Cambridge Street in Inman Square has become a bit of a "restaurant row" over the past several years, with a diverse mix of new dining spots and existing eateries making this quirky neighborhood of Cambridge quite interesting to food lovers. But once you leave Inman Square heading east on Cambridge Street toward Lechmere Square and Boston, restaurants get fewer and further between, and what spots do exist are often little-known neighborhood places. One of these restaurants is a classic local joint that can easily fool people by its name alone--East Side Bar and Grille. You might think that a place with this kind of name might be a dank, dark tavern with such items as burgers, steak tips and pizza. Well, you would be partly right, at least in the food category, but East Side Bar and Grille is actually an old-school Italian restaurant that might not be out of place in East Boston, Medford, or the less-touristy sections of the North End.
From the outside, East Side Bar and Grille almost looks like a nightclub or a lounge, with its lit-up facade and mural of Frank Sinatra out front. And while the front section of the restaurant does have a lounge-like feel (and Frank does seem to be played a lot through the sound system), it is really more of a restaurant than anything else. The front room contains a bar on the right and a handful of tables to the left and by the front windows, while up the stairs to the back is a red-painted, windowless dining room that feels a little like a cross between the back room at the NewBridge Cafe in Chelsea and one of the smaller rooms at the Chateau restaurant in Waltham. The overall feel is that of a casual family-friendly spot that is about as unpretentious a place as you will find in Cambridge.
The menu at East Side Bar and Grille has a mix of Italian food, classic American dishes, and pub grub, with a slight emphasis on the Italian side of things. Such classics as escarole soup, bruschetta, calamari, chicken parmesan, fettuccini carbonara, shrimp scampi, and Italian sausage can be found here, along with American dishes and bar items such as surf and turf, baked haddock, turkey tips, and toasted ravioli. The pasta dishes can be huge--as big as one's head in some cases--with the eggplant rollatini (a delicious dish containing fried eggplant stuffed liberally with cheese and spinach) and the Pasta Bolognese (pasta with meat sauce that is slow cooked, all topped with mozzarella cheese) being big enough for two, or maybe even three meals. Two of the most popular items at East Side Bar and Grille are the steak tips and the pizza, and for good reason; the former features tender house-butchered chunks of beef marinated in a sharp-tasting, zesty sauce, while the latter is an 18-inch monster placed on a pedestal, with thin, foldable New York-style slices that have a hearty, thicker outer crust. Beer, wine, and cocktails are all available at the restaurant, as well as a few desserts (including sorbet).
Cambridge has nearly every kind of food imaginable at its countless restaurants that include all sorts of interesting ethnic places, elegant high-end eateries, and quick-casual cheap eats spots. And for those who prefer townie joints and neighborhood haunts, the city still has a few of those as well, including East Side Bar and Grille, a place that doesn't get much press, but features some great food in a comfortable environment.
Copyright © 2010, 2011, Boston's Hidden Restaurants (www.hiddenboston.com).