Southern Roots, French Training, and a Local Dedication

by Caroline Carney and Kelly Dumke

Hungry Mother, a restaurant in Kendall Square, takes pride in its dedication to using seasonal ingredients and working with local food systems. The restaurant has been a member of the Chefs Collaborative since it opened a year and half ago. Chef Barry Maiden and owners: Alon Munzer, Rachel Miller Munzer, and John Kessen have created a wonderful menu. Prices range from $4 to $8 for appetizers, $8 to $13 for soups and salads, and $14 to $25 for entrees.

Walking into Hungry Mother you are welcomed by a soft, warm glow achieved through a union of southern-style hospitality and French refinement. The owners’ passion for sustainability extends to the restaurant décor with canning jars used as vases, simple inverted water glasses used as light-fixtures, and pages from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking papering the walls of the bathroom.

Alon Munzer explained that the menu is based on what is seasonally available. The chef, Barry Maiden, approaches seasonal scarcity with a positive attitude: he feels having fewer options forced him to be more creative when planning the menu. “It is much easier to be a chef in California,”Alon stated, while being a chef in New England is more challenging.

As of October, Hungry Mother is in the midst of harvest time with an abundance of produce and is working tirelessly to preserve currently fresh produce for use in winter. Imagine a January dish of roasted pork loin with a green tomato relish, a summery treat after months of beets and turnips.

Keeping with its passion for sustainability, Hungry Mother composts everything down to the toilet paper rolls. The staff works extra hours to divide the trash and recycle what they can. Our waitress told us that it is hard work, but everyone on the team feels the environmental benefits are well worth the effort.

Complementary crusty bread, fresh from a Framingham bakery, accompanied by a creamy pat of local butter dusted with flecks of sea salt, was an impressive start to the meal. To tide us over until the main event, the chef surprised us with beef tongue canapé on the house: thin slices, draped over toasted French bread, and topped with a gruyere. The tongue was sweet and tender from the long hours of braising and robust from the smoking. Rich, salty, and smoky- what more could you want?

We tried the Boiled Virginia Peanuts and Fried Green Tomatoes next.  The chef boils the peanuts for five to six hours, so that the soft shells easily pulled open. The texture and flavor were wonderful. The long hours of boiling had given life to the legume and the nut was but a distant memory. The sea salt complimented the soft, creamy, chickpea-like peanut.

Thick slices of local green tomatoes were fried in a light cornmeal-herb crust and topped with a red remoulade sauce (a Creole-French fusion of mustard, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, and paprika). The fried green tomatoes embodied comfort food, while still being delicate.  The single sliver of crisp bacon added just enough salt to the dish and the freshness of the lightly dressed local greens on the side was a perfect compliment.

Parsnips from Verrill Farm in Concord were Hungry Mother’s vegetable of choice for this year’s Heirloom Harvest Week. The restaurant offered a small taste of Student Parsnip Soup for a reasonable $2.50.  Served in a miniature canning jar and topped with a sprinkling of fresh chives and pancetta, this soup showcased the delicious flavor of the carrot’s underrated cousin.

For our main course we shared the French Gnocchi, a beautifully plated dish of toasted gnocchi resting atop a silky sherry-mushroom broth. The gnocchi was flavored with French fines herbs (fresh parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil), which take on a sweet flavor when cooked and the fluffy texture of the gnocchi was complemented by a slight crunch from wilted escarole and melt-in your mouth roasted delicata squash.  The chanterelles were tender and cooked to perfection. This was a display of some of Fall’s finest vegetables.

As a side for our gnocchi, we chose the market vegetable: a succotash of farro, corn, and sea island peas. Farro, from Anson Mills, a supplier of organic heirloom grains, is a species of wheat and looks and tastes much like barley. The nutty flavor and chewy texture of the farro worked well with the sweetness of the corn and earthiness of the peas. Each bite culminated in a fiery kick; the dash of Tabasco sauce was an unexpected delight.

As the meal came to a close we longingly eyed the desserts. The old-fashioned green tomato cake with pecans, and cinnamon cream cheese frosting was particularly tempting; but we could not resist a taste of “preacher cookies.” Our waitress explained that when the preacher would stop by unexpectedly, housewives would quickly whip up these cookies to serve. The no-bake cookies made with cocoa, peanut butter, oats, and a splash of milk tasted like “heaven.” Those preachers were lucky.

Hungry Mother has a selection of local wines as well as choices from across the United States, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, and Germany. There are many bottles for under $35 and a glass of wine can set you back anywhere between $7 and $12.
The drink menu revealed a penchant for the unexpected alongside the restaurant’s signature Southern flair. The Maker’s Mark, sorghum syrup, luxardo amaretto, and boiled peanut mixed drink sounded like a wild ride. Hungry Mother offers a great selection of local beers from Portsmouth, NH and Gloucester, MA.

Hungry Mother
233 Cardinal Madeiros Ave.
Cambridge, MA
(617-499-0090)
hungrymothercambridge.com

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