The View From Up North

From “Boston: Red Sox, best raw bar and 80 penguins”
Karen Hawthorne, National Post · Monday, Oct. 4, 2010

When you have a husband who is devoted to the Boston Red Sox, bellowing, in a sea of Blue Jays fans at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, for Big Papi to knock it out of the park, you realize you need to take this fan on the road. To Boston, Red Sox Nation and historic Fenway Park.

So I planned a weekend getaway and let my husband book the ball tickets — what do I know about prime seating and the Green Monster? I’m not a fan of the game, but I was prepared for him to wear his Sox ball cap for most of the trip. He ended up buying me a pink one at the Fenway gift shop. Let’s go Red Sox! They didn’t make the playoffs this year, but at least he can hold onto the glory of being here.

In turn, of course, our Boston vacation would need some shopping along Newbury Street, a plush hotel and expensive seafood. It’s only fair, right?

After arriving, we settled in with a few incidentals from the mini-bar in our suite at the luxury Fairmont Battery Wharf (3 Battery Wharf), sipping and taking in the view of the harbour. The historic warehouses and shipyards now have a second life as chic restaurants, condominiums and a US$50-million waterfront development project. Location, location, location.

One block north of Battery Wharf and you’re in the middle of Boston’s Little Italy, where it seems that every second building is a restaurant. Trattoria Il Panino Express (264-266 Hanover St). has huge portions so we split a meatball sub for a fresh, casual bite at this lively cafeteria.

Nearly every group we see is carrying a string-tied bakery box from Mike’s Pastry (300 Hanover St.) with the crown logo. Turns out, Mike is a king of cannoli, supersized deep-fried shells, fresh cream or ricotta filling and an abundance of flavours, lined up inside the glass-covered case. We decide to return tomorrow.

Yes, for breakfast. We shared one king-size cannoli stuffed with ricotta and chocolate chips, doused with powdered sugar. We were on holiday. And when you’re walking, you can eat more. My Sox-obsessed husband thought that we could take in the sights by walking from the hotel to Fenway Park for that night’s game.

Steps away from Mike’s is the Freedom Trail and the bronze statue of Paul Revere — as in “the British are coming, the British are coming” — that Paul, on his famous midnight horseback ride.

Onward to Quincy Market Colonnade (4 South Market Building), part of Faneuil Hall. It may be touristy, but it’s fun, and just as interesting as the food building at Toronto’s CNE. No deep-fried butter, but there are 30 international food vendors, including a few with lobster rolls. This is a New England specialty: buttery white roll overflowing with tender sweet lobster meat with mayo and a few lettuce leaves for your vegetable requirement. Tasty! Lunch or snack depends on how hungry you are, napkins required.

A woman like myself, preparing to take in a three- or four-hour sporting event, needs some retail therapy and chocolate. We walk along upscale Newbury Street, think Toronto’s Yorkville in renovated brownstones, where the stores become less expensive and bohemian as you head toward Massachusetts Avenue. First I’m browsing the Kate Spade boutique (117 Newbury St.) and tasting a boozy kir royale truffle from Hotel Chocolat (141A Newbury St.), and then I’m considering a T-shirt with the cupcake and crossbones trademark from Johnny Cupcakes (279 Newbury St.) down the road. Johnny Cupcakes, also now in Los Angeles, doesn’t sell baked goods, but the store’s trick oven billows out real smoke every so often.

We make it to Yawkey Way, the carnival strip outside Fenway Park or, as my husband calls it, The Shrine. It’s the oldest major league stadium, where Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and the Yaz played, and the bleachers are made of wood. It’s intimate and about half the size of the Rogers Centre, and you need a hood when it rains. As for the fans, they are committed but friendly. The man who sat behind us let us know his mother was from Nova Scotia. The game was as good as it gets — Red Sox rallied to force extra innings and won with a walk-off home run against, yes, the Toronto Blue Jays. For me, the best part was singing Sweet Caroline with the crowd during Boston’s pitching change.

When you’re in Boston, you can’t help but think about marine life and eating marine life. You’re on the ocean where the seafood can’t be more fresh and the city boasts one of the largest aquariums (1 Central Wharf). The next day, we went to see the 80 penguins and the four-storey ocean tank with turtles, sharks and rays.

That evening, we found the best raw bar in town, Neptune Oyster (63 Salem St.), a tiny North End restaurant that has a line out the door. Leave your name and try a micro brew at the Irish bar around the corner. The Buttermilk Johnnycake was a standout appetizer, with honey butter, smoked trout tartare and Little Pearl caviar. Fit in with the locals and try the Bee’s River oysters.

We had a nightcap (or two) at Drink (348 Congress St.). We played a drinking game with bartender Josey where we named what we liked and she decided on the cocktail to suit. Mine was the cheery Mary Pickford, named after the Canadian silent film star — light rum, a bit of grenadine, maraschino cherry juice, and a good splash of pineapple juice. The bar is slightly below street-level with brick inlay, wood detail and a great vibe.

A final tip: a water taxi makes getting to the airport that much better, and you can really appreciate how Boston is a port city. For US$10 per person, it was cheaper than cab fare and Capt. John pointed out the sights.

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