Tag Archives: Food

Formagio Kitchen on the move

8 Feb

Cost and coronavirus complications change plan, forcing a hybrid Formaggio-Fresh Pond Market

By Tom MeekThursday, February 4, 2021

Fresh Pond Market’s 6,000 square feet at 358 Huron Ave. is being transformed into a new Formaggio. (Photo: Formaggio)

Formaggio Kitchen announced last week that it would close down its original store at 244 Huron Ave. and relocate fully to the old Fresh Pond Market locale at 358 Huron Ave., though when rescuing the closing grocery store in 2019 owners said they planned to keep both businesses.  

“Incredibly disappointed,” one poster wrote on the site Nextdoor, saying Huron Village residents expected Formaggio to run the market as it had been, as well as keeping its specialty offerings and famous cheese cave where they’ve been since 1978.

While that was the intent, the coronavirus pandemic, economic challenges and other unforeseen factors – most having to do with the reconstruction of the circa 1922 market – have forced a change, Formaggio co-owner Ihsan Gurdal said Tuesday.

A sign on the new Formaggio location shows the same product categories as at the original location up the road. (Photo: Tom Meek)

“When we tore down the walls we found structural problems. The fire department had us put in a sprinkler system. And then when Covid hit, the city shut down construction for five months – and then after, it was really hard to get people to come back,” Gurdal says. Fresh Pond Market was initially expected to reopen last spring. Now the goal for opening is March 1.

Even in the fall of 2019, the Gurdals were finding that renovation of the 6,000-square-foot space needed a gut rehab costing “more than we wanted” – that even “scared” the couple to think about. The property was listed in the millions of dollars; in addition to rehab costs, the pandemic meant months of paying rent with no progress on the work.

After 42 years, it will be a bittersweet departure from 244 Huron Ave., Gurdal said. From that address he and his wife and co-owner, Valerie, have launched three other Formaggio locations, one in the South End, one in New York City and the last where Edible Arrangements was on Hampshire Street, just outside Kendall Square. Cognizant of the neighborhood’s expectations, the owners say they look to have a blend of classic specialty food shop that has become the mini-empire’s signature, as well as the bodega-plus offerings Fresh Pond Market brought to the area for nearly 100 years. “We’ll sell dishwasher liquid, Band-Aids and other essentials,” Ihsan Gurdal says. “We’re going to listen to neighbors and their desires. We’ve been having conversation with those who provided to Fresh Pond Market.”

The Najarian brothers held off selling their family-owned market until they were satisfied they’d found the right buyer, an independent owner who would keep it a market as neighbors were used to, including a full-service butchery.

Butchery gear is ready for eventual use at the new Formaggio location. (Photo: Formaggio)

“The new place is twice as big as our current place,” he noted. “In the old place we were all on top of each other – the butcher shop staff, the bakers and then there was catering.”

That world-renowned Formaggio cheese caves also will move down the street. The subterranean expanse – a series of multi-climate chambers accommodating the environmental needs of varying European varieties – will be bigger and perhaps allow Formaggio to age its cheese organically, keeping it longer and providing customers with new and even more nuanced offerings. Customers should expect to find $10 to $15 organic wines and not just higher-end labels that have been standard at Formaggio, though not more commercial and lower-quality brands such as a Yellow Tail. “Balance” is how Gurdal describes the undertaking. “We’ll flex and bend and go with what works.” 

As to the location he’s leaving behind, Ihsan Gurdal hoped it might become something that would enliven the neighborhood, such as a restaurant or flower shop.

Holiday Hunger and Restaurants in peril

9 Dec

Holiday hunger and dark kitchens have solution with funds for Project Restore Us food initiative

By Tom Meek
Monday, December 7, 2020

Project Restore Us food is prepared for delivery in November in repurposed space at Mae Asian Eatery in The Port neighborhood. (Photo: UFCW Local 1445 via Facebook)

Winter and subfreezing temperatures are here as restaurants continue to struggle to make ends meet and families struggle to put food on the table. Eateries such as Colette, Miracle of Science and The Asgard have chosen to hibernate until warmer times – and perhaps a coronavirus vaccine – while others have taken a leap of faith to launch (Source and Smoke Shop in Harvard Square) or reopen (the Newtowne Grill Express, for takeout). Others, such as Pagu and Mae Asian Eatery, both in the Massachusetts Avenue neck between Central Square and MIT, feel that being “safe and responsible” means no indoor dining, in the words of Pagu owner and chef Tracy Chang. As a result, they have found other ways to leverage their resources, keeping their businesses afloat while feeding the community.

To that end, they’re involved in Project Restore Us, a regional initiative allowing restaurants to tap their food supply channels to provide sustenance to those in need while keeping workers employed and the lights on.

The program, which operates off grants and sponsorships, assembles customized boxes of goods for delivery to food-insecure communities through a volunteer network. But with the holidays here, Project Restore Us has a sudden dearth of funds that the team is scrambling to augment, cofounder Marena Lin said.

Food boxes prepared for delivery by Project Restore Us in November lean heavily on healthy produce. (Photo: UFCW Local 1445 via Facebook)

The project has delivered more than 160,000 pounds of food to more than 900 families, the founders say. Lin estimated that $2 million would sustain 2,000 families for three months and provide 25,000 hours of work for restaurant workers.

But the most recent fundraising goal is $15,000 – a month’s worth of support for local restaurants and food for another 101 families.

That’s broken down into bite-size chunks of tax-deductible giving. For instance, $45 means 35 pounds of groceries to a working family in Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Everett, Chelsea or East Boston, and “each $1 donation buys one meal and pays restaurant workers,” according to the project. Donations are accepted here through Apple Pay, credit card or PayPal.

Along with Chang and Lin, a Harvard scholar whose academic work has focused on climate change and food security, the principals of Project Restore Us include Irene Li, of Boston’s Mei Mei restaurant, and Lily Huang, director of Mass Jobs with Justice.

There are other charitable food distribution networks, including the Boston Food Bank, that supply area food pantries. But those programs often provide random boxes of food that are not necessarily “nutritious or culturally appropriate” and don’t provide the opportunity for restaurants and their workers to partake in the process, Chang said. Restore Us customizes boxes based on outreach to the communities, and advice from partners in those communities.

This isn’t the first time Chang has engaged her Asian-Spanish themed restaurant for charitable causes. Early in in the pandemic her slimmed-down kitchen staff joined the volunteer effort Off Their Plate, which was set up to feed frontline medical workers with good, safe and high-quality meals when their facilities’ cafeterias got shut down. Chang and Lin say such hybrid efforts offer fiscal security to potentially marginalized workers, including undocumented or immigrant workers feeding families back home; they might otherwise have few economic options.

Also in the fight against holiday hunger: The Sheraton Commander Hotel’s Nubar Restaurant is contributing to the Cambridge Community Foundation’s Cambridge Covid-19 Emergency Fund. If you place an order this month, proceeds from add-ons such as a bottle of wine or desert go to the relief fund.

Bountiful Kitchen

22 Oct

Bountiful Kitchen, sprung from a pandemic, nurtured into a healthy meal delivery service

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Julian Cohen and executive chef Keenan Goodwin prepare meals for Bountiful Kitchen at Foundation Kitchen in Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Covid’s done much to fracture the restaurant business. There’s been a slew of permanent closings (Cuchi Cuchi, Flat Top Johnny’s, Bergamot and Inman Square’s Bukowski Tavern, among many) and with winter hibernations coming and Covid-19 infection rates on the uptick, silver linings are slim. But they do exist. During the spring, the Day reported on early business pivots by Pagu and Season to Taste as well as the launch of Bountiful Kitchen, a home delivery meal service. In April, Bountiful founder Julian Cohen was cooking out of a home kitchen and delivering hot meals to a boutique clientele in his Porter Square neighborhood, but taken the business to the next level, expanding his menu and delivery routes to include all of Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and select Boston neighborhoods. He’s also hired executive chef Keenan Goodwin, formerly of Fat Hen in Somerville, and moved to a formal commercial kitchen facility at the Foundation Kitchen on Washington Street, on the way to Sullivan Square.

Foundation Kitchen is a rentable shared space – a food startup incubator. Husband and wife owners Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak have two locations (the bigger facility is in Union Square) and a third in the works for Charlestown that will have a food and drink hall. The facilities gives people who want to enter the food business an easy leg up without having the huge financial burden of a storefront, a long-term lease and sunk equipment costs, Nagle said.

Bountiful Kitchen’s BBQ Turkey Breast with Old Bay Potato Salad. (Photo: Julian Cohen)

That makes sense for a scrappy business such as Bountiful. Cohen, a former barista and food preparer at Hi-Rise Bread Co., started the service on a whim after being laid off, while Goodwin was left out of the rotation when a slimmer Fat Hen reopened.

They’ve since evolved the menu at Bountiful toward a more symphonic complement of foods and flavors, Cohen said, as opposed to the early scramble, when things were assembled based on what was on hand. There’s now more collaboration and planning between owner and chef, and the two try to source all their foods locally.

Recent and current Bountiful Kitchen offerings in the $15 to $25 range include beef bolognese, crab-stuffed squash, brown sugar crusted salmon, lemon grass and coconut chicken stew, yellowfin tuna loins and roasted pork loin. There’s always a vegetarian option and sides, such as butternut squash soup and parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts. Like other delivery/to-go food services these days such as Hi-Rise and Pagu, Bountiful has pantry offerings; it also has wine pairings, which come through a partnership with The Wine Press. The wine comes with your meal. Delivery happens between 6 to 7 p.m. and the menu rotates daily.

Cohen and Goodwin do more than 120 meals a week – up from around 80 when Cohen launched – and plan to keep expanding. If you’re not on their delivery heat map, you and some neighbors can fill out a form to be added; Cohen said he is deeply customer driven. Most of his weekly queue are regulars who keep coming back.

“The food’s always cooked to perfection,” said Rachel Joffe, a Bountiful regular. “Delivery is pleasant, they give you advance notice, and the delivery persons are nice. They have accommodated my need/request to have the food delivered on the early side, and I appreciate their flexibility.”

Bountiful Kitchen has a weekly newsletter to let subscribers know each week’s offerings. The menu is also updated on a website with easy ordering.

Restaurants in the time of Covid-19

24 Apr

Season to Taste, Pagu mix it up after Covid-19, giving to-go meals the flavor of improvisation

Robert Harris prepares a to-go meal Tuesday at Season to Taste in North Cambridge. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Before the Covid-19 crisis, we were preparing to profile two semi-finalist James Beard best chefs from Camberville: Tracy Chang of Pagu and Carl Dooley, over at Table at Season to Taste (the other locals on the list, Seizi Imura of Cafe Sushi in Harvard Square and Cassie Piuma, serving up Turkish infused plates at Ana Sortun’s Sarma in Somerville, are repeat nominees). Both shut down before Gov. Charlie Baker’s St. Patrick’s Day mandate to close restaurants. But the ovens have remained hot, reflecting where we are and where we are going.

While Table at Season to Taste remains shuttered, chef-owner Robert Harris has continued to evolve catering at umbrella company Season to Taste. “I’ve got a plan to get us back to normal,” said Harris, who was on a ski trip in Colorado when the mandate came down. He returned to Cambridge to lay off 30 employees. Part of his plan is to make Season to Taste’s traditionally “bespoke” catering for corporate events, weddings and parties – with menus dictated by the client – into a Season to Go, a food pickup service at the 2447 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge, storefront. Continue reading

Wings and Yummy Things

24 Feb

Restaurants arrive on red line as destinations for diners seeking Asian, French, small plates

 

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Along the red line in each of our three northernmost squares, eateries with time-tested roots have popped up within the past month.

Jae’s Cafe is in Somerville’s Davis Square at what was the Korean restaurant Meju. If the name seems familiar, Jae’s was a popular pan-Asian restaurant franchise in Boston and Cambridge in the 1990s and early 2000s. It never officially went away – there’s still a Jae’s in Pittsfield, and owner Jae Chung owns Koreana in Central Square, one of the few places in town to get Korean barbecue at your table. The menu for Jae’s has traditionally been a blend of classic Thai (Pad Thai), Korean (Bibimbap) and sushi staples; on Elm Street locale, the focus is more on Korean. The rebranding comes as no surprise, though the timing is interesting, as Chung had become involved in the ownership of Meju last year after the eatery began to languish. Jae’s will face the same challenges as Meju: a heavy concentration of competition. There are seven other Asian restaurants in the area, including Sugidama Soba & Izakaya, Genki Ya Sushi and two ramen restaurants. It is, however, the only Korean venue.

243 Elm St., Davis Square.

Colette in Porter Square. (Photo: Colette via Facebook)

One T stop down, the French bistro Colette has finally opened in a long-vacant restaurant and lounge spaceon the ground level of the Porter Square Hotel. The eatery, which offers a French cafe-style breakfast as well as Francophile dinner offerings, is operated by Loic Le Garrec and Sandrine Rossi. The duo, natives of France, run sister restaurants over in Boston: Petit Robert Bistro on Columbus Avenue, and Frenchie in the South End. The dinner menu features classic French Onion Soup ($11), Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent (a mushroom-filled flaky pastry for $13), Nicoise Cannelloni Coq au Vin (pasta stuffed with chicken, mushrooms and bacon for $12), Steak Frites ($32) and, aptly, a grilled Porterhouse steak you can sink your teeth into for a eye-popping, but not off-the-charts, $78. The cut is arguably named after Zachariah B. Porter, who ran a hotel and steakhouse across Massachusetts Avenue in the late 19th century, while the restaurant in part is named after the 20th century French writer and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette.

1924 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square. Continue reading