston, but I sure love the weather here in LA!

  10. Anonymous
    February 10
    Reply

    Maria’s Pastry Shop’s Cannoli’s are up there as well. If you haven’t been to Maria’s you must, must, must go.

    -Erika from Boston

  11. One Food Guy
    February 10
    Reply

    I’m going to have to check out Modern, thanks for the review! I have lived my entire life of 30+ years in and around Boston and have always thought that Mike’s was there more for the tourists that visit the North End than for the residents and locals. Yes, the place is always packed but I honestly think that Mike’s isn’t even the second best bakery in the North End, maybe not even top three.

  12. Tom
    February 11
    Reply

    Mike’s all the wayy!

  13. chris walker
    June 10
    Reply

    I live in arizona, transplanted from boston years ago. i had to find out about mikes from a co-worker in az. she was recommended to mikes from another co-worker in az. everytime i go back, its a must to visit mikes. this year i will try both and decide. i wouldnt mind making a trip to hoboken and try carlo’s bakery. curiousity always gets the cat.

  14. Scott
    July 29
    Reply

    I love Modern, but just an FYI that while MIke’s has connoli’s in the case, those of us in the know always ask for a fresh filled one. Not sure why folks think they do not do that.

  15. Lisi
    September 18
    Reply

    Modern pastry’s Ricotta pie is the best I have ever had. If you are in Boston you definitely have to visit Modern Pastry and try this pie when they have it available.

  16. Nick
    November 3
    Reply

    Just to be fair, and balance the scales a bit, Mike’s original ricotta filled cannoli are NEVER kept in the case, and are ALWAYS fresh filled, lending to a wonderful, delicate, crispy shell. Only the unique flavored and/or dipped ones are kept in the case. Next time you visit (if you do), ask for an original ricotta cannoli, and the woman behind the counter will disappear, and reappear a minute later.

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