Monday, June 24, 2024

Summer vacation’s over, and we need fuel at our fingertips as we return to the office and classroom. Here are a few good grab-and-go food options, with an eye on locale and diversity of cuisine.


Sando a go-go

The Turkey Green Goddess at Vester in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

In Kendall Square, busy making the next big things to change the world, there’s Vester. Named after a Danish food district, it serves up locally sourced sandwiches and breakfast staples (the vegan breakfast wrap is tasty, though if you’re not into pickled onions, pass on ’em; I like it both ways) and great house-roasted turkey paninis on sourdough, starting with the turkey and brie with Turkish fig jam. There’s a lingering special – it should just be on the menu permanently – in the Turkey Green Goddess, which has lean and flavorful honey-roasted tom, avocado, cilantro, aioli and pesto, for plenty of good green accents to gobble down at your desk, in the sky garden above Google offices or at any of the micro public parks in the area. Vester’s appealing list of wraps include Brussels sprouts and brie and a turkey BLT. Vester is local and woman- and minority-owned and run.

Vester, 73 Ames St., Kendall Square, Cambridge

Regular check-ins at the similarly local- and minority-owned Oggi Gourmet in Harvard Square are mandatory, because owner-chef Steve Welch always has something new cooking. While Oggi makes pizzas and sells by the slice, it’s the sandwiches that draw me in, namely the simple and delicious hot-pressed Black Forest ham and cheese with its sharp grainy mustard; light, airy bread; and just the right amount of tomato and greens. Welch’s signature Jamaican jerk chicken is a heartier choice, and there’s a worthy chunky chicken salad sandwich too. They come with a side of fries. (Oggi also offers a lobster roll for a mere $15 that I have yet to try, but may just be the steal of the square.) Oggi, which means “today” in Italian, is on the backside of Harvard’s Smith Center, with a nice patio at Dunster and Mount Auburn streets and a quaint bar nook inside where you can grab a glass of wine or beer and listen to old-school Motown. Oggi is open for breakfast as well. I just wished Oggi had more of an online presence to show all that Steve and company do.

Oggi Gourmet, 30 Dunster St., Harvard Square, Cambridge


That’s a wrap

Perhaps that should be “That’s a big wrap,” because what we’ve been munching on are two-handers. In Inman Square you can get almost anything you want at Beauty’s Pizza (closer to Kendall until it relocated after a neighbor’s 2014 fire). Nestled between the S&S Deli rear and a Shell gas station on Hampshire Street, Beauty’s has pizza, wings, wraps, paninis, sandwiches and subs, pastas and more. Just sticking with the wraps, it’s a loaded section – but even after a long pore over that menu I hardly waver: For me it’s the turkey avocado, which comes packed with a generous amount of bird and perfectly ripened and smashed ’cado. I get it with either a smidge of mayo or drizzle of Beauty’s signature dressing. It’s such a generous serving (and comes with a bag of chips) you could have half for lunch and the other half for dinner, and Beauty’s does a good job of wrapping and boxing everything to stay fresh. Beauty’s has a nice, trellis-covered outside dining area and some cool, retro-hip ’50s diner decor inside (space is limited, but there’s more than you’d expect) as well as beer on tap.

Beauty’s Pizza, 187 Hampshire St., Inman Square, Cambridge

A wrap at Sally’s Sandwiches in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Back up to Harvard Square is Sally’s Sandwiches, just opened in the Smith Center where Whole Heart Provisions once sold bowls and salads. Sally’s has a menu you can order as sandwiches, salads or wraps. The California club worked well for me, akin to Beauty’s turkey and avocado, though next time I might skip the slice of cheddar; most Napa- and Cali-styled offerings generally don’t do cheese, right? I dig chicken Caesar wraps, and Sally’s offers a spin on the usual with chicken that is lightly fried for a crunch. It’s served warm and fresh, a great offset to finely shredded crisp and fresh Romaine lettuce (if only it held the Caesar dressing more consistently in each bite). Sally’s is owned by the Gallows Group, which also owns the Blackbird Doughnuts chain, so it sells those dense, delicious treats on the side. Sally’s is also open for breakfast, when the doughnut is king. You can get a breakfast burrito or regular sandwich, but if you want to go all in, there’s a selection with scrambled eggs, American cheese, bacon and Sally’s special hot sauce served between a griddled vanilla-glazed doughnut.

Sally’s Sandwiches, 11 Holyoke St,, Harvard Square, Cambridge


South of the border

We just raved about the quesadillas at the recently opened, family-run Chivo Taqueria between Harvard and Porter squares, where the Mex is up there with the likes of Anna’s (in Porter and Davis squares) and Felipe’s (in Harvard Square). Turning to the taco, might I draw your attention to the slow-braised pork adobo with a tangy verde sauce at Tenoch Mexican, with locations in Somerville’s Davis Square and Cambridge’s North Point? Tenoch tacos come mainly a la carte, so that juicy adobo pork on soft corn tortilla can be paired with grilled chicken, carne asada, fried fish and many more. If you’ve really got a big appetite, the Tenoch torta, a hot, pressed Mexican sandwich on delicious telera bread, is one of the best around, and what I consider its signature gift to the dining public. This will be a hearty favorite, especially if you get that pork adobo; all the juicy goodness soaks into the warm, soft bread, creating a symphony of rich flavors.

Tenoch, 382 Highland Ave., Davis Square, Somerville, and 10 Museum Way, North Point, Cambridge


Subs and slices

A slice from Angelo’s in Mid-Cambridge. (Photo: Tom Meek)

So many good options in this category, but I’m angling old-school. This year we lamented the closing of Mona Lisa Pizza and Darwin’s, lunch go-tos for Cambridge Rindge and Latin high schoolers wanting something other than cafeteria fare. Taking Mona Lisa’s place is King’s Pizzeria & Grille from the North Shore, which popped up offering good deals for students and families. On the other side of the campus (Broadway, versus Cambridge Street where King’s is) there’s the old standby Angelo’s, as old-school and basic as one can be, but not just a slice joint for high schoolers – which is how I thought of it, until I entered and ate. My daughter is entering her first year at CRLS, so my visits had some degree of “need to know”; my sample of a ’roni slice was not bad, with good cheese, fair sauce (more zest, maybe?) and generous slices of pepperoni, but better than what you’d get in the stands at Fenway and moved toward the win column by its gooey, greasy factors. The thing that caught me by surprise was the egg and veggie sub, a grilled open-face omelet with perfectly al dente peppers, onions and broccoli nestled in a toasted Italian sub bun that’s been lined with provolone. It’s a secret weapon that’s easy on the wallet.

Angelos Pizza, 444 Broadway Court, Mid-Cambridge

An omelet with toast from the Half Shell near Cambridge’s Porter Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

On Massachusetts Avenue near Porter Square is the Half Shell, which with its current family ownership (father, mother and son almost always behind the counter) has been serving pizzas, subs and eggy breakfast fare for more than 25 years. The pizza is solid; get a New York-style slice and it comes with plenty of cheese, a thin, crisp crust and a wisp of tangy tomato sauce; for a meaty kick, add lean lamb gyro. The thing I love about the Half Shell, besides its griddle-folded omelets, are the subs on fresh, slightly chewy and airy Italian rolls, with my idiosyncratic wishes for them always listened to and executed attentively. What I like is turkey and provolone with bell peppers, black olives, pickles, a touch of shredded lettuce, black pepper and oregano, enhanced with tangy drizzles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. One bite and you’re hooked.

Half-Shell Pizza, 1760 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9 near Porter Square, Cambridge


Something sweet and unique

It was a bummer that EHChocolatier closed this year; its handcrafted bonbons were not only arty and yummy, but otherworldly – something you just couldn’t find anywhere else. For the sweets-minded looking for a successor, let me steer you to Yafa Bakery & Cafe, where you can get artisanal treats with a Mediterranean accent (Turkish, Israeli, French and more). Like EHChocolatier, everything in the case looks like a work of art, even chocolate-covered doughnuts that are more like mini pound cakes, including a hint of rich, fruity liquor. There are dates covered in chocolate (and gold), Jerusalem bread and phyllo drizzled this-and-that in rolls and squares replete with a topping of diced walnuts. The cookies too, which like that doughnut are more a cake than a cookie, come in myriad shapes, sizes and flavors. The chai served at Yafa is something else as well, fruity, rich and perfectly spiced. You have one of these and you’ll be saying goodbye to Starbuck’s chai lattes, and I say this as a person who gets regular ’bucks chai cravings. Stop in, sample and be amazed.

Yafa Bakery & Cafe, 594 Somerville Ave., Spring Hill, Somerville