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Ball Square Breakfast

There are three possibilities for breakfast in Ball Square- SoundBites, Kelly's Diner and Ball Square Cafe. I finally managed to visit each one, and here are my findings:

Kelly's just didn't do it for me- the food was just not good enough, the wait was too long, the space was cramped, and I encountered some of the rudest ladies in Boston here (not the service- the customers).
SoundBites was alright, but it is such a frenzied atmosphere because there is always a long wait for a table. Also, I realize that there is some kind of back story between BSC and SoundBites, but the menu is almost identical! Unfortunately for SB, the food just isn't as good.
BSC is consistently good and friendly- and there is never a very long wait. They also let you choose between the "special" mashed potato side dish or home fries, which SB does not offer. Overall, BSC is just better. The food tastes fresher, the coffee is better and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.

Hooray for BSC!

I would love to hear other hounds' opinions!

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  1. I agree with you 100%.

    Yassir's "breakfast nazi" schtick used to amuse me, until I went to Ball Square Cafe and found everyone to be, you know, nice. Amazing how quickly I got tired of the schtick.

    Even setting aside wait times and general vibe, I think that in terms of food quality, SB and BSC leave Kelly's in the dust, and I also think BSC edges SB. And while this isn't the place to get into it, you're correct that the similar SB and BSC menus are anything but an accident.

    All of this being said, if I didn't live nearby, I wouldn't drive across town for any of the three. SB and BSC pass my could-I-easily-have-cooked-a-better-breakfast-at-home test due to their massive heaps of tasty fresh fruit (all the varieties would be a pain to prep at home), but beyond that, it's pretty standard issue egg 'n' griddle fare. Done well, to be sure, but still standard issue.

    1. I haven't seen Yassir giving anyone a hard time since moving into the new space (with triple the seating), though I never visit when there's a line. Are we sure the schtick's still active?

      Full Disclosure: I feel a sense of duty, so won't try BSC.

      13 Replies
      1. re: enhF94

        I have been in the new Sound Bites a couple of times, with a line, and also have noticed that Yassir has toned it down a lot. Just goes to show that it really was about the line, not some power-trip. He seemed downright happy when I was there a few weeks ago. The only times I've seen him really grouchy lately are when someone from the BSC/Vinny's complex comes over to harass him (real or imagined).

        Ball Square breakfast politics- serious business.

        1. re: bobot

          I've been to Sound Bites a half-dozen times (granted, during off-peak hours) for breakfast and never seen Yassir be anything but eccentric and friendly. He always asks me to come back for dinner, pats me on the back, etc. Last time I was there, he was giving all the diners little plates of fresh fruit for free.

          However, I've also seen him downright screaming at the guys from BSC outside the restaurant when they try to actively pull people away from Sound Bites.

        2. re: enhF94

          Oh, the schtick is alive. I've been a loyal Sound Bites patron since 2001 when I lived just around the corner. I hadn't ever had the "wrath" inflicted upon me until this past weekend when I took a friend there for breakfast. I'd been to breakfast in the new location a few times, and was not impressed- the service was lousy, and breakfast now seems to be an all-morning affair. I assumed that they were just getting the kinks out, having a new kitchen and some new staff.

          This weekend I queued up outside the new space with some others, the usual routine. Now, in the Good Ole Days, you would queue and a staff member would come out to see what size parties were waiting, and as soon as a table turned over they'd seat you. It worked out very well. Monday we queued normally, in line behind a couple of large parties 5, 10, 15 mins pass. Nobody comes out to even have a look-see. While we're waiting, we notice that a couple of groups of two go right in, and never come back out. Presumably they have been seated. Hmm. From where we're standing, we can see a couple of empty seats at the bar. We watch, and another 10 mins goes without them being filled. So methinks perhaps the system has changed at Sound Bites. Perhaps one has to put their name in or something, and everyone knows this but me. So I go in. A big sign says "Seat Yourself" but I wait for the hostess to come back, and when I ask about the seats at the bar she looks at me blankly and proceeds to seat another party of two- one who had waltzed in ahead of the line. When I point this out she seems indifferent. The two seats at the bar remain open. When she returns I ask again about them. At this point, Yassir steps up and starts yelling about how the hostess "that I pay 15 dollars an hour to seat people" will seat us when something opens up. I point to the bar seats. He shrugs arrogantly and continues to have a little mini tantrum about how there is a hostess and that she'll deal. So there are two problems here: a hostess who is either too stupid to let customers do her work for her, or to unhappy to care; and an owner who shoots himself in the foot because he's too proud now to do anything to facilitate the smooth operation of his own restaraunt.

          Sorry Sound Bites. Sorry, Yasser. Yasser, you've known me as a customer for 8 years now, even waving and saying hello when you pass me in your car on the street. I've brought friends, family, and people new to town to Sound Bites. We've had some good times... but enough is enough. I'm through with you. I no longer live in the neighborhood, and that was the last time that I go to Sound Bites. And the last time I try to bring anyone else there. Shame on you, seriously.

          1. re: Jardinia

            Ouch. I wish you would print this out and send it to him cuz it's never going to get better if he doesn't know. I haven't had the wrath either but if this happened to me I'd be really really pissed.

            1. re: yumyum

              Is it possible he doesn't know of his reputation?? Seems obvious he knows and doesn't care.

              Does Yasser need to improve his people skills which are notoriously bad, if patrons continually subject themselves to his wrath and continue to give him business regardless of the atmosphere he provides? It seems folks are willing to tolerate his rudeness for a plate of pancakes. No extra charge for the indigestion.

              1. re: tweetie

                Could be tweetie. Obviously it's a little breakfast nazi-ish and let's hope that the ranting is the exception instead of the rule. As I've said, I've never been subjected to this kind of thing but I usually go on weekdays.

                1. re: yumyum

                  Wow, that's a serious story. He's aware of the "breakfast nazi" name, because he's commented on it in the newspaper. He's more comfortable with it than I am.

            2. re: Jardinia

              That new hostess they hired really sucks, which doesn't help anything. I hope they go back to just letting the waiters (or Yassir) do it.

            3. re: enhF94

              enhF94 I am totally with you on the loyalty thing.

              I have been going to Soundbites for years and although Yassir can be gruff I have never had any truly rude/bad experiences with him. (side note: I don't know him other than a recognition that he knows I go in there fairly regularly and I get a nod and a "how are you doing") But I feel a duty to continue to go to his place and not BSC. Just my stance on the issue.

              And Kelly's does not stack up for me, although I will go in there from time to time when the Soundbites line is too much, but I can't seem to find anything that they do particularly well, just decent run of the mill breakfast food.

              1. re: ebone

                Kelly's was featured on a food network show for their homemade corned beef hash - has anyone had it? I love the version at Soundbites

                1. re: heathermb

                  Urp. The one time I had corned beef hash at Kelly's it was VILE. I don't know if what I got is their standard, but this stuff was like Alpo. Really really bad, and made me resolve to never darken Kelly's door again.

                  1. re: yumyum

                    Noted! I had a feeling, especially given the show on which it was featured, but just wanted to be sure I wasn't missing anything chow-worthy.

                    1. re: yumyum

                      Yeah, not good the one time I tried it. To quote Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack it was "low grade dog food."

              2. I've tried all three and my vote still goes to Soundbites.


                I wish Kelly's was better, but I've given up after a truly gruesome corned beef hash experience. I like the Victor's gang well enough, but my breakfast loyalty is to Yasser at Soundbites.

                1. Haven't been to Kelly's.
                  SB and BSC are both pretty much the same to me - I go wherever the line is shorter.
                  However, have to disagree with finlero - they are a bit higher level than I can cook at home - at least usually considering the condition I am in on weekend mornings. ;)

                  1. Yassir gives me bad vibes too, which is the last thing I need at brunch on a weekend. i go to True Grounds accross the street now & I enjoy their coffee, tea, breakfast burritos, & sandwiches. Friendly staff, cool music & art (changes often) & they give treats to dogs w/o any 'tude. Come to other side !!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: mr mangia

                      I belatedly discovered a Globe review today that provides details about the Ball Square Cafe & Breakfast place and Sound Bites rivalry that I did not know. For example, about Ball Square Cafe: "His co-owner is head cook Omar Djebbouri, who used to work at Sound Bites - another source of acrimony." The menus are also described as essentially the same, and the photo accompanying the article is of his version of the "Wonder Waffle," which happens to be my fav Sound Bites dish. Looks good to me. I would say that before this incident I felt loyalty to Yasser and the Sound Bites phenomenon, but next time I'm in the area I'm going to try his competitor. Same food, nicer atmosphere, sane staff= win.


                      1. re: Jardinia

                        I still prefer the True Grounds Coffee shop across from the 3 Ball Sq Breakfast Trinity. They can battle it out all they want like the Somerville version of the Hatfield & McCoys but I enjoy True Grounds. They just introduced a homemade spinach & cheese croissant that was heavenly (I had one this morning). They don't have as complete a menu as the other places but their baked goods are delish & the breakfast & lunch burritos & sandwiches are excellent. The terroire coffee is also great and it's got wifi too.

                      2. re: mr mangia

                        I can't agree more -- but oh man, the food at Soundbites is so good. The best waffles, the best eggs benedict, and home fries that they must've sold their souls for. If True Grounds had that kind of food, I'd be there in a hot second. Until then, I have to use them for good coffee and atmosphere... and SB for my actual breakfast.

                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                          I love SBs home fries the best and I do love the waffles too. It is a good problem to have with all of the breakfast places in our 'hood. If only a good falafel place would open in Davis, Ball, or Magoun. I know SB has middle eastern food but I want a proper Falafel/Kebab joint. I would gladly trade 2 or more burrito or bad chinese places for a mid eastern eatery. maybe some day....

                          1. re: mr mangia

                            Does Cafe Barada in North Cambridge count? It's not very far from Davis Square.

                            1. re: maryv

                              I guess it should count although sometimes I forget about places in that stretch of Mass Ave btw Porter & Rt 16. I do like their falafel & I used to go there when they were in Arlington too (where Olivios is now). I still prefer Fordees in Watertown but occasionally I will go to Barada. They have lots of other dishes their that I like too. Thanks for the reminder !!!

                      3. Numerous previous visits to Soundbites and my first BSC visit today. I have read about the history on CH, so not too surprised that the menu and service model is almost identical.

                        Nothing like as good as Soundbites for my money. Coffee was terrible. The mashed potato home fries thing looked the same as SB's but didn't taste anything like as good and was absolutely stone cold. Won't be going back in a hurry.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: chickendhansak

                          That is a terrible shame- I'm surprised about the potatoes being cold, I've never had that happen to me... Sorry about your experience, looks like Soundbites gets to keep you!

                        2. I haven't tried Kelly's or BSC, but Soundbites I did try recently for the first time, and I found it to be quite delicious. Also, I had heard horror stories on Yassir, but on my visit, he was very nice, friendly and joking w/ us. I had heard he'd calmed down a lot since moving into the new location. I heard all about the breakfast wars during my trip too, which was kind of amusing. When I was there, BSC had reported Soundbites' bar or something so Soundbites had to shut the bar down for a little bit. Makes me wonder...besides the burrito wars between Anna's & Boca Grande and then these breakfast wars between BSC & Soundbites, are there other "rivalries" that I don't know about?