Thursday, July 18, 2024

Sardines at JP Restaurant & Bar in Cambridge’s Inman Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

There’s news for those of you who miss the Midwest Grill, which shuttered as Covid took root. The all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue joint where friendly servers swung by with skewers of smoked meats, sausages and chicken hearts – among the endless offerings – will be back, or is; it reopened two months ago as JP Restaurant & Bar in the same locale on Cambridge Street, with the same owners (John Pinto is the JP in the name; but there’s a different head chef). JP has yet to relaunch its renowned barbecue, but that’s coming. Patience is a must. As of now, the restaurant is in soft-open mode with a hearty breakfast and traditionally accented, all-day menu awaiting a liquor license and a few other finalizing pieces.

For breakfast it’s a full offering: omelets, French toast, pancakes, egg sandwiches and more. The culturally accented adds are a Portuguese breakfast that comes with eggs your style, linguica (Portuguese sausage), fish cake, shrimp cake, toast and home fries – a hearty, off-to-the-sea eat – and galão, a Portuguese coffee that is essentially espresso topped with foamed milk. For the all-day slate there is plenty of meat for those craving that barbecue, including rib-eye, lamb, beef tripe strew and feijoada, a traditional Brazilian dish of chopped pork legs, beef, linguica and black beans that comes with rice and collard greens.

The seafood side of the house is where I have found myself. You can get cod three ways (fried, boiled and pan baked), a tuna steak and octopus. Those last two caught my eye, but at a Portuguese place I’m always drawn to the sardines, which here come out whole-body, salt- and pepper-grilled with boiled potatoes and a side salad. You have to be a bit aware of the bones, but the dark, flavorful fillets flake off pretty easily and are worth the extra effort for the reward – a dish you just don’t find anywhere.

The camarão grelhado, or grilled shrimp, are a nice side course. They come out tender and succulent in a pucker-pleasing garlicky hot sauce – I’d call it medium hot. They come with fries and rice, and the rice is buttery and moist with some nice red pepper garnish, though I subbed in a side of house beans and was happy for it. Here again you have to do a little work, as the shrimp tails are on with half the shell; but it’s been partially cut, and peels away with minimal effort.

There’s an excellent Portuguese soup of linguica, beans and kale in a light tomato broth, and a kids’ menu as well. 

The Brazilian barbecue concept has been in Cambridge under Pinto since 1993, first where Pammy’s is on Massachusetts Avenue between Central and Harvard squares. Along the way it moved into the Portuguese and Brazilian neighborhood of Wellington-Harrington. 

The atmosphere at this JP is dark and cozy, good for family dinners or date night with an open kitchen, warm fireplace at the center of the dining area and a backroom bar that should be coming on line soon. 

JP Restaurant & Bar, 1124 Cambridge St., Inman 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.