Alden & Harlow
40 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138
A great restaurant has wonderful service, a unique and inviting atmosphere and all of it centers around the food. That is exactly what I found this past weekend. An unexpectedly well sized restaurant a short walk from the center of Harvard Square. It is along the street nestled next to an old world movie theater (The Brattle Theatre). This blogger has to admit it wasn’t a completely random find. I am a hunter for great food. An online search and some late night cooking channel viewing found very effective. When you first see Alden & Harlow, you are taken by their ‘almost at street level’ glass ceiling. It covers a small section of seating (as seen below).
As I look over, I see full tables and lots of laughs. Immediately pulling me in.
(View from inside)
It was “brunch” time on a Sunday when I went with a friend. As we walked over to our very cozy table, (tucked in next to a small window and along some very attractive exposed brick) I had a chance to take in how large the restaurant really was. A twenty (plus) seat vintage bar, to start.
Looking even further; the wood beams, white tile, butcher style aprons, and spice jars along the counter all charmed me. At this point I was smitten and I hadn’t even taken a bite out of anything. Always a good sign.
Our waiter, who was a delight, suggested that the plates are meant to be shared. He guaranteed two-four plates would feed us happily. We decided on four, naturally. I was well invested in all the dishes our neighbors had been trying. They inspired us to choose our first plate, a root vegetable panzanella salad. Which was, to put it simplest; heaven. Crisp, tart, refreshing and very hearty.
This one had a lot going on but in the best way. Pickling was at the core of this. It had pickled radish, pickled onion, what we believe to be pickled turnip, microgreens, broccoli, parsley, corn, haricots verts, carrot, halloumi cheese, mixed with very rustic bread and finished with an oregano chimichurri. This is not for someone who doesn’t enjoy a little acidity. I happen to love it. The second plate came out with the salad. My knees are getting weak just at the memory of this. It is one of the best combinations I have ever had.
Pickled corn pancakes. Apple compote. Honey. Buttermilk crema. Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, BOOM. Salty butter. Whole corn kernels add texture and flavor to a light corn cake. Apples add a sweetness to the top but the slight crunch of the cakes is still intact. A forkful of cakes, apple, honey and crema with the final touch of the butter sends you into another world. I experienced true pancake ecstasy. We had a plate exchange at this point. The next one was brought out. I will say, I enjoyed how the kitchen sent out what they thought would work well together not just all four at once.
Creamy stone ground grits, shrimp, and a poached egg. How simple, how lovely. Shrimp cooked in what tasted like rendered animal fat. As anything very delicious always is. I usually like a larger, more juicy shrimp in my ‘shrimp and grits’. Just a preference. Grits were velvet. Cheese and butter aided in this consistency. A runny yolk added to this already decadent spoonful. A general mild flavor. I would have liked a little more spice. But again, preference.
Our last plate. An egg frittata, but not one that you know. This is different. Deconstructed in look, unified in bite. A fluffy pillow of egg, topped with a melted and browned Bianco Sardo cheese. Sitting of a bed of nicely roasted vegetables. Accompanied by a fennel and pea green salad. I applaud this technique. However, It was my least favorite of the four. It didn’t excite my palate. Still fine, but the corn cakes it was not.
This is a special restaurant. It’s a place where you want to bring friends and just spend all day eating and talking. The area around the restaurant will make you want to explore. The makings of a perfect day start here.
(Interior restaurant pictures not by me)