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disappointing news

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  • lynn Jun 2, 2002 08:00 PM
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ran into a guy who works with george howell and henry patterson at a party in arlington. sorry to report that the cafe they planned to open this spring on mt auburn street in harvard square will be relocated to lexington. it seems they couldn't come to terms with harvard (what a surprise) who owns the space in holyoke center. don't have any of the details about the when the lexington space will be opening. will post them when i do.

i, for one, am quite disappointed since i am carless in somerville.

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  1. So, for those of us who don't keep up with the restaurant news in the Improper Bostonian, what place did these people own, or work at, before?

    11 Replies
    1. re: galleygirl

      sorry --

      george howell was the owner of the late, lamented coffee connection; he was forced out of business when starbucks hit town in 1995. the non-compete clause that was apparently a non-negotiable part of the buyout expired last year, and his planned cafe was much-anticipated by those of us who both miss the coffee conection terribly and resent how starbuck muscled their way into town. the planned cafe was discussed on this board a few months back.

      1. re: lynn

        Ah, Coffee Connection, where they used to brew French Press by the cup! Sigh.....I've never brewed it any other way since then...(well, except for camping!)

        Sorry, didn't recognize the names....I've been feeding my addiction at Peet's, hope that doesn't smack of heresy....(g)

        1. re: galleygirl

          not at all. as long as it's not starbucks. the only time i set foot in one is when i have to pee.

          1. re: galleygirl

            Always found the Coffee Connection to be too light of a roast for my taste so I like Peets darker roasts, plus (or is it less?)a 10% discount per pound if you have a WGBH card--- but I, too, feel that a French Press caffeine fix is the best way to go. Years ago, before the Coffee Connection and the subsequent Starbucks plague, I used to buy wonderful coffee out of San Francisco from a place named Freeds that had been in business since the early 1900's. Haven't been there, unfortunately, for many years and wonder if any hound knows if they still exist. If you're lucky enough to be out that way, take a walk down the street to Swan's Seafood -- dungeoness crab and extra sour sourdough washed down with Anchor Steam on draught at a counter that has supported elbows since the1920's--nice stuff.

          2. re: lynn

            Hopefully he'll sprout at least half as many cafes as there were Coffee Connections so that something in town will pop up. CC was the best.

            1. re: lynn

              Great! Allthough it would have been great to have CC back in Cambridge, I work in Lexington so I'm excited. Lets hope that they are successful and are able to expand to some of their former sites.

              1. re: chuck s

                Don't get too excited yet about the possibility of George Howells et al. opening up a new enterprise in Lexington Center. Last I heard, TPTB in Lexington, in their supreme wisdom, did not want to let them have the number of parking spaces they would need for their workers. I gather it is not a done deal. Alas.


              2. re: lynn

                I, too, was a frequent visitor to Coffee Connection pre-Starbucks, and really enjoyed it, but I do not see any need to bash Starbucks. One, I was under the impression that Starbucks purchased Coffee Connection and, therefore, the owner was probably paid fair market value, nobody forced him out or made him sell; In addition, my impression is that Starbucks did not "muscle" their way into this market, but because we live in a free market economy, they opened outlets in this market and because people enjoyed their products, they flourished, as they have in other areas. Nobody is forcing anyone to buy their coffee or drinks and no one is breaking the legs of small, independent coffee shops to sell out to Starbucks. Also, no one forced the owner of Coffee Connection to sign a non-compete...almost every sale of a business involves a non-compete and should to prevent the previous owner from re-opening across the street right after the sale, which, I might add, I have seen happen. I know its sometimes seems politically correct to bash what some believe to be big corporate America and to beat the drums for the small, independent operators who are being eaten up, but I don't believe that Starbucks used tactics similar to the Mafia, and by the way I, for one, LOVE their coffee and drinks (and I don't believe I am alone). I could be wrong, but should we be crying for the previous owner of Coffee Connection who sold out to Starbucks, didn't he make a very large sum of money???

                1. re: paul

                  by all accounts, it was an ugly deal, with george howell being told by starbucks "sell to us, or we WILL crush you." and btw, i do believe that the first ammendment still allows me to express an opinion about whatever and whomever i please.

                  1. re: lynn

                    I don't believe that I said you could not state your opinion and btw, I was just stating mine. FYI, I guess I didn't know that "by all accounts, it was an ugly deal...", I must have missed the riveting exposes on the local news and 60 minutes. Perhaps, George Howell could chime in and clear up the details of how he was "forced to sell" or be "crushed". Btw, I still love their coffee and drinks even if they are immoral, unethical, corporate pirates...which I really don't believe.

                  2. re: paul

                    When Starbucks was about to enter the Boston Market, Newsweek magazine did a feature on the upcoming coffee wars which were to happen. But before we knew it Starbucks bought out CC. They did make a promise to maintain the original Coffee Connections as they were and to maintain the CC roasts. However it did not take long for them to "bulldoze" the original CCs and turn them into Starbucks. Why not bash them. They have muscled independents all across the country and have done to coffee what Dunkin Dounuts has done to the dounut.

              3. Sorry to hear that it won't be in Harvard Square but wonderful news for Lexington, which really needs more options. I wonder where it will be located? There's a large space that is vacant on Mass. Ave. diagonally across the street from the Peet's.

                This may not help much, but if you are dying to make the pilgrimage the #62 bus out of Alewife Station goes to Lexington Center Mon-Sat.

                9 Replies
                1. re: chowcat

                  Speaking of Lexington, what, if anything, do you guys recommend in the area? I live in Arlingon Heights which is mere minutes from Lexington Center but unless I'm stopping at Via Lago you'll never find me eating in Lexington. Am I missing out on something?


                  1. re: Psmith

                    Not really.

                    1. re: chuck s

                      I was afraid that might be the answer but thought I'd try anyway...


                      1. re: Psmith

                        At the risk of being dismissed for hopelessly suburban taste, may I offer a few opinions based on actually having eaten in Lexington? It might help to keep an open mind before dismissing towns -- and restaurants -- one has not tried.

                        Khushboo is a new Indian restaurant right on Mass Ave in the center (above a bookstore) that is worth trying. One of the new flurry of upscale Indian places like Diva in Davis Square and Punjab in Arlington. Lots of regional specialties.

                        Gourmet Kitchen is a sandwich/deli place a short way from the center on Bedford St. that offers a swoony Turkey Terrific sandwich (slices of freshly roasted turkey carved on the spot, chunky cranberry sauce, wonderful hot stuffing, smushed on marbled rye (actually on your choice of bread but that's my choice). More of a cold weather treat.

                        The Chinese food is suburban but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the mu shi shrimp I had at Yangtze River a few weeks ago. On Depot Square, the little square off Mass Ave that is newly landscaped.
                        My partner says that Dabin (Korean/Japanese) is very good for lunch with excellent noodles (soba or udon) and good sushi. Located on Muzzey St. right of Mass Ave in the center.

                        In sum, none of these places are destination-eating, but if you find yourself in Lexington these are places worth checking out.

                        1. re: chowcat

                          Thanks for the info chowcat.

                          In our defense however I asked the question in the first place because I wasn't dismissing the place out of hand and chuck s. works in Lexington on a (mostly) daily basis. Which is only to say that our minds aren't necessarily all that closed.

                          I drive by Kushboo every day on the way to work .. is it worth checking out? And if so, what's good?


                          1. re: Psmith

                            I like Khushboo. The only problem with it is that they seem to have a problem with regulating the degree of spiciness of the dishes. The "heat" level you ask for bears no resemblance to what emerges from the kitchen. It seems quite random to me. So, if you are looking forward to tasting the lovely nuances of some dish, you might just not be able to on your next visit.


                          2. re: chowcat

                            (Okay, how are you guys quoting the previous posts here?)

                            More re the Lexington scene:

                            I have not read the whole thread yet, but mention of Lemon Grass (Thai) seems to be missing. I find this restaurant to be quite variable. It can be quite good, with all the nice naunces that one expects from good Thai food, and it can, at other times, be quite unremarkable. Lately the Pahd Thai has been particularly flavorless, even more so when ordered for takeout.

                            Yangtze River (Chinese)--the weekend brunch buffet seems to have changed for the worse. Some of the nice dim sum items (which were few in number anyway) have disappeared. Now there are things like (suboptimal) chocolate cake. Not a change for the better in my opinion.

                            Dabin (Japanese/Korean)--not my favorite place. My daughter and I went there about a year ago and had a horrid meal at the BBQ table. (I was trying to avoid the drive to Billerica.) I will go there sometimes for lunch when I have a craving for bibimbap, but it is not my favorite version of this by far. Better to drive to Billerica or Cambridge.

                            Khushboo (mentioned elsewhere). Also in the Indian food category, Bollywood Cafe, near the Arlington line. I have not yet decided about this restaurant. I will say the naan is not as tasty as that at Khushboo. Last time I had the mint chicken done in the tandoor. It was a violent green color, which pretty much turned me off. And it was far below my expectations. I have a recipe that would produce vastly superior results. Still, more exploration needs to be done....

                            Mario's--very limited Italian with almost NO beverages, and nothing to my liking. Unfortunately, my daughter has decided she loves their pizza, so I end up there. I will say it is cheap, and it must have a following, because it has been there since I was in high school (at least).

                            Gourmet Farms Kitchen (or whatever it is called) farther up toward Bedford on Bedford St.--sort-of across from Walgreen's)--the salad bar is truly bland. I sometimes get it when I tell myself it must be better than I remember. They do have great sandwiches, the turkey terrific being my favorite. Even though the bread gets pretty soggy, this is my favorite version of this turkey sandwich (the one with the stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc.). Depending on the bread you get (and the size of the slices), half will probably be quite sufficient. BTW, if you are on an early schedule, you don't have to wait until lunch time for this. Also note that this is a takeout place only!

                            Probably more to say, but that's it for now.


                            1. re: ErstwhileEditor

                              What say you to Peking Garden on Waltham St.? I was in there just once, several years ago, and vaguely remember getting a good meal. Do you have more recent information?

                              1. re: C. Fox

                                (still have not figured out how to quote preceding message--help!)

                                C. Fox asked about Peking Garden, which is on Waltham St. in Lexington Center.... I don't know why, but I have always preferred Yangtze River. I really do need to go to Peking Garden and experiment with the menu a bit, so I can do an adequate comparison though. I will say their h&s soup sure is poor compared to Yangtze's....

                                Also, I forgot to mention Peking Garden's dim sum, which is my favorite thing about that restaurant. Of course, this pales in comparison to what one can get in Chinatown (and possibly elsewhere in suburbia now), but since I live in Lexington, it is pretty convenient to be able to get any edible dim sum at all (beyond the very few things which were offered at Yangtze--and which may now have disappeared). Here are some of my comments:

                                Daikon Gelatin (aka turnip cake etc.)--this has appeared on the menu within the last year!

                                Beef Tripe(ditto)--this is very plain with shredded scallion and ginger on top--nice if one is in the mood

                                Daikon Pie--this is variable--sometimes quite nice, and sometimes totally lackluster for no apparent reason. It lacks the wonderful flaky crust that the radish pies at Shanghai had--and, for all I know, still have.

                                Ribs with Black Bean Sauce--not great, and again variable in quality. An unusually large amount of bones shards to deal with.

                                Stir-Fried Rice Sticks with Meat and Vegetables--nice if you are in the mood for rice sticks, but they could have more meat--and, especially, veggies.

                                Sweet Soy Bean Milk--beautiful flavor. Note this is hot and starts out with undissolved sugar just sitting on the bottom.

                                Tofu Rolls--these are the bean curd skin wrapped around veggies, the most obvious being celery and mushrooms; I think I have also seen bits of baby corn.... Served with Worcestershire Sauce at least until recently, but maybe they overlooked that. I like these when I am in the mood.


                  2. Lexington works for me--am about 4 miles away. Do you believe I can look forward to more than just exceptionally good coffee? Am new here and wondering if the old locations served pastry or sandwiches?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Coyote

                      yes they did.

                    2. e

                      An update to my comment on the new George Howells (et al.) enterprise that may be located in Lexington: I note that the space where I think the restaurant is supposed to be still has a "for lease" sign on it. Maybe there will be some more news in this week's "Minuteman".