Boston's 'Little Italy'

BAKERIES and tiny cafes butt up against stores and restaurants like books in a crowded bookshelf in Boston's North End. If you're not observant, you may miss some of the finest food nooks. One such place is Trio's, tucked in neatly at 222 Hanover Street, in between a restaurant and a beauty-supply store. Three generations have been coming here to get their fresh pasta.

"This is the mother store. It hasn't changed in all these years, and it won't change," says Catherine Trio Cremaldi, opening her arms. At the back of the store she introduces her parents, Genevieve and Tony Trio, as they tend huge amounts of rotini and tortellini - plain, roasted red pepper, and spinach. They offer floury handshakes.

Many of Catherine Cremaldi's recipes originated from women who have shopped here since the beginning. "Cosmo and I used to work nights at Trio's during Italian festivals. People would come in to buy macaroni and say 'You know what I'm gonna make with this?' " Then they would tell them the recipe.

Although the Trios make dozens of different kinds of pasta, their specialty has always been ravioli - big, floppy, and tender, with filling that is "generously portioned," as a local newspaper described it nearly 20 years ago. "That's the prize," says Catherine. She also likes to quote her brother Louie, who works here: " 'You can make it as good, but you can't make it any better.

Business is going well, Mr. Trio reports: "During recession, our business is much better." A pint of sauce is $2.75 and 12 ravioli cost $3. "Are you going to serve three people at a restaurant for $5.75?" he asks.

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