There’s a lot to do in the North End, especially when it comes to eating delicious, authentic food. But how often do you get to pair that food with a little mystery?
When I took my first official North End food tour I met a lot of really great Italian vendors and tasted a lot of really great Italian food. I learned where to get the best fresh cannoli (Hint: it’s not Mike’s Pastry), how to properly make and cook fresh pasta, and when the best time to drink Campari is. My favorite part of the tour by far though, was when the guide showed us a little hidden gem on Hanover Street—and I bet you walk past it all the time without even knowing it.
A few yards before Hanover Street meets Cross Street, there is a little alley that looks just like every other small space between the North End buildings. The difference is that this one is a passageway to the North End elite. There’s a fresh bread shop (that looks more like you’ve taken a wrong turn into someone’s cellar than a bakery) and a fresh meats, cheeses, and pasta shop—both hotspots for the most delicious, fresh Italian ingredients the locals clamor for. But the newly minted crowning jewel is Mare Oyster Bar. Yes, the same Mare Oyster Bar that was previously located on Richmond Street. If you’ve been wondering where it went, I’m here to tell you that they’ve moved. It’s the same amazing food with an even more amazing location to match.
Mare has a really sleek looking indoor seating area, but it’s a nice, warm evening so my friends and I decide to take advantage of the outdoor section. It’s located at the end of the alley, wedged between the restaurant and the highway divider, but it’s much more spacious than it sounds. There is plenty of space for the sturdy tables, wicker chairs, stone fire pits, low lounge sofas and it all hosts a general upbeat atmosphere so we walk right in and take our seats.
Now, Mare Oyster Bar is definitely known for their oysters, but my friends and I decide to be a little daring and order the other dishes Mare has to offer: a choice that bodes very well for us.
To start, we obviously get some fresh bread (made in the bakery about 4 feet away) and some zeppoles. These zeppoles are fried, just like the dessert version you’re used to seeing at fairs, but what takes it up a notch is the spongy seafood center and the tangy, spicy dipping sauce. It’s not as light as a traditional zeppole, but it is less dense than a meatball and has a little chew to it, which gives it an overall favorable mouthfeel. The executive chef, Nello Caccioppoli, tells us that they’re inspired by the street food of Italy—“You see this everywhere there.” We’re off to a great start.
Next up, we enjoy the Trio of Crudos: a stone slab plated with raw tuna, salmon, and kampachi, paired with a seaweed salad and soy ginger sauce. It’s fresh, light and has some surprisingly savory notes, making it a great dish. Along with that we also have fresh scampi paired with a greens and citrus salad. Then we save the best appetizer, in my opinion, for last—the Kampachi Tartare. The tartare is a round mass of kampachi and caviar, on top of a perfectly salty/sweet sauce and avocado. I would order another but I know there’s more coming.
While we wait for the next dishes to come out, my friend orders the most popular drink at the bar—the Nutella Martini. It looks and tastes as good as it sounds since it’s literally a chocolate martini housed in a glass slathered in Nutella. We have some conversation with Nello as he passes from the kitchen back out to the patio to check in and back to the kitchen and back out again like a seasoned veteran who knows how to both cook and plate great food while also making guests feel welcome. In between our doses of Nello, our waiter, Anthony, does a great job of keeping us informed about the contents of our dishes. Once our next dish comes out, he immediately goes into a breakdown of all the tasty elements. This dish is constructed of five pasta shells rolled and filled with crab meat and seasonings, and sits on top of a light sauce and a vegetable puree, next to diced Roma tomatoes. I love pasta and I love anything stuffed with crab meat so you know this one is a hit.
For our final main course dishes we get a beautifully constructed plate with black cod, zucchini ribbons and squash puree. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the dish is the stuffed peppers on the side, which are sweet and stuffed with lobster—delicious! After that, we decide to tackle what I call “The King’s Feast.” Just think of all of your favorite seafood items on one humongous platter. There’s lobster, squid, swordfish and scallops, all paired with an oil and herb dipping sauce. At this point, it’s every man for himself and we all dig into the tasty platter. It’s definitely the perfect dish to please a crowd (or just you if you’re really hungry).
As a finisher, Nello brings out a beautifully simple piece of cake, which he calls The Lemon Delight. It’s a white cake with a lemon icing and cream custard center. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the night. My friends and I are really full, but we stay a little bit longer just for the atmosphere. We watch people get drinks at the outside bar, we watch some people sit at the fire pit tables, we watch some people come out of the attached pasta shop just to have a look at what’s going on, and then we just look up at the beautiful night sky before saying our farewells.
When I’m done saying goodbye, I get up and walk straight into the back entrance of the attached pasta shop, out the front door and down an alley, digesting the fun and delicious night I just had in a place I now like to think of as my little secret. The alley leads me back onto Hanover Street—Pedestrians didn’t even see me coming.