I was early to meet some friends for lunch, and noticed a display of Chef Davis’s cookbook, Honest and Fresh, near the entry to the main dining room of the wonderful Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The cookbook, with its beautiful cover photograph of a hearty breakfast in an iron skillet, was irresistible and on picking up a copy to glance over, it fell open to a recipe for sangria. It’s been years since my last glass of sangria, probably back in the 1970’s when I was in college (with the ability to imbibe legally since the drinking age was 18 in upstate New York back then). A half pitcher of sangria and some cheese and crackers made for a nice date. But this recipe caught my attention, with ingredients that included cranberry juice, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, presumably farm fresh and local. So when it came to order lunch, I found myself in the unusual situation of ordering a glass of sangria, surprising myself since I rarely, if ever, have alcohol with lunch and when I do, it’s a glass of red wine.
Sorry to say, the sangria was not the right choice, with too many ingredients for my palate, mixing light rum, white wine, cassis, a sparkling wine, orange juice, cranberry juice as well as the berries and sugar. But that was certainly my mistake for choosing a drink based on nostalgia since the ethos of Henrietta’s Table described by Chef Davis in his cookbook is simple: “Our main priority is the taste of the food, so we try not to put more than three or four ingredients on a plate.” The food we enjoyed for lunch demonstrated this admirable spirit with the flavors from the food itself prevailing in all their “honest and fresh” glory.
Henrietta’s Table offers daily lunch specials, and as a special starter for the day we shared perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, seasoned lightly with Maine sea salt and pesto. The plate with its slices of yellow and red tomatoes accented by the green of the pesto and served with olive oil was a work of art and an excellent beginning. I would have been satisfied with a lunch consisting of these perfect tomato slices atop the warm, cranberry nut bread, which accompanied our lunches. Add a seasonal green salad, and life is good. Still, there was no turning away from my choice of one of the two special lunch entrées for the day, “Quiche of Roasted Local Vegetables and Neighborly Farms Colby Cheese, Side Salad.” My eye caught the use of Neighborly Farms of Vermont cheese since this Vermont artisinal cheese maker’s feta cheese is a favorite of mine. (My local food co-op, Honest Weight Food Co-op [www.hwfc.com], in my hometown of Albany, NY, carries Neighborly Farms of Vermont cheeses.) The egg flavor of the quiche was rich, with the perfect mixture of vegetables, including zucchini squash and a colorful purple broccoli, to add to the wonderful flavors of this comfort dish. Still, with my taste buds accustomed to Neighborly Farms feta cheese, I would have preferred the stronger taste of feta over the mild Colby cheese as an ingredient for the quiche.
The second special entrée of the day, “Pressed Organic Green Onion Cheddar and Native Organic Tomato Sandwich with Arugula Pesto and Side Salad” pleased our younger dining companion, who was impressed by the blending of flavors. This perfect preparation of a grilled cheese sandwich confirmed the fact that simple ingredients can produce a dining pleasure. The side salads served with the special entrees of the day were fresh seasonal greens perfectly dressed in a mild vinaigrette. The regular lunch menu of Henrietta’s Classics lists 16 entrees, including “Henrietta’s Chop Salad: Native Romaine Lettuce, Nueske’s Bacon, Hass Avocado, Smokehouse Turkey, Onion, Tomatoes and Blue Cheese Vinaigrette.” This was the healthy choice of a well-pleased dining companion, who required sustenance before returning to an afternoon’s work at the office.
We shared a dessert that was a chocolate lover’s dream: “Warm Taza Chocolate Skillet Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.” Taza is a chocolate maker based in nearby Somerville, Massachusetts. A small bean to bar chocolate maker, it uses exclusively organic and sustainable cacao from a small cooperative in the Dominican Republic and maintains direct relationships with growers to ensure fair wages and work practices [www.tazachocolate.com]. The melding of a moist, richly chocolate cake made with this very fine chocolate, served warm in the skillet with a topping of freshly made vanilla bean ice cream was the pleasurable ending to a wonderful lunch.
Henrietta’s Table is located in Harvard Square’s The Charles Hotel, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and provides a reason for the hotel’s guests to stick close-by for their dining. Nonetheless, with a separate entrance, Henrietta’s Table does not have the feel of a hotel dining room. Instead, it has the feeling of a farmhouse dining room, with its white walls and carefully hung photographs of farm crops and flowers. We were seated in a comfortable corner, which was graced by a remarkable array of sculptures of fruits and vegetables, including a bulb of garlic, a pear, and a squash. The friendly waiter explained that the sculptures were made by students at The Farm School in Athol (Worcester County), Massachusetts [www.farmschool.org/], who carved the sculptures from stones found on the farm. Henrietta’s Table has a partnership with The Farm School, which was started in 1989 with the goal of providing children the experience of farming. The school serves over 1,700 children each year in immersive, three-day programs and also offers a year-long farmer training program for adults and a full-time middle school. Henrietta’s Table hosts an annual fund-raising event, The Big Pig Gig, as a gift to the Farm School. We lunched for approximately $25 per person, which included a gratuity, a beverage and the sharing of a dessert (FWB 9/24/10). [Henrietta’s Table, One Bennett Street, Cambridge, MA,
617.661.5005, Breakfast: Mon-Fri 6:30AM-11:00AM, Sat 7:00AM-11:00AM, Sun 7:00AM-10:30AM,Lunch: Mon-Fri 12:00PM-3:00PM, Sat 12:00PM-3:00PM, Brunch Buffet: Sun 12:30PM-3:00PM,Dinner: Mon-Sun: 5:30PM-10:00PM, www.henriettastable.com]