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May 2, 2010 07:13 AM

Unbelieveable Brunch at Russell House Tavern

Three of us hit up Russell House Tavern for brunch yesterday and it was so good. My friend and I split the the EBLT and the crab cake sandwich while the third person ordered the anti-eggs benedict. Everything was SO good.

EBLT - this sandwich takes the breakfast classic bacon, egg, and cheese and combines it with the lunch classic BLT for a sandwich that transcends both experiences. The egg was perfectly cooked and still runny, which combined with the juices of the tomato and the mayo for a perfect sauce for the bacon, lettuce, and melted cheddar. It was served on an amazing croissant that was big enough to support all the ingredients but still tender and flaky. I am having trouble describing how something so seemingly simple could be so good but I will dream about this sandwich every morning. Yum!

Crab cake - When told by the waitress that this sandwich was served on ciabatta I was nervous that it would hard to eat but we ordered it anyway b/c we love crab cakes. This was another great sandwich. The ciabatta was actually soft so the sandwich was easy to eat and the flavor of the crab cake and the spicy aioli that was on it was able to come through. Another home run. It's also worth mentioning that the waitress informed us we could have hash browns instead of french fries with our sandwiches and we are very glad we made that switch. These were traditional hash browns like you might get in the south - shredded potatoes cooked up with seasonings - I couldn't place my finger on what the flavor was but they were addictively delicious.

The anti-crab benedict was the most un-traditional item of all - fried poached eggs served over spinach and a sausage patty with a hollindaise sauce. The flavors all worked and the crispiness of the egg was like nothing we had ever tried before. I didn't get to enjoy as much of this as I would have liked, but there was nothing left after my friend was done with it!

All in, the portions were big, the food delicious, and the prices really reasonable. This might best brunch we've ever had. We also liked that there was the upstairs that seemed more casual - and open windows to the street to enjoy the nice weather, but also the downstairs area where you could do something a little nicer if you wanted to do a special occasion brunch. We're excited to go back and try some of the other things that were tempting our palates (including a smoked brisket egg scramble!?!?!)

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  1. I'm going there tmrrw night as Yelp's photographer, they are hosting the event there. Looking forward to it! Drinks in one hand, camera in the other! Yes!

    1. For anyone else who's wondering, it's in Harvard Square:

      The article says it's from the same group that runs Grafton Street, Redline, and Temple Bar. I'd be curious to hear how it's different from those places.

      Grafton Street Pub and Grill
      1230 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

      7 Replies
      1. re: Pia

        Some people are calling it the "ESK" of Cambridge already.... We'll see we'll see.

        1. re: Pia

          I've been skeptical as I *really* dislike the three spots that you mentioned (I knew RHT was related to Temple Bar, but didn't realize the other two) - very generic, mediocre pseudo-upscale type of spaces IMO. I've been hearing good things about RHT though, so who knows.

          1. re: jgg13

            I am with you on the franchise, but Temple Bar has been kicking it out of the park lately, and I am a Scelfo fangrrrl. I went into RHT to check out the menu, but didn't have an opportunity to eat. Glad to hear the food is good, at least for brunch.

            1. re: yumyum

              I'll admit to not having been to Temple for a while now (ack, probably ~5 years), having been avoiding it for a while now. I just associate it with 20-something yuppies drinking faux-tinis and eating meh fondue, which is probably an unfair association to be making.

              1. re: jgg13

                I used to share your lack of Temple Bar love, and it still isn't what I would call a bargain, but the food is much better and more consistent since Scelfo took the reins last year. It's still not everything it could be on the cocktail front, I'm afraid.

                Grafton Street and Redline remain places I couldn't be bothered with for food. (If they actually serve food at Irish Village, I never noticed it.)


                1. re: jgg13

                  It used to be EXACTLY as you described. Scelfo joined, and the menu got way better. WAY. I'm not a cocktail weanie, so I don't know from their bartending, but the white wine is always cold.

                  1. re: yumyum

                    MC & yumyum ... good to know. Guess that's one reason to not permanently ban a place as things can change for the positive, just as places can go downhill. Of course, given that RHT sounds like the better option, and it's closer to me, I'll probably end up there first :)

          2. I had a really pleasant dinner at the RHT recently. The food is a step up from the others in the chain (though I do like Temple Bar's food under Scelfo, who's also helming the kitchen here). Bar manager is ex-Drink and doing serious craft cocktails, though his entire staff has a learning curve to get up to execute consistently. Gastro-pubby food, very good, and good prices. It's big and busy and loud, with a lot of TV screens all over (odd), and I'm not sure it's ever much fun to be in the company of big parties of drunken B-School students, but I think it's very promising.


            7 Replies
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              It's become the after-work industry spot for Harvard Square (well, that and Charlie's Kitchen).

              I've only tried their veggie pizza and I was rather impressed. And Aaron Butler has come up with a bunch of good drinks at decent prices. His bar program also includes housemade spiced rum (tastes far superior to what is on the market), cask-conditioned ales, and he wants to include more house-made items like bitters. I've written up the 3 drinks I had there last week:

              1. re: yarm

                I was certain Butler was tilting at the industry crowd with $4 Fernet-Branca on the menu: that's the cheapest I've seen in town (Charlie's is $4.25, I think, and Coppa $5; most places are at $7 or above).

                Of his originals, I tried the Harvard Yard cocktail: rye, Dubonnet Rouge, Benedictine, and pimiento dram: good, but a little on the sweet side.


                253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  that sounds like a tasty drink. we almost wnet to brunch there yesterday but avoided figuring it'd take them a few iterations to work the kinks out. Doh.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    I wouldn't call my evening completely free of missteps, but it's a very big place and it's very early on. In general, though, everyone seemed to be working very hard to please, and I really liked the food.


                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                    He told me that he went to Charlie's with his manager and priced it to undercut their competition. I think his goal is give establishments in San Francisco some competition...

                  3. re: yarm

                    enjoyed their Battle of Trafalgar drink... steak frites were forgettable (prefer Kingston Station's), salt pepper shrimp did not measure up to any version found in Chinatown

                    Kingston Station
                    25 Kingston St, Boston, MA 02111

                    1. re: yarm

                      enjoyed their cask Lagunitas barleywine (a rare find) at their downstairs bar, their burger was quite decent ($10)

                  4. Lots of interesting comments so far. To be upfront, I've only had drinks at Russell, so cannot comment on the quality of the food.

                    I will say that in my opinion, aiming to be the "ESK of Cambridge" is aiming too low. While I've always enjoyed the drinks at ESK (though even the bartenders can be of uneven quality, especially when they are breaking in the new folks), the food has consistently been a bit disappointing for the price point.

                    Though the crowd comparison probably hits in the same spot on the sometime-annoying scale. In Harvard Square, some places will get more of a HBS crowd and others less (like Charlie's). But ESK isn't safe from similar crowds.

                    In my limited experience--about ten visits spread out over the working week--half of the bartenders are quite skilled while half need some additional training if this place aspires to be generally solid in the craft cocktail arena. Regardless, it is still a big upgrade for Harvard Square in terms of cocktails.

                    The Fernet comments confuse me. I'm a regular at Charlie's and am becoming one at Russell, and I would bet a lot of money that the price of Fernet has nothing to do with Charlie's place as the premier Square industry bar. Undercutting their price by $0.25 or whatever re Fernet won't change the atmosphere or dynamics of relationships between all the local workers. In fact, it will take Russell a while to catch up to Tommy Doyle's in Harvard Square in the "industry love" category.

                    If you haven't read it yet, refer to Yarm's discussion of the drinks at Russell. The Scottish Play is especially worth a trip.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                      As I mentioned above, I agree that the bar staff isn't uniformly executing to Butler's skill level yet. I don't mind the ESK comparison: big, lively, loud, casual without sacrificing some polish in finishes and service, pitching for versatility on the menu without going lowbrow, serving craft-level cocktails -- there's clearly some overlap in approach there.

                      My point about Fernet is a simple one: pricing it cheaply is a gambit I believe is largely aimed at industry types, who from what I can see still account for most of the Fernet consumption in Boston. I'm not suggesting that cheap Fernet would by itself be enough to make any place an industry hangout.


                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        Industry workers? Do we mean cooks, waiters... or are you referring to people who work in the area? I'm confused.

                        1. re: baldbert

                          Sorry: "industry" as I was using it does indeed mean restaurant employees.


                        2. re: MC Slim JB

                          "... industry types ... account for most of the Fernet consumption in Boston."

                          Along with fiddlehead-obsessed foodies. ;) I do see more and more of the general populace on the Fernet train these days too. Overheard recently at the Good Life: "Dude, have you heard of this stuff Fernet? You gotta try it maaan!"

                          Good Life
                          28 Kingston, Boston, MA 02111

                          1. re: Nab

                            Even among my food-obsessed friends, Fernet is a tough sell. I know some Argentine and Italian ex-pats who love it genuinely, not for its industry secret-handshake quality, but even among my Italian-American friends there are few fans. If it weren't an incredibly effective digestif, I doubt I would have stuck with it long enough for its flavor to grow on me. We first turned to it 20 years ago when Sidney Frank started marketing Jagermeister, our then-preferred digestif, to frat boys, but we mostly threw it past our taste buds then. It took a few years before I came to love the taste.


                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Many locals even scrunched their noses when I'd order it in Argentina. I have a taste for the medicinal, but even still mostly have Fernet for therapeutic purposes only. I agree, it's a bit of an investment just to play the part.

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                Yeah, most of the people I regularly hang out with can't stand the stuff. They look at me like I have 3 heads if I order either fernet straight or anything fernet forward.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  I ordered it one night at Tresca and they literally dusted the bottle off, then poured me the end of the bottle ( about a triple shot) and said it was on the house with a disbelieving shaking of the head.

                                  233 Hanover St., Boston, MA 02113

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    I personally hate the stuff...I can't stop drinking it.

                                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                      I recently sat a barstool over from someone who had never heard of Fernet, let alone tasted it (so he said), and yet actually liked his first sip and immediately started considering its possibilities in cocktails. ("A very little goes a long way in most drinks", I opined.) That was shocking to me.


                                  2. re: Nab

                                    Is it just me, or is Fernet the new Jaegermeister?

                                    1. re: suzysue2

                                      As Jackson Cannon puts it, "Fernet is Jager for grownups."


                                2. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                                  Charlies just got Fernet in within the past few months. So the Industry was not going in for Fernet... probably a double cheese burger and a bud.

                                3. Went for dinner the other night and sat at a communal high top in the bar area. Overall a great addition to the neighborhood. The food was excellent. Service was a bit slow, but was sat in the bar so no complaints really. The bar was by far the weak point. For a place that was talking up their cocktail program, lots of work to do there.

                                  We started off with the crispy poached egg which was fantastic to the point that we were rubbing fingers on the plate for one last taste. The dirty ceasar was one of the best I've had. The pork trio was mostly delicious, however the loin was way over cooked. The belly and shoulder more than made up for it though. The grits were pretty good too. The burger was good (not great), but we did like the service on the english muffin. The burger itself could have used more seasoning. Frites were great.

                                  Next time we may go with more small plates, and the pizzas looked good as well. The charcuterie board that went by looked sparse at first, but when we saw it was $10 on the menu that made sense.

                                  Huge upgrade from Z Square, and lightyears better than Tory Row. Hard to believe this is by the same owners as the terrible Grafton St.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Gabatta

                                    I actually have to hold myself back from going to Russell House Tavern every day to order the crispy poached egg. I just love it. The ceasar is also a favorite, but I think it could do with a little less lemon and parsely, but otherwise solid. I also really like the steak tartar and am very happy that they offer both the salad and tartar in 2 different sizes.
                                    I haven't attacked the raw bar yet, but while sitting at the bar a number of times I have witnessed their care at presentation and will try some samplings on my next visit.
                                    As I am more of a beer and wine girl I can't comment on the cocktails, but the bar staff are always very helpful and friendly.
                                    I love having this place in Harvard Square!

                                    Russell House Tavern
                                    14 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                    1. re: Snowflake

                                      I love that egg dish, and the serrano ham with bruleed manchego. The pizza's really good, too.


                                      1. re: Snowflake

                                        I finally got a chance to check out RHT last night and I think it was love at first sight with the crispy poached egg. The pizzas were okay but I did really like the chacuterie plate. I also was impressed with their beer selection, especially the Pretty Things choices!

                                      2. re: Gabatta

                                        Gabatta - Sorry to hear your drinks were not well made. I was there last Sat and they made some good Friscos. Training in progress I suppose.