On the morning of its grand opening, Mass. Ave.’s Tatte Bakery & Café hosts a buzzy, caffeine-crazed crowd. Glass walls along the winding marble counter protect heaps of pastries—awash in stickily-sweet glazes and festooned with nuts—from the autumn breeze.
The pastry selection displays a unique variation that can make the uninitiated feel hopelessly provincial. It boasts familiar culinary delights reimagined for a worldly (and hungry) epicure. Pinwheel cream cheese danishes nestle against croissants that have been arranged like gravity-defying coiffures from “Hairspray.” Plain, powdered butter cookies reside among their miniature Nutella kin. The arms of cinnamon buns have been garnished with chocolate and molded into the shape of a rose. Fruit is crowded into crisp, rectangular crusts. Chalkboards list the unwieldy monikers of Tatte’s refinements: muesli for breakfast, and Potato and Jerusalem Artichoke Frittata for weekend brunch.
The aesthetic is full transparency, with clinically white walls and a second story whose wooden floor has been spottily weathered to complement the quaint charm of the cavernous space. On the first landing of the staircase, black tiles on the wall spell HARVARD SQUARE. Two women pause on the steps to pose for photos, reminding jaded Cambridge residents that Harvard Square, too, is a special destination.
Despite the industrial efficiency of the staff—a cadre of employees mans the counter, dividing tasks like assembly line workers—the place exudes warmth. Brown-paper packages of flour and sugar that line the shelves behind the counter, evoking a plentifully-stocked kitchen’s promise of messy fun. And as if to qualify the bakery’s homely allure, one bustling employee, just feet away from the cash register, tends to nimbuses of buttery bread in a gaping oven.
The Breakfast Sandwich, the most unassuming selection on the menu, is surprisingly decadent. Within its toasted sourdough confines, eggs-your-way glom easily to a slice of warm cheddar and are buoyed by the punchy saltiness of bacon crisps. As I face away from the second floor windows and tuck into my meal with a glass of soothingly pulpy, albeit watery, orange juice, I hear snatches of a conversation in French and realize that I could be anywhere. With the staircase landing posturing as a subway stop, one can too easily hole up in this waystation to escape the slog of a long week.
The space is self-conscious, modern, with wide aisles and wrought-iron chairs. Sleek black leather booth seats look like they were salvaged from a defunct diner and burnished to efface their origins. A series of 1960s sentimental ballads sends patrons tumbling toward the past. Perhaps Tatte’s coupling of the old and the new can seduce even the most loyal Panera Bread customers. Now new students have a place in quaint old Harvard Square that they can call their own.