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Jun 16, 2012 09:18 AM

Cambridge breakfast. Again.

I've been searching for a go-to breakfast place in Cambridge for some time. Friendly Toast has been my regular spot, but I've always known there had to be better. Although the service has improved significantly from when it first opened, the food still is not great. And the coffee is terrible. It's a friggin' breakfast place, and they serve incredibly bad coffee. WTF!!

Recently, I've rediscovered Henrietta's Table, and have been fairly happy with it. I have no interest in Henrietta's too-expensive-and-over-the-top Sunday brunch (although I totally get why people love it), but I've been very pleased with the breakfasts I've had there. Fresh OJ, good coffee, well prepared omelets (very hard to find anywhere; most places overcook their eggs), good (not great, but good) pancakes, great bacon, great (GREAT!) hashbrown potatoes. Yes, you pay a hotel restaurant premium, but I'm happy to do that for the good food and good service.

Today I tried Cafe Luna, in Central Square, for the first time. They open at 10 on the weekends, and we arrived at about 9:55 to find a decent crowd waiting to get in. They accept reservations (a big plus!), and those with reservations were seated first (as, of course, they should be). Then the rest of us were gradually given tables. (I'm sure they were intentionally seating us gradually so as not to overwhelm the waitstaff and the kitchen.)

We were seated around 10:30 and were handed an extensive menu with all sorts of permutations and combinations of egg, pancake, waffle, french toast, and other dishes. What was really odd, however, was that they did not allow us to customize what we wanted. (Not sure if this is a restaurant policy, or just our waiter being a little bit of a ditz.) For example, my daughter wanted pancakes with bananas and nutella. Instead, our waiter (who was very friendly about it) said we had to find a menu item that came close, and then customize from there. So my daughter ordered french toast with bananas, nutella and chocolate drizzle, substitute pancakes for french toast, and hold the chocolate drizzle. It was the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced! Again, the waiter was very friendly about it, but it was bizarre!

All of that notwithstanding, the food was very good, albeit very rich and sweet, so some might want to stick to the savory side of the menu. The food kind of reminded me of Norma's, at Le Parker Meridien in NYC, which is famous for its big, sweet, over-the-top breakfasts. All in all, Cafe Luna struck me as a bit odd, but an overall good option for Cambridge breakfasts. And like Henrietta's, they also serve fresh oj and good coffee. I absolutely would recommend it over Friendly Toast. I'll need another visit or two before I can decide on a relative ranking between Henrietta's and Cafe Luna.

Any other good Cambridge options people want to recommend?

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    1. Haven't been in a while but does Brookline Lunch still have game? If so, nothing fancy here but tasty. on-point breakfast stuff... Might want to bring your coffee....

      5 Replies
      1. re: sadflour

        That's a good idea. Not a fancy breakfast, but they certainly do a lot of things well, nice people, and not expensive.

        1. re: hckybg

          My breakfast club convenes at Brookline Lunch every week and, while no one component is best-in-class, the patriarch grillman turns out a highly competent breakfast including his idiosyncractic homefries which, if you happen to become a regular, start to become larger, crispier and ever more idiosyncratic. If, for some reason, we happen to miss a week, he notices and we are duly punished by way of the homefries. Good cardamom-accented coffee served up by the mama, be sure to axe for their housemade hot sauce and raspberry jam.

          Not the best brekkie in town, but it's my favourite place to be a morning regular.

        2. re: sadflour

          It's tough to find a go to breakfast place in Cambridge. Many places are just OK, and even the better ones have things which would wear thin on multiple visits.

          I don't can't speak to the coffee as I don't drink it, but I like the food at Brookline Lunch quite a bit. The food is very good and I really like the people who run it. Ask for their home made hot sauce if it is not offered. It is not appropriate for all occasions though. For instance, they don't or rarely use AC in the summer (if they even have it). I wouldn't be rolling in there today.

          I agree that Henrietta's breakfast is much superior to their brunch. The food is great. The menu gets old quick though. There is not as much variety or menu flexibility as a breakfast counter. It is a comfortable place to take a baby or child, but I find the service a bit lacking. Any special order is potentially coming out wrong, and they suffer from the disease of taking forever to drop a check after the meal.

          Miracle of Science does a good breakfast, albeit a very limited menu.

          Leo's Place in Harvard Square is a traditional breakfast counter. The food is pretty standard, but the people watching can be fantastic.

          Mass Ave diner is similar to Brookline Lunch, but a step down food wise.

          I am not a fan of the Friendly Toast. We only go there if someone else picks it. The last time we were there the kitchen was still painfully slow. It is interesting to hear of the possibility of half orders, as the standard Cheesecake Factory like portions are a turn off.

          Just out of Cambridge, Sound Bites / Ball Square Cafe are both pretty OK, but I don't find my self biking or driving over there more than a few times a year for breakfast.

          Zoe's on Mass Ave is good for families and has something for everyone. Food is pretty average though. I always feel like they could use better quality ingredients.

          There is no silver bullet for breakfast on this side of the river, but definitely check our Brookline for another option for your rotation.

          1. re: Gabatta

            Thanks for the detailed response, Gabatta. Unfortunately I don't think there's a silver bullet on the other side of the river, either. I would encourage you to try Cafe Luna if you haven't already. While far from perfect, it may be good enough to be in your regular rotation.

            1. re: Gabatta

              I'm glad someone else mentioned the Mass Ave Diner, I kept thinking of chiming in w/ that but it is definitely a notch lower than the toher places being discussed but for what it is I think it is solid.

              They had an ownership change a year or so ago, IMO for the better. But still, it is what it is.

          2. In Union Sq, Somerville, The Neighborhood Restaurant is worth the trip. Friendly staff (they bring you coffee and pastries if you're waiting in line out front!), honest food: fresh, delicious, affordable. That's my sit-down breakfast spot.

            5 Replies
            1. re: maxinboston

              As long as we are talking Somerville, Supreme Kitchen on Highland Avenue has cheap, decent breakfasts and a friendly staff.

              And then, there's the Neighborhood's Portuguese Fisherman's breakfast, which is a thing to behold.

              Finally, in addition to excellent coffee and yummy bakery items, Three Little Figs on Highland does a fine breakfast sandwich on brioche.

              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                I love Three Little Figs. The figgy bar made me swoon (and I ate it two-three days after I bought it!)

                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                  I am glad you mentioned Supreme across from the hospital as I have always enjoyed their breakfasts -- fresh, simple, made to order -- basically a step up from Mul's not trying to be anything other than what it is. I am more likely to get a snack for breakfast (from Panificadora Modelo, Petiscos, the Salvadoran bakery, Magnificant Muffin), but I also enjoy Taqueria Montecristo when I want to have an egg dish although not always as breakfast. Not certain about their coffee, though. Donut Villa tends to run out of donuts, but actually has a pretty tasty breakfast long the same lines of Supreme on the Malden/Medford line.

                2. re: maxinboston

                  Also in Somerville (but right on the Cambridge line), City Girl cafe in Inman Square does great breakfasts/brunches on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It's small and fills up quickly, so getting there early would be a good idea, but it's delicious and well-priced.

                  1. re: maxinboston

                    First trip to Neighborhood Restaurant today. A couple of parties waiting when we arrived. Finally figured out that adding your name to the waiting list was self serve (as well as the complimentary coffee). The outdoor setting under the grapevines) was fabulous for a pleasant Labor Day morning. The service was friendly and attentive. We thought the food was a definitely a notch above your average breakfast joint. My DC had an omelette with Feta and vegetables. I had corned beef hash which was homemade (although a little salty)!

                    All in all, this and Paramount on Beacon Hill are probably our two favorite spots in metro Boston area.

                  2. Are you only looking in Cambridge? Uncommon Grounds in Watertown always has a nice breakfast. Good coffee, friendly service, etc. I really like the house scramble which consists of scrambled eggs, goat cheese, tomatoes, and salami. They had me at salami.

                    I have a love/hate thing with Friendly Toast as well. I like that there are tofu scrambles and I can order a half portion (which is also a huge serving). Love the wheat toast there. But, really loathe the coffee. It's horrible. And, they don't do other breakfast drinks well either. The tea is also not good. The water is too hot for the tea leaves.

                    Excellent run down of breakfasts with your daughter.

                    1. I know what you mean about Friendly Toast. I've had breakfast at the one in Portsmouth, and I can think of many places that serve a better breakfast at a better price. Not that the food is terrible, but it just doesn't really do it for me.