by Jeff Hake
Breakfast in Boston is dedicated to finding delicious morning meals, best enjoyed with friends and loved ones. Enjoy!
Neighborhood Restaurant and Bakery
25 Bow Street, Union Square, Somerville, MA
Price range: $5-15
Vegetarian but not vegan friendly
I have wanted to write about Neighborhood Restaurant for months now but have been holding out for nicer weather. After all, Neighborhood Restaurant has beautiful patio seating under an expansive rusty grape arbor, which is what transfixed me in the first place. The menu was mouth-watering (if meat-heavy) icing. Disappointingly, it was still a hair too cold for them to open wide the doors, and the indoor environment is what turned this experience from “exquisite” to “delicious, but cramped”. Still, Neighborhood Restaurant is a unique establishment, with an odd charm that emanates perhaps from its plastic tablecloths, clatter of dishes, or beefcake servers.
We wondered upon arriving if we were meant to write our name on the sheet on a table next to the door, but it seemed more likely that that was for a host to use. I wanted to ask, so I put a hand on the handle of the front door. Just as I began to push, a sneaker smushed against the glass at the bottom, signaling that the waiter to which the sneaker was attached did not want us to come in. I peered in but he was busy talking to another person on staff. I suppose this could be taken as rude, but it was certainly effective and made me chuckle.
After writing our names, the wait was surprisingly short. A party of six and a party of two were waiting ahead of us. The party of six had not all arrived yet and so were yet to be seated despite open tables (I imagined that the two absentees were receiving a slew of angry texts from their hungry friends) and since we were a party of three with a large table open, we were brought in ahead.
The host brought us in, pointing out our table at the back of the restaurant. Getting into our seats was a task, even for someone as slight as I am. How a larger person would have managed to get into those seats is unknown, and that’s never minding that we were half as many people as are meant to be at that table. Nevertheless, I wrote in my notes at the time, “cozy”. Indeed, despite the fluorescent lighting and tight spaces, the restaurant maintained a genial atmosphere.
While water was not automatically offered, small glasses of orange juice are complimentary. Coffee was of course on order but I asked for tea, which was served out of a coffee pot. This was unusual but it tasted the same as any other cup of tea at a breakfast joint. We were also offered a choice of complimentary cream of wheat or fresh fruit, another winning feature. I hesitated at this (I hadn’t yet decided what kind of day I was having), but when Mari and Isaac chose fresh fruit, the server assumed that this is what we all wanted. I had heard the cream of wheat is delicious, and seeing it on other people’s plates later seemed to prove that point.
Nevertheless, we all received a bowl with half of a grapefruit. This compounded my disappointment, as I anticipated some kind of fruit salad and instead was presented with my least favorite fruit. And yet, an incredible thing happened: I loved it! I’d already convinced myself I was having a fresh fruit kind of day, but this really sealed the deal. Mari convinced me that they had sugared it, but whatever the case, I actually enjoyed the sweet and sour fruit for the first time. Somehow, Neighborhood Restaurant won what should have been a negative point in my breakfast experience.
The menu was chock full of everything from the basics to some elaborate specials. The prices reflected this, ranging from $4 standard fare to $12.99 specials. Mari and Isaac stuck with the simple stuff, ordering pancakes with homefries and three eggs with homefries, respectively. Feeling especially hungry and wanting to consume as much as possible in anticipation of the next day’s marathon, I ordered French toast with three eggs, sunny side up, and homefries (as you may have guessed, homefries are a staple of the Neighborhood Restaurant menu). Given the choice of white, wheat or sweet bread, I gleefully chose the sweet.
Our food arrived quickly, hoisted effortlessly by one of the more sculpted people I have ever seen. Without smiling, and scarcely speaking, this Greek ideal of a man placed our plates on the table and retreated downstairs. There is, of course, nothing wrong with your server resembling a modern-day Hercules, but it is strange to have one place suddenly miniscule-seeming plates in front of you at a diner. For some people, this will make breakfast into a spectator sport. For others, this simply adds to the curiousness of Neighborhood Restaurant.
My fried eggs were about as standard as fried eggs can be, but my French toast was, for all its bland appearance, some of the best French toast I have had. French toast is an incredibly important breakfast food to me; I take it seriously. And this was delectable. The center of each slice was somehow more egg-infused than the outside, accentuating the sweetness of the bread while also refraining from mushiness. With a heaping helping of butter, the French toast melted in my mouth and only made me wish I had received more than two slices. Mari and Isaac likewise ate their pancakes and eggs with pleasure, smiling with full mouths and noting that both items were fluffy and scrumptious. We all agreed that the home fries, though appearing to be fairly standard aside from the occasional chunk of green pepper, had a unique and indecipherable flavor, which was a perfect complement to the meal.
It occurred to me while eating that the atmosphere of the restaurant was beginning to weigh on me, however. As the meal progressed, the lights seemed to become more glaring than earlier. The talk of the servers and the clatter of dishes from the washroom that we were practically inside of, while falling to the background initially, were beginning to make conversation and concentration difficult. And while I had been ignoring it, the electrical outlet behind me, not embedded in the wall but instead sticking out along with a dozen others running the length of the restaurant, was jammed into my left shoulder and there was no way I could shift my chair in such tight quarters to find a more comfortable position. The choice was to slouch or lean, both considerably. Without these distractions, I would have been able to enjoy my meal to its fullest.
I would not discourage anyone from eating breakfast at Neighborhood Restaurant, unless one is claustrophobic or picky, and I would no doubt be jealous of anyone eating on their patio. Their quick service can sometimes translate as curt, but their food delivers and the atmosphere is cramped but manages to maintain a certain appeal. Most importantly, of course, is the food, which is dead-on delicious and accompanied by a wonderful set of freebies. If you are in the neighborhood, give Neighborhood Restaurant a shot. If not, they will send one of their servers after you, and you will lose.
Jeff Hake is in his last semester of the Agriculture, Food and the Environment program at the Friedman School, so long as everything goes according to plan. He really likes tea, breakfast and farms, and spends a lot of time thinking about each of those things everyday. He also blogs at gardenglow.tumblr.com