Tag Archives: Porter Square

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

Korean Food Returns to Poter Square

27 Jan

 

The ok dol bibimbap with salmon, served in a sizzling hot stone bowl is a classic at Chocho’s in Porter Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s, the Korean eatery among a half-dozen Asian choices at 1815 Massachusetts Ave., reopened last month after being closed since a May electrical fire. After much remodeling and mitigation, and despite 16 years in Porter Square, the restaurant has struggled with staffing and regrowing its clientele.

In correspondence with co-owner Eunmi Cho and her son Walter, the Chos said they were greatly relieved to have their regulars back, but the costs of rebuilding and insurance process has taken its toll. Eunmi and her husband Sang also run Yotopia, the neighboring shop with bubble tea, self serve fro-yo and other treats, which stayed open during the seven months ChoCho’s was closed.

The renovated space has been enlarged some, and the menu slimmed down, but savory classics  remain, such as the ok dol bibimbap served in a sizzling hot stone bowl (rice, veggies and a choice of protein – bulgogi, chicken or salmon), the signature soondubu tofu soup that comes with banchans (little snack plates such as kimchi and seaweed salad) and marinated short ribs (kalbi) from the grill. They’ve added a popular bulgogi taco.

ChoCho’s Korean eatery has been in Porter Square for 16 years, with a seven-month gap recovering from a fire. (Photo: Tom Meek)

ChoCho’s is one of the few Korean eateries in Cambridge, even among the neighboring food court-style offerings. Coincidentally, on the day ChoCho’s caught fire, there was also a fire at Koreana, owned by Eunmi’s brother Jae Chung (who ran the Jae’s chain of restaurants in the 1990s); it reopened almost immediately, though.

The holiday timing, when students are away, may have contributed to a slow reboot at ChoCho’s. That said, Yume Ga Arukara Udon (from the owners of Yume Wo Katare, five minutes’ walk up Massachusetts Avenue) has been drawing long lines of udon seekers across the hall since its rave from Bon Appetit. ChoCho’s has udon too, as well as healthy menu offerings that could please people signing up at Planet Fitness downstairs, and whole the cold may keep some away, the stone bowl bibimbap is a perfectly delicious solution for it, with crispy cooked rice and sweet  and spicy gochujang (chili) sauce. But you can’t top the chill-eradicating delight of a boiling bowl of soondubu tofu soup (in vegetable, seafood, bulgogi and kimchi versions) that you drop a raw egg into and let cook. It comes in varying degrees of spice – best to go up if you can; it’s a great cold chaser and nose-clearing medley of flavors. 

“We are excited to be back up and running,” Eunmi said via an email. “It’s as if nothing happened, and I hope future customers who have never eaten at ChoCho’s come enjoy what we have to offer.”

Dope Comes to Town

27 Jan

 

Experts who gathered Jan. 17 to talk about the arrival of recreational marijuana included state Sen. Pat Jehlen, city planner Jeff Roberts, police Sgt. Lou Cherubino and David Lakeman of the state Cannabis Control Commission. Moderator Jeff Byrnes is at right. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A recreational marijuana dispensary is likely to open in Cambridge as early as this spring, officials said at a meeting last week in Porter Square where residents learned about the requirements to open one, and how laws about use would be enforced.

Three medical marijuana dispensaries are open and three more have been approved for opening by the Planning Board. But zoning for recreational marijuana shops hasn’t taken effect – a proposed law was ordained Dec. 17 by the City Council for discussion by its Ordinance Committee and by the Planning Board, but neither body has announced meeting dates. (Dennis Carlone, who leads the Ordinance Committee with councillor Craig Kelley, said he hoped the conversation would happen in February, but it was preferable for the Planning Board to meet first.)

There was no clear rise in crime or motor vehicle accidents in states with legal recreational use of marijuana, officials said, looking at preliminary data from Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 with Washington. Some data suggest that legalization of recreational marijuana correlates with a decrease in opioid use, a yearslong urban epidemic.

The Jan. 17 event, billed as “Legal Pot: The Status and Possible Effects on All of Us” was organized by the Porter Square Neighbors Association. Panelists were David Lakeman, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission; state Sen. Pat Jehlen, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy; Jeff Roberts, director of zoning and development for the City of Cambridge; and Sgt. Lou Cherubino, of the Cambridge Police Department. Jeff Byrnes, a Somerville member of the association, moderated.

There was concern from the opening of the first recreational marijuana dispensary, Cultivate in the Central Massachusetts town of Leicester, which tied up traffic Nov. 20 and caused community anxiety, making front page news. But as one of only two marijuana retailers on the East Coast at the time, it drew customers from as far away as New Jersey, Leicester Town Administrator David Genereux was quoted as saying in the Worcester Business Journal. (The two dozen residents at the meeting were told incorrectly additional traffic was generated by a Walmart Supercenter opening at the same time.)

Good for business

Since late November, Massachusetts has seen recreational marijuana sales begin in at least two more locations – NETA in Northampton and Northeast Alternatives in Fall River – suggesting there would be less traffic impact along with a decrease in novelty and rarity. Easthampton, Salem and Wareham also had approvals for sales to begin.

Lakeman outlined ways in which retail pot would be good for business, including a requirement that all marijuana sold in Massachusetts must be produced here as well. Many of the production facilities, which require ample space and real estate, are reactivating old, shutdown industrial facilities north and west of Route 128.

Elaborate application processes include a host community agreement, with a tax of 3 percent or greater paid to offset potential traffic, education and enforcement impact, and there are social equity and economic empowerment components meant to repay damage done to people of color by the war on drugs, Lakeman and Jehlen said.

Rules and restrictions

Roberts outlined marijuana zoning rules saying facilities cannot be within 1,800 feet of each other – although there is already a zoning amendment request that an exception be made in East Cambridge – and that facilities be at least 300 feet from schools and other public recreational facilities where children gather. The state recommendation is 500 feet.

Not all residents were pleased by the lesser distance, and Jehlen said her big concern for youth was the rise of vaping and the targeting of youth as users. Other big complaints, panelists said of states with recreational marijuana use, have been the smell.

Consuming recreational marijuana in public, while decriminalized, is still an offense and can bring fines, Cherubino said. Possession of more than 10 ounces of non-medicinal marijuana is a criminal offense.

Haunts

30 Nov

Andy’s Diner, home of the Cambridge Classic, has become one itself after 60 years in Porter

Andy’s Diner has been serving food in Cambridge since 1958. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hard to believe Andy’s Diner, the old-school breakfast and lunch spot just north of Porter Square at 2030 Massachusetts Ave., has been slinging eggs and serving coffee since 1958. Over those 60 years there’s barely been a change in process, service or menu. Sure, there was a switch in owners (current owner and chef Jimmy Dres bought it from Andy Sbordone in 1989) and the diner moved locations by a few doors about a decade in, but when you walk through the door, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time: There’s a soda fountain-style counter with fixed barstools that swivel, and the walls are decorated with Boston sports heroes from before the Sox reversed the curse or Tom Brady stepped into the GOAT conversation – you know, guys like Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson and Steve Grogan.

With exposed brick walls and ’70s-style booths, Andy’s, open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., serves breakfast all day and boasts a basic but vast griddle and deli menu – including homemade soups. Dres describes most of his clientele as loyal, blue-collar workers and regular local families with a peppering of curious collegians seeking a hearty hangover cure or in need of a cozy study session spot-cum-comfort food. 

Andy’s owner and chef Jimmy Dres and server Kelly Butler Pinksen. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If there’s a specialty, it’s the omelettes. Dres has a process adopted carefully from Sbordine. “They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito,” Dres says. Indeed: They are neatly folded, long golden crepes of egg with a perfect distribution of fillings.

Dres, who has an affable, low-key persona, reflects on the joy of serving families with parents who’d been the kids in that booth decades earlier. He’s also appreciative of the people he works with, including Tina Ravanis, one of Sbordine’s granddaughters. During a recent visit, hardworking server Kelly Butler Pinksen – with Dres for more than 15 years – greeted customers by first name and asked if they wanted “the usual.” You really don’t see that in Cambridge so much these days. 

The building Andy’s is in sold recently, and while the rent may have gone up, you can still get a dollar-stretching deal there. The menu, with its “Cambridge Classic” – French toast with two eggs, sausage, bacon and coffee – also has daily specials and rotational items, such as a fish dinner on Fridays. “Everything is fresh and made here,” Pinksen says.

An Andy’s omelette – ““They’re never burned, and perfectly even, kind of like an egg burrito.” (Photo: Tom Meek)

Outside there’s the continual reminders of transformation in the neighborhood, if not the new hotel and Target store in Porter Square then the gaping construction site across the street where the Lechmere Car Wash used to be. Dres shows no signs of slowing amid all the change. Asked if there’ll be a new generation to run the place, he smiles and says only, “It’s a lot of work.”

If a perfectly cooked omelette, low cost and friendly service isn’t enough to draw you in, know that Andy’s also has its own free parking lot – something else that’s not so common in Cambridge this days.

Much around Andy’s has changed, but it remains one of the few true Cambridge classics.

 

Porter Square Clean Up

9 Sep

Group effort cleans Porter Square Saturday; power washing, window cleaning to come

 

Cigarette butts are the main haul in a Saturday sweep in Porter Square as part of an organized cleanup. (Photo: Tom Meek)

If the T plaza at Porter Square and the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue north and south of it looks a bit trimmer and neater, thank the Porter Square Neighborhood Association, Porter Square Shopping Center owner Gravestar, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, a smattering of area residents and 15 or so students from Harvard who threw in a part of their Day of Service. The “Porter Square and Mass Ave Clean Up!” organized by the association kicked off Saturday with about 30 volunteers broken into teams to weed, sweep and pick up trash along the corridor over four hours. Gravestar and the city donated tools and trash bags, and coffee and doughnuts were provided for those lending sweat and sinew. (For volunteers, the bane of the cigarette butt far outweighed that of the resilient reed.)

The MBTA and Gravestar have promised power washing and window cleaning follow-ups, association organizer Ruth Ryals said.

Porter Square Redesign

11 May

Protected bike lanes aren’t in final proposal for traffic changes coming to Porter Square

 

A human wall formed at an April 26 bicyclist protest in Porter Square to dramatize the need for protected bike lanes to city transportation officials. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Final plans for traffic safety improvements in Porter Square were presented Tuesday, updated from a form presented Jan. 18 but not erasing fully the strong opposition by residents and cycling activist groups.

The presentation had the square’s current five-phase traffic signal cycle (including one for pedestrians only, and another to leave the mall parking lot) still being replaced by a simpler three-phase cycle.

A left exit from the Porter Square shopping plaza through a zebra-striped pedestrian pavilion will remain; the January plan showed it being eliminated, with the exit blocked by cement planters – a proposal called cheap and ugly by many in attendance.

In addition, a pedestrian island between lanes of traffic where Somerville Avenue meets Massachusetts Avenue will remain, shifted a bit toward the T stop and widened some. The move is meant to better distribute motor vehicle traffic and allow for implementation of buffered bike lanes, which have gridded white paint separating bicycle and motor vehicle traffic. The buffered lanes are planned for both sides of Somerville Avenue.

“We want to move forward with this plan,” said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, to a crowd of about 75 at Lesley University’ University Hall, “but that does not preclude future safety enhancements.”

The project would run “over the next few months [during] construction season,” he said.

Barr said plans were altered based on input from the community and an April 26 protest by the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, but he still received criticism from cycling activists who felt their message went unheard.

“Worthless,” is what one angry attendee called the plan, and city councillor Quinton Zondervan asked senior traffic engineer Patrick Baxter repeatedly why there could not be plastic flex posts – the primary demand of the April protest – where the city planned to put buffered bike lanes. An April 30 council order, though passed with some debate, also hoped for more extensive steps toward bike safety.

Baxter said trucks coming trough the snaky area would shear off posts in the curves, drawing criticisms from one upset cyclist that the city was “prioritizing trucks over bikes.” As part of the April protest, people formed a human wall in the Somerville Avenue bike lane buffer area to prove protected lanes were possible – and cars and bikes passed by without incident, using the lanes on either side of them.

Changes to the square were spurred by two deaths in 2016: Psychotherapist Marcie Mitler, 63, was hit by a car at 5:56 a.m. Feb. 18 while walking at Somerville Avenue and White Street, and died later at Massachusetts General Hospital; Ironwood Pharmaceuticals employee Bernard “Joe” Lavins, 60, was hit by an 18-wheel truck at 8:08 a.m. Oct. 5 while bicycling on Massachusetts Avenue across from the shopping plaza and pronounced dead at the scene.

Porter Square Alterations

3 Feb

 

Planned changes in Porter Square allow left turns from White Street and close one shopping plaza exit. (Image: City of Cambridge Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department)

Traffic safety improvements in Porter Square would remove the pedestrian island where Somerville Avenue feeds into Massachusetts Avenue; close an exit from the mall allowing for a left-hand turn onto Massachusetts Avenue; and make the left turn from Massachusetts Avenue onto Somerville Avenue a single, dedicated left lane, replacing a center southbound lane that can be either left or straight.

The goal is to simplify the nest of intersections surrounding the mall and T stop and make it safer for all – drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department representatives said. The current five-phase traffic signal cycle (including one for pedestrians only and another to leave the mall parking lot) would be replaced by a simpler three-phase cycle.

The changes, intended to be low-cost and and come as soon as spring or summer, were shared Thursday with around 100 people gathered in University Hall at Lesley University, presented by Phil Goff of Alta Planning and city engineer Patrick Baxter. Continue reading