Thursday, June 20, 2024

A chicken sub at Mike’s Food & Spirits in Somerville’s Davis Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

It’s September, and the kids are back on campus and in the classroom, so for the next few weeks we’re running a back-to-school series with a suggestion for each of the area’s four major universities. First up is Mike’s Food & Spirits in Davis Square, the unofficial hub for Tufts students.

Mike’s qualifies as old-school. Like McKinnon’s Meat Market, it was there in 1984 as the red line rolled in and well before Davis was hailed as “the Paris of the ’90s.” The beer-pizza-and-burger joint has been upgraded since those early days – the style of the linoleum has changed, but it’s still linoleum – into an inviting space with large windows that open up onto the square. There’s an outside patio area that feels like a seamless extension, one of the silver linings of Covid being Somerville letting eateries along Elm Street extend into the street. The result is traffic calming and a pavilion feel for outside diners and pedestrians.

The culinary scope is your basic comfort food and Italian-American grill. Mike’s flatbreads are doughy and decent, and the wraps are solid. (Try the Greek salad with chicken, or the Caprese.) Mike’s used to have a good turkey burger and turkey tip plate; with those dropped from the menu, what I’m into now are the subs, especially the Italian sausage or meatball and the chicken or steak bomb. Bring your appetite. What makes the chicken so good is the melted American cheese – folks who look down their nose at it shortchange themselves from a down-home savory delight that tastes richer than its price – and medley of slow-griddled onions and peppers on a super-fresh Italian sub roll. The bun’s large, light and airy, giving The Half Shell a run for its money for best, freshest Italian bread in the area. On the appetizer menu, Mike’s has fried mozzarella and zucchini sticks. They used to be a thing, but you never find zucchini fries that much any more; and while I was pleased to see them on the menu, and they came out hot and moist with the zucchini perfectly just beyond al dente, the breading was about twice as much as I prefer. Then again, I’m all about tempura lightness and eating fried food only minutes out of the fryolator.

The bar at Mike’s has televisions at every angle. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Mike’s is also an underestimated sports bar, with TVs at every angle and events such as Trivia Tuesdays and Wine Wednesdays. The service too, for the most, is spot on – if I had to put a tag on it, it would be “amiable chaos.” Perhaps the biggest flaw is a frustrating scan-to-view menu: It’s several pages of JPEGs or some other image format that are not “responsive,” meaning when you pop it up on your iPhone you’ll be pinching and expanding ad infinitum to navigate. Covid exposed many eateries’ online presence as a problem; Toast and and other fast-to-the-moment solutions helped address that, but even so I wonder if more places should not be curating their online story to better represent who they are and what they serve.

Mike’s Food & Spirits (9 Davis Square, Somerville)

Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The 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.