Modern Pastry is small, crowded and colorful boutique with an enormous tourist-friendly sign. One or two people work the counter as customers order based on the look of the unlabeled items displayed behind the glass. The big seller is cannoli, which can be ordered with a choice of three fillings (ricotta), three shells (plain, chocolate-dipped and chocolate-covered) and two toppings (chocolate chips of almonds). When you order they select the shell you ordered from the case and take it in the back to fill it, preserving the shell's freshness for longer than if it were prefilled. The ricotta inside my single serving cannolo was subtly sweet, just like most authentic Italian pastry.
Further down the street is the enormous, double-wide, fluorescent-lit storefront of Mike's Pastry. Their wide counters often have four lines at a time, displaying overhead on oversized, laminated images the different varieties of cannoli that are on display for order. The pre-filled shells at Mike’s may be bigger than those at Modern, and they offer a wider variety of options, but the flavor is certainly not an improvement over that of Modern. Like its fast-paced "whaddaya want" service, there is nothing subtle about the cannoli at Mike's Pastry. Their ricotta filling had a sweet creaminess to it which was admittedly tasty, but that’s not the experience I'm seeking when eating cannoli. Their love of and reliance on confectionary sugar is obvious. Still the variety of fillings (amaretto, strawberry, chocolate mousse) do make a customer want to order a bunch to "share" and try them all.
Mike's and Modern are not the only pasticcerias in the North End. Also notable is Bova's, a 24-hour corner bakery that offers a wider selection of items than the other two (including pizza and breads). I received insider information that Bova's was the spot the locals went for shorter lines and superior pastry. I cannot speak for all of the items offered at Bova's, but the sfogliatelle was light years better than those offered at Mike's and Modern, which were both so crunchy I couldn't bring myself to finish them. Bova's was chewy with a doughy middle and crispy edges. Yum yum.
Verdict: If Clemenza tells you to leave the gun, but take the cannoli, grab the box that says Modern.