Friday, December 14, 2012 at 7:15 a.m.
If any of you guys have followed my foodie blog at ps561.com, you would know a few things about me, one of which, is that I grew up in the Boston area and have an unhealthy obsession for some traditional New England favorites that I am unable to acquire living down here in South Florida, one of which being pastries from Mike's in the North End...
Of course, If I were to move back up north, I would instantly miss the availability of good Cuban and Caribbean foods, one of my staples down here, so there you go. The grass is not always greener. Anyhow, I found out that Michael Mercogliano, the owner of the famous Mike's Pastry shop in Boston's North End, has passed away, at age 90. My wife and I were there a few weeks ago and enjoyed (actually inhaled) a couple of cannolis and some Italian cookies, all while sitting nearby in "the park with a statue of Paul Revere" in it, one of those quintessential "Boston" spots that you really don't need to see at all.
They should rename it "Mike's Park," because it seems to be where everyone sits and eats Mike's Pastry, carefully unwrapped from the white boxes with string. You see, there is never anyplace to sit at Mike's. They have actually removed the tables and chairs from the space, a gigantic horseshoe shape with attendants all around that call out "next!!" when they are ready for you. It works. Trust me. Even with 50 people milling about, the process is efficient and streamlined, even if you want a cappuccino. Most people eat in their cars (if you can find a place to park which is highly doubtful), or head to the park.
Mike Mercogliano was the king of desserts. Most restaurants in the North End don't even bother bringing a dessert menu at the end of the meal, because they already know you will be heading to Mike's. He started making Cannolis about 70 years ago, and never stopped until the very end. He made one thing and one thing only, amazing Italian desserts. He never expanded the business or his brand past those 4 walls adorned with cheesy formica and mirrors last updated in 1974. When you go to Boston, you need to go to Mike's. On the flight home you will see at least 10 "live lobster" boxes and about 20 Mike's pastry boxes on people's laps.
Mike's Pastry goes against so many food industry "rules" that so many owners abide by these days. You need to expand to be successful. You need to serve more than one "daypart." (Dayparts are breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert). You need to diversify your menu to attract more customers. Mike proved this isn't true. I liken Mike's Pastry to In N Out burger, my fave chain hopefully marching eastward as we speak. Do one thing and do it so well, that nobody else can compete. In N Out serves 3 things (plus the infamous "secret" menu): burger, cheeseburger, fries. That's it. When I go to Southern California, it's my first stop, every time. Just like Mike's. People all over the world love Mike's Pastry. When you think dessert, and you are within an hour's drive, you head to Mike's.
So, today, we say farewell to Mike. But there is nothing to fear foodies. Because Mike's is family owned (you can literally feel the love when you walk in this place) we can rest assured that it isn't going anywhere. It will not be sold. It will remain an institution, one of those spots that just make you feel better about the state of the world, for the next 100 years (I hope). This man dedicated his existence to perfecting the cannoli, and in the process, topping off special occasions and "date" nights for thousands of people from Boston and beyond every year. He will be missed.
Aaron Merullo is the owner of the PS561 food truck.