|Mission: good eats|
If Roxbury were a gumbo and its residents the seasonings, its stock would have such an array of flavors that even the pickiest of tasters would be satisfied. Roxbury is one of Boston’s most visibly diverse neighborhoods and its food fare a culinary United Nations. Tremont Street, peppered with locally owned grocers, take-out counters, and small restaurants, is like an international buffet. The half mile strip also serves-up outdoor landmarks and parks that make perfect settings for brown bag picnics.
Start the tour at the Roxbury Crossing T stop, on the Orange Line. Located at the corner of Tremont Street and Columbus Avenue, it’s a lively spot serving Roxbury Community College, the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center, and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the largest mosque in New England.
Tremont Street is an easy climb through Roxbury’s Mission Hill district. Roxbury Crossing’s Butterfly Cafe, 1420 Tremont Street, has organic coffee drinks, herbal teas, sandwiches, and pastries to get you going. A prime example of Roxbury’s diversity, the Butterfly is the center for Somali political refugees in Boston.
Walking away from Roxbury Crossing to the left, cross the street to find the Hamdi Halal Market, 1433 Tremont. Its shelves are stocked with Indian food staples, African spices, and other indigenous items. Fresh meats are had from a counter in the back of the store.
A short distance away from the Hamdi on the opposite side of the street, a block is packed with worldly take-out options. Wan Convenience, 1508 Tremont, sometimes has folks lining up for subs, sandwiches, and other items infused with Caribbean flavor by the gregarious owner from Jamaica. Two doors away, Crispy Dough Pizza’s crust is thin enough to accentuate the tasty toppings and the selection of homemade Brazilian juices are tropical and refreshing. Mike’s Donuts, at the end of the block, established in 1959, carries on the building’s long tradition as an Irish bakery with homemade donuts, muffins, pastries, and sandwiches.
After you’ve made your selections, cross the street. The two-tier Mission Hill Playground is adjacent to the Boston Public Library Parker Hill Branch. At street level, there are benches and tables for noshing and, from the vantage of being on a hill, viewing the tallest buildings in the Back Bay and Fenway, including the Mass College of Art, Prudential, and John Hancock Towers. Send the kids to the playground’s lower tier for the slides, swings, small hoops court, and spray fountain.
Next to the playground is the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Health - Mission Church - a looming, cavernous stone landmark built in the 1870s. In 2009, it was introduced to millions who watched former presidents and dignitaries walk up Tremont Street and into the church for Senator Ted Kennedy’s funeral. Kennedy sought spiritual refuge in the church while doctors treated his daughter for cancer at a nearby hospital. The international news coverage showed many of the small businesses along the street, including Wan Convenience and Mike’s Donuts. The church welcomes visitors daily and conducts Sunday Masses in English and Spanish.
Continuing up Tremont Street, you’ll find Sushi Station at 1562, and, a few doors away Punjab Mini Mart, 1576, where Middle Eastern, Indian, and Pakistani groceries are had.
Tremont Street ends at Brigham Circle, where students, medical professionals, and locals mix at a number of watering holes. Flann O’Brien’s Pub, at 1619, has a real flavor. It’s perpetually dark and always lively with a pool table and juke box playing punk to big band. A brunch, lunch, and dinner menu features an Irish breakfast, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, and battered bangers, among the selections.
Stepping outside of Flann’s walk a few steps to the intersection of Tremont Street and Huntington Avenue for a harvest of international flavors. Greek, Jamaican, Mexican, Indian, and Chinese joints line up along Huntington. Place your order, carry your selections outside, and choose from two outdoor settings that are both dramatic and as pleasing to the senses as the aromas wafting through the food bags.
The Kevin Fitzgerald Park is a five acre grass covered hill with iron benches along paved pathways and fields with space enough to stretch out for resting between rounds of food. The park is so high that you are almost eye level with the steeples atop Mission Church. Access the park from the large parking lot off of Calumet Street at the intersection of Tremont and Huntington. This intersection is also home to the local J.P. Lick’s homemade ice cream shop.
To escape the urban environment of Tremont Street for a quiet break in the historic, secluded, tranquil Frederick Law Olmsted Emerald Necklace park system, walk across Huntington from Tremont Street and down Francis Street, where Brigham and Women’s Hospital is located. At the end of Francis, take a left onto Brookline Avenue, cross Fernwood, and then cross over Brookline Avenue to the tree-lined, gravel path that leads to the Riverway link of Emerald Necklace.
Take a seat in the shade on a bench next to any of Olmsted’s famous stone bridges. Enjoy the slow motion of the Muddy River, the easy pace of joggers and cyclists, and the swaying trees that are like a wall between you and the city.