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New-ish to Cambridge and really tasty: Canteen

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Last night, I grabbed a quick bite at Canteen, a charming new little sandwich/salad shop between Harvard and Central squares. Everything was really tasty and made with care. The sandwiches were especially good: they had lots going on, but everything on them was there for a reason and the balance of flavors was spot on. The people who worked there were supremely nice. For both reasons, I want to go back, and I'm really rooting for this little place. Thanks, MC Slim JB, for the write-up in the Phoenix!

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  1. Saw that same capsule review in the Phoenix and it caught my attention. Glad to hear a second opinion backs up Slim's take on it

    1. It is great to see that space filled, and this neighborhood is in desperate need of more fast and fresh options. The concept looks good. The sandwiches and salads we have tried have been pretty good. The Crafty was great. The Green Goddess could do without the broccoli Haven't tried breakfast yet.

      One issue is that over a month past their 'soft opening' and this place is still putting stickers on the menu for items they don't have available yet (Bahn Mi). I also think they need to do away with the tint on the windows or add some kind of retro neon 'open' sign. The windows are so dark that you can't see in at all. I'm sure this has slowed their opening traffic to some extent.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Gabatta

        I would have made all of the same points that you made (including that stupid Bahn Mi), so I'll just leach off of your post :)

        1. re: Gabatta

          The owner told me, "We just haven't gotten the banh mi right yet, and don't want to charge $8.50 for something that's not as least as good as a $3 Chinatown version." Laudable, but they need to stop being timid about Asian flavors. Their Thai chicken salad would be barely identifiable as such if they didn't tell you that's what it was. I like the sandwiches a lot: the BLT with a fried egg, avocado, and cherry pepper mayo is terrific.


          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Went today for the Banh Mi and it wasnt on the menu. Got the Crafty which is turkey, avocado, bacon, carm onions and something else. Didn't blow me away, I'm afraid. Small portion, that and chips 10 something. My feeling is that if your sandwich prices are climbing over the 10 dollar mark give me a great sandwich or a great big sandwich. Pretty gloomy space too. Darwin's does a better job, is cheaper, and the atmosphere is less funeral home-ish.

            1. re: baldbert

              They've covered it (Bahn Mi) up with a piece of paper which is now peeling away from the rest of the menu. You must have beat me there today, as by the time I ordered my crafty that were out of turkey, and was it OK if they made it with chicken...

              Losing hope for this place. I'd like to make it here once when they're not out of (or not serving) multiple menu items.

              1. re: Gabatta

                I noticed that and the cashier (who seems nice enough) mumbles so I couldnt understand what the special was... Marinated meatballs, or something. Darwin's and AssBar do this better. Too bad...

                1. re: baldbert

                  Cardullos does some nice sandwiches as well.

                  1. re: Gabatta

                    I agree. Their sandwiches are huge too. I often have enough for 2 days or to split w/ someone.

              2. re: baldbert

                bert, i think you may have coined a very useful phrase there: Great or Great Big. Sounds like it could be used in so many ways.....Bravo!.

          2. I got the egg sandwich and subbed the ham for vegetables. I was charged $9 for it. They add a $4 charge for subbing the vegetables for the ham. The sandwich consisted of one egg, a slice of cheese and some vegetables on an english muffin. It did taste good but that is outrageous pricing. It makes it cost prohibitive for me.

            4 Replies
            1. re: David_A

              funny this was reviewed as cheap eats...

              1. re: David_A

                I haven't been to Canteen but based on these posts I can't believe they are charging $9 for sandwiches when Clover is charging $5 for similar-concept stuff and executing consistently well.

                  1. re: David_A

                    Clover Food Truck, two locations: on Carleton St in Cambridge, behind Kendall T entrance (Inbound side), and Dewey Square in the Financial District (kitty corner from South Station). Both locations open roughly 8 a.m. - 7 pm.. on weekdays only. May close earlier when food runs out. Twitter feeds @cloverfoodtruck (Kendall) or @cloverdwy (Dewey Square)

                    Clover Food Truck
                    Dewey Square (at the South Station T-stop exit), Boston, MA

              2. Link to Canteen

                983R Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                1. Just went there for the first time - I tried the Crafty (turkey, avocado, bacon, spicy mayo on Iggy's ciabatta roll) and I thought it was very good. A little steep at 8.50, but that's not too far out of line with the other fancy sandwich places in the area (Cardullo's, Hi-Rise, et al). I wouldn't make it a regular stop but I'll definitely go back. (That 4 dollar charge for the vegetable substitution mentioned above is totally ridiculous, though.)

                  I agree about the shaded windows, too - sort of a strange look. Although it didn't appear to be hurting business - they had a steady stream of lunch customers while I was there.

                  1. I agree, Canteen is a fantastic sandwich spot. I just had The Crafty and, as everyone here has been saying, it's great. Spectacular, even. Perhaps my favorite sandwich in the Boston area. I have also had the Cubano, which is very good.

                    There is a casual feel to the place, a low key neighborhood vibe. The sandwiches are priced mid-range, and they are stuffed with so many rich, flavorful ingredients and really quite large. bella_sarda compares Canteen to Clover, and laments that Canteen charges more: I like Clover and have been eating there just about every week for over two years (they have a food truck a block from my office), but there is a world of difference between the two. Canteen's sandwiches are larger, more filling, and have more pop to them, that overwhelming savory goodness. Many people I talk to find that Clover's pita sandwiches are more of a snack. Just about nobody could say the same of Canteen's hefty offerings, served on Iggy's ciabatta.

                    The tinted windows are appreciated when chowing down on the inside, but I fear they help to keep Canteen too hidden of a hidden gem; it's one of those places you could walk right by without realizing it's there.

                    One thing to note is that this is largely a 1 or 2 person enterprise, a clear labor of love, and their closing time can vary. The sign on the door says it closes at 8 most days, but they are liable to close a little earlier sometimes, so I advise you call ahead if you are cutting it at all close (they will sometimes keep it open if you call). I've had the place closed on me before, even though I arrived before 8 pm. While that kind of thing can be frustrating, it's far more important to have quality food with great ingredients, and I've always been thrilled with my meals at Canteen.

                    983R Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: gustatious

                      How do the prices compare to Darwin's or Hi-Rise? Do they also sell the crepes from the former Arrow Street Crepes? Do you really think Clover's sandwiches are snack-size? Which truck do you buy them from, they are quite big at the Harvard Square flagship.

                      1. re: hckybg

                        Canteen's prices are similar to Darwin's. A "large" sandwich at Canteen is a few dimes more than the standard sandwich at Darwin's and about $1 more than most veggie sandwiches there. A "small" (not really that small) is less than Darwin's. I really enjoy Darwin's sandwiches, but I always feel that I'm paying a little extra for the ambience there. At Canteen, it feels like every penny is going into the food. It's also price comparable to Mike & Patty's, maybe 50 cents more on average. I haven't been to Hi-Rise.

                        Canteen has crepes, but I haven't tried them yet (it's so hard to say no to the sandwiches). They look very good, and I'm sometimes tempted. Not sure if they're the same as those sold at AS Crepes.

                        I buy from the original Clover truck at MIT. I haven't been to the Harvard brick and mortar spot, though I'm eager to give it a try (do they really serve $3 Pretty Things Jack D'Or?), so I can't speak of the offerings there or the portion sizes, though I believe the menu is similar if more extensive. I really like Clover. I eat there frequently, find their sandwiches tasty and refreshing, and I'm thankful for them as the MIT-Kendall area is a bit of a wasteland for sandwiches (ABP? Cosi? Sebastian's and Rebecca's are just passable I suppose). I also respect Clover's enthusiasm and conscious attitude toward sourcing ingredients and interacting with clientele, and the healthier, vegetarian, less conventional offerings they have. That said, I know some people who don't go there for lunch because it isn't substantial enough for them. If I want a filling lunch there and am getting only one of their pita sandwiches, I can only get the chickpea fritter or the egg and eggplant. But even those two, though they are certainly not small, will not get me as filled as a sandwich at Canteen.

                        200 Terminal St, Charlestown, MA 02129

                        1. re: gustatious

                          Thanks for the additional info, you might try the egg and eggplant or chickpea fritter platters at Clover. They have them at the flagship, I do not know if any of the trucks well them. Same price as the sandwiches and no bread, but the portions are mighty substantial in my experience--egg and eggplant has a bunch of pieces of fried eggplant, a hard boiled egg, a lot of hummus, and two salads, which change periodically.

                          If Canteen has crepes, they are probably the same as Arrow Street Crepes, which closed but was owned by the same people. I haven't gotten a chance to try it yet, but that seems like a safe bet.

                          Hi-Rise changed their sandwich menu and has dropped prices but the sandwiches are also smaller. I do not like them as much as Darwin's and do not think they are as good of a value. I'll look forward to trying Canteen soon.

                      2. re: gustatious

                        Hmm, maybe I will give then another try. I wrote them off for a while because of regularly finding that they had run out of a handful of menu items. That makes sense for some things, but when you can't get chicken added to a salad because they ran out of chicken (on 3 occasions), it's bad. I also thought the value was lacking, though it does seem some prices have come down. They used to offer grilled skirt steak added to salads, and that brought the price to like $16 or $17, even adding chicken to a salad brought it up to around $14 (it was a decent salad, though). Now that Cutty's is around, it's tougher to justify nearly $10 for a not as good sandwich when Cutty's kills it across the board for $7.

                        Re: the tinted windows - they should get rid of them. The place always looks closed, and I wouldn't be surprised if many people never stop in for that reason.

                        They used to claim to be open until 10pm (although on two occasions I found them closed before 9). I wish they would have held to that later time. Maybe I am a loner, but I like getting sandwiches for dinner, including late dinners. Why are there so few sandwich options in Central at night? Frankly, there aren't many quality sandwiches within the Main Street to City Hall stretch of Mass Ave. at any time, let alone at night. I dream of Cutty's opening a place in Central that stays open for dinner, I would drop $100 a week there.

                        City Hall Cafe
                        695 Main St, Fitchburg, MA 01420

                        1. re: gustatious

                          The last time I was in there the two owners were openly brawling in front of the customers with one of them slamming pans on the stove like a baby. No wonder I got home and discovered our order was totally wrong (again). Then again it's all my fault for giving them another shot due to their proximity. Fool me thrice, I must be a complete idiot...

                          This place is terrible.

                        2. I have to agree with Gabatta's last post. I have tried, tried, tried to like this place. I like the location (blocks from my house), and the physical space, and the *idea* of better-quality diner food.

                          But that's about it. The food suffers from being overworked and underthought- like, if we just add three more ingredients, then it will be "gourmet". Meanwhile, the execution is poor- things that are supposed to be soft, crisp, etc. aren't.

                          The attitude toward customer service is...interesting. The counter staff are fine, but every interaction I've had with the cook/owners (?) has been unpleasant. When I was last there, I asked if I could get the fruit cup without yogurt (it doesn't have yogurt on it- they add it before serving). The guy at the counter was like "Sure!"- then turned to the cook/owner, who shook his head "No". Really? Later, a group of guys in work uniforms came in who the cook knew, and he was falling over himself, making a show of offering them free desserts. Not so much as a "How was your meal?" to me, the only other customer in the place. I don't expect white-glove treatment in a coffee shop setting, but common courtesy and customer orientation would be nice.

                          Also, the coffee is dreck, at premium prices.

                          Goodbye, Canteen. I should have listened to my neighbor when she said you were no good. I can go to Clover, Petsi, 1369, etc., for cold sandwiches, or go to Plough & Stars for a Cubano at lunch, and get better food at lower prices sans the attitude.

                          983R Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: fatty_mouthfeel

                            Hm, I have had sandwiches a few times at Canteen, and enjoyed them each time. Never had any unpleasant interactions. The fish sandwich was especially terrific. Totally agree about the tinted windows and inconsistent hours though.

                          2. Bumping up an old thread as I just tried Canteen today for lunch. Executive summary: I liked it! And I thought the value was pretty high compared to other lunch options in the Harvard Square area....

                            I walked by yesterday on my way to the Plough and Stars for lunch (decent not great gumbo) and it was bustling so I decided to stop in today for a crepe. I'm a sucker for a savory crepe as most sandwiches are just too darned bready for me, even if it IS Iggy's I tend to peter out half-way thru. Anywho, ordered the Californian which is turkey, pesto, cheese, avocado, tomatoes and field greens. The quality of everything was good, and the bacon was still crispy, the salad greens were still crunchy, etc, when I got it back to my office a few minutes later. I found the crepe itself to be just about right as well, not overcooked and hard as some reviews have warned. Lots of people were ordering the BLT, a few construction guys were getting BIG meaty sandwiches, and they had a steady stream of take-out customers while I waited. I'm finding it difficult to get a quality lunch in the Square for under $10 and so at $10.05 for a huge, high quality crepe, I thought this was totally fair. Now I have to read Slim's review!

                            2 Replies
                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                Got it, but thank you for linking for posterity. Happy to see that Slim and I agree about a lot, even 2 years later. He just has / had more data points. My office in this area will be moving toward the heart of the square in a couple of weeks, so my time to explore the Mass Ave spots are limited. So far I've tried Petsi's on Putnam (great sandwiches, cozy setting), Dolphin a few times (quite impressed with fish if not sides), Zoe's (ordinary diner fare), the Plough and Stars (a sentimental favorite) and a few spots in the Square proper. I'm going to post a more comprehensive review of Harvard Square lunch options to see what I'm missing. Soon.