>> Thursday, March 29, 2012
I love hidden gems.
I love small, family-owned, little finds that serve fantastic, authentic food in a warm and cozy environment.
I discovered Baraka Cafe, an Algerian-Tunisian and North African restaurant, years ago when I started my current job in Central Square. Just a little off the beaten path (you have to walk down Pearl Street a bit), this family-owned restaurant churns out flavorful, unusual dishes at prices that look like they haven't changed in decades.
Chef-owners Alia Radjeb Meddeb and Krimo Dahim, who grew up in Tunisia and Algeria, run this small, cozy restaurant. The kitchen is crazy small (I'm amazed at what they can churn out there), and seating is limited.
The moment you walk in, you feel like you are visiting someone's home.
The atmosphere is very relaxed, and everything is made to order in the back. The woman in front (perhaps the owner?) is super friendly and treats you like you're family. I usually find the pace of service to be a bit - how shall I say it? - "relaxed"? Don't come here on a workday if you have a strict one hour lunch break. You just never know exactly how long the service might take. Some days it's totally fine, but other days you'd be in trouble if you had a meeting back at the office within an hour.
If you go, you must get their signature drink, the Cherbat. It's an Algerian style homemade lemonade with rose petals and North African spices. Get a glass for $2.00, or share a carafe ($5.95) or a pitcher ($7.50) with friends. It's gorgeously refreshing in the summer, and is pretty different from most lemonade you could get elsewhere.
I absolutely love their bread, which comes loaded with really interesting spices. It's not spicy hot or even salty, just very, very flavorful. We ordered the bread with h'rissa ($3), a homemade North African spicy red pepper pesto made with parsley, olives, and garlic. It's bold, deeply flavorful, and quite addictive.
Their lunch menu has several very reasonably priced open faced sandwiches, which are served on a hand-stretched, homemade flat Berber bread with salad greens tossed in a black caraway and mustard vinaigrette. These come alongside their house-made fries and h'rissa.
Pictured above is the Homemade Grilled Merguez, a lamb & beef North African sausage seasoned with ras-el-hanout, a Moroccan blend of spices used commonly in North Africa. I love the interesting and unusual spices in the sausage.
We also ordered Mahdjouba Djazairia, a grilled Algerian crepe stuffed with a tchektchouka (like an omelet with poached eggs) of bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and farm cheese. This comes with a mixed green salad. I opted for the vegetarian version ($7.00), although you can add grilled chicken or merguez (lamb/beef sausage shown above) for an extra $1.50. The salad was fresh, the crepe was perfectly executed, and I just absolutely loved the exotic flavors.
Though I generally love everything I've tried here, there is one thing I once tried that I absolutely hated. It's definitely due to personal preference and not a reflection on their execution of it. I ordered the Turkish coffee, which was filled with a huge amount of ground cardamon. I really, really don't like the smell of cardamon - it reminded me of gasoline. I had trouble finishing it.
So, if you're not a huge fan of cardamon either, you probably don't want to order the Turkish coffee.
Overall, however, I love coming here. The food is fantastic, the prices are really reasonable, and the overall experience is very, very authentic. Better yet, this type of cuisine is so different from what I usually eat, it makes every dish a really fun adventure.
I don't come too often because it's hard to get out during the middle of a work day to take a 1-2 hour lunch. When I do come, however, it's always a huge treat.
This restaurant is not open on Mondays, and doesn't open until 12PM for lunch (Tues-Sat only). I learned this the hard way as I tried to come here twice (once on a Monday, once at 11:30AM), only to be sadly greeted by a closed door. It's cash only, and there's no alcohol.
I have yet to try this place for dinner, but I'm confident that the food is fantastic. The dinner menu has a much larger variety of interesting items to try. One of the most famous ones? The Classical Bastilla Torte, a crazy complicated dish that requires 36-hour advanced notice. It's a filo pastry layered with squab or chicken and a plethora of other interesting ingredients (almonds, cinnamon, saffron, parsley, figs, mint, parsley, and orange blossom infusion!!).
Don't forget to order the signature rose infused lemonade - it's so good, you may not even miss the fact that there's no alcohol.
80 1/2 Pearl St
Cambridge, MA 02139