Good food, awesome beer
Maybe we can just call this “the place with the awesome beer that used to be the B-Side.’’ I can get behind 40 draft selections and 40-plus bottles. I can get over the B-Side, where through the years I ate enough brunch to feed a small country (and where one syrupy, sunny Sunday morning my parents slow-danced to Johnny Cash in an aisle, breathing in that stale bar smell). But I’m having a really hard time getting around the name Lord Hobo. Lord who? Hobo huh?
Apparently the Cambridge bar and restaurant is named for a friend of owner Daniel Lanigan who goes by the handle. One of my best friends is nicknamed Nads, and I love her, but you won’t see me naming stuff after her. Also, “Lord Hobo’’ is inaccurate. If anything rules this kingdom, it is beer, in its limitless splendor. Would you like to try a hoppy rye beer from Michigan? A smoked porter with vanilla bean from California? A spicy farmhouse ale from Norway? Every style of beer made in the Elysian Fields of Belgium? Step right in.
Lanigan knows beer. He’s the former owner of beer bars the Moan and Dove and the Dirty Truth in Amherst and Northampton, respectively; he also owns Boston’s the Other Side. Lord Hobo’s menu comprises three pages of beer, one page of cocktails, one page of spirits, and one page of food, the work of chef Matthew Stogryn (Tremont 647, the Independent). The priorities concerned neighborhood residents, and coming to an accord led to a long-delayed opening, in mid-November. This prompted the joke website islordhoboopen.com. When you loaded it, you simply got a black screen with the white letters “NO.’’
If the neighbors are worried about noise outside the bar, audiologists should be concerned about the noise inside. This is one of the loudest places I’ve eaten in recent months. The din is made largely by groups of men, from intellectual beer geeks to post-frat beer geeks, sometimes accompanied by girlfriends or wives. The waiters have beards and wear plaid flannel shirts. Nirvana and the Pixies are playing. On some nights it seems every 30-something in Cambridge not saddled to a 3-year-old is here. It’s still their era inside these dark red walls.
Beyond repainting, a bit of restructuring, and a significant upgrade of the restrooms, the space hasn’t changed that much since it was the B-Side. That great bar is still here, only now the eggs served on it are deviled rather than hard-boiled. They come on a bed of greens, their yolks flavored with truffle, avocado, and chili. They don’t taste like much, however, and the yolks have an unpleasant, oozy texture.
The best bar food here is fries, hand-cut and with skin on. The outsides are crisp and nicely browned, the insides tender. You can dip them in ketchup, truffle aioli, or a thin, sweet curry sauce. Gargantuan platefuls of these are the perfect batting to absorb your pints.
Duxbury oysters are fried, then placed back in their shells for serving, a whimsical presentation. They are excellent, juicy and crisp, served with remoulade and a bit of cabbage slaw. Pork ribs come in a tangy-sweet, ginger-spiked barbecue sauce. Tender and full of flavor, they’re served with pickled cauliflower and carrots.
A less successful foray into meatiness is the charcuterie tasting with “dope mustards.’’ The condiments are fully legal, and quite good. Made in house, the charcuterie on one visit includes a pig’s ear terrine, too-slimy duck prosciutto, and chicken liver pate. There are only a few small bites of each selection, not enough to warrant the $10 price tag.
Against the backdrop of these dishes, a scallop appetizer seems oddly formal. There are two huge scallops, nicely caramelized on the outside with wobbly interiors. They’re served with beet puree and topped with orange slices. Mac and cheese is right at home, however. Al dente ditalini are draped in a simple creamy sauce; you can opt for frills in the form of applewood-smoked bacon or lobster. As with fries, no one is going to quibble with this dish in this setting.
Lord Hobo’s take on a pressed Cuban sandwich is a gooey packet of braised, shredded pork butt, pickled vegetables, Swiss cheese, and chili aioli. There is no reason that a kitchen serving this tasty creation should completely botch a simple sandwich of raclette, Granny Smith apples, and arugula, but it does. The baguette it’s on is a cottony abomination. The sandwich is described as “warm,’’ which is just barely accurate. What’s wrong with “hot’’? The cheese just sits there, sweating. (Stogryn points out later by phone that raclette gets runny, but surely there’s a happy medium — or a different cheese.) The apples are exceedingly tart, perhaps having been rubbed down with lemon juice to keep them from going brown. The flavors, textures, and temperatures are all off. How could you do this to a poor little cheese sandwich?
Temperature is a recurring problem at Lord Hobo. One night we wait a ponderously long time for our entrees, only to have them arrive warmish. Few other people are eating, but for some reason our food has been sitting long enough to cool. A burger, ordered medium rare, is extremely rare. Made from Meyer natural beef, it still tastes good, topped with melted cheddar. It deserves a better bun than the shiny-topped, industrial tank it comes on.
Hanger steak is also served very rare, proper for this cut. It’s drizzled with a tangy chimichurri sauce, served alongside watercress and giant, Parmesan-dusted tater tots. Unlike many restaurant versions of these iconic potato nuggets, Lord Hobo’s actually taste like the original.
The place must go through a whole lot of potatoes. (Six cases a day, Stogryn reports.) They appear in most dishes. Half a roast chicken comes with big chunks of boiled potatoes, along with cipollini onions and carrots. The meat is flavorful and moist, but the skin is rubbery, without a hint of crispness. The plate could use salt and at least a sprig of greenery.
Shepherd’s pie features shreds of braised lamb rather than minced, topped with the Irish potato-and-cabbage dish colcannon. The best part of the shepherd’s pie is the roasted root vegetables at the bottom, caramelized carrots and parsnips, all lovely sweetness.
Gnocchi are tuber-free, made from ricotta. They have a pleasing density and are served with wonderfully savory braised oxtail.
Lord Hobo doesn’t serve dessert. “It’s not that kind of place,’’ Stogryn says, and he’s right. I wish more places realized this, rather than doing sweets badly. There’s a cheese plate if you’re so inclined, or a drink like the Black Bottle, a shot of vanilla vodka poured into a short glass of stout. “Black bottle’’ also apparently means “an elixir used to kill off hobos’’ in hobo lingo, which many of the cocktails take their names from. A handy key at the bottom of the menu teaches you how to talk like a tramp. If you’re feeling less slatternly, there’s also a selection of reasonably priced wine.
But the prime reason to visit is the beer. The solids serve mainly as its foil. That’s sort of what you’d expect from a restaurant called “the place with the awesome beer that used to be the B-Side.’’ From a place called Lord Hobo, you’d expect food wrapped in cloths attached to the ends of sticks, and perhaps a soundtrack of train whistles. Instead you get 40 taps and 40-plus bottles. Be happy.
Devra First can be reached at email@example.com.