Crimson Crave: Make Me A Meal!

FM asked Dana Ferrante ’17 and Caroline Gentile ’17, editors of the Harvard-based food blog, The Crimson Crave, to help us find some of the Square’s hidden treasures. With their help, Harvard students just might unleash their inner foodies.

Founders of Crimson Crave Make FM a Meal
Dana Ferrante '17 and Caroline F. Gentile '17, the co-founders of food blog The Crimson Crave, look fondly at their Instagram page.

Here at FM, we love the old favorites—Felipe’s, Noch’s, Tasty Burger—as much as you do. However, they can get a little boring after eating there 600 times. But they’re cheap, dependable, and familiar, like that hoodie you still have from high school and wear around your dorm room. So we asked Dana Ferrante ’17 and Caroline Gentile ’17, editors of the Harvard-based food blog, The Crimson Crave, to help us find some of the Square’s hidden treasures. With their help, Harvard students just might unleash their inner foodies.

Best Appetizer: Datiles
(Orinoco, $7.50)

Bacon Wrapped Dates
Appetizer Recommendation: Datiles from Orinoco's ($7.50). Bacon will never not be good, but it was even better than usual when wrapped around almond-stuffed dates. Orinoco's serves Venezuelan food with a modern twist.

Crimson Crave Tip #1: Be adventurous, and don’t be afraid to check out hole-in-the-wall joints.

“My philosophy about food: If it’s down an alley-way, it’s probably really good!” Ferrante says. Orinoco fits this description perfectly: It’s tucked away at the end of a narrow gap between Boston Tea Stop and an eyeglass store. The inside is dark and intimate, and its menu has a Pablo Neruda poem on the back. Crimson Crave, which has profiled Orinoco before, recommends the joint for dates, romantic and culinary alike.

The datiles, or bacon-wrapped dates, are savory sweet and unfairly good. The bacon lends a salty smoothness to the gooey dates inside, with more flavor in one bite than in several weeks of HUDS food. $7.50 for four of these heavenly morsels, though, is a little pricey on a college budget. To get around the expense, Ferrante and Gentile recommend coming here with a group and ordering three or four tapas as appetizers.

Best Burger: Double Guinness Burger
(Charlie’s Kitchen, $9.50)

Guinness Burger
Entree Recommendation: Guinness Burger from Charlie's Kitchen. This burger had cheese smothered on both of its substantial onion-infused patties, and was a welcome alternative to the monotony of Tasty Burger.

Charlie’s is a Harvard Square landmark: As famous as the John Harvard statue, and nearly as old. The place is a genuine dive: Scuffed tables, mismatched Tiffany lamps, and the requisite jukebox. Its patrons tend to be bespectacled grad students trying very hard to look badass in the dim neon light.

Charlie’s also highlights one of Crimson Crave’s pet peeves: polarized Yelp reviews. “Yelp’s like reading the Q guide,” says Ferrante. “You shouldn’t pay attention to anyone who gives a completely amazing or completely terrible review.” When coming up with the initial idea for Crimson Crave last spring, she and Gentile wanted to focus on constructive criticism, commenting on restaurants’ high points while suggesting areas for improvement.Not that Charlie’s needs any such suggestions. The Guinness, juicy with grilled onions and served in a sesame bun, is beauty in simplicity: No frills — just a whole lot of old-fashioned burger.

Best Vegetarian Cuisine: Venezuelan Plantain Sandwich
(Clover, $6.00)

Fried Plantain Sandwich
Entree Recommendation: Fried Plantain Sandwich from Clover ($6.00). This is the sandwich version of Gretchen Wiener's hair: big and full of secrets. All the very colorful ingredients came together beautifullyr--FM was pleasantly surprised.

Having debated Clover’s merits before, we’re a little hesitant to return for more all-organic “start-up” grub. The Crimson Crave folks, though, have vouched for Clover’s new plantain sandwich, although I had to ask them to define “plantain.” Turns out, it’s a small banana—you learn something new at Harvard every day! We place the order, and ask for some water. “Slick,” the cashier nods, and points to a trio of gleaming taps. “We’ve got CO2 sparkling, 42F chilled, and 64F room temp.” Please stop talking.

The plantain-wich, though, is delicious: Its fried plantain slices, packed into a pita pocket alongside black bean salsa and tangy vegetables, are fresh and crispy. For a place with all the warmth and personality of an Apple Store, Clover seems to be stepping up its culinary game.little pricier than your average Tasty Burger offering, but the premium is worth it to get your hands on this big boy.

Best Beverage: Spicy Monkey Smoothie
(O2 Yoga Vegan Cafe, $5.95)

O2 Yoga Smoothie
Drink Recommendation: The Spicy Monkey Smoothie from the O2 Yoga Vegan Cafe ($6.38 inc. tax). As the name suggests, this smoothie contained bananas, chocolate, and cayenne pepper--perfect for a cold day.

Crimson Crave Tip #2: Keep an open mind. “I like to wander,” Gentile tells us. “I walk around the city, and if I see a place that catches my eye, I’ll go in and try it.” But if we hadn’t been looking out for O2, we might have missed it altogether—it’s actually a yoga studio with a café attached.

Once we walk in, things get weird quickly. We’re definitely not flexible enough—or wearing enough tie-dye and Lululemon—to blend in with O2’s patrons, who are seated on floor mats. Even Crimson Crave’s recommended smoothie, the Spicy Monkey, is a surprise: It’s a blend of chocolate, peanut butter, and banana, but with an unexpected zing of cayenne pepper that makes our eyes water. After a couple slurps, though, we start to appreciate its mix of spicy and sweet—just as a lady walks in with a miniature pig on a leash. Keep an open mind, we keep telling ourselves. It works, sort of.

Best Dessert: Macaroons
(Darwin’s Ltd, $4.95 for 3)

Macaroons from Darwin's
Dessert/Pastry Recommendation: Macaroons from Darwins Ltd. ($4.95 for 3). These little pastries were chewy, yet crispy, and covered in frosting--FM preferred the chocolate.

We end our odyssey at Darwin’s, a cozy café next door to Planet Records, whose hipster soundtrack seems to be bleeding through the walls. It’s off the beaten path from the hustle and bustle of the Square, and has a peaceful vibe to match. Ferrante heard about the cafe from a friend’s glowing review. “[F]ood is definitely a word-of-mouth kind of thing,” she tells me. “It needs to be described to me; it needs to be an experience.”

The macaroons are incredibly rich, filled with creamy marzipan inside and smothered with powdered sugar. Darwin’s has a wide selection: We had chocolate, lemon, and coconut, but there are flavors for every color of the rainbow. As it turns out, Harvard students have just as many options when exploring the Square’s wealth of culinary options. Be adventurous, keep an open mind, and make that perfect meal.

— Nathan A. Cummings