Monday, July 22, 2024

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.


Dining out: Prix fixe at Pammy’s


The Binchoton Grilled Lobster Tail at Pammy’s. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Pammy’s opened up just over two years ago and quickly grabbed accolades for its innovative cuisine and spare, yet inviting trattoria vibe. Owners Chris and Pam Willis describe it as an extension of their living room, which is no stretch – the pair live in the Massachusetts Avenue neighborhood between Central and Harvard squares as well as work in it.

Fine dining establishments have been hit pretty hard by Covid – Toscano and Luce remain shut – but Pammy’s has pivoted nicely. For starters, it’s installed a gorgeous outside patio with white tablecloths nestled among planters full of seasonal greens (one of the employees does floral arrangements; you can even buy a bouquet with dinner), and instead of seating guests on the rain drain pitch of the street, Pammy’s installed attractive wood slat flooring that’s sound and level. On the night I ate there, it was a dang 50 degrees out. But I wore a sweater, and the heat lamps made the fall bite a nonissue. The setting is so intimate and cozy you don’t really notice other diners, or cars whizzing by.


The prix fixe menu at offering gnocchi, lobster tail, red snapper and crudo with summer greens is a bit of a spin too: You wonder, are there not first-, second- and third-choice selections? How does this all work? The answer is that what you think are small plates are bigger then you’d expect, and the ones that seem bigger come in tapas-size servings. The three-pick is $69 with a generous wine pairing for another $40; some of the selections (wagyu skirt steak, and that lobster tail) bring a small upcharge. On this night, I had the big eye tuna crudo with crispy pig ears and smoked trout roe, which blends the silkiness of the tuna seamlessly with the smoky pop of the roe and salty crunch of the pig ears. (Yes, they are ears.) Next up was the octopus, tender and grilled to perfection with croutons and warm butter vinaigrette, a subtle accent that wisely leaves the feature component to be savored, not overwhelmed. Capping things off was that lobster tail, tender and succulent in its shell, with a claw diced up with celery and onions atop. Like the octopus, the kitchen staff lets their preparation of the shellfish speak for itself.


Pammy’s cozy outdoor dining area. (Photo: Tom Meek)

One other hit of the evening was the Queen Bee, a pan-seasonal cocktail of Old Tom gin (perfect for me), chili, turmeric, honey and lemon. It comes out looking like gold nectar and is piquantly sweet, light and spicy. And did I mention the bread? Probably the airiest, moistest sourdough I’ve had, with a chewy, not crunchy, crust. I love you, Iggy’s, but was told this is made from scratch, and the heavy, lightly seasoned olive oil that comes with makes for an addictive combination.

Pammy’s is also open for indoor dining, with plexiglass barriers installed for safety. The service too is commendable; you can feel everyone working the front and and the floor are on the same page, and they genuinely project that they’re having a good time. It’s not an everyday eat out, but for a splurge it goes the extra mile on culinary innovation, service and ambiance. Be advised: There is a small administration and Covid surcharge.

Pammy’s (928 Massachusetts Ave., Mid-Cambridge) 

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.