Good Food Cafe | cheap eats

More than just a sandwich shop

The grilled reuben at Good Food Cafe in Cambridge is loaded with lean corned beef. The grilled reuben at Good Food Cafe in Cambridge is loaded with lean corned beef. (WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF)
Email|Print| Text size + By Sacha Pfeiffer
Globe Staff / November 8, 2007

For years, the stretch of Mass. Ave. between Porter Square and Arlington was the dead zone of Cambridge. Seedy liquor stores, broken-down gas stations, and an MBTA bus yard were its main landmarks. But change is finally coming to North Cambridge, where a handful of new eateries, boutique shops, and fancy condos recently debuted. And Jim Walsh is among the newcomers fueling this local renaissance.

I confess to suspecting that Walsh was creatively challenged when I first heard the name of his new restaurant, which opened in April: the Good Food Cafe. He couldn't think of a more interesting name than that?

But I underestimated how genuine the moniker was intended to be. Breaking the typical sub shop mold, Walsh roasts his own chicken and turkey, makes his own meatballs, blends his own salad dressings and pesto, and does much of his own baking. He uses Iggy's breads, puts fresh-grated nutmeg in his cookies and muffins, and mellows out the vinegary bite of store-bought roasted red peppers by soaking them in homemade sweet marinade. His menu is limited - about a dozen sandwiches, a half-dozen salads, and a daily soup, plus baked goods and drinks - but he keeps quality high by maintaining a narrow focus.

He also brings unexpected pizzazz to his cooking. Egg sandwiches ($2.25-$4.40), served until noon, are made with sliced hard-boiled eggs, grilled on a press, and dressed up with more than just bacon. If you like, he'll add prosciutto, pesto, spicy mayo, or, my favorite, an inspired pairing of tomatoes and savory blue cheese ($3.20).

A grilled sandwich of fresh mozzarella and verdant pesto on sturdy ciabatta bread ($6.25) is elevated by tangy roasted red peppers; it's a clever variation on the usual trio of tomato-basil-mozzarella and avoids the problem of how to find edible tomatoes in the off-season.

Would anyone have noticed if Walsh used boxed stuffing mix in his roasted turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce ($6.50)? Maybe not. But he still takes the time to dry bread crumbs for his own stuffing, redolent with sage, just as he mixes beef, basil, eggs, and bread for his tender meatball sandwich ($5.50), topped with marinara and melted provolone.

A butter-brushed Reuben ($6.25) is piled with exceptionally lean corned beef. A simple garden salad ($4.50) is a generous mix of beautiful greens, cukes, red peppers, and carrot slivers. The house-made dressings, including a sweet balsamic vinaigrette and creamy ranch made with buttermilk and fresh lime juice, are very nice. The Elvis smoothie ($3.25 large, $2.75 small) - a full-bodied blend of milk, peanut butter, and banana - is rich enough to be dessert.

A few items falter. Caesar salad ($4.50, with chicken $6.25) comes buried in an unappetizing heap of tasteless, powdery parmesan cheese. Chicken soups ($4.25) are made with dark thigh meat, not the white breast meat many health-conscious customers prefer. And Walsh, a Weymouth native who used to run the Brickyard Café in North Cambridge, isn't likely to win awards for his baking; his cookies ($1.50) are oddly flat and pale, his muffins ($1.75) have strangely wet tops.

He does have a flair for interior design, though. The cafe's space is tricky: high-ceilinged, cavernous, and wood-floored, it feels awfully bare and empty, even with table seating for 20 scattered around. But work by local artists adorn the walls, two funky red leather couches fill one corner, a magazine-strewn coffee table encourages customers to stay awhile, and happy paint colors - bright orange, electric green - add warmth and good cheer.

It's a sunny setting for some truly good food.

Good Food Cafe

2378 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-876-2450.
Credit cards accepted.
Handicap accessible.

Prices $3.25-$6.75.

Hours: Tue-Sun 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Mon.

Liquor None.

May we suggest
Entrees Egg sandwich with tomatoes and blue cheese. Roasted turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce sandwich. Meatball sandwich. Reuben. Fresh mozzarella, pesto, and roasted red pepper sandwich.
Drinks Elvis smoothie.

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