With the academic energy on campus at its second-round-of-midterms high, a stroll around the Square can be comforting—if you can avoid bumping into tour guides donning eighteenth century garb and don’t mind waiting 20 minutes to drop $6 on Starbucks drip coffee. For those moments when you need a quiet reprieve from campus life, and don’t want to run the risk of bumping into your chatty lab partner at Algier’s, FM offers a map of cafes within walking distance from Harvard Square.
You’ll find The Biscuit on a quiet residential corner, a 10-minute walk down Kirkland Street past William James Hall. With pale blue walls hosting still lifes of fruits and vegetables, The Biscuit offers rows of loaves of delicious-smelling breads as well as coffee, tea, and creative pastries. I had the fruit bread, a bread with peach slices at its center and walnuts and ricotta cheese surrounding, all topped with a sweet glaze—possibly, if not definitely, the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. There is a good amount of seating, as well as a patio outside. This may be the best place for people watching—everyone in the café was sporting a black pea coat and either tapping on a MacBook or having an animated conversation. One woman sitting near me kept snorting loudly at the man across from her, calling him a “shitshow.”
Down Mass. Ave. toward Boston, Simon’s Too sits on a corner across from Cambridge College. An outpost of the popular Simon’s Coffee in Porter Square, it offers paninis and salads in addition to its parent shop’s coffee and tea. The décor reminded me of a Chipotle, stark and impersonal. Exposed brick and small red tile surrounds the seating area, which is scattered with low hardwood tables and metal chairs. It’s not that Simon’s Too endeavors to be a fast-food burrito place, it just hasn’t grown into itself yet.Having opened this Fall, it’s not even on Google Earth. I tried the chai tea latte ($3.69), which surpassed my expectations. Only a short walk from campus and without WiFi, it provided a quiet ambience to get some work done—a pset kind of place.
Andala Coffee House
With an awning strung with twinkling white Christmas lights, a patio surrounded from three sides by windows, and outdoor seating, Andala is that cute café you wish you had down the block when you were growing up. Oriental carpets line the walls as well as the floors; colorful hookahs dangle from mantles; nooks, strewn with pillows, curve along the walls. Besides offering coffee, pastries, and one extremely delicious blueberry muffin, Andala serves Israeli food such as tabouli and lamb’s leg (entrees are an average of $12). The restaurant continues down the stairs to a lower level, where the sounds of chatting cooks emanate from the open kitchen. Andala seems like the perfect place to grab a lazy brunch on a Sunday and languish for a few hours in a cozy nook.
Farther down Washington Street in Union Square is Sherman Cafe. Upon walking in, I was immediately entranced by the David Bowie soundtrack (“Hunky Dory”) and the vegan cupcakes (pumpkin: absolutely delicious). A big chalkboard on the wall touts the local places from which they acquire their meat and cheese, giving Sherman’s an organic, “locavore” feel. The menu boasts cheese plates, vegetables, and sandwiches all for around $6. For the uber-connected, there is free WiFi. Although it was farther down the same street, the crowd was much different than The Biscuit. Middle-aged women sat and chatted, as did some students hunched over their laptops. Low wooden tables bear the scars of watery cup bottoms. The window sill has several potted plants and is strewn with books with titles like “Urban Homesteading” and “Earl Mindell’s Anti-Aging Bible.” It’s a bit of a walk from campus, but so worth it if you need a quiet reprieve from a book enclave or have a hankering for local cheese.
Voltage Coffee and Art
Voltage Café is, without a doubt, the coolest coffee shop in which I have ever set foot. Located in sleek Kendall Square by MIT, it is surrounded by glass and metal buildings and steak restaurants where million-dollar venture capital deals are made. At the counter, jars of chocolate pretzels, nuts, chocolate-covered coffee beans, and banana chips are sold by the scoop. Voltage’s small menu offers nothing over $5, and is populated with teas, coffee, and small sandwiches (the agave & salt toast is a must). Once I walked past the counter I was a bit confused—was the coffee shop attached to a gallery? Walls sectioning off the shop are decorated with sinister photographs and paintings: random houses in the dark and blurry black-and-white street scenes. There is an excellent WiFi signal, and at a nearby table two young men in oversized black glasses and hoodies were discussing a new iPhone app and marketing schemes. Go there if you want a cheap snack in a gallery, to satisfy your cultural craving, or to overhear chatter of the next Twitter.