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Surprise great meal at Cambridge Brewing Company

I know CBC has received a lot of flack here for not having the food to back up their fantastic beers. I've eaten here a number of times over the past several years because a dear friend of mine is a brewer there, and we love to support her work. I've never had a terrible meal here, but there has also never been memorable food, and there have been a number of times when the service has been lackluster.

Tonight was a wonderful surprise. My DC and I arrived just before 6, and while it was busy and loud the entire time (fairly typical), we had an attentive server, and some great food. We ordered the poutine that's currently on the appetizer menu, and while no Canadian would vouch for its authenticity (it included bacon and scallions, and the cheese curds were not more than melty smears that added no texture, but plenty of flavor), it was delicious. I had the duck "cassoulette", that was made with Maine yellow eye beans and duck 3 ways (breast cooked nicely rare, sausage, and confit something), with a rich sauce. The beans were beautifully cooked and all the pieces of duck were wonderfully crispy on the outside, yet tender on the inside. My DC had the pork loin schnitzel that, while a bit dry, was quite flavorful and the spaetzle and braised red cabbage that accompanied it were both fantastic. This isn't fine dining, but the attention to more local ingredients, and the interesting variety of dishes makes CBC a cut above your average brewpub. I'm happy to see their food continue to improve.

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Cambridge Brewing Company
1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139

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  1. It's not the best food on the planet, but it's lightyears better than it was a decade ago (then again, so is the beer). I avoided this place for years because my memory was of both their food & beer being crap, but now I actually enjoy going there for beer and if I end up there for food I don't mind a bit.

    1. How were the fries underneath the poutine goodness? I've been perpetually disappointed with their fries (somehow they always seem to come out "hard" instead of crisp), which usually counted against them doubly because good fries go so nicely with good beer.

      2 Replies
      1. re: emannths

        Admittedly, it was tough to determine the true fry texture underneath a gooey mess of gravy and cheese, but hard they were not.

        1. re: Spenbald

          I did a little recon of my own tonight.

          Compared to the few renditions I ate in Montreal, this poutine still has a way to go. The fries were indeed different than the usual CBC fries, which, while and improvement, still lack that deep potato flavor and crispiness of the best fries. Worse, though, was the meager portion of cheese that had melted into an inconsequential white dusting by the time the dish arrived at the table. The menu describes them as curds, but they don't seem like curds on the plate. The gravy was inoffensive, but again, the quantity was hardly generous. The end result, while tasty enough, lacked that "oh god, my heart is going to pay for this" quality of good poutine. Better than plain fries? Sure. Should it be called "poutine" and command $8? Not in my eyes.

          That said, the beer lineup right now is really excellent. If you like sour beers, the Rose de Cambrinus is great, and is a steal relative to other sours. And the banryu ichi sake/beer hybrid was also excellent, combining the fruity characters of Belgian yeast with the dry smoothness of a good sake. It's 15% abv, but you'd never know it. And while a 15% beer would taste like a sugar bomb, this has all the intensity of flavor with none of the cloying sweetness a typical beer of similar abv would have. It's really a must-try.

      2. Spenbald, eh? Hello :)

        I keep going to CBC and keep being so just OK on it. Glad your experience was better than mine!

        1 Reply
        1. re: erinire

          Well, hello there! Perhaps we need to rendezvous somewhere foodish soon!

        2. I am sure there are those who go both ways on the issue, but I do think Americans likely romanticize the "ideal" poutine a bit. Maamm Bolduc, a great poutine purveyor in Montreal's Plateau neighborhood, features all kinds of crazy toppings. I had hot dogs and onions on mine. I couldn't find a menu online but did find this so-so picture of the menu on a blog, so you can see some of the other toppings if you speak French: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4050/4...
          All this to say that if you liked the poutine at CBC, don't worry too much about "authenticity," whatever that is.

          6 Replies
          1. re: hckybg

            Love that place. In a related note, poutine with Montreal smoked meat may overtake marijuana as our national drug of choice if it ever makes it past the customs agents.

            1. re: emannths

              I am glad to say it is already here. You can find it at the wonderful Mile End deli in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, run by a clever young Montrealer who makes amazing smoked meat in the Schwartz's tradition and also serves a smoked meat poutine. Great stuff!

              1. re: hckybg

                Wierd. Was just at Mile End this weekend. Brunch menu had the smoked meat hash with eggs, unfortunately not poutine. But mmmmm.... the smoked meat!

                I agree with you that the "authenticity" of poutine is an outdated notion -- you can get it topped with all kinds of crazy things these days. However, sounds like the cheese on the CBC version isn't right. On a similar note, I wish the Gallows was still using proper curds instead of the home made cheese that is more like a loose ricotta.

                1. re: yumyum

                  I think All-Star still uses nice, big curds. I haven't had it there for a couple years but have seen others order it. I'd have to try it again to see how it compares to my favorites. It is definitely a dish you see more and more, meaning you see more good versions and more bad versions. You'd think the cheese part would be a no-brainer!

                  1. re: hckybg

                    Thanks! I better check out ASSbar in the name of science. For the children.

                    1. re: hckybg

                      There are a couple photos of ASSB's poutine online:
                      http://www.tinyurbankitchen.com/2009/... (2009

                      )

                      http://www.yelp.com/user_local_photos... (2010

                      )

                      http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3451/3... (2009

                      )

                      Looks like they use mozzarella cheese curds, but they also look a little more melty than usual. The portion looks good though!

            2. I'm a fan of the place, and have been there 3 times this year. However, I have to say that the food can be hit or miss, and we got some terrible food the same day you were there. In particular, the "house made" mezza plate is worse than any dish I can recall from 2010 (maybe '09 too). Calamari was merely bad. This was partly attributable to careless ordering (well, hard to be too careful in a minefield).

              It looks like they've switched the fish and chips to a more traditional style. I thought the chips may be more authentic, but also kind of soggy and bland. The fish is better than whatever they used to use. The batter was beyond crisp, crusty and a little overdone, but since each portion was one big chunk of fillet, the fish inside was fine. Probably wouldn't order it again.

              On the other hand, the special small plates at the barleywine fest a few weeks ago were all quite good, and creative. The pizza can't compete with Emma's across the street, but is better than average, with interesting toppings. Of course, it just serves to annoy me that they can produce decent contemporary fare, and yet they serve crap like that mezza plate.

              The beer has been great, including the various barleywines. The IPAs are good (Mind Left Body is a new one, with very clean bitterness, that I could drink a pitcher of). The lambic on right now is packed with flavor and bracingly acidic (Rose de Cambrinus, get it now if you like this style of beer because it's pretty limited).

              3 Replies
              1. re: nfo

                Funny - when I was last there, and asked the bartender how the Rose de Cambrinus compared to it's Cantillon counterpart, they admitted they didn't know, having never tasted it. I have to chalk that up to poor training. Hugh would've given me an earful, back in the day, but...

                1. re: okra

                  I don't think its a case of poor training at all. I wouldn't expect a bartender who had nothing to do with making and naming the beer to have experience drinking a particular commercial beer just because the brewer decided to use a play on said commercial beer's name. As long as he can give a brief description of the beer they made, that is perfectly sufficient. And if you are experienced yourself with the Cantillon version, wouldn't you just make that determination yourself? If you want to talk geek talk, talk to the one of the brewers - I am sure Will or Meagan would be more than happy to have a little back and forth with you about its comparison to Cantillon's version.

                  1. re: LStaff

                    I wouldn't expect the bartender to have personal experience, but I would expect them to be able to put the beer in some sort of context, even if it's just a secondhand comparison. And given that it's explicitly referred to as an homage to Cantillon's Rosé de Gambrinus, asking how it compares seems reasonable. I don't know if I'd mark them down for not knowing, but if I was interested and they drew a blank I would at least be disappointed.