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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:
      http://www.thecrimson.com/article/201...
      http://russellhouse.wordpress.com/

      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.)

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                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.

            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

            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:
              http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/

              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.

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                -----
                Coppa
                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.

                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                  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.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      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.

                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                        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.

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                            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.

                                  -----
                                  Tresca
                                  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.

                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                  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."

                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                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.

                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                      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.

                                      3. I really loved the anti-benedict. Given that it looks like those crispy poached eggs are on the normal menu, I see myself going back for dinner soon :) Only problem is that there were multiple things that I wanted on the brunch menu but now I'll be hard pressed to not order the benedict again :)

                                        Only half-bummer was the 'quickening' drink - saw it on thrillist: a collins glass w/ meletti, green chartreuse & rogue dead guy, followed by a shot of fernet & a plate of bacon. The good news was that the first phase was really pretty tasty, the bummer part was that they had no idea what I was talking about with phases 2 & 3. To be fair, I didn't really *need* it, but it sounded amusing enough when I read about it that I wanted to give it a whirl just to say I did it :)

                                        Had their harvard yard drink (i think it was), didn't notice at first but it's a nice spin on the fort point - not surprising considering the bloodlines involved at the bar

                                        1. went back for brunch today and was pretty disappointed. It took about 20 minutes for our server to even show up, she took some drink orders and then disappeared again. Several minutes later as she was walking by someone at my table just said loudly, "We're ready to order now" to get her attention, "oh, will be right there." Another wait of several minutes, still no drinks. Orders placed .... but they're out of all sorts of stuff (it wasn't as if we were there particularly late either, so they just weren't properly stocked in the first place). Food was slow in coming out, even the plating looked more bleh than usual. The anti-benedict wasn't nearly as good as the last time I had it. A lot of mixed reviews in general on the food, I felt kind of bad for pushing the group to go here. Server was fairly inattentive.

                                          Honestly, it's a good thing that I've enjoyed my previous visits to RHT because I'd probably not return if htat was my first experience. As it is, I now have several friends who think me daft for talking the place up.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: jgg13

                                            I went there early on and the service was similar, this would be around 5:30pm,. Sorry to hear that hasn't changed, I'd like it to be a great place to go to in Harvard Square..

                                            1. re: steinpilz

                                              While I can't comment on the brunch, I work in the Square and I'm pretty agnostic on the place. Especially the bartending.

                                              Aaron and Corey get all the press, but I find both to be inconsistent and not so personable.

                                              There are two other bartenders who make great drinks, Ginney (sp?) and John, and both are great personalities as well.

                                              The rest of the crew provide great service and seem quite nice, but lack some basic skills for a place that aspires to (considering the press given to the two "super stars") craft cocktails. The most egregious example would be the shaking of a martini. The four mentioned above all stir, while the rest of the crew seems to shake--even when working immediately next to Aaron behind the bar at that moment (who I understand to be the bar manager--please correct me if I'm wrong--and if I'm not he should correct such behavior when it occurs right next to him....).

                                              1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                                                not a fan of the ice chips left in the drinks

                                                1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                                                  I have found the food to be excellent, the service to be just OK and the bartending to be the weak point at RHT.

                                                  1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                                                    Agree that consistency across the bar staff remains a problem. Long-term, there has to be a training/development culture, not just a few stars. Big names move on; a program keeps a place strong when they do.

                                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                              2. We had a pretty mediocre brunch there on Sunday. We tried the burger, crab cake sandwich, and grilled chees/bacon/tomato sandwich. I had a virgin mary from the bar - too much sangria on Saturday night...

                                                The highlight of the meal was the drink. It was spicy and yummy and I didn't miss the alcohol.

                                                The best of the food was the crab cake. The patty was tasty, and the brioche bun was nicely toasted. Not the best crab cake ever, but not bad. Fries were OK. Not the frozen variety, and nicly crispy. But it made me think - properly done fries that are crispy outside and tender inside are very different from fries that are just crispy because they're well-done. These were the latter.

                                                The burger was just OK. I ordered it medium rare and it came out pretty much just mediium. I'm an English muffin fan so liked that choice for bread, and the "magic onions" (caramelized thinly sliced onions) were very tasty. But the burger itself was just OK - not very juicy, and too much (IMO) black pepper. Had a better burger at the Met burger bar in Natick Mall last weekend. Oh well.

                                                The lowlight was the grilled cheese. The bread was really too dark, bordering on burned. And it was dry. On any given day we could have made a better grilled cheese at home. Saying this was nothing special is too kind - it was almost inedible and if my husband hadn't been really hungry he would have sent it back. But service was so slow he didn't dare do that for fear that we'd be there an extra hour.

                                                I'd consider stopping back in for cocktails, but will wait until they have their act together to try the food again.

                                                1. I rarely ever comment or rave about brunch items (exceptions include the Millionaire's bacon at Scup's and a lobster eggs benedict that was done very well once at Union in the South End as a special), but I had the E.B.L.T. on Croissant at Russell House Tavern recently and it was pretty freakin' delicious. "Better than any breakfast sandwich I've ever had" were the words I uttered after the first bite. It was basically the croissant version of the sandwich Thomas Keller made for Adam Sandler's character in the movie Spanglish. Technically, it was made very well, with crispy but not too crispy bacon, completely melted and non-oily Vermont cheddar, a garlicky mayonaise that really comes through and elevates the entire flavor, thinly sliced tomato, a single judiciously layered piece of romaine, a warm, flaky croissant, and most importantly an egg-over-easy with a super runny yolk and a completely cooked but non-burnt, glistening white. Comes with hash browns for 9 bucks. My only minor gripe was that I wish they had left the rib of the lettuce out or used greenleaf instead because it made the sandwich architecture suffer a bit with things sliding around from the slope that the rib created. In the end, however, the taste was so good that I didn't mind re-assembling the errant layers of this gooey, crispy, crunchy, buttery masterpiece of a breakfast sandwich. I shall be back for this...

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Mike5966

                                                    oh god keep talking dirty

                                                    would this sandwich do well if ordered "to-go"?

                                                    1. re: Prav

                                                      9 bucks, my friend. I hope you hit it soon.

                                                      1. re: Prav

                                                        The egg, cheese, and bacon are so hot that the lettuce would probably wilt pretty quickly, and the croissant might get smushed from wrapping. It is super fluffy at baseline. One of my favorite things about BLTs (and now EBLTs) is having the cold parts cold and the hot parts hot, and if this is important to you, too, you might miss out on a lot of deliciousness by getting it to go. That said, I'd rather drive a slightly used Ferrari than a brand new Corolla. You could ask them to keep the cold parts separate, but their bar is handsome and a great background for eating this thing in its full glory.

                                                        1. re: Mike5966

                                                          i LOVE it when someone writes really well. thank you.