Craigie on Main: Je t’adore

My radar zeroed in on Craigie on Main soon after I moved to Cambridge.   Scouring websites and magazines like a devout and dutiful f-blogger, the restaurant name reappeared wherever I looked.  Among its heap of honors sits a string of “Best of Boston” awards; but perhaps most impressive of the accolades amassed is Chef Tony Maws’ nomination for a 2009 James Beard award (Best Chef Northeast).  The restaurant relentlessly focuses on local, fresh, and seasonal, and this bistro’s cuisine takes those ingredients and delivers the goods.  My Sunday brunch here was hands-down the best dining experience I’ve enjoyed, probably since returning from my travels in July.  Despite the miscommunication between J and the maitre d’, resulting in a 20 minute wait, her friendliness, the lovely service and lively atmosphere, the promptness of the kitchen, and of course the execution of the food blew this initial hiccup into oblivion.

The exposed kitchen that greets you as you enter.

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We did not order the pancakes but they looked good. I think those are huckleberries sprinkled on top.

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However, the donuts were too sexy to pass up.

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OUR house-made donut with confiture du lait. Consider it dessert before brunch, to accompany the house’s outstanding coffee. So soft and pillowy, oh, the thought of resting my head on this edible cloud every night, nibbling as I fall sleep…

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My order: a grass-fed beef burger with Shelburne Farm cheddar on a house-made bun, served with mace ketchup and shoestring fries.

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Medium-rare to a tee, easily the best burger I can remember eating (I hate that I’ve used “best” twice already in this post but both are warranted).  The beef was tender and juicy, coarsely ground so the meat retained that chunky beefiness that’s lacking in ordinary burgers. And here I must agree with food pundits, because I tasted for myself how much more natural flavor this grass-fed beef had than the beef I ate growing up. The meat wasn’t heavily seasoned – if anything, the kitchen tends toward underseasoning — but beef of such potent flavor doesn’t need much to make it memorable. The house-made ketchup was mild but distinctive, the aromatic cheddar adding tangy creaminess to each bite. Craigie’s is a judiciously sized burger as well; I’d judge it to be a 10 to 12 biter, which was just right for hitting the spot without leaving me immobilized (though I did need a few moments after the meal to gather myself :)). The fries and little sides were forgettable but that was easily forgivable.

J’s dish, Craigie “Dimanche” sausage with a buttermilk biscuit, gravy, and a fresh egg any style. The sausage was generously portioned, three plump logs of porky porky; I found it a bit bland, though J definitely enjoyed it. The biscuit was insane, a must-order side in the future.

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Craigie’s beautiful twist on good ol’ corned beef hash, house-brined grass-fed beef with smoked beef tongue. L heartily approved as did I; topped with a poached egg and a hollandaise-y sauce, whose combined creaminess trickled and tucked itself into the well-seasoned, smoky hash. Spooned onto rye toast, I now see the humble hash in a new light.

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Our post-brunch plans for Toscanini’s hit the wayside after this delightful meal. There will always be an occasion for ice cream but this day wasn’t it, certainly not after such revelation. I wanted to savor and preserve the sanctity of that experience, keep it as its own, to remind me of how downright delicious, just plain nasty, food can be.

Craigie on Main
853 Main St
Cambridge, MA 02139-3512
(617) 497-5511

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