Arts & Culture Business

Life on the Corner: Mangia Mangia

Growing up in the North End after World War II, some of my most vivid memories involve family dinners and the food we ate. Being separated from the rest of the city by physical and cultural barriers, we depended on our local food shops and what wonderful shops they were. The ground floor of many North End buildings had small shops that catered to the needs and customs of the Italian community. We had meat markets, fish stores, tailors, pharmacies, undertakers, pastry shops and so many more but the most important of all were the Italian grocery stores. The picture I’m sharing today will bring back warm memories to many old North Enders.

The year is 1934 and the gentleman in the photo is Luigi Silvestri in his new grocery store located in Angelo Belmonte’s building at 410 Hanover St., The Boston I Store, the I stood for Italian. How proud he looks because he has achieved the dream of almost every Italian male immigrant, he owns his own business. The counters and floor are pristine, the cooler has many kinds of salumi, eggs, butter and cheeses. Behind Luigi is the coffee and tea section and you can see the top of the coffee grinder over his left shoulder. Along the left wall are cans of imported Italian tomatoes and olive oil. Notice that the oil came in one gallon cans. Along the right wall are bins that held different beans, nuts polenta, flour and everything else a Southern Italian cook needed. What you don’t see is extra virgin olive oil at $50.00 a bottle or aged balsamic vinegar in small perfume bottles. We were the children and grandchildren of peasants and ate peasant food. We all used the same inexpensive wine vinegar, Gragnano, which came in quart bottles with a bunch of grapes on the label. I think it had the pH of sulfuric acid but it tasted great on a cicoria salad.

One interesting tidbit about North End food was that, as children, we all ate the same food on the same night almost every week. Over the past month I spoke to both Michele Tirella and Michele Gallarelli and they both gave the following dinner schedule:
Monday, chicken soup and a salad.
Tuesday, veal cutlets fried in olive oil.
Wednesday, pasta either aglio e olio or with a fresh tomato sauce. Wednesday really was Prince spaghetti night.
Thursday, some kind of meat, maybe a veal chop or my favorite pork chops with vinegar peppers.
Friday, fish, baked fried or Sicilian style.
Saturday, hot dogs and beans. Hey, this was America.
Sunday, the best day of all. Pasta sauce (gravy) simmering for five hours on the stove, stuffed mushrooms, home made cavatelli, stuffed artichokes, meat balls, bresaola, sausages. Basta.

As a kid growing up in the North End the best part of the many Italian grocery stores was the sandwiches they sold. Fifty cents for a small, seventy five cents a large, and hand cut every time. A small sandwich would have three slices each of Genoa salami, mortadella, capicola and provolone cheese. An extra quarter would get you two or three slices of prosciutto but no one ever had an extra quarter. Mustard, vinegar peppers, oregano or a drizzle of olive oil were free. Luigi’s son, Buster, would wrap the sandwich in white paper, seal it with tape and you could eat it sitting on a bench in the Prado. Nothing in the world tasted better than that sandwich.

Matt says I have to have another contest. I will give a $20.00 gift certificate for Salumeria Italiana to the first person who names the most Italian grocery stores in the North End. Not variety stores/bookie joints like Joe Black’s, Slimmies or Brother Bill’s but real grocery stores. Enter your answer in the comments section below or email info@northendwaterfront.com.

Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.”  Read more of Nick’s columns.

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27 Replies to “Life on the Corner: Mangia Mangia

  1. I lived next door to the Boston I store.There were three brothers Buster, Gino and Tony.They were very good to the families with no money, they cuffed everyone.Families would have starved if it weren’t for them.May God bless them!

  2. These are the grocery stores I grew up with in the North End: Boston I, Beninati, Frankie Mauro’s, Uncle Dave’s, Caradonna, Caruso’s, Larry’s, Muscodini’s, Joe Pace’s, Iacoppucci’s, Gloria’s, Gandolfo, Egray’s, Kennedy’s, and Freedom Trail Market.

  3. Great article! Great memories of Buster, Gino and Tony, too. I could remember going in there for my mom and asking Buster to, “Cuff it.” And he’d write down on a pretty full list of names. Now that I think of it, I have to wonder how The Boston-I survived with so many of us ‘on the cuff.’ It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors.

  4. Oh my Nick now that I am 75 years Young I think about the great times and food, most famlies shoped daily and shoped at many different markets for that eveings meal, always fresh food and Hot bread from parzialles, Thanks for the Memories Nick.

  5. CORRECTION to NICK who I assume wrote this , but the BOSTON I was located at 416 HANOVER where the WATERFRONT LAUNDRY is located , then moved some tim after to 410 hanover.

  6. Amazing,our dinner menu was very similar,especially the hot dogs and beans on Saturday. Great article . How about a follow up on Italian Thanksgiving where Turkey was the 5th course!!,

  7. I grew up at 452 Hanover Street and my family shopped at the Boston I. Buster, Geno, Tony and their father Louie. It was our Market Basket of the 50’s!!!! Next door to Pat’s butcher shop where we bought our meat. Agree with Rita give the prize to Frankie.

  8. The sandwiches were still great when chickie took it over,,even before,,Scolas had the best pepper n egg,,north ender/ Charlestown and even the Bostonian was good,,boston I for the cold cuts ,,most of us could tell so many food stories,,lol,,blue front for tripe,,what’s amazing is our menus were so much in common,,great article Nick!’,,,,Mangia!

  9. FABULOUS AS USUALLY NICK. I remember all that Frankie mentioned, but one he forgot.
    was Maria Libra Anthony & Sophie DeFeo mother’s store, which was at the corner of Endicott & Thatcher Sts. GREAT JOB FRANKIE.

  10. Should say, “Life on the Conah”! 😉 Does anyone remember the name of my Grandfather’s (Domiano Cammarata) store? I think it was on the conah of Hanover and Battery Sts back in the 30’s. (?)

  11. Nick , your article brought back some wonderful memories of the Boston I Store. I married Gino’s daughter Connie and he asked me to come into the store to help out one Saturday. The result of this request was working in the store for the next 3 years on Saturdays. More importantly it gave me a chance to deeply bond with my farther-in-law. I would never have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for the store.
    I will never forget slicing the cold cuts and sitting with Gino on milk crates in the back room eating sandwiches that he made for our lunch. This was a generation that truly valued their customers.

  12. Congratulations to Frankie Imbergamo for winning the grocery store contest! Close runner up was Michele Tirella! Thanks to everyone who submitted your list in the comments or via email. And of course, a big thank you to Nick Dello Russo for sharing his stories.

  13. There was another grocery store directly across from Uncle Dave’s on North Street~~~it was called Shop and Save~~they had the barrels of olives outside the store, and every time we roller skated by there we would stick our hand in the barrel and grab a few! Then we would compare to see who was the bravest by how many we grabbed! Then laugh and laugh! We thought we were getting away with the Brinks Robbery~~~and as though the owners never saw us? ha ha ha.

  14. Back in the 60’s, we would be free to walk or run all over the North End. It was so safe then that little girls could play while our mothers would be at the butcher shop for hours. I remember a store on Salem Street that had barrels full of olives and we would grab a few and keep on going. We thought they were free until the owner put a stop to it. I have fond memories of being at Saint Agrippina’s feast.

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