Where to eat in HARVARD SQUARE
*****Burdick Chocolate
*****Darwins LTD
*****Cafe Crema
**** Cardullo's

Where to eat in CENTRAL SQUARE

****Mariposa Bakery      (617) 876-6500

Where to eat in KENDALL SQUARE

*****Tatte Cafe
****Voltage Cafe

Burdick Chocolate

There really is no day so dour that it can't be salvaged with a high octane chocolate mouse with almonds for ears and a pretty ribbon tail. Come to think of it, you can pretty much pick any given chocolate at Burdick and come away with a significant yet legal buzz.

And although chocolates are the kissing cousins of baked goods, I review Burdick here with impunity: this is no longer just a chocolate shop, it is also a killer bakery and coffee shop. They've evolved into a European cafe of the highest water, serving sumptuous round mugs of espresso with homemade caramel, among other wonders. And it's an awesome place to sit for an hour and soak in the warm, glowy ambience, amongst happy patrons who fairly resonate from chocolate/coffee highs.

What used to be a selection of one or two tarts has grown to a full blown dessert case that could hold its head high in the Tuilleries for artisanship and quality. Macaroons, mousse cakes, praline, and of course, chocolate, all carefully made. This is the essence of Burdick: they really, really care about what they make. It's the kind of joint where the guy foaming the coffee and the gal putting together boxes of chocolate are uber foodies that crave chocolate the way vampires crave...well, you get the picture. I'm not saying it's an unholy alliance; on the contrary, you can practically hear the heavenly choirs singing after you've had a few goodies.

On my visit, I was in a particular mood for something more mellow. The lady at the counter suggested the raspberry tart, warmed up with a dollop of whipped cream. I ordered this with a steamed milk and honey. Really, for $7, you can't have any more fun than this.

A flaky under carriage topped with warm, tart raspberries and a cloud of whipped cream. And filigrees of golden honey crisscrossed on a half inch layer of decadent milk foam, followed by a deeply lux cup of honeyed milk. Truly, comfort can be bought, people. Especially on a cold Boston day in Harvard Square.

It can be a little crowded on the weekends, but if you come by around 4 p.m. on a weekday, you're likely to score a seat. My favorite maneuver is to sit for a piece of cake and then on the way out peruse the chocolate counter. There are few joys as potent as dangling one of those chocolate mice by the tail, imaging a few chocolatey squeaks of protest, and then summarily devouring the choco bomb in one fell swoop. Trust me, you will practically levitate down Brattle Street on your way home. 

52 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Darwin's Ltd: the ultimate yum in Harvard Square

There's a reason Darwin's has every award sticker known to man plastered on its front door: this joint is the real deal and you will want to get there immediately and stuff your face. But do so with dignity. After all, this deli and cafe was founded by an actual descendant of Charles Darwin. Add in the ambiance of tony Cambridge houses and leafy trees, and you have a hell of a spot to nosh, pick up some extra groceries, or sit and drink a killer cup of coffee.

Seriously, the Babe would not kid about this: Darwin's sandwiches are worth a trip across town. They are, in a word, juicy. My favorite is the Mt. Auborn: turkey and avocado on sublime sourdough that is tweaked with an herb vinaigrette that takes the sammy to another realm...the realm of transcendent sandwich bliss. Get thee there, fight the throngs of locals in line, and order one of these bad boys. You won't be sorry!

But the Babe's mission is pastries, let us not forget, and attached to the deli is a sit-down cafe with a wealth of goodies, made by various bakers around town, that are poised to make your mouth happy.

Tarts, cupcakes, muffins...pretty much, anything short of panna cotta is here.

Creme tart with pistachios, anyone?

Having failed to get off my cupcake kick, I tried a lemon coconut creme and a red velvet cupcake.

I'll admit that as I bit into the first one, I was thinking to myself that I don't trust cafes that don't bake their goodies in-house, and I was speculating that it would be dry from sitting out for a few days, etc. But holy haybales, I was wrong. Lush, tender, moist crumbs, beautiful flavors, icing that evoked Fred and Ginger dancing in full formal evening wear. To be frank, they were bloody delicious, and I intend to eat as many of them as I can lay my hands on.

Just be sure that when you're there, you pray to the gnome that presides over the cafe counter for a place to sit...otherwise, on a weekend you're likely to end up on a bench outside wolfing down your goodies.

Crema Cafe: A tea and cake kind of day in Boston

Seeking inspiration on this blustery spring day, and having watched far too many episodes of Miss Marple, I thought, "It's a tea and cake kind of day." Or rather, I decided to try as many shops as I could in Harvard Square that sell something like tea and cakes. I picked Crema Cafe first, and to be honest, didn't expect it to be much more impressive than a Starbucks. Happily, I was wrong.

I walked into a decor that smacked of industrial chic, with the loft-like seating area above bulging with customers who presumably came for the impressive array of goodies for sale.

I wasn't swayed by the danish, the carrot cakes, the scones...well, yes, I was swayed...but not detained! I had a mission in mind, after all. I'd heard that Crema had good cupcakes. When the counter person told me that all of Crema's goodies were made in-house, I began to gleam and bounce. This was no Starbuck's knock-off. Can you find cupcakes like this there?

A sucker for sprinkles, I went with the "Birthday cupcake" and a glass of Morroccan mint tea, hustling my way past table hawks to grab a spot at the long communal table at the front of the shop. And what I bit into was, well, bliss. But a surprising kind of bliss.

I've grown accustomed to designer cupcakes that have a light, spongy cake and fearful wads of heavy buttercreme for heavy cupcakes, if you will. So, oh, little fairies danced on my tongue as I bit into a substantial, lovely yellow cake flecked with confetti, and then a light-as-air buttercream that seemed the confectionary equivalent of butterfly wings. It really was just that freaking good. A little sip of minty iced tea, a wee slurp of ethereal buttercream, a giant chomp or two of sturdy cake. Looking out at people strolling toward Brattle Street, envoloped in a pleasant warmth that smelled like coffee and onion bagels, I thought I might just have to come back and try everything on the menu, sandwhiches and lattes included. But no matter what else I eat there, I will be making room for a cupcake. Really, I think I may have found the cucpake to beat in Harvard Square.

Tealuxe: The "Real" Boston Tea Party

I aspire to nothing more than a little tea shop populated with old, floor-to-ceiling tea drawers, shelves filled with tea pots, and tables covered with hammered copper. Walk into Tealuxe and inhale, deeply. This is the aroma that tells your brain directly: all is well. Yes, Tealuxe is my happy place. In past incarnations, I would bring homework here and bolster myself against Boston winters and cranky professors with a pot of tea, complete with timer and all the bells and whistles.

Tiger Hill Nilgiri from the Blue Mountains of South India. Victorian Rose Tea, Darjeeling Silvertips, China White really could become lost in one treasure after another being scooped out of little black drawers and packed away in blue tins that will shortly stock your cabinets. That's the beauty of Tealuxe: you can drink a pot on the premises or take home a few tins of tea, a new pot, specialty teabags, and every other piece of tea hardware you could dream of. If you're looking for the real Boston Tea Party, may I suggest starting with a cup of chamomile at Tealuxe?

If you haven't guessed, Tealuxe is part of my "tea and cake" week in Harvard Square. Their Brattle Street location near Anthropologie is the perfect place to pop in, snuffle about in a wondrous world of teas, and then watch people stroll by (if you can snag a spot at the window bar). My favorite tea is actually their blended, frozen Hanna Berry tea with bubbles at the bottom. A light frosty rose petal moving down into a robust raspberry and then to the blackberry depths of tapicoca pearls. Truly one of the prettiest drinks I've ever had, and not at all too sweet.

But woman cannot survive on tea alone, and the Babe oggled the few plates of goodies in the dessert case with a speculative eye. Memories of stomache impactions simmered in my brain...why did I have a little index card in my brain with the note "Don't buy the scone, Bakery Babe!"? But the lovely counter girl saw me waffling and was quick to point out that their scones were made by the Danish Pastry House, a Somerville bakery that I've been wanting to try but have yet to catch a ride to. I was sucked into a blackberry scone that looked to be the size of a sourdough loaf. Bafflingly, Tealuxe does not offer butter and jam with their scones, and you must ask to find out that they do have little pots of devonshire cream. In theory, a blackberry scone and a spoonful of devonshire might be heaven.

Alas, friends, alas. The devonshire cream had clearly been in the fridge for the better part of winter. And the scone, oh my heart weeps to think of it, was a tasteless gargantuan of glutinous blight that could single-handedly funk up my digestion for the rest of April. So let me digress here and opine on the topic of the scone. You have two options. You can go for massive flavor, plump lovely berries, and sugar crunch crust that is so tasty that no other embellishments are needed. Or you can make a plainish little cake and serve it with pots of jam, waxy spoonfuls of clotted cream, lemon curd, whipped cream...oh, the options are endless. Either of those routes will do you proud on the scone front. But woe betide the baker who makes a mega wad of flavorless flour and then FAILS to accessorize with the necessary accoutrement. How Tealuxe, a shop made for tea time, could miss this point is beyond me. Tealuxe, I beg of you, upgrade your goodies! Serve real teatime nibblies! Put some jam and butter on the plate! Give us scones and muffins that are as good as your tea!

Cardullos: And the Kitchen Sink

I first became a regular at Cardullo's about ten years ago, when as a graduate student, I survived the winters on their liverwurst sandwiches. Bitchin' sourdough, thick slabs of meat butter, and all the usual sandwich accoutrement, plus a jolly big Italian guy who worked behind the sandwich counter and made you feel like you were in a scene from Moonstruck. Fast forward ten years. The Babe doesn't eat anything that started off life with hooves (so nix on the liverwurst), and the jolly Italian guy has been replaced by college kids. BUT, this is still THE place to grab a sandwich in Harvard square. Their french rolls, in particular, should be contraband.

But there are other reasons to visit Cardullos besides the sandwhich bar, namely the entire rest of the store. This place is packed, and I do mean packed, with every imported delicacy, specialty food, and gourment goody you could want.

Need Turkish delight? Check.

Need Hob Nobs and a cuppa British breakfast tea? Check.

Need love tea? Check!

German marzipan?

Ten dollar bars of artisan chocolate?

Basically, every corner of this shop is crammed with something that will make your foodie heart thump loudly. At Christmas, in particular, I have to refrain from buying multiple British puddings (as in, figgy me, you want it). The only catch? Imports cost money. Artisan costs money. So bring yourself here for a sandwich or a treat, but don't bring the rent money!
And where to eat that gorgeous liverwurst sandwich you may order? I recommend the steps of Widener Library, as Harvard yard is only a few feet away. I like to think I get smarter just by sitting on the steps and enjoying some goodies.

Flour Bakery: Gird Yourself for Battle, Bostonians!

Flour is THE bakery. The one everyone has heard of in Beantown. The Magna Regina of bakeries. Started by Joanne Chang, Flour has grown from one location to three, with the sticky buns achieving the status of legend after she trounced Bobby Flay in a Sticky Bun Throwdown. Add to that her gorgeous cookbook, Flour, and you have an empire in the making. And it's an empire worthy of the hype. The counter of baked goods is a study in plenty, pleasure, and care. Raspberry bars, "Oreo" cookies, and brownies meet you first at the counter.

But hold out, friends, for the meringues and the bread pudding, which is something of a transcendental experience in the winter.

But the thing that everyone comes to try is truly the sticky buns. So the Babe was honor-bound to try one. It's a tough life, eh?

This bad girl tasted as decadent as she looks. A yeasty, moist coil of bread drenched in a sugary glaze and studded with pecans. All I ask is for a little melted butter to drizzle over it and I'm fairly certain I'll have arrived at the sweet end. Having downed only a quarter of this beauty, and thereby feeling like a sugar comas was coming on, I also ordered one of their ridiculously good sandwiches, the tuna curry dotted with apples and raisins on crunchy grilled bread. Trust me, you want this.

Just don't forget to ask for a to go box. You're going to need help hauling home all of the cookies and goodies you couldn't manage to eat in one sitting.

So, what's the catch? EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN BOSTON WANTS TO COME HERE TO EAT ON A SATURDAY MORNING. I was only at the modest Central Square location, and it took twenty-three minutes of standing in line before I had my sandwich in my clutches. Not that the line doesn't move fast; there is an army of bakery goddesses behind the counter moving at break-neck speed. It's just that you are likely to find twenty to thirty people ahead of you in line or milling around trying to score a table. It's the sort of "problem" every bakery owner would love to have, and there's really no cure for it, short of expanding the seating area to something the size of a football field. This is not to say that on a Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. you can't swing by and find only a mildly crazy scene, but to go on the weekend is to step into the bakery battlefield. Put on your game face, bring your I-pod, and get ready for the line and the table hawking. It is, in my not-so-humble opinion, entirely worth it.

Mariposa Bakery: Comfort in a Cup!

Mariposa is easy to walk by, in it's shaded Central Square den. And many a person has no doubt walked straight past, in a sprint for Flour Bakery just a few blocks away. But consider this less glamorous cousin of Flour, this slightly less shiny, less manic, less packed alternative. Because once you make it in the door, you will find a very down home cafe with brick walls and local art, nice counter gals, and plenty of places to sit. And what would make the Babe even happier? You got it: a cafe that bakes its own goodies. Cookies, scones, fudgy brownies, lush coffee cakes. Mariposa's little counter is crammed with homemade beauties.

You can be assured that the baked goods are just as nice as Flour's, although a little less glamorous and certainly less expensive. The portions are bigger and the wait time is about at tenth of what you'll get down the street.

The specialty of the house, I have it on good authority, is the chocolate chip scone, which I snapped up and highed away to a table with a very nice glass of iced tea. As always before biting into a scone, I stopped and wondered if my lips were about to be met with a cement wall of bland gluten. But, NO, Mariposa's scone was sweet, flaky, and tender all at once, with studs of melty chocolate. And the counter girl didn't even blink when I asked for butter to slather on.

All told, it was a dang good scone; definitely in the top five of Boston scones so far. The Babe recommends you put Mariposa and her scones on your list for those days when you need comfort in a cup and a good-vibe cafe for a few hours of hanging out.

Mariposa Bakery 424 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02139 (617) 876-6500
Kendall Square
Tatte Cafe and Bakery: Watch out Flour, there's a new bakery in town

Some days, the gods smile on this Babe. Some days, I'm ambling along to review a cafe, and out of nowhere, a new and intriguing bakery will spring up and wave at me. This is exactly what happened as I was walking to review Voltage Cafe near Kendall. Across the street and up a block was a promising store called Tatte Bakery and Cafe that I hadn't read about in any search of Kendall Square. So, in I wandered, and, oh NELLY, oh SWEET HEAVEN. This Babe just about needed her fainting salts at the sight of a beautiful, rustic style French cafe that was absolutely packed with high-octane goodies.
Do I need a fig tart?

Do I need a cherry clafouti?

Do I need ten of these?

And five of these?

And an entire pistachio cheesecake? Why, yes. Yes, I do!

And I wasn't even to the part of the counter that had cinnamon rolls and croissant. Sweet little stacks of cookies here and there, tall sticky buns, unexpected flavors like rose infusion. It was, quite frankly, a bit much for this humble bakery reviewer. Tatte Bakery very nearly knocked me out of the ring with a tantalizing bounty of French dessert done right.

How was it that the entirety of Boston wasn't crammed into this treasure?

Well, it turns out that Tatte is an outcropping of Tatte Cookies, and has only been in this location for two months. But I guarantee that once you clap eyes on this oasis of beauty, you pate-choux heart is going to melt, and you will be here every weekend. I don't say this lightly: Tatte is just as good as Flour. And the line in this undiscovered gem is one or two people at most. True, the sit-down tables were packed with happy diners eating the savory dishes that Tatte serves. And the long wooden common tables were filled with folks having pastry and coffee. But it was nowhere near the mania you must fight through a T-stop away to get a pastry at Flour. And as I said, it's just as good. Really.

So take the plunge a veer a few blocks from the Kendall Stop, and step into modern rustic charm and a bonanza of bakery goods. Just be prepared to part with cash for some of the more high end items. The croissant (made in-house) is under two bucks, but the clafouti is more like $7.

Voltage: Amp me up!

I am not a huge coffee aficionado, I should state up front. Like most of the Eastern Seaboard, I am addicted to Dunkin Doughnuts and would probably vote for that over almost all over coffee concoctions. But occasionally I have a coffee that is just so superb and unique that I actually stop and think, "This is dang good." Well, at Voltage, I stopped and thought, "This is a frickin' masterpiece!" The drink was their caramel with sea salt latte. The setting? A post modern cafe with art installations all around, mostly populated by M.I.T. students with their faces glued to their laptops. And the fuel to get them through their cram sessions is only a step away.

So what is the art of the Voltage latte? It starts with the "pour over"...which I now know simply means that they brew their coffee the old-fashioned way, with little filters, cup by cup. Which is apparently infinitely preferable to the industrial elephant-sized filters that are used with Starbucks machines. I was a little sceptical, looking around at the sparse decor and a wee little cabinet filled with goodies, but I went with the sea salt caramel latte and a cookie, both of which were very reasonably priced.

I should also admit that very often I find the term "caramel with sea salt" being used to jack up patrons to the point of no return, only for them to find later that they have an overly salted, sweet mess on their hands. It's a very chic thing to call something these days. Not sure your cupcake will sell? Throw a little sea salt on the top and, Bingo!, it's gourmet. Call it "fleur de sel" and you'll have a tsunami of customers. Well, such are the musings of a Bakery Babe, at any rate.

But as I took a sip of a supremely smooth cup of coffee, with the sweet taste of caramel and the thick milk foam on top, a little crystal of sea salt floating above it all hit my tongue. And the Babe's taste buds went into overdrive. It turns out that the flavor of coffee, when hit just right with a jag of salt, is bloody genius. The cookie became rather perfunctory as I slugged down the latte, waiting like a kid on Christmas for that next hit of sea salt. It really was an extraordinary drink, in a town full of nice coffee joints where it is hard to stand out. If you like post-modern environments and are a coffee fan, may I suggest dallying from the red line just two blocks and having a cup?