Legend has it that Joe Spagnuolo has the best balls in Boston.
And he’s serving them at a little spot called Cini’s.
Located on Friend Street near the TD Garden, Cini’s is the dream turned reality for owner Joe Spagnuolo, a Boston native who came up with the concept when he had some time on his hands, hard time actually.
“So I’m sitting in federal prison, in a place called the hole. So I’m sitting there, I’m starving. I said I can really go for my grandmother’s Rice balls right now. So I came up with this whole plan and I created the different flavors and fillings I wanted to do with them and make them bite size. And I came up with the name Cini’s – short for arancini.”
Growing up in the North End, Joe was used to the soft ball sized arancini.
“So I grew up with the old fashioned one, the gut busters. When you eat a big rice ball, it’s a big ball of rice in the middle they’ll give you a little filling and some cheese. So I said what do I like when I eat a rice ball is the cheesy part. So I said let’s put flavors and fillings throughout the rice and in the center put a nice three cheese blend which we use cheddar, provolone, mozzarella. So now with that one bite is the perfect bite because you’re getting your rice, your filling and the cheese.”
But the key to these arancini is the signature cini stretch.
“The Cini stretch. It’s a technique. So all you have to do is your bite in the center. Now when you bite, I tell people you have to pinch a little and then as you pinch and pull, our cheese is so melty, gooey and delicious. That will come and then if you actually if it stretches and ends up on your chin, you did it successfully.”
The rice balls at Cini’s range from classic to crazy.
There are traditional options like this one stuffed with spinach and cheese.
“Everything we do is just full of flavor. So we sauteed spinach first with that, you know, extra virgin olive oil, some onions and then some garlic. So it has a nice beautiful flavor, it’s not a basic spinach ball.”
Cini’s also gets inventive with their specials….with creations like this nod to the Phantom Gourmet.
So after our basic ones we have our major main ones we always have we’ll do a special of the day and the Phantom one is a special edition sauteed purple cabbage for a beautiful vibrant color. We put a little red wine, shallots and then we hit it with some grated cheese, some smoky bacon, and then we jam packed full with that three cheese blend. The first sensation is a crunch from our bread crumb and then as you chew on it you’ll get the softness of the of the risotto and then the flavors of the smoky bacon and our sauteed cabbage and then of course the cheese pulled off finish it off. This cini is Phantom approved.”
Regular cinis you’ll always find on the menu include Buffalo Chicken, and regular OR spicy Mac and cheese. All available in these adorable egg crates.
“We serve our Cini’s in a half dozen egg crate. To me, I like it because it’s good for the environment. Its biodegradable. And it’s so convenient because now you have your bite sized balls, you have them in your hand, you take them, you eat them, and you can take them to go, no problem. There the perfect vessel for the cini.”
And what’s even better is that you can mix and match Cinis.
“Variety is the spice of life. It’s like when you’re dating somebody, you can’t just you know, I want to date this type that type, how you’re going to know unless you try them all.”
Besides arrancini, Cini’s offers oversized calzones.
Giant slices of pizza and sandwiches served on fresh baked bread.
“So every sandwich you get here is the for the bread is big right before you get it. I love it because it adds such a nice crunch and a nice softness in the inside. We do mean steak and cheese with sauteed onions and peppers. We do a crazy chicken parm with a crispy thin cutlet it’s got to be thin nothing grows nothing worse than a thick cutlet. So now when you bite into that chicken parm, you’re tasting the tangy sauce, the crispy cutlet and the crunchy but soft on the inside and you’re tasting the homemade baked bread.”
And while the road to achieving his dream wasn’t always smooth, this North Ender feels blessed to be where he is.
“In life you can never let bad situations keep you down. Every bad experience you can learn from and then progress move forward. Because in this day in America, you want to do something and you have an idea or you know something you want to do, you can do it.”