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Darwin's: Is it just another High (Price) Rise?

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  • Eat Well Dec 29, 2005 03:11 PM

What is it with this town?

The only way to get a good sandwich is to pay over $7 and to be treated like junk.

The service at Darwin's is so so poor. They are so rude. It feels like you're paying them to slap you around while you’re sheepishly waiting for a sandwich.

Just like High Rise, I'm starting to wonder if I'm the sucker. Why do I keep going back?

Maybe because I've lived in so many other cities where a fresh, high quality, full vegi ingredients with great bread is the norm and not the fancy Cambridge expectation?

Please do tell me?

1. Is it me? Am I expecting too much?
2. Do you think the management really knows and if so, do they really care?
3. Should I return?

Why do establishments like these thrive so well when so many of us are unpleasantly surprised?

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  1. I drive from Huron Village...past Hi-Rise and Darwin's...to the South End for sandwiches at Flour. The lunch crowd can be hectic and there can be a wait, but the staff are always a delight and the sandwiches are top notch. The herbed tuna rocks.
    Nearer to the 'hood, I like some of the sandwiches at Deluxe Town Diner, also Formaggio has some decent offerings.

    1. I'll answer your question with another question: Why are there so few good soup/salad/sandwich places in the Boston area?

      I agree--it seems like the handful of places with good sandwiches are overpriced and a bit too precious for my liking. Other than Strip Ts in Watertown (which was closed for the week when we went last night--darn), I can't think of anyplace to go for a great sandwich at a decent price with good service.

      I was going to go to Hi-Rise last night until I read how a number of people have been turned off by the service and high prices.

      Oh well, I'll just have to wait for the owners of Strip Ts to come back from their vacation I guess...

      8 Replies
      1. re: hiddenboston

        Thinking of watertown...I haven't tried Know Fat on Arsenal Street - intrigued by the idea.

        1. re: MB

          I'd have to warn you against Know Fat... my co-workers used to like it for somewhat-healthy fast food, but lately it's got this odd bodybuilder vibe to it. The food's not very impressive, and not very low in fat, either! I'll suggest Uncommon Grounds or Matilda's for sandwiches instead.

          1. re: Raedia

            It has gone a bit downhill since the newer owners took over a year or more ago. Everything tastes sort of gummy these days. And while most of it's menuis certainly lower in saturated fat and calories, they do this at the expense of taste. I'll still grab a chicken meatball, brown rice and vegetable wrap with air fries on occasion, but it's not as good as it used to be.

            And it's always been a gym rat place - half the store is a nutrition store with a focus on protein additives.

        2. re: hiddenboston

          Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis Square has it all -- low priced, high quality sandwiches. And to top it all off, they are served with a smile!

          1. re: a l i c e

            While I thought that the sandwhich I had a Dave's Fresh Pasta was actually very good, I thought it was a bit pricey in the way people are complaining about in this thread, and I wasn't particularly happy with the service. They were very attentive to a group of cute young college students, and completely ignorned me to the point where I had to be a little agressive about getting them to take my order. I also never saw a smile. I think my experience at Dave's Fresh Pasta was exactly what the posters are complaining about. I haven't been to Hi-Rise (tried to go once, but it turns out that they don't serve sandwiches in the late afternoon- and I was trying to go before a night class at Cambridge adult ed). I haven't been to Darwin's.

            I've pretty much given up the idea of getting a reasonably priced, good sandwich in Boston/Cambridge, and more often make my own.

            1. re: TalismanGirl

              wow, i am really surprised about that. i go in there a lot, and i always get not only friendly service, but fast and knowledgable. i would give them another chance, their sandwiches are very good and reasonably priced.

              1. re: roxgirl

                Please, how do you define "reasonably priced?" It would be good for the broad to know various price points.

                The board usually lists sandwichs around $6 to $8.

                1. re: Eat Well

                  well, i think that around $7 for a sandwich that i get two meals out of is a good deal, and i'm not a particularly light eater either!

        3. head up mass ave to pemberton farms in north cambridge. great samdwiches, and unless you're getting something VERY fancy, the prices generally top out at around $6. be sure to check out the premade sandwiches in the case -- never seen one over $5.

          plus, there are a few tables in the greenhouse, so you can eat in what feels like a small botonical garden!

          1. You're right, most places with good sandwiches are pricey, although I find Hi-Rise worth it every so often -- I haven't encountered the attitude others have, and I think the food is worth the money. I have noticed that service at Darwin's is either weirdly slow or oddly dismissive. I think their sandwiches are good, but not really worth a special trip. Flour is friendly and excellent (though also pretty pricey) -- in addition to what MB noted below, I LOVE their grilled BLT, as well as their chicken sandwich (the one with jicama and avocado). Also, Mariposa Bakery between Central Square and MIT makes excellent sandwiches on their own bread, and they are super-sweet people, but again, prices are high (mostly 6-7 bucks for sandwiches). Domenic's in Waltham -- awesome sandwiches on awesome bread, still not cheap, service nice but rushed at lunchtime.

            But there are some exceptions to the high-price rule: tortas at Tacos Lupita (bunch of locations), or at Taqueria El Mariachi in Waltham -- usually 3-4 dollars I think. And banh mi generally go for around 2 dollars apiece and are excellent at both Mei Sum bakery in Chinatown and at Ba Le bakery on Dot. Ave. (there are other very good banh mi places around Fields Corner, I can't remember the names offhand).

            1. I'm pretty sure the sandwiches at Virginia's Fine Foods in Brookline Village top out at under $6., and they use bread from Clear Flour, with great veggie indredients, spreads, and fixin's...

              Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com

              1. All good sandwich places seem to be outrageously priced these days. I like the Oxford Spa on Oxford Street (a couple of blocks off Mass Ave). The sandwiches are better than Darwin's or Hi-Rise (though just as expensive), but the people are nice. They also have good quiche, chili, etc.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Norman

                  Good call. I haven't been to Darwin's, but I recommend Oxford Spa over both Hi Rises (Harvard Square and Huron). Hi Rise *should* be good. It has all the makings of a wonderful Cambridge institution. I don't understand how the owners could set up this great place but have it churn out mediocrity, especially with FK two blocks away.

                  Oxford Spa deserves many kudos. Small neighborhood place serving food much better than it has to be (hell, I know people who think Montrose Spa serves good sandwiches--gives me the urge to scream).

                  But let's face it. If you really want the best sandwich, Formaggio Kitchen has the ingredients for you. Their plastic-wrapped sandwiches, however, look like the least remarkable things in their divine store.

                2. i have been to both darwin's and hi rise (in harvard sq.), but have only had lunch at each place one time. i thought the sandwiches at both places were excellent. i didn't encounter rude service, but i'm pretty sure the woman making my sandwich at darwin's was high on something, b/c she was incredibly spacy. and darwin's does have that cooler-than-thou atmosphere a bit, but that seems par for the course for the sort of place it is.

                  this is the first i've heard of service issues at hi-rise, but i've heard of problems at darwin's before. i hope i don't encounter it myself, because i do like both institutions--the bread at hi-rise is excellent, and darwin's is the ONLY decent cafe i've found in all of boston.

                  i also agree that the prices--particularly at hi-rise--are very, very high. however, do keep in mind the neighborhood, both in terms of who the clientele is (many who live in the area are not likely to notice that their sandwich is $2 more than what many would consider reasonable), and in terms of what the rent for these locations very likely costs. but yeah, it hurts to pay those prices for a sandwich.

                  while i haven't had their sandwiches, city feed in jamaica plain (by the stony brook stop on the orange line) has sandwiches, and i believe they run $5-6. from everything else i've had there (including their cheese and coldcuts), i'd expect their sandwiches to be very good.

                  finally, this oxford spa place--whereabouts on oxford st. is it?

                  1. Funny that people should gripe so much about Darwins. I find the service average, but I really like their sandwiches (their salmon one is amazing, and there's lots of salmon on it... though I'm pretty sure it's farmed fish), ditto the egg salad, and also something with hummus and sprouts and various other things that is delish.
                    As regarding the price: I'm no longer surprised by $6 - $7 for a good sandwich that takes a bit of time to make, and has good quality ingredients. Sure, you can get a sandwich for four bucks that wilts on your tongue and is put together with all the patience and creativity of a robot. But chowhounds aren't about Subway and the like, are they?

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Radiothomas

                      I think some of the hounds might be comparing it to the $2.50 banh mi in Chinatown rather than Subway.

                      1. re: limster

                        I'd also add the ~$4.25 falafel sandwich at the Falafel King on Winter St. near Downtown Crossing.

                        Also, when you can get them, the Italian sub at La Ronga Bakery in Somerville...

                        Al's State Street Cafe, downtown...

                        But these are subs and wraps...for some reason the price goes up when you merely use two slices of bread!

                        1. re: Bob Dobalina

                          Ah! I haven't had an Italian sub from La Ronga in ages (they open early so it's the perfect stop on the way to the beach in the summer). I think that giant sub comes in under $5?

                          1. re: MB fka MB

                            Mmmmm -- La Ronga! I walked by yesterday around 4 p.m. and the bread was just coming out of the oven. I guess they make it all day. There were lots of patrons walking in and out with bags of rolls and big old subs. I'm glad they are doing good business. I was very tempted but I walked on.

                            1. re: yumyum

                              Their pizza ain't half bad either, if it's just come out of the oven.

                              1. re: MB fka MB

                                Huh? Come again? They have pizza? In what style? I am imagining RI-style bread-y pizza squares of my youth.

                                1. re: a l i c e

                                  I think they do both bakery-style (thick, pan slices) and regular. But be forewarned, it's been at least 1-2 years since I've been in there.

                    2. i agree, $6-7 is about average for a decent sandwich these days. i didn't find darwin's to be over priced, the sandwich i had was really quite nice. part of the fun of chowhounding, though, is seeking out the really hidden deals and the killer combo of surprisingly good with surprisingly cheap.

                      on the other hand, i seem to recall the sandwiches at hi-rise to hover more around $9, which i do think is pricey. i can't recall, but aren't the prices at that new place, all-star sandwich, also around $8-9?

                      1. I agree about Oxford Spa, which does a good job across the board. Also, try Mariposa Bakery in Central Square and True Grounds in Ball Square. And when it's on (that is, when it's smothered with lots of homemade pesto), the Little Piston sandwich at Diesel Cafe in Davis Square is wonderful.

                        1. I like Darwins - their variety of sandwhiches are decent and the food has the potential to impress. I am especially pleased with their breakfasts.

                          A tip for those who are interested - we got in the habit of ordering our food on the phone and picking it up so we didn't have to watch the smug brat behind the counter make our food.

                          But to rant, you are right, the staff sucks - but Darwins gets what they pay far (as do the majority of counter service institutions) buy hiring people that know nothing about food and paying them meager wage like $9/hr or something. This place has amazing potential if they make it a pleasant experience from the second you walk in until you're down the street. My boyfriend is a latte addict and would go to the one on our street 5 times a week. They never knew who he was or remembered him from one day to the next. What is wrong with these people? I worked at a high end cafe attached to a luxury gym in NYC and knew people's orders after the 3rd time I saw them - and they had 6+ ingredients in them. This is how you make tips and walk away with decent $. Why don't these establishments think about hiring high energy friendly people to make their borderline food out of this world.

                          1. I actually stopped frequenting Darwins on Mt. Auburn about a year ago due to the service and the overall stress of waiting in the awkward, cramped space.

                            I tried the Cambridge St location over the summer and have been incredibly happy with the service and the space at their newer location. Who knows how long that will last but for what it's worth, I've been enjoying sandwiches from Darwin's on Cambridge for the past few months.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: vanna f.k.a. babette

                              Can any of their sandwiches be grilled or served hot? Ex - the ham and cheese variations?

                            2. Great thread! A sandwich is one of my favorite meals but I mostly bring my own to work and eat at my desk! That said, I noticed a couple of posts for Flour in the S. End. If you're heading that way, check our Garden of Eden on Tremont Street for awesome sandwiches and reasonable prices.

                              1. Darwin's is over-rated. Try the hidden gem of a sandwich shop on Oxford St between Harvard and Porter called the Oxford Spa if you are willing to play $6 (small) or $8 for the BEST SANDWICHES EVER. 2 examples-- blue moo: roast beef, roasted onions, balsamic, bleu cheese and watercress of fresh iggy's french roll! or desire: turkey, tomato, spicy cajun mayo, roasted peppers and onions on the same iggy's bread are my favorite... Several veggie options too and very friendly people as opposed to the stuck-up angry hipsters at Darwin's.

                                1. I guess we all have different breaking points. Hi-Rise is off my list because I just can't pay $8 for a great sandwich and lousy service. I will, however, occasionaly pay $6.25 for my favorite vegetarian sandwich (the Hubbard Park) at Darwin's because a) I love it; b) Darwin's is 1 minute from my office; c) Darwin's also sells Lakota cookies for dessert.

                                  Every time I go, of course, I kick myself because of the surly and/or dismissive service. They pride themselves on it. The owner was in one day and asked me whether Darwin's deserved its bad reputation for service. I said yes. He went on at length about the cramped conditions, difficulty of moving on the line, etc. Which doesn't explain why you can be the only one at the counter and the three staffers continue their conversation about music without glancing your way.

                                  Last year I did move a monthly office meeting sandwich order from Darwin's (office mate's pick, but I insisted because I had to pick up and Darwin's was rude and messed up every order) to Dave's Fresh Pasta -- they deliver to Harvard Sq. for free, the sandwiches are a bit cheaper than Darwin's and very good, and they're so nice over the phone and delivering the order.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Dizzied

                                    I can't say enough great things about the service from Cafe Kiraz for lunch delivered in to the office. Lots of veggie and vegan options and as a big time carnivore, some of their veggie sandwiches are my favorite.

                                    1. re: Dizzied

                                      You say it so well.

                                      Some people like the bad service on the side. I don't. Just a pickle thank you.

                                    2. I went to hi-rise once and that was all it took for me not to go back. Their bread selection was mediocre and the sandwiches were a ridiculous amount of $ (IMO). They even got a little b*tchy at me when I said "this is all you have for bread?"

                                      Daves pasta is great for just that - pasta. They make great ravioli at reasonable prices. Their sandwiches I thought were very salty - I miss the Mr. Crepe that they took over. ON another note - I tried for the first time a sandwich from Russo's ( i do my produce and cheese shopping there weekly) and it was GREAT. For $5.00 I got a great Caprese sandwich w/ roasted peppers on fresh braided bread. The thing was huge. My husband got the large italian - I think next time he will get the small.. the large could feed 2 people. He said it was very tasty adn fresh.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Redhohoho

                                        Mr. Crepe is coming back, in the old Someday Cafe location near the Somerville Theatre.

                                      2. Cafe Kiraz is a great value. Tons of options and they are HUGE. You can absolutely get two meals out of a $6-$7 there. I always find service to be good whenever I pick up or get delivery. Their salads are terrific too.

                                        1. I agree the service is lacking, and it is pricy. Do not go there during lunch time it is a cluster f***. There is almost always no place to sit as well. I like Cardullos for gourmet sandwiches, or Z Square, which has a great Chacarero.

                                          1. I had a feta and veggie salad at Darwin's that had been around too long. It went right through. Also on the same day I bought to take home (so didn't notice until it was too late) a pastry that was dry and bland.

                                            I agree with the consensus opinions in this chain.