For many, bakeries often conjure up great memories of the past, perhaps because of the warm and inviting feel of the shops, the distinctive smells of bread baking, or maybe just the simple act of walking from one's home to the store to pick up goods to bring back for a good meal. Sadly, a lot of communities have lost their bakeries over the years because of owners retiring from the business or chains moving in, so it isn't quite as easy to find an independent place to buy bread. But new ones do open up here and there, and one of Boston's oldest neighborhoods--the North End--recently saw the opening of one that is about as hidden away as you can get, and while Bricco Panetteria isn't quite a ma-and-pa bakery (it is owned by Frank DePasquale, who runs a handful of local eateries), it feels like a place that could have been around for a century or more.
A big part of the charm of Bricco Panetteria is its location; hidden away in an alley off busy Hanover Street, the bakery is extremely easy to miss, as it is wedged in between Bricco Ristorante and Tresca out front. The extremely narrow walkway (called Board Alley) looks more like a private place, and if you're on the other side of Hanover, it is sometimes obscured by cars and trucks parked out front. But the alley is indeed a public one and it leads not only to Bricco Panetteria on the left, but the wonderful Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop on the right (which probably deserves its own review). The entrance to the bakery is enticing, with a simple sign above the doorway of the old brick structure, a listing of the breads currently offered, and a stairway leading down and out of sight, all of which give a bit of a sense of an adventure, especially considering how out of the way it feels even though Hanover Street is only steps away. The staircase ends at a counter that has some products within its display, while various loaves of bread are placed in racks to the right. Behind the counter are more racks along with ovens and tables where the breads are made.
Because Bricco Panetteria is a bread bakery, don't expect to find the array of items that you might find at a place such as the nearby Bova's Bakery on Salem Street or Clear Flour Bread in Brookline. But for what it lacks in variety, it more than makes up for in quality, with outstanding takes on such breads as Italian and French baguettes, ciabatta with olives, a ciabatta stuffed with prosciutto and parmesan, miche (a round country bread with dark rye flour used), raisin, brioche, mountain (another round bread, with this one including bulgur wheat), and sunflower. Bricco also offers spectacular takes on focaccia bread with the moist, soft, and spongy bread being topped with various ingredients, including basil, tomato, and mozzarella. And while they look a bit like Sicilian pizza slices or bakery pizza, the focaccia has a very different taste because of the extra yeast used, which causes it to rise more than pizza dough and allows ingredients such as olive oil and salt to be absorbed into the bread. Prices at Bricco are very reasonable considering the quality of the products, with many loaves being under $5.00.
Bakeries hold a special place in the heart of many, and even though Bricco Panetteria is perhaps too new to evoke sentimental memories, it has a timeless feel that makes it seem like a truly old-world shop. If you find yourself in the North End and want to get away from the hustle and bustle and the crowds of tourists, this bakery is a perfect little oasis that should not be missed.
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