Making whoopies: new North End bakeries

by Beacon Staff • April 12, 2006

The evening air's aroma causes throngs of people to gravitate to the North End each weekend, where the narrow sidewalks are bustling with folks looking to end their night with a tasty treat-and hence, an important decision: which pastry or dessert shop to visit?

With well-known shops like Mike's Pastry, do new places really stand a chance? If Italian native Frank De Pasquale is behind its creation, the answer is yes.,The evening air's aroma causes throngs of people to gravitate to the North End each weekend, where the narrow sidewalks are bustling with folks looking to end their night with a tasty treat-and hence, an important decision: which pastry or dessert shop to visit?

With well-known shops like Mike's Pastry, do new places really stand a chance? If Italian native Frank De Pasquale is behind its creation, the answer is yes.

"We felt the area and we felt the need for a gelateria," said De Pasquale. "I have so much support in this area. We're already made."

De Pasquale, one of the resident big fishes in Boston's teeming pond of Italian joints, has launched other seemingly-redundant but wildly successful Italian ventures before, such as the ultra-trendy Mare, Bricco and Umbria restaurants.

He is now testing the waters of the dessert world with Gelateria, located at 272 Hanover St.

A classic yet trendy pasticceria (an Italian word that combines the ideas of a bakery, candy store and ice cream shop), Gelateria seems too small to hold the depth of culture it embodies. As soon as you enter, however, the youthfully melodic Italian tunes playing in the background can inspire even the most exhausted employee to sing along jubilantly.

Gelateria's propped-open doors and welcoming storefront epitomize Italian hospitality.

"We're Italian-we're used to doing things our way," De Pasquale said. "The counters [and] ice cream machines are from Italy too."

Even the staff is imported. "The baristas [servers who prepare coffee] are from Italy," said De Pasquale.

For patrons not on the run, Gelateria houses tables decorated with miniature menus. Although the menu does not include the 50 (and counting) different gelati flavors, it does list coffees along with other desserts the restaurant serves.

These include the prerequisite cannoli and tiramisu, as well as originals like "Magic Cake," which is made of layers of white and dark chocolate mousse with a cherry ganache center, and Chocolate Caramel Pyramids (made just like it sounds).

While North End veteran entrepreneur De Pasquale is not fazed by competitors, newcomers are seemingly undaunted as well.

Lulu's Bake Shoppe, located at 227 Hanover St., opened on March 6, with claims of making old-fashioned cooking new again. As you step inside, Lulu's transports you to a time when meals were made at home and Chef Boyardee hadn't yet taken over our kitchens.

"We don't see ourselves as competition with anything in the North End because we're offering something different," said John Pucillo, co-founder of Lulu's. "Our desserts are what your grandma would have made."

Red velvet cake, cupcakes and even cookies are made on site and do not include any shortening. Lulu's, unlike some pastry shops, does not use any mixes. Although it is a more time-consuming process, all the desserts are made from scratch, allowing the desserts to have a more homemade flavor.

"My favorite is our cupcake version of Hostess' cupcakes," Pucillo said. "It's filled with vanilla cream and topped with a chocolate ganache frosting."

Lulu's history began four years ago when co-founder Sandra Russo met Pucillo through a mutual friend. Both had similar interests in business and with Russo's dream of doing old-fashioned baking paired with Pucillo's entrepreneurial pursuits, Lulu's Bake Shoppe was born.

"We're pleased with the response," said Pucillo. "We're very happy and appreciative of the repeat customers we've developed."

Sometimes, even the existing old bakeries can be made new.

Modern Pastry Shop, located at 257 Hanover St., is not new to the North End area, but with its recent reopening, Modern is back in the competitive pastry mix after a two-and-a-half-month hiatus.

"We reopened the second week in March and we're celebrating 75 years in business," said John Picariello, Modern Pastry Shop's manager. "[The shop's] face was getting tired so we spruced it up. Modern has now modernized."

Changes made to the store's appearance included moving a stairwell to gain 200 square feet in retail space and adding new display cases to show off desserts.

With such sweet shops, what's the downside? That after-dinner decision just got harder