Around the ‘Hood

12 06 2010

Here\’s today\’s track for your enjoyment

The Neighborhood Restaurant Somerville, Cambridge

A couple of weeks back, I found myself living (a much better term than “crashing”) at my brother’s apartment…a graduated senior…employed (luckily!)…but without an apartment to call my own since I had to wait until June 1st to actually move-in to the place that I will be calling “home” for the following year, according to my contract. And, so, just like that, I became a resident of Somerville, and I have to tell you what an ethnic, picturesque neighborhood it is, full of its own charm with beautiful houses and tons of Brazilian influence. I couldn’t even resist myself when I passed one of the many Brazilian grocery stores and just had to buy a couple of Garoto Bombons, which you will always crave after trying one for the first time.

To further introduce me to their ‘hood, Rene and his girlfriend Lumina invited me to go to The Neighborhood Restaurant, a Portuguese jewel causing a sensation around Somerville.

The patio area at The Neighborhood will brighten up your day!

Having opened 28 years ago, the Neighborhood Restaurant is still run by members of the Borges family, who will greet you in their very hospitable Portuguese ways by offering complimentary coffee and a delicious kind of soft Portuguese bread (careful! It is addictive!) to sustain you as you wait in line at this popular spot. Come prepare to start eating even before you sit down, but do not forget to leave room for the large portions that you are about to encounter during this meal.

To enjoy the beautiful summer weather, we decided to sit at the patio area of the restaurant, which has colorful picnic tables that will make you think that you are actually dining in Miami Beach or California for some reason. I guess sunshine and lots of color has that effect on some of us to dream that we are really elsewhere, allowing us to escape reality for a bit.

Any brunch meal is served with complimentary coffee or tea and orange juice, and the prices for the menu items range from $5.99 to $13.99. To start off, you have your choice of cream of wheat or fruit with most of the options listed on the menu. Rene and Lumina opted for the cream of wheat, a hot breakfast cereal that is made with ground wheat instead of ground corn. Both seemed to like it very much noting that it was not too sugary, and that it was nicely topped with cinnamon to add more flavor to it. I on the other hand, opted for the plate of fruit since those who know me know that I am not a big fan of hot oatmeal at all….(unless it is Trader Joe’s organic instant oatmeal J). On top of all of this, you also get to taste complimentary toasted bread served with jam.

Then, the time came to order the real meals–I immediately told Rene that he needed to try to the Portuguese platter (since I wanted a

Cream of Wheat for thee?

piece of that bad boy, as well), and since one should never argue with a man’s appetite, he happily accepted my suggestion. Now, I have to warn you that you should come with hunger to be able to eat this delicious and massive entrée. First of all, you will get a taste of linguica—a Portuguse pork sausge seasoned with onions, garlic, and paprika—eggs (cooked to your liking), tasteful red beans with white rice, filled baked puff pastries, and homemade potatoes. Wow! I think that we are getting closer to beating Man vs. Food, Rene.

Lumina did not fall behind on the food race by ordering flavorful banana-mango pancakes that are also served with a side homefries and eggs. The French toast topped with strawberries also served with eggs and turkey strips became my selection of the day, and jointly, the three of us indulged in a Portuguese breakfast to be remembered for many more days to come, both in the emotional aspect of sharing with others and in the physical aspect thanks to the lack thereof our gym memberships.

Portuguese platter--for food afficionados and challengers alike

sooo much food!! remember this when you are ordering!

Delicious banana-mango pancakes...what a great idea to put mangos on everything!

After a delicious brunch, which we could not fully finish, a walk to the Somerville castle was in the works. Located between Prospect

Prospect Hill Castle with a great view overlooking the city

Hill Avenue and Munroe Street, Prospect Hill Castle adds a historical touch to the city of Somerville as it was the place where, on January 1, 1776, General George Washington ordered that a new flag be raised to represent the 13 united colonies during the Revolutionary War, making this the first true “American” flag flown in [what is now] the United States.

Take a walk around the Somerville neighborhood to reach the castle not only after such an elaborate breakfast but also to enjoy a mesmerizing and gorgeous panoramic view overlooking Cambridge and Boston altogether once reaching its top.

Thank you Rene and Lumina for making me feel welcome around your ‘hood at The Neighborhood.

Meanwhile, enjoy the World Cup opening games and a fanatic basketball weekend!

Signing out, one brunch at a time.

The Neighborhood Restaurant and Bakery

25 Bow St Somerville, MA 02143

(617) 628-2151


Latin Flavors and the World’s Largest Bloody Mary Bar

22 03 2010

Grab a partner and dance to this Cuban tune…

East Coast Grill, Inman Square

It almost feels like summer in Boston! To embrace the spirit of warmth, spontaneity, and flavor that has been injected into our lives thanks to 70 degrees of sunshine, Rene and I decided to indulge in some Latin brunch options that will have you saying, “Muy rico!” in a few minutes.

This week, we ventured out into the up-and-coming neighborhood of Inman Square, where you will find yourself surrounded by Portuguese food and flea markets, Brazilian BBQ’s and churrasquerias, and some of the most comfortable and intimate cafes, such as one of my favorites—1369  CoffeeHouse. But, one interesting spot that you should definitely check out for brunch is East Coast Grill—the name sounds American, but the bright and fresh Hispanic flavors found in the brunch menu transport you to another continent.

I recruited some assistance from the MBTA website to plan the brunch trip of the day, which is something that I recommend you to do beforehand if you are not familiar with the area. I knew that once I arrived at Park St., I would have to take the Lechmere train and then take bus 69, which I thought arrived at 10:09am at the Lechmere Station to take me to Inman Sq. As I rushed past the multitude of young girls headed to Cambridge Side Galleria with…recyclable bags? Ok, I am very proud of them for contributing to the environment, but there seemed to be something wrong with this image somehow.

Anyways, back to running. I find my brother waiting around the bus area only to tell me that the bus had left already. WHAT? It is 10:07…on the dot! How could it have left? This is where the failure of multi-tasking becomes evident. 10:09 is not the same thing as 10:05…oopzz! This detour let to a nice 25-minute walk from Lechmere to East Coast Grill, filled with laugher, stories, and some stops to check out the ethnic stores around the area. Everything happens for a reason, ladies and gentlemen. But, I am warning you to check the bus stops just in case Boston weather throws a curb ball at us.

Funky decor at East Coast Grill

If you do not know anything about East Coast Grill, I recommend you to read the very uplifting story posted on their website by the chef and owner, Chris, who opened the restaurant in 1985. We arrived at around 10:40 to find a line already forming outside of the restaurant, which opens its doors to us brunch aficionados at 11am. Once inside, the first things that I noticed were the bright green booths and blue-colored tubes decorating the walls.  We were seated near the open-kitchen, which my sidekick ended up loving because it was very interesting to see the fun interactions between the chefs and the waiters as the new orders kept the morning rolling.

We were approached by our server with an energetic, “Happy Sunday!”(this is one of those, “He had me at Hello” moment, girls!). Now, the menu is extensive, so our waiter ended up helping us with some recommendations. The top rec being the “Breakfast Platter- in the Style of the Yucatan.” What a great name! His explanation of it being a “very well-balanced meal where you can get your protein as well as be exposed to some exciting flavors” made me love the beauty of knowledgeable staff in the hospitality industry. The platter comes with 3 eggs cooked to your preference, black beans and rice, mango-avocado-hearts of palm salad, fried plantains, rojo, and warm flour tortilla. Whoa! That sounds like a champion’s breakfast! Rene was sold.

South American flavors for brunch

I, however, had been eyeing the “Cuban Reuben” (my father was very proud of this when I told him!) My half-Cuban roots played a biased-game on me today…and I am so thankful for that! This Cuban sandwich is served on a sweet yellow egg bread pressed with jack cheese, smoked sliced brisket, curtido (a type of Salvadorian cabbage relish), and chipotle aioli. Dusted fries and pickles are also served on the side, but you can substitute your fries with any of the other 18 signature small plates, featuring such things as fried yucca, grilled avocado, and sweet plantains. Having eaten way too many French fries in Hawaii let me to substitute mine for sweet potato fries served with Inner Beauty Hot Sauce, which the waiter warned me for being extremely spicy.

Best Cuban Sandwich in Cambridge...check out those sweet potatoes!


While waiting, we discovered something very unique about East Coast Grill: Be-Your-Own-Bartender! This place claims to have the world’s largest Bloody Mary bar. Now, I haven’t checked this out, but there are definitely lots of choices from which to choose. Just tell your waiter and he/she will bring you a cocktail glass, and then you can head over to the bar where you can toss celery, olives, curtido, Worcestershire sauce, and more into your spicy cocktail! I think that this could be a great starting point on Marathon Weekend…

Finally, our choices arrived. The plates are massive! Rene’s version of the Breakfast Platter reminded me of the very famous Colombian breakfast plate known as Bandeja Paisa. He could not get enough of this plate. The sweetness of the mango, combined with the eggs, the freshness of the avocado, and the flavorful beans all wrapped in the soft, warm tortilla definitely made him remember some fond memories of growing up in South America.

My Cuban Sandwich was by far the best that I have had in Cambridge and Boston overall, and my partner-in-crime definitely agreed. The portions were substantial—2 sandwiches served with cooked-to-perfection smoked sliced brisket and thick, baked sweet potatoes so sweet and delicious that other versions will never be able to top these, in my honest foodie opinion.

Ok, how are we going to eat all of this?!

I do have to warn you though that my waiter was not kidding when he cautioned me about that Inner Beauty Hot Sauce—it is MUY CALIENTE! So be careful with your dipping.

I leave you with this comment from Chris’s explanation on why his partner and he started East Coast Grill, “We were young, fearless, and had a dream of opening a restaurant.” Sometimes you just have to embrace your dreams and pursue your passions. Be Fearless this week and always!

And…some Food for Thought: Check out Restaurant Week going on around Boston NOW!: L’Espalier was definitely a favorite of mine. East Coast Grill Make your reservations today

Signing out, one brunch at a time.

East Coast Grill
Neighborhood: Inman Square
1269 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 491-6568

هل أنت مستعد لدينا مواعيد لمنطقة الشرق الأوسط؟

28 02 2010

Arabic Belly Dancing Music for Inspiration

Andala, Central Square

Those of you who know me are aware of my serious commitment and dedication to a very serious cause in life: traveling (a.k.a. obsession)! My brother constantly has to deal with my comments about planning my next trip or family vacation, finding great airline deals, or the usual “When I was abroad….” remarks.

These past few weeks, I had not stopped talking about the possibility of working abroad in the near future, and I think that my sidekick caught up with the fact that I was craving for some cultural interactions. Craving for brunch food and craving for a culture foreign to your own?…..mmmm…Andala is the solution.

Arab lanterns found all around Andala

Ready to get away from Boston, and heck, why not, the United States overall? Let me take you on a luscious and inspiring journey along the streets of Central Square, where you do not have to go too far to encounter my brother’s favorite brunch place in Cambridge, a Palestinian hidden jewel: Andala Coffee House. Central Square is known for its very diverse population and ethnic, independent restaurants (does Cuchi Cuchi ring a bell?), coffee shops, and co-op markets (make sure to stop by Harvest Co-Op for healthy, organic grocery shopping!), making it a rich environment where uniqueness and creativity thrive. Note to self: return, return, return!

Step into 286 Franklin St, a house that around three years ago was turned into a coffee-house and restaurant, serving Mediterranean-inspired cuisine infused with old Jerusalem recipes. My first impression walking into the living room of Andala was, “I have returned to Marrakech,” right after pinching my brother for not bringing me here sooner. Well, I guess later is better than never…or sooner is better than later? Americans and their sayings…I will never understand. Once you are inside, it is all about paying attention to details, so put on your best glasses or contact lenses because you will be amazed by the things that you see here.

Arab rugs

The peculiar thing about Andala is that you will find tables and seating arrangements of different sizes, shapes and forms, giving you the immense gift of choice. You could opt to sit at the window-seat-cushions, covered with colorful hand-woven Arab tapestries and pillows. Or you could decide to be in the middle of all of the action and sit at the living room, which we finally decided to do.

The living room area- Andala

We sat at a wooden bench with a narrow but long wooden table in front of us. This area is decorated with fresh leave strings, adorning most of the establishment, and some framed Arab scriptures. To our left, we had a stunning marble chimney decorated with colorful hand-painted plates with more Arab scriptures, Middle Eastern dolls, and antique candle holders.

But the trip does not end there. You can also step to the patio area enclosed with floor-to-ceiling windows with great street-views, and we figured that this serves as an open area during the nice summers in Cambridge. Since we are very curious siblings, we decided to also take a look at the lower level of this interesting house where we found another intimate dining area with larger tables as well as a stage for weekday performances, which we were told not to miss if we have the chance to come back.

Lower Level- Large Dining Tables and Performances

I felt so happy being here, probably because the bright orange/peach and mustard colors add a sense of intimacy and coziness that invites you to eat here every day if you could, as if this was your destination for comfort. The elaborate Arab rugs, lighted Middle Eastern lanterns, and the extremely detailed tapestries will also not fail to transport you to a completely different continent.

Oopz! For a moment, I almost forgot that I came here for food. It is up to my sidekick to remind me. So, now that I have you thinking about moving in here, let’s check out our Mediterranean food selections. The menu is definitely very different to what you are used to eating on a regular basis for brunch. Do not be afraid to ask for recommendations! Andala also prides itself on serving 100% natural ingredients and organic choices when possible. Sounds great to me!

Don't forget to order the Zeit U Zaatar & Labneh!

I ended up picking the Zeit U Zaatar & Labneh which translates as “The Classic Arabic Breakfast.” This dish consists of labhneh, a Greek yoghurt, with a consistency between yoghurt and cheese, mixed with spiced zaatar and extra virgin olive oil accompanied by black olives (which, ironically enough, reminded me of black olives from Peru) and fresh diced tomatoes, red peppers, cucumbers and white onions. Once you have mixed all of these ingredients into one bowl, you can dip the mouth-watering warm Arabic bread and thank your God/s /Allah (whoever/whatever you believe in) for the amazing combination of flavors being savored by your palate.

Have fun with your food and the vibrant colors!

Not done yet. There’s two of us, remember? My sidekick decided to indulge in the Msabaha or the “Jerusalem Hummus Plate.”  Whole chick peas, seasoned with tahini and extra virgin olive oil (and some of the herbs stolen from my spiced zaatar!) are topped with parsley, tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers. I am a huge fan of hummus, but I always run into the problem of it being loaded with salt or lacking flavor. This hummus was perfection. The right amount of spices and salt to make it a dangerous treat if I had it in my fridge. Once you have everything mixed (I’m liking all of this mixing going on, to tell you the truth), all you have to do is dip in your Arab bread and enjoy the art of good and simple cuisine.

Hummu-licious perfection

Tea Connoisseurs will fall in love with Andala

For the tea aficionados, like myself and my roommates, you will not be disappointed by the vast number of options available at Andala. I can highly recommend the Andala House Tea: a combination of cardamom and cloves used to flavor this exquisite tea. For a sweeter taste, add a bit of honey to this Middle Eastern tea, and you will leave wanting more.

The Arab and Spanish gypsy music playing in the background, the Koran books in the smaller coffee tables and the chess, checkers and other board games available for your convenience add personality to this great weekend escape to the Middle East.

Food for Thought:

  • Tell your vegetarian friends! Lots of great options for veggie lovers

    Let's play chess in the patio...

  • Do not leave without playing at least one board game!
  • Plan a study-date here! Free Wi-Fi is offered!

With my travel bug satisfied, I leave you.

Until next time.

Signing out, one brunch at a time.

Andala Coffee House
Neighborhood: Central Square
286 Franklin Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 945-2212