At Temple Bar, Nearly Two Decades of Quiet Excellence

temple barRichmond Edes photographed by Jess Benjamin.

On a stretch of Mass. Ave. between Porter and Harvard, a buzzworthy culinary scene has begun to blossom. Spots like Giulia (which has been wowing guests and critics since it debuted at  in 2013), Shepherd (one of Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants in 2016) and Honeycomb Creamery (whose small-batch ice cream and house-made cones just landed a permanent home in late September) are all relative newcomers putting this little piece of Cambridge on the map.

Their unassuming neighbor, Temple Bar, has been a resident in this area for over 18 years now, and it isn’t letting the young kids have all the fun. Seven nights a week, locals and restaurant industry lifers alike sidle up to the long, copper bar to swap stories, share laughs—and chow down on seriously good pub eats.

Richmond Edes has been the executive chef of Temple Bar for a little over a year. He’s a soft-spoken man, thoughtful and eloquent, projecting the confidence of a person who has truly found their passion. When you speak with him, it’s quickly evident that he was destined to be a chef.

Edes’ education was instrumental in informing his sensibilities and honing his skills, but not in the way you might think. He didn’t study at the Culinary Institute of America or Le Cordon Bleu—rather, he was a classical percussion major at Ohio State University when he found himself with a job at a local late-night food joint. Spending hours and hours in practice rooms attempting to nail a piece of music prepared him well for the rigors and routines involved in becoming a chef.

“Now, we pretty much do the same thing, it’s just over a cutting board,” he explains. “It’s the same thing, where you’re practicing to perform.”

It’s not only the discipline of being a trained musician that translates to the kitchen. The actual, physical act of drumming taught him how to be precise. “Being a drummer, if you’re flailing around you’re not doing anything,” he says, pantomiming wild, Keith Moon-style motions. “You have to know where your hands are going.”

A seminal moment early in his culinary career still instantly brings a smile to Edes’ face, and he’s just a bit more animated when he recounts the story. A few years into his career he headed into Boston for dinner and a show. He’s since forgotten what the show was, but he remembers exactly what he ate at No. 9 Park that night. And, more than the food, he remembers the service. “It was so incredible,” he recalls. “My water was always full, and I never saw them do it. They were so graceful and quiet, and you felt so taken care of.” It was a formative experience still evident in the service at Temple Bar, where the staff provides detailed explanations of menu items, recommendations and a style of of service that makes you feel like you’re at a place that’s five times as expensive.

Edes says his interview process with the Grafton Group, which owns Temple Bar along with Harvard Square hotspots like Grafton Street, Russell House Tavern, PARK and the just-opened Hourly Oyster House, was shrouded in mystery. He was convinced he was up for a job at Russell House Tavern, but when he learned it was Temple Bar he’d be heading up, it was a homecoming in two ways; Edes has been living in the area since 2007, and he’d frequently drop by Temple Bar for a post-shift drink before heading home from positions at other restaurants in the city.

When Edes came on board, he began putting his spin on Temple Bar. And, as in the beginning of any dining experience, bread was first up. Temple Bar’s breads are made in-house and contain spices and herbs grown behind the restaurant. All that dough isn’t just for bread, either—it finds its way into the pizza and pasta dishes. “My days start with flour, and some point at the end of the day I’m working with flour again,” Edes says. “There’s a cyclical thing to it. In between there’s a lot of butchery, bench prep, sauce work and service.”

Speaking of butchery, Edes takes a holistic approach to his meats. He moved Temple Bar to whole animal butchery, opting to get everything in the largest possible format. This allows him and his staff to create dishes that are both varied and fairly priced. “Our lamb dish has so many components to it. We use the entire thing. We have to so we can put it on the menu. If I just gave you 8 ounces of the premium cut, I’d have to charge you a lot more for it.” Instead, diners are treated to one portion of the premium cut, a homemade lamb sausage and a cut of tenderloin—all on one plate—for a reasonable price. This type of dish gives diners a full flavor experience and the ability to enjoy a few different styles in one sitting.

It’s that blending of culinary craftsmanship and value that makes Temple Bar unique. Walking into the physical space, with its mix of exposed brick, industrial décor, gothic-style chandeliers and warm lighting, diners might come in expecting a pricey evening. Toss in menu items like suckling pig, and you’ve got the feel of an upscale Manhattan eatery. But, as in any “local boy makes good” story, Edes has never lost his connection with his diners. “We want people to come in and feel comfortable. To charge people $55 for an entrée wouldn’t feel right. I try to get as much value to our guests as we can without breaking the bank.”

The establishments in Temple Bar’s yet-unnamed neighborhood (Porvard? Harter?) maintain a friendly relationship with one another. Much like Edes used to, plenty of staffers from other eateries stop in for a late-night drink to unwind and commiserate after a long shift. And while he doesn’t get away from the friendly confines of Temple Bar much, Edes has noticed the open border policy.

“A lot of our staff goes out to the Abbey, and some of them will come over here,” he says. “Most of Giulia comes here at the end of the night. It’s a little bit of an industry haunt, which is cool. Years ago, that’s what I used to do here—come in and have a drink.”

This tight-knit community differentiates the area from Harvard and Porter, which can feel busy bordering on claustrophobic at times. In fact, Edes thinks they have the perfect location. “Even though Mass. Ave. is right there, it feels a little quieter,” he notes. “For us to be in between is nice.” With those two squares as buffers, restaurants in the area have had the freedom to explore new styles.

In this little area of Cambridge, diners can find experiences and tastes that are usually reserved for the hotbeds of the culinary world. Giulia sets a high bar for Italian fare, rivaling—and often surpassing—the finest dishes in Boston’s North End. Eater’s restaurant editor and roving critic Bill Addison heralded Shepard as one of 2016’s best new restaurants. And at Temple Bar, Edes is humbly leading the charge, shaking up expectations with inventive dishes that pair unexpected flavors and result in unforgettable meals. He has no reservations about dreaming big for Boston and Cambridge’s culinary scene.

“Someday, we’ll get Michelin to come here,” he smiles. “I never understood why not.”