The Hungry Mother is a neighborhood restaurant in Kendall Square abundant with little touches. Water is served in Ball jars and inexpensive snacks like boiled Virginia peanuts “to tide you over” are offered even before the first course. The butter served with the bread is sprinkled with sea salt, and tiny chocolates accompany the check.
A couple friends and I dined at the Virginia-inspired spot last week to celebrate a birthday, because nothing says Happy Birthday like a side of grits. Sure, I remember that the catfish was nicely breaded, but it’s the line in tiny type at the bottom of the wine menu that I’ll remember longer: “Order as you please; Massachusetts state law allows you to re-cork and bring your unfinished bottle of wine home for your dog.” Details like that make me feel pampered as a customer.
The brainchild behind the new place is Rachel and Alon, a married couple who ran Rachel’s Kitchen in Bay Village, a not-even-a-hole-in-the-wall gem now with new owners. The food there was excellent as well (can’t go wrong with a Nutella breakfast sandwich), but again, it was the little touches that made it seem bigger than its small size; Rachel had this uncanny ability to remember everyone’s name. My favorite touch: bite-sized cookies at the counter for a quarter that were a perfect ending to lunch. Such treats should be mandatory in all lunch spots.
I also appreciate the little extras in cafes, and Panera is one that takes pains with its hot chocolate, towering up the whipped cream and sprinkling it with chocolate syrup. I was in there recently and witnessed a different moment of kindness. As one always does in cafes, I was checking out my table neighbors. The girl seated a couple feet from me was tackling a stack of thick medical textbooks that I didn’t envy. After about an hour, a guy in an apron approached her, and we both looked up, startled.
“I noticed you’ve been in here studying every day,” he said to her, presenting a bowl of something snacky and a bottled water. “This is to keep you going.” The people at the tables around her, including me, sighed “Awwww…” in unison. It was as if, with this little gesture, he asked her to marry him.
“Thanks!” she told him, before looking at me sheepishly. “But I’m not here every day.”