Sunday, July 14, 2024

Eggs Benedict at The Sea Hag in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Harvard Square has long had a “boathouse” watering hole in celebration of the defining Ivy League sport and Head of the Charles Regatta. The original Boathouse, a poplar subterranean cove next to Shay’s Pub & Wine Bar on JFK Street, closed in the late 1990s; in 2012, the namesake and concept took hold again when the owners of Daedalus rebranded a spot on Mount Auburn Street that had been the upscale bistro Trata. Now the ownership there has passed to Kari Kuelzer, operator of Grendel’s Den just up the way in Winthrop Square. The moniker Sea Hag may sound like a villain from Popeye (and was), but it’s actually a reference to – if you’re up on your Beowulf lore – Grendel’s mother.

Like Grendel’s Den, the ambience of The Sea Hag is decidedly boho, but with a lot of sea-themed art and statues (even a leftover scull). The new establishment marks Kuelzer’s first venture outside the footprint her parents established decades ago, and the result is true to that but new. The menu is all about the same type of casual, down-home comfort – though the comfort here is an all-day thing, with bakery offerings that include salted caramel apple and cran-orange scones on a cafe menu, along with breakfast sandwiches starting at 8 a.m. There’s lunch (11 a.m.) and dinner, and brunch on the weekends. The lunch and dinner menus have some redundancy (burgers, a chicken Parm sub and the “messy” Cobb salad), and the brunch is basic old-school.

The menu is tight and focused, and includes those bakery goodies (the muffins in the display case looked moist and inviting) with basic egg plates and waffles and pancakes; coming from a kitchen staff with a bakery focus, that can only be a win. I went with the eggs Benedict, which for all its no-frills presentation was competently done and hit the spot; the hollandaise was light and flavorful and too not thickly poured; the eggs were perfectly cooked and fluffy whites that released runny yolks onto golden butter-topped English muffins – Saturday midday comfort on a fork. The home fries on the side were warm and golden, with no griddle grease.

At a subsequent lunch stop I had the chicken Parm in my sights, but there was the lingering fear of too much breading, and the menu revealed that it did not come with mozzarella (a near must), but American cheese. My curiosity remains, but I went with that Messy Cobb that wasn’t so messy: The vinaigrette was light and zesty with a nice vinegar accent, the cubes of chicken were lean, moist, ample and mixed in evenly with the diced romaine, and there were perfectly meted amounts of crisp bacon bits and blue cheese crumble – too much of either of those elements can be a killjoy. The fun part? The two over-easy fried eggs atop it all that were also perfectly runny and added to the big bowl’s blending (these folks seem to know eggs). The amount looks like a lot and pleasingly feels never-ending, but it’s sating, not filling. Besides that chicken Parm sando, the Sea Hag menu item calling to me is the Mediterranean haddock, skillet simmered with green olives in a white wine and tomato broth, and served with toast points.

On these cold fall days, the Hag’s a cozy pop-in that plays random quirk (“The Goonies”) on TVs that feel like sports-bar leftovers (Grendel’s is a sports-free pub). The kitsch is neat fun to be sure, but there seems to be a bit of a miss there: The Hag closes right after brunch at 3 p.m. Sunday in a town that doesn’t have enough Sunday and Saturday afternoon sports stops – I know, the Pats suck, so “Goonies” over Mac Jones any day. Along with the newly opened Friendly Toast, mid-morning offerings back in full force at Source and Bluestone Lane, among others, Harvard Square has become the place to go for brunch.

The Sea Hag, 49 Mount Auburn St., Harvard 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.