Good Gravy!

With upscale chefs homing in on obsessively precise microregions of Italy, modern Italian has become Boston’s fuss food ("Abruzzese tonight, sweetie?"). But North Enders are sitting on the antidote: homespun Italian-American joints, where tomato sauce is "gravy" and the house red pairs with everything. One caveat: Choose carefully, or you’re as likely to end up with leaden chicken parm as a beloved family recipe.


On an eerily quiet block near North Station, Massimino’s (207 Endicott St., 617-523-5959) merits seeking out, if only for the ever changing antipasto, which typically includes a mountain of cheeses, cured Italian salumi, and balsamic-dressed greens. Your server will probably rattle off at least a dozen specials, but if you want a safe play, the traditional, lemony veal saltimbocca ($13) always satisfies.


At the livelier Antico Forno (93 Salem St., 617-723-6733), a bowl of ribollita ($7.50)—a rustic Tuscan bread soup—and a shared arugula pizza Amalfitana ($13), charred in the fiery brick oven, make a fine meal. Leave room for the boozy tiramisu ($6).


Wise diners at Pagliuca’s (14 Parmenter St., 617-367-1504) skip the antipasto
—an uninspired arrangement of pickled vegetables, iceberg lettuce, and deli meat—and go right for the worthy chicken Campagna ($21), a house specialty served with roasted peppers and potatoes.


The pappardelle e melanzane ($15.95) at La Summa (30 Fleet St., 617-523-9503), with eggplant and wide ribbons of handmade pasta, tastes as if Nonna made it; judging by the family photos at the entrance, we’re pretty sure she did.


The soul-warming ricotta-stuffed eggplant rollatine ($16) and linguine with meatballs ($13) at Mother Anna’s (211 Hanover St., 617-523-8496) epitomize an old-school Italian truth: Leftovers taste even better.