Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Aces Over Eight and Guadalupe tacos at Vincent’s in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Kendall Square is always evolving. At the One Kendall Square complex, where restaurants replaced a firehose factory, gone is The Blue Room, that regal old go-to for casual fine dining, but the Cambridge Brewing Co. persists and so does The Smoke Shack BBQ and Big Dipper Hospitality, a local group that owns the Jewish-styled Mamaleh’s, post-work/post-dinner gathering spot State Park and Vincent’s. 

The portfolio is a diverse, fun one, but we’re here to talk Vincent’s. The space, not directly in One Kendall Square but on the backside on Cardinal Medeiros Drive, is unassuming, essentially the first floor of a residential building, and has some history. It was once a divey piano bar known as the Kendall Cafe that had regular performances by a cheeky vaudevillian lounge act known as Cow Pie Patty. In 2008, chef Barry Maiden set up shop there with Hungry Mother, a nouvelle bistro concept that served the best fried catfish around; in 2015, the concept was rebranded as the French-Canadian Café Du Pays, pivoting to a mission of hearty savories in small packages. Under any name the small, split-level space has been intimate and cozy, a step away from the usual Cambridge street life the way Dalí has always been: You go through the door and you’re somewhere else – clearly not in Cambridge, even though you are. I’m not sure if it was during the Café Du Pays days or Covid, but the fun entryway bar got moved up a level. It’s now a smaller, warm and woody several-seat bar with a library feel perfect for the winter grind.  

The switch from Café Du Pays came during Covid as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the industry and, like many smart eateries, management turned Du Pays into Vincent’s Corner to sell groceries and to-go meals. With the “end of Covid,” it is now just Vincent’s, serving Southern-infused dinner and brunch menus. Both are tight and focused. While I’ve yet to try the dinner offerings, there are some listings that jump out: tempura-fried octopus; golden-fried flounder with mussels; and duck breast with mushroom ragout.

Vincent’s in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

I did brunch, and what a good brunch it was. The best way to sum up the menu is Southern barbecue meets south of the border. There’s a basic omelet and an egg plate, both with heirloom beans; sandwiches (including a duck torta!); and Czech-Tex kolaches. What you want to home in on is the breakfast taco section. In your tortilla folds you can get rabbit, duck, brisket and more, most with an eggy base. I had the Guadalupe, with green chorizo and crispy potatoes, and the Aces Over Eight, which features braised duck and pickled onions. They came with chunky verde and smooth roja salsa sides that aren’t high on the spicy meter and work as the perfect accent to the taco. While both concoctions impressed, the duck stood out because of its succulence. These reasonably priced tacos go down in three bites, so getting two or three is the right spot (and something flagged on the menu). Others on the slate that entice for future visits: the B.E.C., for bacon, egg and cheddar – did I mention Vincent’s bacon is housemade? – and the Shotgun Willie, with pork hash and pickled peppers. 

Also note: Tipping is a flat 20 percent that gets divided among all servers and backroom workers evenly. It’s a cool, equitable thing that not many eateries do.

Vincent’s (233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Kendall Square, 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.