Who: Peet’s Coffee + Tea Where: Harvard Square, Cambridge. When: Two hours in the early afternoon. Ordered: Almond croissant and small latte for $5.52 Info: Not a lot of seating. Classical music in the background. I don’t get a seat at the bar or on a bench, and find the chairs very uncomfortable. Consider bundling up coat and scarf to make a supportive pillow of sorts for lower back. Very limited sockets. End up sitting next to the bathroom in order to plug in. Very high-traffic area — don’t want to breathe too deeply, especially when door swings open. Am so uncomfortable I contemplate leaving without writing; instead reposition self so can spy on patrons sitting in Ideal Spot on a high bench next to a socket. When they leave I shall swoop in. Feel like a vulture. Free wireless, but access code needed to log in. Conclusion: Avoid if you plan to linger or get any real writing done.
Peet’s Coffee + Tea
100 Mount Auburn Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
Who: Boston Common Coffee Company Where: North End, Boston When: Three and a half hours spanning early morning to just before lunchtime. Ordered: Toasted onion bagel with lox and plain cream cheese, and a medium coffee for $6.20 Info: An utterly ridiculous amount of tables and chairs, though a slightly cluttered/cramped layout; the chairs seem awfully close to each other. Surprising amount of foot traffic, including many babies and lapdogs, but everyone seems to know everybody else; there’s a very neighborhoody vibe. Bright and sunny, thanks to ceiling-height windows, but it’s awfully cold near the door. Comfy-looking sofa and armchairs next to a woodburning stove and an interesting panino selection — if I didn’t have a lunch date elsewhere, I’d certainly take a break from writing to also order the “Sal”: prosciutto, Fontina, roasted red peppers and a fig spread. Next time though. Also: free wireless. Conclusion: A cozy spot off of Hanover Street that probably gets packed with tourists on the weekend.
Boston Common Coffee Company
97 Salem Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02113
Who: Carberry’s Bakery + Coffeehouse Where: Central Square, Cambridge When: Two and a half hours in the late afternoon. Ordered: Foccaccia with chicken, mozzarella, red onions and chipotle mayonnaise, and a bottled Diet Coke for $8.80 Info: Extremely quiet, Magic Lite FM playing in the background so softly I have my iTunes on the lowest volume and still all I hear is my own music. Patrons are definitely on the older side — I would guess forty is the average age. Wooden chairs have excellent back support though the metal tables’ textured surface takes some getting used to, especially if writing by hand. Two of my favorite features are 1) the huge, bright windows which let in a great deal of light, and 2) the small customer-only parking lot. Wireless situation unknown. Conclusion: Good for writers who need a quiet, bright space.
Who: Flat Black Coffee Company Where: Financial District, Boston When: Two and a half hours early on a weekday afternoon, beginning at lunchtime. Ordered: Iced vanilla latte as sweet as pudding for $3.83 Info: Nice big windows on two walls, counters running along the length of them with saddle stools tucked underneath. Aside from a pair of businesspeople sitting in glossy crimson chairs and having a tête-à-tête over coffee, I am the only other patron so I have my pick of seats and sockets, the latter of which there are an impressive amount. Surprisingly loud considering how empty it is — samba-ish world music playing at practically full volume whilst employees chatter amongst themselves. Even with my headphones plugged in and my iTunes on the highest I’ve set it yet, I can hear a steady bass rhythm and the baristas’ conversation over both my typing and The Meadowlands. Supposedly free Internet, but my laptop doesn’t want to connect. Most likely I am doing something wrong. Conclusion: Not for those averse to tribal beats.
What: Crema Café Where: Harvard Square, Cambridge When: Three and a half hours spanning early morning to just before lunchtime. Ordered: Toasted plain bagel with lox and plain cream cheese, and a latte with sugar-free vanilla for $8.51 Info: Extremely busy, though there are a few undesirable tables — wobbly, cramped, in tight corners. The crowd doesn’t let up at all; there doesn’t seem to be a quiet period. I pounce on a table near a socket but have to drag another table over since the one in the covetable spot is wobbly. Very loud, what with customer chatter, background music and employees calling out names for latte pick-up, but I like the commotion. Wireless limited to certain hours. Conclusion: Only for those who don’t mind writing amidst hustle, bustle and preying on empty tables.
27 Brattle Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
My laptop and I have been spending a lot of time in cafés together lately, taking up as little space as possible and clickety clickety clickety-ing our little hearts out. It may be cliché, but I recently remembered how much my writing and I both thrive in an atmosphere like this. The steady hum of the surrounding conversations, the robotic ticking of the registers’ printers, the continual current of people fluttering past, mugs chinking and clinking against plates and spoons, the rich smell of freshly-ground coffee — all of these things help me write.
The sad truth, however, is that not all cafés are equal. Since I’ve been popping into so many lately, I figured I should share my findings. I’ll be summarizing my thoughts on some of Boston’s independent coffeehouses and cafés* here once a week. I won’t pretend that I’m familiar with them all, so if you have a particular favorite, let me know. I’m always interested in finding a new writing/coffee-drinking spot, so please drop me a line in the comments…
* I’ll focus exclusively on independently-owned businesses, but a few nationals might sneak in.
Perhaps I’m a little nuts, but I think the cross-section of a garlic bulb is one of the prettiest things on earth. The smell of a raw garlic bulb sliced open is another thing altogether, but its middle is nice, all tightly-layered and pressed together, each little nugget with a golden yellow eye in its center. I won’t be persuaded on this: I think it is wonderful.
On an unrelated note, I browned some chicken thighs the other evening; when they cooled, I tore off their skins. The recipe I was following indicated I should discard this, the crisped-up skin, but I couldn’t resist having a taste. Fatty skin, how lovely… I probably would have crunched on the skin of all eight thighs if I didn’t stop myself, though I couldn’t help but yearn yet again (again, or still?) for a dog — if we had a dog, I would have happily mixed my unwanted skin into his food bowl and watched as he fastidiously picked out all of the good bits. This dream dog of mine, he would love me. He would probably also be very fat.
Another non sequitur: today marks the one year anniversary of this mostly culinary, vaguely literary and somewhat travel-oriented experiment of mine. Isn’t it spectacular, what can take place in three-hundred and sixty-five days? Here’s a breakdown for you:
126 meals out
85 books read
8 get-togethers with book club
2 digital cameras
1 supper club dinner
And so, here I am, one year later: infinitely happier, metaphorically fatter and undeviatingly hungrier. Hopefully you all feel the same. Thank you so much for reading.
Brunch can be tricky, particularly at a restaurant that only offers breakfast foods only on the weekend. The Cottonwood Café is open for lunch and dinner all seven days; brunch is served only on Saturdays and Sundays, offering eggs Benedict, huevos rancheros and migas underneath the dining room’s arched ceiling — which, incidentally, looks as though it is lined with crimped steel mesh.
The migas ($8.25, plus $3.95 for a side of steak) appeared to be a safe bet — theoretically exotic enough to match up with Cottonwood’s Southwestern theme, but not so bold as to send the unadventurous running. Unfortunately, what you end up eating, though, is a plate of glorified scrambled eggs beaten with scallion and tomato. The oddly enough, the eggs were a surprise, in that they were sweet: they had the tinned sunniness of canned corn. Even less luck was had with the accompanying spicy hash browns, a depressingly mushy spoonful with absolutely no hint of the kick usually associated with spice.
Regardless of the overwhelmingly disappointing food, Cottonwood is something of a Boston institution, having inhabited its corner of Boylston and Clarendon for over ten years. its age certainly shows with its dated eighties nouveau modern décor — did I mention that the ceiling is crimped? The aesthetic is either overly angular or overly curvaceous lines done in melony pink, dusky blue and glossy black. Not only is an updated look needed, but also some general maintenance as well; countless dents, dings and scratches marked the tables in walls. Maybe with a sleeker appearance would mask the cuisine.
On Monday, my friend Ben sent me a link to what might possibly be the most annotated and footnoted piece of writing ever penned on lobster. It also happens to be by the late David Foster Wallace, who died this past Friday at the age of forty-six. I can’t claim to be overly familiar with Wallace’s work, but I can say that I have depthless respect for those who are able to write both passionately and compassionately, particularly when the topic at hand is the fishing, consumption and debate surrounding seafaring crustaceans.
Wallace wrote the piece, which is entitled “Consider the Lobster,” for Gourmet in August of 2004. The magazine’s website is also featuring the essay on their home page, in remembrance.