Alden & Harlow

By Molly McDonough · 11/26/2016    Cambridge · New American · $$$

Cookbooks and heirloom gourds; vertical planters and pickled-bean-filled mason jars; sunlight poking through a glass ceiling; the cutest little illustrations of veggie-adorned cutting boards. You’d think you were descending into a dank, dark Harvard Square basement, but instead you glimpse a kitchen of nostalgic daydreams—Alden & Harlow, a warm and verdant place with food and drink that’s as tasty as it is nourishing.

Chicken fried local rabbit from Alden & Harlow

You needn’t be savvy to chef Michael Scelfo’s reputation to know right away that he’s into vegetables: Even with its simple black lettering on white paper, the range of plant-centric plates on this menu seems to transform the page into a colorful rainbow. The outstanding cocktail list follows suit: the gin tipple Throwing Shade is shaken with salted eggplant; McGregor’s Garden combines bourbon with spiced parsnip; and the Scotch-based Noye’s Fireplace doubles down on toasty flavors with some added roasted chestnut. (Rest assured, if you’re leaning towards beer or wine, the uniquely curated lists are equally eye-popping.)

Suspicions are confirmed when your server brings over pickled green beans instead of bread, thus commencing a train of small plates that, one by one, reveal new layers of the vegetable world’s many wonders.

Burger from Alden & Harlow

But don’t be mistaken—this is not some kind of vegan restaurant. Fresh vegetables often balance out a petite-yet-rich morsel of meat: Chunks of celery and apple can’t steal the show from the crunchy outside and melt-in-your-mouth inside of the chicken-fried rabbit they share a plate with, nor can a pickled root vegetable caponata overshadow an insanely crispy-edged cube of Berkshire pork belly.

Need more convincing? Just look at the line of carnivores that forms outside around 5 p.m. in anticipation of one of the most famous burgers this side of the Charles—a ground concoction of brisket and short ribs, with a cheese “tuille” waferwedged into remind us of Scelfo’s commitment to making ingredients gleam with color, no matter the dish.

Corn pancakes from Alden & Harlow

Make it a date; the best movie theater in the world—the Brattle Theatre—is in the same building as this restaurant.

While food gets all the hype, this is actually the best place in Harvard Square to get beer, wine, and cocktails—besides The Longfellow Bar upstairs, a stunning two-story spot run by the Alden & Harlow team that specializes in cocktails and snacks.

On Saturdays and Sundays this is also the best brunch spot in the neighborhood, with plenty of panzanella, pain perdu, and dressed-up avo toast to fuel subsequent Harvard Square strolling.

Must Haves

  • Sorry, brassica: the real show-stealer here is the creamy pistachio dressing that seeps out from every addictive bite.

  • If a tribute to a native vegetable in an upscale restaurant near Harvard serves as an excuse to eat breakfast (and popcorn) for dinner, we’ll take it.

  • Only 40 are available nightly, and they usually sell out by 6 p.m.—until the surprise release of a late-night stash around 11 p.m.

Fun Fact

Who are Alden and Harlow? They built the rambling, beautiful Brattle Hall building—which has since been home to numerous Harvard Square institutions—in 1889.

Tastes of Alden & Harlow

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