Our little world has recently expanded, with J moving out of the condo we've shared for the past four years in order to make space for my soon-to-be husband (will take me awhile to get used to that word!). Now that she's living a mile away, I sense we'll soon get a good handle on the good eating spots in her new neighborhood- which includes one of our new favorites, Hawthornes. Of course, in weird coincidence, the folks behind Hawthornes just opened a new spot in our original neighborhood, helping to expand the eating destination that South Street West is gradually becoming.
I really cannot picture the last restaurant/jazz spot? that was here (Tritone), so The Cambridge, at least in my mind, started with a fresh slate. It's immediately inviting, with open windows and lots of reclaimed wood. The dining area is large and spacious, with little nooks to feel a bit of seclusion and apparently a secret little patio out back.
The focus at Cambridge seems to be the drink selections- a large bar takes up a good chunk of sitting space on one side of the room, and the food menu is not immediately delivered. This isn't that surprising, considering Hawthorne's wall of beer, but the food here should definitely not be overlooked.
There is actually slight overlap in the food selection between the two spots, although my overall feeling is that The Cambridge offers a step up in terms of flavors, ingredients, and presentation (I may also be biased by the difference in atmosphere though). Since we had tried the pierogies at Hawthornes and enjoyed them, we decided to start our meal with the same dish at The Cambridge-- a fair way to compare the kitchens, right? The three pockets of potato and cheese are served in identical style at both spots- wooden board, sour cream, and a balsamic glaze (with an identical price point of $10.
We took advantage of the more adventurous appetizer options, and chose to share the Charred Octopus as well ($13). Large tentacles of crisped Spanish octopus are served between a small pile of lemony arugula and a mix of cannellini beans and a few roasted vegetables. The octopus definitely played starring role, with the crispy edges being our favorites (the fat parts don't have nearly as much flavor).
The sun set on us while we waited for our second round of food (how dare it!), and as the evening wore on and the space filled up, we became acutely aware of a complaint many early reviewers seem to share-- the rustic wood and metal based interior is lovely to look at but not a great sound absorber. Thankfully our table by the window helped remove us from some of the noise (but couldn't rescue our photos after dusk).
Our two dinner dates both ordered "The Cambridge Hall," one of the variations of burger offered ($15). A fairly pricy burger (in my opinion), but with the patty consisting of dry aged beef, and the toppings including brie and wine poached pears, perhaps its worth it. I liked the presentation of the meal on a metal tray lined with brown paper-- just like the eats at the newly minted Blue Belly BBQ. The hand cut fries were just right (I may have eaten more than a few- for taste testing purposes of course), but the burger wasn't as interesting as it sounds. From the burger expert himself, "the pears were nice-- slightly sweet-- but overall, not that memorable."
J and I both chose a sandwich and shared them in order to sample more of the menu. My choice was the "Sensei Kris," an Asian rendition of pulled pork ($12). A soft kaiser bun is filled with shredded pork tossed in a thick, sweet hoisin sauce. On its own I could eat this all day-- the juicy meat and the deep flavors are some of my favorites- so combined, I was in love. However, add some spicy slaw and pickled jalapenos AND serve it with a lovely side salad-- it's basically all over.
We were also both interested in the Rock Shrimp "Po' Boy." It's surprising how many restaurants serve sandwiches using the New Orleans name, and how few of them truly get it right... The Cambridge's version may be far from authentic but it's a truly solid sandwich. A toasted baguette gave our jaws a bit of a work out, but held the soft pieces of battered shrimp, tomato, lettuce, and creamy avocado salad (much like guacamole without the lime and spice) in perfect form. I'm really starting to think the kitchen polled me at some point, asked me all of my favorite foods, and then combined them ALL in delicious dishes here.
The side salads aren't just a weak pile of iceberg- they are a substantial mix of various baby greens tossed with fresh tomato chunks and a barely there vinaigrette. You can sub fries for an additional $1.50, but why would you? (Oh wait, those fries were pretty stellar..)
Even though J is now a fifteen minute hike away, I almost feel like Hawthornes connected us by giving us The Cambridge-- no matter where we are, we always know that a solid meal is just a few steps away.
1508 South Street