Sunday, December 27, 2009

We Love Bova's

It's been our tradition to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve in the North End, doing some last-minute shopping for food (Pace's, Mike's, Salumeria Italiana) and gifts (torrone and pistachios for my dad, turtles and chocolate-covered cherries from the late, lamented Dairy Fresh). Then we split a large pizza from Regina's. With Christmas lights twinkling around the bar and all the windows, the lighted St. Anthony statue in the corner, the wait staff in holiday moods, and the jukebox blasting old songs, there's no happier place in my opinion than a booth in Regina's. And there's no better pizza, either.

You have to have a large pizza, however. A small one doesn't provide the same satisfaction. Our theory is that when you take your first bite, you need to be a certain distance from the crust to feel that all is right with the world. Split at least one large and take home any leftovers.

Last year, it was snowing and cold, and we stumbled into Bova's to warm up before getting in line at Regina's. And they had frosting-decorated gingerbread men, and we thought they were out of this world. We went back and got some for dessert after Regina's and ate them on the walk home. And we've been thinking about them ever since.

This year, since the presents for my family had been shipped days earlier, we didn't need to do any last-minute shopping, so we we thought about having our pizza on the day after Christmas instead. I called Bova's on Christmas Eve morning and discovered they were already out of gingerbread men, which clinched our decision. The young woman on the phone said she would set aside six of them for me on Saturday. Perfect!

But Bova's had no gingerbread men for us on Saturday. Because it was quiet, a young man, the son of one of the owners offered to bake some just for us. "Are you sure?" we said.  "Sure, it's no problem. Can you come back in about a half hour?" We said we'd return after we ate at Regina's, which would give them time to frost them, too.

The Christmas lights were dark at Regina's — a blown fuse, the waitress explained. But the pizza was still perfect and who cared if we were listening to Madonna instead of Andy Williams?  We had a great time.

When we went back to Bova's, the nice young fellow explained that it had gotten busy, and he had burned the batch of gingerbread men, and had had to bake another. He went in the back to frost them. His father stepped up to the register to ring them up.

"How many did you want?" he asked.

"Six." I said.

"No, you need two and a half dozen!" he said in mock alarm. "Six is nothing!"

"Two and a half dozen is too much!" I replied, puffing up my cheeks to their fullest, to show him me as an exploding fat lady.

He laughed and rang up six, while I asked him why he didn't make mostacciola.

"Do you know what mostacciola is?"  he asked, looking a little confused.

"I know it's a pasta dish," I said, as he nodded. "But it is also a sort of gingerbread or spice cookie, dipped in chocolate, that I only see around at Christmastime."

"Mostacciola!" he said. "Of course! Yes, I haven't really had that since I was growing up in Calabria. They make it there and it was the taste of Christmas for me. It isn't as good over here. Mostacciola. How could I forget that?"

"They make it at Maria's," I said. "But I bet you could make it better."

We were interrupted as an older couple came in, looking puzzled. As they continued to look around, undecided, I helpfully said, "Everything is good here."

The wife replied, "We know, but he can't have dairy, and we want bread." As she went to the counter to discuss bread, the husband — tall, rangy, white-haired, bespectacled — turned to me. "No dairy." he said. "Drives me crazy."

"I know." I replied. "I can't have cream or alcohol and it's such a pain."

"No ALCOHOL!" he exclaimed. "That's terrible! I couldn't survive. You can't have ANY? How do you live?"

"Well, I never drank much. Red wine is the worst. I sometimes add a splash of sherry when I cook, but that's all..."

He said, "Red wine? Who cares. I told them: 'You can take away anything but not my Jack Daniels.' As long as I can have that, I'm okay."

"So what do you have for breakfast?" I asked. "Fruit and Jack Daniels? Cereal and Jack Daniels? Pop-Tarts and Jack Daniels?"

He laughed and asked us what we did. I introduced my husband as a future tenured professor and he congratulated us. We asked what he did, and he said that he and his wife owned a financial services firm in Chestnut Hill. She turned and smiled, and ordered two almond biscotti to go with their bread. "Wow," I said. "We might actually have a reason to come and talk to you someday. We might finally have finances for a change!"

"Oh, you will!" he said, as two boxes of warm gingerbread men were put into my hands. We said goodbye, thank you, and Merry Christmas, and went our way. I felt perfectly rich and content with those gingerbread men in my possession. I love the North End. Everyone is family.


  1. Great, great story. I was in the North End on Saturday night and I always point out Bova's. Forget Mike's. Bova's is my place.

  2. Wonderful piece. You took us there with you and even reminded me to write up our recent visit to Pizzeria Regina.

    Naturally, I thanked you and linked to your site and your post at the beginning of our report.


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