by Jeff Hake
Breakfast in Boston is dedicated to finding delicious morning meals, best enjoyed with friends and loved ones. Enjoy!
Ball Square, 704 Broadway, Somerville, MA
Price range: $11-15
Vegetarian friendly, but not vegan
It wasn’t until my friends and I were leaving Sound Bites that we recognized we were putting ourselves in the line of fire of a breakfast battle. Walking out with bellies full and mouths chattering, we noticed crowds outside of both Sound Bites and the more blandly-named (and -decorated) Ball Square Café immediately next door. In the windows of each, morning comfort food greeted the Saturday morning diners, and in each, the diners smiled and chowed down. While more investigating (a.k.a. eating) will be required to determine the victor, the Café has much to answer to. My friends and I were not disappointed by our Sound Bites experience.
There were six of us in all, approaching Ball Square from three different directions. We didn’t all arrive at the same time and the host was not willing to seat us until we were all present, despite there being a few free tables. Happily, Mari and Isaac had been to Sound Bites before. They suggested we go to the back of the restaurant to serve ourselves some beverages while we waited. This was something that the host could have mentioned to us himself, but nevertheless, it was a wonderful treat with which to preempt our meal.
The self-service bar occupied an entire corner of the cramped but tidy storefront, offering up a dozen varieties of both coffee and tea, as well as a cooler of juices and milks and a mini-fridge of (more expensive) fresh-squeezed delights. These were later added to our tab, though we found ourselves free to go back for more caffeine at our leisure. A major disappointment here was an inattention to hot water for tea. So many restaurants and cafés fail to provide adequately hot water (utilizing canisters that cool over time despite their insulation) and, just as no one wants lukewarm coffee, breakfast tea prepared with anything but near-boiling water lacks body and flavor. Also, Matt was disappointed that the cheaper, non-fresh juices were offered in plastic bottles. This is perhaps the price one pays for self-service, but it was agreed that a tall glass of orange juice in the morning satisfies in a way that plastic cannot.
We eventually were seated despite a still-incomplete party, as I think the host was tired of us standing in the way of the front door. He walked us to our table past yellow- and orange-painted walls, evoking the egg-centric menu, and over hardwood floors to an irregularly-shaped high wooden table towards the back of the establishment, where thick menus awaited us. However, what caught the eye of all was the breakfast specials that took over both sides of a yellow laminated sheet. The items were creative variations on morning classics: omelets, French toasts, eggs, pancakes. Presented with this bounty, I nevertheless chose almost impetuously: stuffed French toast with goat cheese and pear. I decided to pair this with a side of “No Place Like Homefries”.
I was rewarded for my speedy decision. The French toast looked simple enough, but it was four slices of toast cooked in an egg, cinnamon and orange batter, stacked in pairs with a generous layer of goat cheese and pear in between each. Though the toast was prepared on the sweet side, the pear added a freshness while the goat cheese offset each bite with savory creaminess. They were powdered with sugar and I couldn’t help but add a bit of the provided butter, but I think the dish could stand as well on its own.
My side dish did incur some conversation, however. The “No Place Like Homefries” was a small plate of potatoes that had been, presumably, boiled, mashed, shaped and then baked. Baked mashed potatoes, no? Nevertheless, they were labelled as homefries. While I would disagree completely with that title, the side of well-seasoned and ever-so-slightly crisped mashed potatoes was welcome all the same.
Others at the table were also pleased with their meals. Isaac ordered an omelet with tomato, avocado and Monterey Jack cheese that appeared to be about the fluffiest omelet I’ve witnessed, and Matt’s Tex-Mex omelet that arrived later continued that trend, while Sarah’s avocado and tomato eggs benedict topped with hollandaise made my mouth water from across the table. Meanwhile, Mari and Gaby both ordered a dish which I’ve never before witnessed. Named the “Broadway Bowl”, this was an enormous bowl, layered from bottom to top with (the Sound Bites’ version of) homefries, a coarse almost-salsa of tomatoes, onions, and variable chunks of avocado, and topped with eggs as you like them. It was a heaping helping of breakfast, to which Mari and Gaby both did damage and gave high praise. Indeed, Isaac noted that while the prices are not the world’s cheapest, this is offset when one considers the quantity and quality of food that one receives.
Generally, the six of us agreed that breakfast at Sound Bites was a “sound” decision. The breakfast specials comprise a creative and sumptuous selection, the prices are certainly affordable, the service is prompt, if curt, the atmosphere is casual and warm, and we found ourselves delighting in the self-serve beverage bar. Go to Sound Bites for a hearty brunch, but get there before 11, or you’ll find yourself trapped in the Broadway breakfast battlefield, torn between options and waiting to sate your morning cravings.
Jeff Hake is a second-year student in the Agriculture, Food and the Environment program, is the current editor-in-chief of the Friedman Sprout and is as interested in growing food as he is in eating it. He doesn’t usually eat fish, but salt and nonviolence are two of his favorite things.