It Took 82 Years, But Polcari’s Coffee Now Takes Credit Cards

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Bobby & Nicky

From left, Bobby and Nicky with Polcari’s Coffee new credit card machine.

I’m at Polcari’s Coffee picking up a pound of dark Italian roast and some ground cinnamon when a strange, rectangular box catches my eye on the counter. There’s a keypad and spool of white paper–can it be? There’s no denying that nestled between the old cash register and the original scale still in use since the shop opened in 1932 there sits a credit card machine.

Nicky confirms that Polcari’s Coffee now accepts credit and debit cards. “We were turning away business,” he says. “I’ve only been asking Bobby to do this for the last decade.”

Welcome to the 21st century. I still paid my $12 bill in cash.

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Where to Brunch

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Picture of Ferrara's Kitchen + Bar façade

Brunch favorites served all day long at Ferrara’s Kitchen + Bar, located at 76 Salem Street.

The North End has a plethora of Italian options but when it comes to breakfast spots, the neighborhood is surprisingly lacking. Ferrara’s Kitchen + Bar is the exception, they serve from their brunch menu all. day. long. With James Dean and Marilyn Monroe adorning the walls, it’s an unexpected Italian diner experience. Playing 1950s music on repeat, I can’t help but dance a little in my chair and sing-a-long to my favorite Motown hits.

Anything smothered in their pesto will be delicious but my favorite dish to order is the Benedict because I’m still mastering the art of poaching an egg. With two options on the menu, making a decision is like picking a puppy. The Seafood Benedict features lump Maryland crab while the Ham Benedict has maple-cured Canadian bacon. Either way, I’m always pleased with the outcome, yet somehow that doesn’t translate to the next visit’s decision making process. Other favorites include Chicken & Waffles and French Toast. Spicy bloody Mary’s and tangy mimosas make for a great boozy brunch accompaniment.

Reservations are not taken for brunch. Expect to come early (10am latest) or in you’re in for a wait. However, you can leave your name and number with the hostess and receive a phone call when you’re table is ready.

Casual Dining Without the Tourists

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Outside Beneventos, the best spot for casual dining without the tourists. 111 Salem Street.

Outside Beneventos, the best spot for casual dining without the tourists. Located at 111 Salem Street.

On Sunday, my boyfriend’s parents took a trip into the city to help us with our taxes (mine are DONE, phew!). After a grueling DIY H&R Block session, we desperately needed some food. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees so a television was a must. Since this was a family outing after all, we wanted a casual dining experience that didn’t scream sports bar.

Enter Beneventos, perhaps my favorite spot for laid-back neighborhood dining. The food isn’t going to win any awards but it’s reliably good and relatively cheap. Although it’s right on Salem Street, the restaurant rarely has a wait and gets a lot of local patrons. As a bonus, small flat screen TVs placed high on the walls make for an unobtrusive way for the sports fan in your life to keep an eye on the game and an eye on the table.

The restaurant does accept reservations. Try their brick oven pizzas, anything in vodka sauce or arrabbiata sauce and you won’t be disappointed. Avoid the bread basket, it’s not worth the calories (see my post about Bricco’s bread which IS worth the calories). Also, your check always comes with limoncello shots on the house. Enjoy and bottoms up!

Italians Don’t Do Easter Baskets

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…they do chocolate eggs!

Have you been wandering around the North End wondering about the pretty, colorful, patterned, oval packages that seem to be hanging from the ceiling EVERYWHERE? Well, that makes two of us.

Nicki at Polcari’s Coffee tells me that on Easter, it’s traditional in Italian culture for parents to give their children large, hollow, chocolate eggs wrapped in pretty paper. Often, but not always, there are small toys or prizes inside the eggs. Note that the Easter Bunny does not make an appearance with an Easter basket.

Here is a short round up of shops selling the chocolate treats in my favorite neighborhood.

Earl Grey at Polcari’s Coffee

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Image of Outside Polcari's Coffee in the Sunshine

Located at the corner of Salem Street and Parmenter Street in Boston’s North End.

Yesterday, I finished my box of Twinings Earl Grey so this morning I went to visit Polcari’s Coffee to pick up some more.

Run by the Polcari family since 1932, Polcari’s Coffee is a North End institution. Originally selling just coffee, they expanded to dry goods and specialty items upon customer request. In fact, everything they sell, a customer at one time asked for. Dry goods are measured in to plastic bags, weighed, tied, and labeled for you to take home. If you’re buying a new spice, don’t worry, they sell spice jars and cannisters too.

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Jars upon jars of loose leaf tea and coffee. That old school scale (middle left) is actually the scale they use to this day.

The store proudly has a Boston Bruins flag hanging behind the counter and someone from the Polcari family is always working at the store. During the week, expect to see Nicki (short for Nicholas) but on the weekends expect to see family from his father’s generation. Last year, I was running late from work and needed to stop by Polcari’s Coffee to pick up flour and vanilla for a birthday cake. I called the shop and Nicki kept the store open an extra 15 minutes so that I could get my ingredients. You just don’t get that kind of service anywhere!

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Spices for sale in any weight you can imagine. Check out that massive jar of rainbow sprinkles! (lower right corner)

This is a great place to go if you’re a tea drinker like me but also for coffee which can be ground for drip or french press. You will also find a plethora of spices, flour & yeast, legumes, assorted nuts, olive oil, cheeses, and other Italian imported goods. Their tomato paste may be the best I’ve ever had and their prices are very reasonable. Compare $15 for jar of saffron at a chain grocery store to $7 at Polcari’s.

Even if you don’t need to buy anything, stopping in to Polcari’s Coffee for this old-world experience is worth it. Don’t forget to stop at an ATM, they are cash or check only.