Few things are greater than cafés that do it all right. And by ‘all’ I mean breakfast, lunch, dessert, and coffee in all shapes, sizes and flavors. Being able to pick whatever your taste buds desire at that precise second, and acquiring it quickly and somewhat cheaply has become an appeal of the modern café. It’s not unusual to have one joint whose coffee you depend on for life support, another where you’ve got your favorite lunch sandwich down to a T, and a third whose experiments with sugar and flour send your taste buds to the moon. But when one single shop becomes your resource for all the above, you have what I like to call a café doin’ it right.
After careful sniffing, sipping, and just plain pigging out, I nominate a power trio of the aforementioned café success stories. Their food is delicious and their creators are equally passionate about local ingredients, in-house baking, and providing a refuge from daily life with their cozy ambiences. Each of these places brings something unique to the table, quite literally, in their food and also in the way they reflect their surrounding neighborhoods. I couldn’t bear to rank them, so here are my best picks from each.
Crema Café, 27 Brattle St, Harvard Square.
Like Harvard Square itself, Crema’s atmosphere is fast paced, with people of all sorts there for different reasons. For this reason it can be hard to find a seat, but the food, coffee, and everything is well worth any searching.
Crema offers your typical breakfast sandwiches made to order, with choices like spinach and buttery croissants. It has salads and tantalizing pastries, but their forte is their lunch sandwiches. They come warm, pressed Panini style, with homemade sweet potato chips if you so desire. The Crema Grilled Chicken Sandwich $7.25 consists of corn, avocado, grilled chicken, and a zesty cotija cheese-corn spread. I would eat it every day.
Their Golden Crema Latte is, well, I think they did some research here: gold. With honey and cinnamon hints it’s not terribly sweet (well that’s coming from me who eats chocolate bars for breakfast). Every time I enter this place, my eyes dart anxiously to the chalkboard where this latte is advertised. Phew, always a relief to find it still there. The world is okay again.
Flour Bakery, 190 Massachusetts ave, Central/Kendall Square. (also Back Bay, South End, Fort Point)
Flour’s mission is delivering baked goods from the oven to the customer with lots of love. From all sorts of bread to all sorts of chocolate, to the founding chef’s signature sticky buns, it’s all here. This is a masterpiece of Joanne Chang, who also created Myers+Chang a hip Asian diner downtown. I think baking was her first love, however: when you step inside it’s like you’re entering your family kitchen, if your family is obsessed with all things sweet and aesthetically pleasing. Flour’s location in Kendall square gives it the noble job of attempting to liven the slightly awkward, still somewhat industrial streets joining Kendall and Central Squares, and does so amazingly.
For those of us searching for the ultimate French Toast at our local diners, think again. Better leave it to a bakery, specializing in all things bread, to make the best! Flour’s French Toast was heavy and moist. It ripped apart to reveal an almost gooey center. It was beauteous. You could add fresh fruit, and other brioche options were offered.
Pictured above on the right is the Midnight Chocolate Cake (priced differently for sizes). This title is pretty accurate too: dark devil’s food cake filled with a silky milk chocolate buttercream and finished with bittersweet chocolate ganache. Hello Heaven, thanks for the invite.
Ula Café, 284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain. See its array of edible artwork pictured at the top.
Tucked away in an unpretentious location in the Sam Adams Brewery Complex, this places screams hidden gem. Well, hidden hippie gem. I do understand that by this point people who live far from my home neighborhood of JP must be sick of hearing about it, but the food is just unbeatable. JP is full of artists and it shows in the eateries. There is always a different dog waiting outside. I think it’s a requirement to have a tattoo to work there, and I always overhear conversations about teaching. It’s JP at its finest, and the best part is all are welcome.
Ula makes the best Breakfast Sandwich I’ve ever had. No description will suffice to prove how addictive it is. They offer it with thick-cut bacon but I choose ham to pretend I eat little healthily. It’s a brioche roll with a sort of mystical rosemary mayonnaise. I usually eat my food painfully slowly to enjoy every bite but with this item that technique just doesn’t work. In fact, every time I go and order one there I have it sitting right in front of me on its little plate, I look up for one second and it’s gone.
Last and un-least of all – Ula’s Brownies are THE BEST. If you like happiness, eat this. Okay I lied, Ula is my number one. I may be biased, but for good reason.