Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Donut that Ate The Haymarket

Off-Topic Warning: Boston color follows.

There's no Mike's Restaurant at the Haymarket and has not been for several years. Dunkin' Donuts squatted on it and obliterated it.

There's that other Mike's in the North End. You used to go through the urine-redolent parking lot under I-93, past the asphalt that used to be a house where Sophie Tucker lived. Out the other side and down Hanover is, in my opinion, the best ricotta pie in New England.

Mike's on the Haymarket side was a blue-collar, diner-style joint. It was humble-folks breakfast food early -- no brunch, flutes of fresh-squeeze OJ or shitake souffles. Eggs, French toast, little-finger shaped sausages, and lot of home fries. Oh, and go to the cooler to grab your juice in a paper box.

Later in the day, it became a sub and pizza place. Into the night, drunks came to add some protein to their queasy stomaches.

In the morning, Anna was queen. Chef's varied and sometimes included her daughter. You could peak through the open window to the kitchen to see who was cooking and know if you were likely to get your food the way you wanted. Home fry results vary wildly by short-order cook.

So, if you showed at the Haymarket at 6 or 7 a.m., you could plan on Mike's for breakfast -- cheap, fast and chatty. We learned of Anna's flooding issues and her daughters troubles. She watched our three boys grow and knew what they wanted for breakfast. Anna was squat, happy, red-headed, alert and sweet -- an excellent combination.

Tourists were always delighted to get steered there. Invariably some early riser couple from Ohio was walking around wondering where you could get a daybreak breakfast next to Faneuil Hall. Sure, they didn't want a hotel-priced meal, but they also wanted food they might have gotten at a diner at home.

Haymarket stall people came for takeout. Those with early morning business -- cops, construction workers and EMTs -- would show.

Mike's was it, the only one around there. A lot of folk were happy to discover it, even if momentarily confused. It had those Masonite tables with junior-high type plastic chairs and benches. You'd order off the menus on the wall with their white-plastic characters. You'd pay. Anna would give you your coffee and bring the food around to your table.

Times change. Greed gets another victory. Even though she was related to the owners, Anna was not protected. They first took over from their parents and raised the prices. Then DD hunted them down and lured them with big bucks. Anna's somewhere else. Mike's is just gone.

Now it's another Dunkin' Donuts, yet another Dunkin' Donuts. Tourists at the neighboring Bostonian Hotel can get the identical pastry there they expect. There's nothing at all remarkable about it. They won't be headed back to San Diego talking about the quaint Dunkin' Donuts in Boston. Like the famous people's houses paved for parking, Mike's is a memory and one that doesn't even get a plaque.

How just and amusing it would be if every DD and every Starbucks plying their cultural imperialism had to record their effects. On the exterior wall, they'd have to put a sign about what was their before, who came to it, and what it meant to the community.

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Ryan said...

Areas like the North End should have some form of protection to preserve it for historical purposes.

Anonymous said...

i feel your pain, and i like the one-off neighborhoody places too. however i think it should be remembered that DD isnt forcing people into their places to buy their stuff. people actively suport DD business. yes, sometimes because that's all there is now in a neighborhood, but also because they like it. so as i see it the average donut buyer is as much to blame for keeping DD in full blush as is DD itself. i say the same to Europeans who bemoan the advent of McDonalds in their towns. Well, they themselves are buying the stuff! they're complicit! sometimes the finger needs to point in more than one direction.

Anonymous said...

can i plug my favorite greasy spoon? Mass Ave Restaurant ('Mars' among my friends), located on Mass Ave about halfway between Harv Sq and MIT. It is only maybe 5 years old, but proves that you dont have to be in business for generations to cook great cheap breakfast [and lunch] food! those missing Mike's might give it a whirl...

massmarrier said...

Well, I'll find out when they open and try. Is that pronounced in Bostonese or otherwise? Never mind, I'll go and listen.

Of course, Mike's was there at the Haymarket, where I've been going for 27 years almost every week. When my boys were little, it was kind of a bribe, which became a ritual. We'd head off at dawn or a little later and combine veggy/fruit shopping with a family breakfast.

I don't want to jinx anything by revealing that I was afraid the Big Dig finally meant the end of the Haymarket. You know, it's also on Blackstone Street, named for my rogue minister/founding Bostonian.

massmarrier said...

As to DD's popularity, indeed I tremble when I reflect on American taste, to bastardize a Jefferson quote.

A friend who was a remarkable chef in New York told me more than once that in many ways I was a much better cook than she but that I couldn't make it as a restaurant cooky. She judged that with the same ingredients, I could come up with a more remarkable, more memorable, prettier and better tasting meal. However, I could not do it again. That's what people expect, want and demand from their favorite restaurants -- that the food they order will be the same as the last time.

Another chum who has the New Hampshire plate BREWER and lives up to it notes that Budweiser was long America's favorite beer. AB brews it exactly the same every time in every brewery. People know what they'll get.