What he’s having: A picnic from Urban Hearth, with fried chicken and biscuit that’s not to miss
A weekly notebook about food during the Covid-19 shutdown. Remember, if you’re dining out, doing takeout or getting delivery, the people serving up the food are part of the front line; keep it in mind when tipping.
Eat outside: Urban Hearth
Okay, this is not a fair assessment of Urban Hearth; I dined there during a staff pop-up while chef Erin Miller was away on a family retreat. That said, I’m not sure it matters. The (rotating) regular menu has just shifted to something of a nouvelle and Korean infusion – a win-win with dishes such as housemade kimchi, scallion pancake and yellowfin tuna confit – while for the pop-up, it was a fried chicken picnic. For $25, a solid deal, you got a half-chicken (two breast halves, a wing, a thigh and a drumstick), seedless ripe watermelon with sea salt on the side to accent, a robust chickpea and broccoli salad, a mini key lime pie and a biscuit. The biscuit was a revelation. I’m not sure how many calories it was, nor do I care. If this was a way to die, I am ready to go “Groundhog Day” style. Every part of it is a rich, fluffy and flavorful explosion (never mealy or bland) and the clincher is the miso maple butter – one of the best butters I’ve had, up there with Colette’s sea salt love and Luce’s combination of maple and sea salt.
Onto the chicken: When it comes to wings (and thighs), I like them baked or grilled if they’re not Buffalo style, and I’m a fan of the ones at Himalayan Kitchen and Redbones; when fried, I love the double smoked way they’re served up at Longfellow Bar at Alden & Harlow, while Daedalus has the best tenders by far. But I digress. The Urban Hearth chicken breasts, sealed in a slightly spicy, fish-and-chips kind of batter, were perfectly moist and tender – happiness – and the added win was the fermented chili puree somewhere between a green salsa and Indian-style dipping sauce, a brilliant combination especially if you like heat. The key lime pie was decent, but my mother made the greatest graham cracker-crust pies; nothing and no one is ever likely to top them.
The current Urban Hearth menu also offers Paul’s pickle fried sandwich, which comes on brioche with chili mayo and a side of fiddleheads, not fries. If I was to order that, I might ask them to hold the mayo and see if they had any of that chili puree around.
The other thing about this farm-to-table concept is an outdoor space that’s lovely despite being – don’t laugh – right on and in Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge. It’s cozy and bucolic-esque, shielded enough that the passing traffic becomes quiet background noise, aural ambience akin to crashing waves or chirping crickets. Some day diners will be allowed back into the restaurant’s interior, which has the same homey feel as the (sadly shuttered) Table at Season to Taste up the way, but Urban Hearth has done a nice job of pivoting with the pandemic.