Our journey down Centre Street thus begins where it should—at the beginning. Centre Street begins near the Jackson Square T station on the Orange Line. At the intersection of Lamartine Street and Centre Street, there stands the first destination on my journey: Il Panino Cafe and Grill. Apparently there is a family of il Panino restaurants that originates in the North End, something of a hub for Italian eating and culture in Boston. All the better.
Now, I have been to this restaurant before. In the not so distant past, I was making ends meet working as a barista at a coffee shop in downtown Boston. It was a great job, but did not allow for particularly luxurious living. It is a natural outcome of necessary frugality that one quickly becomes familiar with the cheap options for eating out. And so Il Panino caught my attention soon after moving to Boston by means of the the sign in the window boasting of a slice of cheese pizza and a can of soda for $2.95 (or thereabouts). That may not seem particularly appealing. It is certainly not the legendary $1 slices of pizza from New York City. Nevertheless, this was a sizable piece of pizza and a can of soda (an extravagance in itself for a man of my income), a whole meal, for less than $3!
The restaurant does claim to have the “Best Pizza in Boston!” This, to me, seems like a bit of a stretch, though, to be fair, the quality of a pizzeria should probably not be judged by a basic slice of cheese pizza. However, the pizza is certainly good. Much better than a minimally cheaper option a bit further up the street (we shall arrive there in due time).
And so, I return to Il Panino Cafe and Grill to begin my journey of food. I walk up to the counter, am greeted by the girl tending the cash register, and pose my request, “What is your favorite item on the menu?” Her response is to say, while simultaneously looking down and away, “Oh, gosh…” Personally, I would have thought this question would elicit an easy response. I decide to help her out by asking in a slightly different manner: “What’s one of your most popular items?” Of course, her favorite and the reigning customer favorite may be vastly different, but either way, I mean to get her to make my order for me. This second question proves easier for her.
“Oh,” she responds without hesitation. “The Chicken Bacon Ranch calzone.” I look up at the menu. The Chicken Ranch Calzone, with marinated grilled chicken, mozzarella cheese, ranch dressing, and, yes, the meat of all meats, bacon. The price is not exorbitant but is certainly a far cry from my cheap slice of cheese and can of soda. I pay the $13.50 plus tax, and wait. This sounds wonderful. I mean, it has bacon! I’m also generally a fan of chicken ranch combinations.
After a few minutes, I get my calzone in a box, take it to one of the outside tables. It’s not much of a view, but it’s fun to be outside and watch people go by. I open the box. The calzone is pretty sizable; over a foot long. Slits cut in the top of the bread for full and even cooking. Oil drizzled on top. There is a cup of marinara sauce with it.
I engage. As with any calzone, it takes a couple bites to really get to the good stuff, but when I do, it is just that—good stuff. I can understand why this would be a customer favorite. The chicken is not dry, though it is perhaps a tiny bit rubbery. The cheese is somewhat clumped together, rather than being evenly melted, but this is minor. And yes, there is bacon, but not as much as I would have liked. Although that is almost always a criticism of mine. I have a hard time imagining something having too much bacon. I dip the calzone in the marinara sauce a couple of times but give up on this quickly. It does not enhance the flavor, really, and it is cold. Had it been warmed up, even just made to be lukewarm, it would have been better.
But overall, it was a good meal. Actually, it was a good two meals. The calzone was so big, I only ate half of it, taking the other half to work with me the next day.
Side note: I apologize for not having a picture of the calzone. My first few stops were done before I started the blog, so please bear with me. I will begin including pictures soon.
A good beginning, but we’ve got a long way to go.