This story originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2013 Issue of Scout Cambridge
The corner of Washington and Beacons Streets, on the border between Cambridge and Somerville, has been gradually accumulating a collection of restaurants and markets, making it something of a culinary destination. Bergamont, the Wine & Cheese Cask, Dali, the Biscuit, the Kebab Factory and the legendary Savenor’s occupy a small island in the dead zone between Harvard, Union, Inman and Porter Squares. The much anticipated Kirkland Tap & Trotter (425 Washington St., Somerville), the newest project of thoroughly lauded chef Tony Maws, joined the mix in mid-September and continues the trend of impressive dining options in the area.
Invariably, comparisons will be made between Maws’ universally acclaimed Craigie on Main and the Kirkland Tap & Trotter. Kirkland Tap & Trotter is not Craigie on Main mk II. The menu selection at Kirkland Tap & Trotter is, by design, a more plebeian affair than that served at Tony Maws’ Craigie on Main (853 Main St., Cambridge). This is to be expected: Craigie on Main is a hard-to-beat, meat-forward dionysian wish come true. All wishes, though, come with a terrible and unforeseen cost: in the case of a full dinner at Craigie on Main, the cost is comparable to the down payment on a yacht or several months worth of selling your own bone marrow on craigslist. Dishes at Kirkland Tap & Trotter are served with an attention to detail and careful execution that may remind diners of Craigie on Main. This, combined with a much more casual menu and more affordable prices, are Kirkland Tap & Trotter’s biggest draws.
The relatively small menu at Kirkland Tap & Trotter, lacks categorical distinction between courses, and suggests a more relaxed atmosphere than its Cantabrigian brother. In addition to being much more affordable, the diversity of clientele, as compared to Craigie on Main, will reassure you that there is a notable lack of pretense. The space itself is tall, wooden and open, the hyperkinetic kitchen and grill visible from virtually every corner of the restaurant. The waitstaff, adorned in plaid and flannel, charmingly confuse Vermont aesthetics with those of Camberville. A constant stream of music covers the din of the kitchen; bar patrons may find the volume level appropriate but it is well above the OSHA approved level for uncomfortable conversation between college students and their parents who are being “treated” to dinner on their own dime.
The smaller menu items are good for sharing. By all means, try to cover as much of the menu as is feasible given your party’s composition and hunger as you will not be disappointed. The Maine mussels ($13) are simply stunning, a perfect example of simply prepared shellfish, and were my single favorite dish. The house-made spaghetti in chicken liver and pumpkin sauce ($15) is rich and wholesome, reminding me of Thanksgiving dinner in a single dish. The prosciutto salad ($14), while delicious and fairly light, came with an unexpectedly sweet dressing that I was not prepared for (I require at least a day’s notice for sweet prosciutto dishes due to new federal requirements. Thanks, Obama).
The more substantial dishes were as compelling as the smaller ones and are sized to be a complete dinner. The braised veal ribs ($28), the quintessential non-macaroni based comfort food, is a big win, something of the Cadillac of the menu. The grilled lamb ribs ($15) are an ideal medium-sized entree for those who enjoy ripping flesh from bone with their own teeth (or dental implants). The hamburger ($16), the toppings of which are ever-changing, is reminiscent of the iconic and controversial sandwich at Craigie. It makes an ideal burger-and-a-beer dinner that alone is worth a visit. Omnivorous dinners will not be disappointed by this selection while vegetarians may have to play their well-rehearsed act of meticulous menu-scouring for an edible item. Pescatarians will have no such issue finding delicious options but Jains, unfortunately, should probably just not bother to eat here.
Bar seats exist, too, and during my visits to Kirkland Tap & Trotter they were in constant demand. The draft list is quite appealing but relatively concise; fortunately, it is complemented by an equally appealing bottle selection. The wine list is, by comparison, much more broad and well curated. Wines by the glass, too, are thoughtfully chosen and will not disappoint. To risk another comparison to Craigie, great attention to detail and precision are the hallmarks of the mixed drinks at Tap & Trotter. Order your favorite cocktail without fear of disappointment or try one of the signature cocktails; the Green+Grain ($10) is a surprisingly light and refreshing rye drink but only attempt this drink if you love joy. Those in the mood for mystery (!) and excitement (!) can order either the bat or the bag ($6 each), which is an ounce of spirit whose identity is hidden from the imbiber. Want to get into a blind tasting battle with a friend? This is the choice for you.
Lastly, dessert options are both impressive and reasonably sized. Reasonably sized is a meaningless term in our post-modern world so to clarify, after a meal of homesy, delicious, meaty dishes, a petite dessert is a welcome change of pace. If you would prefer a factory-produced cheesecake the size of a newborn, however, I have an alternative restaurant recommendation for you. Particularly impressive are the delicate buttermilk panna cotta ($10) and cornbread pain perdu ($10) but you will not be disappointed by any selection.
Overwhelmingly positive praise aside, Kirkland Tap & Trotter is undergoing the same growing pains that all new restaurants face, exacerbated by the massive turnout that a name like Maws draws. There was some disappointing inconsistency in dishes night-to-night and, during my visits, servers were not intimately familiar with the bar selection. However, such minor sins may be forgiven as these symptoms are certainly not unique to this establishment. We can hope that the bugs are worked out once the new staff gets their sea legs and a constant workflow has been established. One can hardly blame a restaurant whose doors have been open only a month. Then again, expectations are extremely high for this new contender in Camberville.