Cafeteria finds niche in chic Newbury outlet
RESTAURANT REVIEW: Cafeteria Boston
Cafeteria is a chic restaurant located on the corner of Newbury Street and Gloucester Street in Boston, and it’s a lot classier than the name connotes. Cafeteria takes the banal lunches that haunted your middle school life and kicks it up a notch into a modern yet delicious interpretation of cafeteria dining. Cafeteria focuses on using properly raised organic ingredients along with the freshest produce to recreate dishes such as grilled cheese, meatloaf and spaghetti & meatballs. I’ve been to Cafeteria twice since being at Tufts, but I didn’t intend to review the restaurant the first visit so I planned to return. I was lucky enough to find a Groupon to Cafeteria before returning the second time around, so I was even more inclined to go again.
My first visit to Cafeteria was shortly after gorging myself on sweets at the New England Dessert Showcase. I was intoxicated with chocolate and needed some solid, savory food to balance it out. It was lunch time, and the weather was still quite nice, so we were seated outside with no wait even though the place was buzzing with activity. The space was a little tight and our table ended up being barely able to hold the dishes, but the sunlight helped brighten the experience. Our table ordered the Margherita Pizza ($10), Grilled Cheese ($10), and Curried Chicken Salad ($10.50). The Margherita Pizza is a classic pizza with fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato sauce. I first noticed the olive oil drizzled atop the pizza, which could be delicious but was slightly unappealing as the oil pooled together on top of the slices. The dough was soft but crunchy right as you got up to the crust and a perfect amount of mozzarella topped each slice. It was quite good. I sampled my boyfriend’s Grilled Cheese sandwich, which usually comes with tomato soup but instead he had it with French fries. The sandwich was heavenly melted fontina, fresh tomatoes and arugula within crusty pieces of sourdough bread. The bread was grilled to perfection—the sides were lightly browned in butter and the crust had cheese dripping over it. Cafeteria’s modernized interpretation of the grilled cheese was just as comforting as the traditional sliced bread with American cheese, but tasted fresher and didn’t weigh you down with grease. I didn’t try to Curried Chicken Salad, but my friend deemed it to simply be good.
What I really had wanted to try was the Mac-n-Cheese based on recommendation from my boyfriend, but it was not served during the lunch hour. The waitress was considerate enough to ask the chef whether they could make an exception, but it was busy and the chef refused. I did appreciate her effort and she definitely earned points for providing good service. Oh and I used a little secret discount! Well, it’s not very secret considering it is open to the public, but it was rare enough that my waitress didn’t even know that it existed. Anyway, if you have a CharlieCard you can receive 10% off your entire meal! More incentive to go? I would say so.
My second visit to Cafeteria was on a blustery and rainy fall night. I had a Groupon that was $20 for $40 of food so I was excited to go order a lot and finally try to Mac-n-Cheese. We arrived around 7PM and were seated at a high table for two in the far corner of the room. Cozy. The dispersal of seats was quite random, with high round tables, U-shaped booths, and large family tables all around the lower dining room. It could also get quite loud because the bar was located on the lower dining floor, so just a warning there. The lighting was dim and it was nighttime, so the room was too dark for my preference. It is nowhere near as brightly lit as displayed on the Gallery on their website.
The appetizer we chose was the Calamari for $9.50, which was quite good but I still have my complaints. The calamari itself was a good consistency—chewy but not disgustingly rubbery. It was evenly battered and lightly fried so that each piece had a satisfying crunch when you bit into it. The squid itself was a little bland, but drizzling some lemon juice over it did wonders. The calamari also came with two sauces: marinara and peperoncini mayonnaise, both of which were good. The marinara sauce tasted fresh and helped add flavor to the squid. The peperoncini mayo was smooth and had a little kick to it but could have been lighter in flavor, maybe with the addition of lemon juice or something to cut through the fat. My boyfriend and I quickly consumed the fried calamari and waited eagerly for our entrees.
I ordered the Chicken Milanese ($20) and my boyfriend got the Mac-n-Cheese ($14) with bacon (+$3); we intended to share our meals. The Mac-n-Cheese is enormous, and definitely enough to feed two, especially considering how rich it is. It contained three different cheeses: fontina, cheddar, and parmesan, but the cheddar seemed to stand out the most. The crunchy breaded top helped balance out the smoothness of the creamy cheese, and the first few bites while the dish was still piping hot were delicious. The elbow macaroni was cooked perfectly—it was not overcooked at all even though the Mac-n-Cheese was baked to create a crusty breading. Finding pieces of bacon in the Mac-n-Cheese was fun and it added a meaty flavor to the cheesy richness. The Mac-n-Cheese was plenty for us to eat, but we also had the Chicken Milanese. Chicken Milanese is a chicken cutlet, but more specifically it is a flattened piece of a chicken breast that has been dipped in beaten egg and battered with a breadcrumb-Parmesan mixture. Then the breaded chicken is fried in butter and, at Cafeteria, served with mixed greens and shaved Parmesan. This was my least favorite dish and there was nothing special to it. The chicken was tender and that was probably the highlight. It was bland without the lemon, the salad was a simple mix of greens, and the Parmesan cheese was dry. Each component of the dish was bland and altogether it was still quite bland. I was disappointed with my dish for $20, but the dinner was still worth it because the Mac-n-Cheese was just that good!
The waitress this time around was not as reliable as my initial visit, even though it was a lot less busy. We finished our drinks sometime in the middle of the meal and never received refills which were greatly desired because of the richness of the food. Cafeteria was a little on the pricier side, but with a coupon and a desire for really good macaroni and cheese, it was definitely a manageable price to pay. I would recommend the Mac-n-Cheese with any add-in that you would enjoy; the options are hot dogs, chicken, bacon, and shrimp. They also serve various items from pizza to burgers to shepherd’s pie. There’s also Plates Du Jour for $18.50 that can be seen on their website. It’s an enjoyable concept—making cafeteria food classy—but everything I’ve had so far besides the macaroni and cheese wasn’t too special (although it was realms better than middle school cafeteria food). If you ever want some comfort food but want it with fresh ingredients and a little pricy, definitely make the trip to Cafeteria. Its location is ideal to shop or hang out with friends afterwards. And don’t forget to use the CharlieCard discount!
Food (taste): B+
Food (presentation): B-
279A Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02115
– Article & Photos by Christina Pan