Thursday, July 18, 2024

The turkey club at Ripple Cafe in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Back in the day, Kendall Square had Rebecca’s Cafe and the always reliable Au Bon Pan for healthy grab-and-go sandwiches and soup. Those old friends have departed; in their stead, locally baked Tatte and Flour cafes have popped up with whack-a-mole celerity. More to the hyperlocal concept and homing in on the Kendall Square T stop stretch of Main Street where Rebecca’s and Au Bon Pan had their storefronts, we now have Ripple Café next to the MIT Museum bookstore and Row 34 restaurant. Ripple Café gets you rolling with breakfast, coffee and lunch and closes at 3 p.m., just as Row 34 opens.

The menu at Ripple is pretty tight and has a clear Jamaican and Creole flair. For breakfast there are egg sandwiches, a breakfast burger (yup, beef ’n’ eggs) and a spicy dejeneur (in the classic French context, a dejeneur is a tray of coffee, juice and baked snackables; at Ripple, it’s hot sausage links with peppers and onions). The lunch menu is the fun time. There are two sandwiches, including a tummy-comfort tuna melt.

The other is a divine turkey club served on lightly toasted sourdough with perfectly crisp bacon, generous globs of gloriously green guacamole and a bit of a bite with the chipotle mayo atop, making for one of the best turkey clubs I’ve had in the recent past. (Bacon note: I recently had a BLT at a well-established eatery I usually much enjoy, but this sandwich was piled high with undercooked, thick slabs of meat – let the cured pork be a crisp, lean accent, not a fatty room-temp deterrent!)

There are salads (a Cobb) and rice bowls that bring out Ripple’s Jamaican accents, be it with jerk turkey tips or creole shrimp. Both come with a base of silky black rice, black beans and crisp little leaf lettuce. I particularly enjoyed the shrimp bowl, as the prawns, slathered in a slightly spicy red Creole sauce, were succulent and fresh, with added accents of mango salsa, lightly fried plantains and spicy peppers and jalapeños that triggered a pleasurable bead of perspiration upon the brow. As you work your way down through the bowl, the ingredients, sauces and natural juices of the proteins, beans and peppers play increasingly well together, making for new flavors as you go.

A rice bowl at Ripple Cafe. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The arrival of Ripple in Kendall reminds me some of Dudley Café opening in Porter Square this year; both have rice bowls, both have motherships across the river in neighboring Dorchester and Roxbury, respectively, and both bring culinary traditions that are not otherwise that easy to find in Camberville. When I asked about the meaning of Ripple name, one of the many happy, helpful folk behind the counter told me it was from the concept of “creating a positive ripple effect.” Another chimed in, “Ripple is not a cafe, it’s a lifestyle,” and as evident from the joy the workers seemed to share, I’d say so. The menu is seemingly infused with the concept; it’s not breakfast or lunch, but “breakfast vibes” and “lunch vibes.”

Beyond its solid coffee menu – and it is very good java – and smoothies, Ripple has a case of pastries savory and sweet, as well as Jamaican patties, hearty turnovers stuffed with your choice of meat, chicken or veggies. Ripple’s also a great space to plug in and study, read or write, or have a business lunch.

Also like Dudley Café, Ripple has order kiosks – which are great but bring up a point that’s been sticking with me about eateries and their digital presence: If you’re going to have kiosks or online ordering systems, make sure your food is well represented with pictures and descriptions. If you have a website, post a sample menu and show all your eats in the online ordering system. Be complete and informative. Don’t make someone hop all over the Internet to figure out your culinary story. I’m not singling out Ripple, by any means, just taking the space to say this in general. Besides, I prefer going up to that warm happy face sending good vibes. 

Ripple Cafe, 314 Main St., 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.