Cambridge, MA - The past five years have been a fairly colorful run for Chef Michael Scelfo. A semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef Northeast in 2016, he opened his first venture—Alden & Harlow—in the former site of Harvard Square’s sorely missed Casablanca in 2014 to uniformly positive reviews. Bon Appetit hailed Alden & Harlow as one of the 50 Best New American Restaurants, while the subterranean newcomer drew local accolades from the Boston Globe and the Improper Bostonian as the Best Restaurant in Boston for two consecutive years. Now, Scelfo is set to unveil his third and latest creation, Longfellow Bar, in the space directly above his debut venture.
But while the fare at Alden & Harlow focuses on Scelfo’s eclectic takes on New American cuisine—think chicken fried rabbit, black pepper garganelli and smoked lamb belly—the menu at Longfellow Bar will focus on comfort food. So comfortable, utensils may simply be unnecessary.
“Everything’s been kind of crafted to have a design element that feels like you could just pick it up and eat it with your hands,” says Scelfo. “I do want people to touch and share and pass their food, literally. That for me is something that I feel is kind of untapped in our industry: the tactile enjoyment of food in your hands and how things feel against your skin and how the salinity of your fingers affects the way something tastes.”
“This [will be] a throwback to the cooking I did early on in my career in Boston when I didn’t have a lot of clout and I was younger,” Scelfo told Boston magazine last year. “A lot of the jobs I was taking then had a bar food component. I wanted to be a serious chef, but the people I worked for wanted burgers and snacks and fries. And I was like, Well, I’m going to do it all from scratch.”
The preview menu shows it. But if you’re expecting solely gourmet variations of bar food staples, you may be in for a surprise. Yes, you’ll find elevated renditions on waffle fries, deviled eggs and wings. But you’ll also find international flavors: Thai sausage in nam prik sauce, fried sweetbreads, short rib kifto and what may be Longfellow Bar’s signature plate: a pita filled with peppers, lamb fat tahini and fried caper crumbs named after Emil Durzi—the long time owner of Cafe Algiers, which closed in 2017.
The eclectic yet casual sensibilities are no less reflected in the cocktail list, overseen by Alden & Harlow alum Dan Pontius. Weekly specials will be subject to the bartender’s whims and named after their preferred albus, beginning with a personal favorite of Pontius—Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska.”
Yet despite all the promise Longfellow represents, many of us still remember the cautionary tales of a redeveloping Harvard Square from twenty years ago. Greenhouse Coffee Shop. Café Algiers. The Wursthaus. Lee’s Beehive. All gone. And the recent closings of Crema Café, Les Sablons and Kaju are not exactly persuasive of commercial longevity for any new venture—culinary or otherwise.
“No one wants to see anything close, especially in a small community, and we’re losing some of our great classics,” Scelfo says. “Places are going to close, but places are going to keep opening, too, and hopefully we’ll have new memories to make.”
Longfellow Bar is located at 40 Brattle St in Cambridge and is scheduled to open Saturday, January 19th. Hours are expected to be Monday - Thursday from 11:30 am - 1:00 am, Fridays from 11:30 am - 2:00 am, Saturdays from 3:00 pm - 2:00 am and Sundays from 3:00 pm - 1:00 am. For more information, please visit longfellowharvard.com