Thursday, July 18, 2024

Sometimes fast, small pleasures are what you want: a glass of wine and a quick bite, in and out in 30 minutes before you head off to class or take in a movie. The following favorite flash noshes are primarily along Cambridge’s Massachusetts Avenue corridor.

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The French onion soup at Colette last year. (Photo: Tiffany H. via Yelp)

Beginning in Porter Square we pop into Colette Wine Bistro, where brunch service is back and, we’re told, a bar menu with a secret special hot dog will be on the slate, along with a burger. We’ve always been a fan of Colette’s French onion soup (though I wished they’d go back to serving it in a crock, versus the dainty terrinelike vessel they now use) and the addictive vol-au-vent, a French puff pastry filled with a combination of tasty duck confit and shiitake and oyster mushroom ragout under a smooth porcini cream sauce. Delicious, stomach warming and filling, it can be complemented by the effervescent, slightly carbonated orange wine that’s usually behind the bar and la vie est belle.

Colette Wine Bistro, 1924 Mass Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge

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Halloumi fries at The Abbey. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Not too far down the way is the always reliable Abbey, which made its name on a spicy bison Bolognese and late-night kitchen service (it’s open to 1:30 a.m., making the joint the de facto service bar of the area). It also offers some tasty finger food, among it wings (uniquely confitlike; and getting the sauce on the side is a good option), chicken dumpling bags, deviled eggs with bacon bits and jalapeños, cheeseburger egg rolls and the new adult mozzarella sticks – or, more technically, halloumi fries, slender sticks of the Mediterranean cheese that are lightly fried and served with a side of tomato jam (think a thicker, meatier ketchup with a savory kick). There’s hardly any breading on them because halloumi, inherently salty and savory and known for its firm, “squeaky” texture, has a high melting point and doesn’t need a thick batter to hold its form. It’s a great way to engage in fried cheese with less dietary guilt, and the tasty pairing with that jam will hook you. Bonus: The mushroom risotto on the sides menu is a good hearty hit if you want something, but not too much, to stick to your ribs.

The Abbey, 1755 Massachusetts Ave., Baldwin near Porter Square, Cambridge

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Field squash blossoms at Harvest. (Photo: Tom Meek)

In Harvard Square, we stop into Harvest, a bastion of fine dining since the late 1970s, for a bowl of chilled cucumber soup, smooth and rich with whipped crème fraîche, pine nuts and a tarragon oil for accent. It’s heartier than it looks, and a great way to get your greens on a hot summer day. Need a bite more? The chilled liquid green goodness makes for a great match with the field squash blossoms, which aren’t quite so vegetarian: They’re stuffed with sausage along with spinach and ricotta. It comes atop a thick, slow-simmered tomato sauce that’s really more of a ragout, and a basil drizzle tops the medley off. Since Harvest is all about seasonal flavors, time is likely running out on these two summery offerings.

Harvest, 44 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge

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The lobster roll at The Hourly Oyster House. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Across the square on Dunster Street is the always-inviting Hourly Oyster House, the only true raw bar in the square. (Sister eatery the Russell House Tavern has the goods, kinda, but you can’t sit at a bar with a view of shellfish embedded into shimmering mounds of crushed ice.) The cold lobster tail and lobster bisque at The Hourly are always spot on, but I really dig the lobster roll. It comes loaded with fresh meat (a nice balanced mix; the ones that come with only claw and knuckle meat infuriate me) and the perfect wisp of aioli with a nice dash of spicy bite, all packed into a buttery, briochelike griddled bun. The contrast of warm bun and slightly chilled meat is euphoric.

The Hourly Oyster House, 15 Dunster St., Harvard Square, Cambridge

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The Good Egg sandwich at Bom Dough. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Taking a detour off Massachusetts Avenue, we find ourselves (regularly) at Bom Dough in Inman Square. Our latest love here is the Good Egg sandwich, which has fluffy scrambled eggs – these guys are in the elite when it comes to fluffy scrambled – with fresh mozzarella, juicy tomato slices and the right amount of arugula (too much can overwhelm). Getting it on brioche is a must. The coffee here, especially the americano and macchiato, is a cut above, and don’t forget to indulge with one of Bom Dough’s Brazilian-inspired doughnuts and confections filled with jellies and mousse-y chocolate.

Bom Dough, 1271 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge

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Chicken skewers at Miracle of Science. (Photo: Abhiram A. via Yelp)

Finally, between Central Square and MIT is Miracle of Science, which was around even before our high-tech and biotech industries swept in. We’ve always been a big fan of the veggie burger, affable service and ambiance, enhanced by a tastefully kitschy decor that makes the cozy nook feel twice as big. But our latest jam is the chicken skewers, golden and juicy cubes of tender meat hot off the grill with soft, pliable tortillas to wrap them in and a chunky satay spread – the literal special sauce that makes them so unique and addictive. It all comes with a side of black bean and corn, finely shredded lettuce and onions that you can eat as a salad or toss into your wrap. The meat’s always perfectly cooked, never charred, though if I had one druther, it’d be to skip the skewer: It’s a bit of a chore to get the cubes off the stick, and it’s frustrating to have a barrier to your first bite.

Miracle of Science, 321 Massachusetts Ave., The Port, Cambridge


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.