I eat cereal most days for breakfast. Cheerios, in fact, because they’re good and they’re duh, heart healthy. It was no different today. But this morning, I got in a 5-mile walk that left me spent and ravenous. By 9 a.m. those Cheerios were but a distant memory. Enter: cute cafe on Charles St. where I asked the guy behind the counter what was satisfying.
“Lemon poppyseed muffin?” he offered.
“I don’t want to be good,” I said. “I’ll have the sticky bun.”
He proceeded to grab said sticky bun with some wax paper while trying to wrangle it into a plastic container.
“Just a bag,” I said. You can’t walk and eat out of a plastic container—and the thought of needing a container for the 45 seconds it would take me to wolf down the bun seemed ridiculous.
“You sure?” he said. “This thing is very sticky. I recommend using a fork and saving time to wash up if you have a meeting or something.”
I left with the bun in a bag, now craving the sugary delight in a crack kind of way. Somehow though, in his gushing about the stickiness, he neglected to mention that the sticky buns had been sitting there for two days and were sticky only in the way a brick with a dab or mortar is, which is to say, not much. If I hadn’t already walked so far, I would have gone back, plunked down the sticky brick, and demanded my $3 back, glaring at the lemon poppyseed muffins, which were probably hard as golf balls.
I was at Panera last night working on a project near two college girls who were poring over textbooks and struggling to write a paper. While that little flashback was enough to remind me that college demanded such awful things as 20-page papers on the philosophy of toothpicks, the real highlight was watching a high school boy try to flirt with the girls. His genius: offering up cookies. I thought it was brilliant. But their nonversation was awkward and the girls’ curt answers to his questions made it clear they weren’t having it. Still, I admired for hitting on mature girls. Or at least, older girls; they snickered as he left the cafe. Not cool. I noticed they had no problem scarfing down the chocolate chips.
“That wasn’t the same boy that gave us cookies last time, was it?” one asked.
What, now? Another boy had tried this move?
I’ve got news for you girls. You might not want to be so dismissive of boys offering cookies. When you’re twenty, the cookies seem to flow like a champagne fountain at an AIG function. When you’re older, not so much.
If I didn’t have a boyfriend who keeps me plied with sweets, I might have followed the kid out of Panera batting my eyelashes in a shameless Mrs. Robinson kind of way.
Sometimes you just need to go sit in a cafe and lounge. After work, I found myself with one of those rare moments: a free night where laundry was the only thing on my agenda. I stopped by a cafe in Harvard Square to warm up with hot chocolate, work out a crossword puzzle, and eavesdrop on the cute couple sitting across from me at the communal table who were getting some work done before hightailing it home to catch Lost.
I love that our culture is evolving into a cafe society, encouraged by both the big guys (Starbucks) and the independents. As a nation, we’re conditioned to be hard-working, connected people—the majority of patrons were parked in front of their laptops—but perhaps this little movement is our way of slowing down. A way to take time to read a book or catch up with a friend or indulge in the gentle art of doing nothing. And I am so good at that.
On a stroll through my neighborhood recently, I stopped before a vacant storefront, drooling like it was a window display featuring Manolo Blahniks half off (sorry, cheap Sex and the City reference). The art deco building, straight out of the 50s, was most recently a liquor store. Today though, a sign in the window with a cool font (always a good omen), announced that a bakery and café called Sofra would be opening this summer. With Starbucks’ scant tables packed at all hours and Panera the go-to place if you want to camp out for four hour stretches, I was unnaturally excited that the hood was getting a new café.
A little online research turned up the fact that it’s a Middle Eastern bakery coming to town right around the corner from my house. I turn up every day hoping to thank the owner for picking this spot, but only contractors mill around inside transforming a dusty interior to what I hope will be a trendy but hidden spot. It’s like they’re opening a place just for me to satiate my sugar and lounging desires. Until, that is, everyone else discovers it, and then every Sunday there’s a line out the door for lamejuns. Great, now I’m preemptively annoyed.
**Update** Sofra opened today (8/19) and already there were people milling about outside this morning. It’s kind of killing me that I’m at work while there are earthquake cookies to be devoured and palace bread with rose and pistachio waiting to be sampled. The menu sounds lovely and aromatic and the descriptions reminiscent of an Anthropologie catalog. I’m only sorry it’s too close to my house to resist. But then, why resist?
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.”