Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Nubian Fave at Dudley Café on Massachusetts Avenue in the Baldwin neighborhood near Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

What’s in a name? The Cambridge Dudley Cafe outpost at 1663 Massachusetts Ave. (a Lesley University property formerly occupied by the Hi-Rise Baking Co., which departed during Covid) holds to a regional name even though the area it was named after – Dudley Square in Boston, where it opened in 2014 – had its name changed to Nubian Square. Some brief history: Thomas Dudley was a Massachusetts Bay governor in the mid-1600s who presided over legalizing slavery in the commonwealth. No affirmative reports have shown that Dudley himself was an owner, but the 2019 name change better represents the area. “Nubian” refers to Northeastern Africa and honors the African American community.

That said, the Roxbury cafe neighbors Dudley Street, while the Cambridge menu honors the changed name with a sandwich called the Nubian Fave (a surprising, satisfying win of house-roasted chicken, nut-free pesto, provolone cheese and sun-dried tomatoes pressed on multigrain bread) and the BPS (a turkey and artichoke sandwich), named after Boston Public Schools, while adding references to new surroundings: The Lesley (lamb shish kebab, tomatoes, crumbled feta and tzatziki on housemade naan) and the Ms. Baldwin rice bowl (jasmine rice with jackfruit, curry, mango salad and crispy papad). 

The Dudley’s got you covered with a tight yet diverse menu. For breakfast, which is served all day, there’s a customizable brioche egg sandwich with house hot sauce and sautéed spinach; bagels; French and avocado toast; as well as a shanti puff pastry stuffed with pulled chicken tikka and topped with masala sauce. A bigger version on fresh, housemade naan appears on the menu as the Shanti Naanwich. I’m a big fan. Shanti means “peace,” and the peace with this naanwich is in your tummy. It’s savory and light, a great way to fill up and not need a post-lunch nap.

The Dudley Café’s Ayanna bowl has grains, tofu, sautéed spinach, asian slaw and peanut sauce. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Bowls come mostly with jasmine rice, though there is the Ayanna (Pressley!) that comes with hearty power grains, quick-fried tofu, sautéed spinach, asian slaw and a delicious, thick peanut sauce.

There’s a whole host of coffee beverages, as you can imagine, and some Indian-infused smoothies and juices such as a mango lassi. But let me steer you to the summertime specials, most specifically the Goddess Nectar, a steamy-summertime-slaking blend of iced tea, strawberry juice and lemonade that just says “Ahhhhh.” Get a large.

The owners of the Dudley Café, Solmon and Rokeya Chowdhury, are not new to Cambridge; Solmon Chowdhury had been affiliated with now-closed nightclubs Om in Harvard Square and Moksa and Naga in Central Square, all known for their rowdy late-night behaviors. The Dudley Cafe in Roxbury has ties to the community, extending internships to local high schoolers interested in the food biz, and the Cambridge locale has a similar inclusive vibe and friendly, helpful service. The ambiance of the Cambridge locale is similar to the old Hi-Rise, including a spacious outdoor patio pushed back from the avenue and well shaded, with a clean and spare interior adorned with cafe tables, ample bench seating and window bar stools.

You can order at a kiosk in the seating area or ask insight from one of the amiable servers behind the pastry counter. It’s a great space to come to write and nosh. My few beefs: There are no PC plug-in spots, it’s not open on Sunday (which is chill-at-the-café day) and it needs a “CRLS” on the menu.

Dudley Café (1663 Massachusetts Ave., in the Baldwin neighborhood between Harvard and Porter squares)

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.