Bringing fun (and cheesiness) back to dining
Years ago, it seemed that there were a lot more offbeat and quirky dining spots out there, with such fun places as the Aku-Aku and Nick’s Beef and Beer House in Cambridge, Chadwick’s in Lexington, Willow Pond in Concord, Augustine’s in Saugus, King’s Grant in Danvers (where workers actually dressed in Olde English costumes for some reason), and yes, Durgin-Park at Faneuil Hall, which occasionally took its lumps from restaurant critics and customers alike but was a classic place that didn’t take itself too seriously.
That last point is a big one, as it feels like so many dining and drinking spots go the “important” route these days, saying that they’re going to change the way Boston feels about food or turn the lounge scene on its head. That’s why it’s nice to see such places as the Friendly Toast in Cambridge’s Kendall Square (and several other locations) take a light-hearted attitude toward all this, realizing that sometimes, you just want to have a decent meal, a drink or two, and a few laughs while enjoying a funky vibe that’s missing from so many other spots. Is it the best place for food? No. Are its cocktails going to make you forget about Drink in Fort Point? Uh-uh. But that’s not the point here, as it’s more about kicking back and simply forgetting about the world for a while.
One Kendall Square seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it places, with some saying that it’s rather cold and soulless (like the rest of Kendall Square, according to some) while others feel like it’s a cozy little oasis tucked away among the ever-increasing towers and developments in this part of the city. Whatever your feelings are about One Kendall, it does have a number of solid food and drink options, including State Park, Mamaleh’s, Bon Me, the Smoke Shop, Cambridge Brewing, Beantowne Coffee, and Flat Top Johnny’s, the last of which is where you can show off your skills (or lack of) in pool. And the Friendly Toast is right in the middle of it all, housed in the same building as State Park, Mamaleh’s, and Bon Me and showing off its colorful weirdness both inside and out to the world. Although the restaurant is considered to be a retro diner in some ways, first-timers may be surprised to see a comfy bar off to the left upon entering the place (and really, there’s nothing wrong with doing a shot of bourbon while eating bacon and eggs), while a spacious dining room is front and center and a smaller dining area is off to the right in the back. The waiting area to the right of the bar out front is also sufficiently kitschy, and a patio to the left of the entrance is definitely the place to be on a warm summer night, especially since One Kendall Square is basically a pedestrian-only campus so you don’t have to worry about car noise or exhaust fumes.
The Friendly Toast isn’t exactly an old-school diner, so those who like greasy spoons with cheap, basic American classics might not love the menu here. But the menu does have different and unusual takes on some of the classics while also offering familiar diner food as well here and there. Some of the highlights include a BLT Benedict with grilled pork belly and cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes; a belly-busting breakfast burrito that includes black beans, which only help to make it even more filling; large omelets that come with house-made toast, including a hearty and slightly sweet anadama bread; avocado toast, because, well, this is Kendall Square (with lots and lots of upwardly mobile millennials); a decadent Monte Cristo breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, ham, Swiss cheese, and mustard, all on oatmeal French toast; some sleep-inducing loaded tots with bacon, cheese, scallions, and—if you want even more calories—two eggs served over easy as an add-on; a variety of burgers, including one with macaroni and cheese, added to it; grilled chicken tacos with a bit of a kick coming from the jalapeno-jack cheese and chipotle aioli; and ramen of all things, with the barbacoa ramen not quite reaching the heights of ramen options at Ganko in Brookline or Sapporo in Cambridge, but surprisingly great considering that you might not even expect to see ramen at a place like this.
The Friendly Toast offers up some decent beers, including some local brews, while cocktails include a very impressive Old Habits (Die Hard) that’s its take on an old fashioned (Four Roses bourbon, real maple syrup, peach and orange bitters, maraschino cherries, orange slice), an easy-to-drink Now Is the Hour (Beefeater gin, elderflower liqueur, cucumber, lime), and some Polynesian cocktails such as mai tais and Singapore “zings.” Prices are perhaps more expensive than that of your typical diner but moderate overall, while servers seem to really like working here, being friendly, goofy, and funny for the most part.
If you like upscale restaurants with “groundbreaking” food, or you simply prefer going to a dark and dingy dive bar and staring into your whiskey and beer (note—there’s nothing wrong with this latter option), it’s probably best to avoid the Friendly Toast in Kendall Square. But for most others, it’s tough to argue against all-day breakfasts, loads of comfort food, and booze while soaking in the type of vibe that only an oddball dining spot like this can offer. A big thumbs-up to a place that is anything but a boring, button-down spot.
[Ed. note: other locations of the Friendly Toast can be found locally in Boston’s Back Bay and Burlington.]
THE FRIENDLY TOAST. 1 KENDALL SQUARE, CAMBRIDGE. THEFRIENDLYTOAST.COM