Monday, May 20, 2024

The Southwestern quesadilla at Cambridge Common. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Continuing with our back-to-school series, we move on to a college haunt near Lesley University: Cambridge Common. To assign this classic college pub specifically to Lesley is a tad disingenuous, as it’s a big Harvard student and faculty watering hole and a to-be-at outpost during the Head of the Charles regatta or Yale game. Also, with its proximity to the Baldwin School on Oxford Street and the Graham & Parks School on Linnaean Street, it’s something of a happy meal early dinner for families – my daughter, a semi-recent Baldwin alum, still has a hankering for its golden brown mounds of tater tots and chocolate milkshake.

Cambridge Common is back to serving lunch post-pandemic, but still shuts down at 10 p.m. during the week and midnight on the weekends; The Lizard Lounge nightclub downstairs, a popular place for poetry readings and music events, reopens at the end of the month. When the Common reopened for takeout mid-pandemic, it did so with a slimmed-down menu that added a few classics from Christopher’s in Porter Square – a veggie-leaning, cafe-style bar by the same owners that remains closed. These include the heralded Buffalo tofu, perfectly fried sticks of pressed soy curd doused in a spicy Buffalo sauce with a genius side of blue cheese dressing to dip into. A chicken, avocado and bacon club came along too, though it was on a bulkie roll the last time I had it that didn’t fully emulate the warm toast comfort of the old Christopher’s preparation. I am bummed the Baja turkey burger is gone – there is no turkey burger on the current menu – but there’s an otherwise solid lineup of burgers as well as fajitas and warm grain bowls, which I’m pretty sure came from Christopher’s as well.

The thing that has me coming back to the Common more and more is the simple elegance of its Southwestern quesadilla. It’s rich and plump, filled with tender chicken, black beans, corn and generous slices of ripe avocado in a griddle-golden tortilla that is never greasy or overly crisp. It has a hint of spice, even if the overall presentation is mild, and makes for a great light, fast meal or sharable appetizer. 

The Common also serves as a much-needed sports bar. The Newtowne Grille is gone, and with Christopher’s still shut, it’s the only option beside the Shine Square Pub along this stretch of the avenue.

Cambridge Common (1667 Massachusetts Ave., in the Baldwin neighborhood between Harvard and Porter squares)

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.