Sampling the flavor of the city along the famous Freedom Trail
Colorful places to eat dot Boston's Freedom Trail like wild Maine blueberries in a muffin. Some restaurants are historic monuments in their own right. Others have a granite wall alongside or a park where you can sit and snack on wonderful tidbits. A fun - and filling - day can be spent taking in the trail's history and grazing along the way. Here's how:
* Do not eat breakfast.
* For a dollar, buy a Freedom Trail map at the Boston Information Booth at the Park Street subway station or the tourist office at Prudential Center.
* Pack a camera and a shopping bag or knapsack. Think about an umbrella.
* Bring a jacket. Some of the more proper restaurants are rather stuffy about such things.
* Wear comfortable, flat shoes. There are brick walks, cobblestones, and potholes that rival Java sand traps.
* Be as willing to try new foods as old places. Promise not to eat anything as pedestrian as a chocolate chip cookie.
A good place to start on the trail is Boston Common, America's first public park. As you enter on Arlington Street, buy at least one pretzel - without mustard - from Missy's Soft Pretzel Factory wagon. Do not eat!
Do a smart about-face and cross the street to the Public Garden. Board a swan boat and as your kids (if they're along) drop bits of pretzel to a phalanx of mallards, go over your Freedom Trail map.
Disembark. Retrace your steps to the foot of the Common and climb Beacon Hill toward the gold-domed State House. Here in front of architect Charles Bulfinch's much-copied but never improved masterpiece, is your starting point.
Walk down toward the Park Street Church - where ''America'' was first sung - then left on Tremont. Across from the Old Granary Burial Ground is Dini's Restaurant. The most historic thing on the menu is the broiled scrod. If you're feeling a bit peckish it's yours for $7.09, tax, vegetable, potato, and rolls included.
But if you're feeling flush and want to make use of that jacket, walk to the end of the block and round the corner at King's Chapel onto School Street. Here you have a pleasant option - the Parker House or Maison Robert across the street. If it's still too early to eat, at least check out both restaurants for your evening consideration.
In the splendor of Parker's, under a trio of crystal chandeliers, lunch and dinner are served alongside a plate of humble Parker House rolls. Broiled tripe with mustard sauce has satisfied the daring for 128 years. Charles Dickens and the Hawthornes probably enjoyed it when they supped here.
''Does anyone order it anymore?'' I asked the head waiter.
''All the time. People remember their grandfathers eating it here. Now they come back time after time and order it themselves.''
Boston Cream Pie is a house invention and tradition. It's a must for dessert.
At Maison Robert, in the Old City Hall, a variety of elegantly appointed rooms are available where you can choose from a selection of fine French cuisine.
If it's still too early, at least have some refreshment at Ben's Cafe under the quiet stare of Ben Franklin - a Francophile who knew his quenelles from his codfish cakes.
Continue down School Street to the Old Corner Book Store. Fanny Farmer's candy shop is just across the street. Turn left immediately on Washington. (To the right is the famous Filene's Basement - a bargain-hunter's paradise. But that's off the Freedom Trail, and certainly off our subject.)
Consult your map and follow the trail to the Old South Meeting House and continue down to the Old State House. At the Sensational Cookie cart right out front, 45 cents will buy one of a variety of soft and gooey cookies. Think beyond chocolate chip to something more original - orange pecan, for instance.
Around the corner and down the street is that cornucopia of tourist allurements, Quincy Market. Stuffed within its thick, gray granite walls and the adjoining North and South Markets are 64 places to eat or snack.
A word of advice: Walk and gawk before you decide.
Grape Leaves a la Greque, Italian sausages, German knackwurst, Mexican tacos, Jewish and French bread, Chinese egg rolls. Montillio's cupcakes in the likeness of Miss Piggy, the international actress and authoress - complete with purple bow - are available to go.
This panorama of eateries is scattered among a rainbow of boutiques, clothing stores, and candle shops.
There are elegant places to sit and quietly dine. At the North Market, you may choose to sit royally above the madding crowd and nibble lobster, shrimp, scallop ravioli, or spit-roasted duck at the Wild Goose.
At the eclectic Serendipity in the South Market you can split a $6 banana split with three hungry friends or nibble some blue corn nachos with goat cheese.
Most informal and fun of all, grab something to eat and sit on the steps and people-watch. Jugglers or magicians are always around. Recently I sat like a seal devouring a small school of fried smelts while some break-dancing kids polished the top of a six-foot square of Armstrong vinyl with their back sides.
One of the city's ironies is that it's easier to find a beefburger in Bombay than a baked bean in Boston. But if you can brave the crush, Durgin-Park has the real thing for 75 cents a dish. There, under the painted tin ceiling, you'll be sandwiched next to perfect strangers at long tables with checkered tablecloths. The restaurant serves 2,000 people a day.
The ''Rib Roast Our Specialty'' button on the waitress's apron caught my eye.
''Is it as big as ever?'' I asked.
''Ever hear of a pterodactyl?''
''Make that a brontosaurus. Are you a writer or something?'' she asked.
''Both,'' I admitted.
''Here, I'll give you my card.''
''Oh, you're with Mary Kay Cosmetics,'' I read.
''Only part time. Would you like a facial?''
''No thanks, the brontosaurus will be enough,'' I said with a smiled.
That little repartee would not usually be worth mentioning. But at Durgin-Park waitresses have the reputation of being - well - rude. It's part of the act. ''Not anymore,'' said Suzy, my waitress. ''If the manager finds out anyone's rude, he get's furious!'' Twelve dollars buys an over-the-plate slab of beef wading in salty juice.
Around the corner from Durgin-Park, at 41 Union Street, is Boston's oldest restaurant, Ye Olde Union Oyster House. Sit at the U-shaped mahogany oyster bar where Daniel Webster spent many hours. There's always room for a half-dozen of those icy, slippery bivalves.
Hit the trail again. Around the next corner is Haymarket - a series of pushcarts, stands, and shops littered with lettuce leaves, newspapers, carrot tops, fish scales, and orange skins. It's wonderful!
Artichokes - six for a dollar. Fiddlehead ferns and snow peas - 99 cents a pound. Pork ribs, special today at $2.39. Just make sure you pick out the produce yourself. A little flimflam has been known to be used, so you may be slipped a rotten cucumber.
Back on the brick path, walk under the highway past a portrait of Botticelli's ''Primavera,'' by Boston artist Sidewalk Sam, and across Cross Street to the Italian North End.
A few blocks away is the Old North Church - the end of our eating tour.
A left on Hanover Street takes you past the city's oldest Italian restaurant, the European. ''How big is the small pizza,'' I asked my tiny, grandmotherly waitress.
''Six pieces,'' she said.
That, if you think about it, says absolutely nothing. Rome could be cut in six pieces.
As the jukebox appropriately played Weird Al Yankovic's ''Eat It,'' I managed to get down one piece, heaped with anchovies, peppers, mozzarella, etc., etc., etc. The rest went back to my office.
Next door is Trio's Ravioli Shoppe. There are 10 kinds of pasta to choose from! Get some chocolate spaghetti and serve it with an Alfredo sauce.
Across the street is the Modern Pastry Shop. If you can pass the window display of marzipan candies, congratulations.
The brick trail takes you past the Paul Revere House. Mama Maria's is straight ahead. Wonderful veal dishes are served in the evening.
Then on to the Old North. A quiet park with benches and linden trees is there for you to rest your feet as you drink in the history of this site.
The trail continues on to the USS Constitution and, farther, to Bunker Hill. The soup line, however, ends here.
Arrivederci and bon appetit!