First Bite: Firebrand Saints
This funky new Kendall Square spot is a smart blend of style and substance.
Firebrand Saints launched this fall with much ado about its innovative décor—an installation that beams streetscapes onto the wall in light; TVs that turn the action onscreen into poems or cool pop-art-esque images; a graffiti wall. So much ado, in fact, that the food seemed like it might be more of an afterthought. But no restaurant can score a loyal clientele on looks alone, so it’s a good thing that with doors now open, what comes out of the kitchen is as praiseworthy as what’s around it.
The menu from chef-owner Gary Strack (the brains behind Cambridge spot Central Kitchen and the now-defunct Enormous Room) is appealingly short, focusing on rotisserie dishes, house-ground burgers, and bar snacks. Smaller plates were particularly strong: Served with pillowy pita slices, the warmly spiced carrot purée, smoky eggplant baba ganoush, and silky hummus with ground lamb from the mezze bar (three for $12, pictured) showcased the kitchen’s talent in blending simple flavors to delicious effect. Sweet rock shrimp, meanwhile, dressed in a rich hot sauce and drizzled with blue cheese “fondue” ($13), were a creative take on pub-style buffalo wings. And though the deep-fried battered onions ($10) — done as strings, not rings — were accompanied by a scallion-buttermilk dressing that was on the thin side, the light tempura-style batter elevated the dish well beyond its greasy fast-food roots.
More substantial offerings also excelled. An atypical blend of lamb and sirloin yielded an exceptionally juicy burger ($9); served on fluffly brioche, it featured spicy pickles, harissa aioli, and crisp frisée that cut through the richness of the meat. As for the porchetta plate ($14)? While together the three elements — tender pork, creamy polenta, and kale with just the right amount of bite — made for a successful forkful, alone the polenta was a bit undersalted, and the kale a bit too sour.
There are only two options for dessert — fresh-baked pie bursting with fruit from Russell Orchards (apple and cranberry on my visit, $7), and ice cream ($5). But at a place with such an in-your-face design, a little simplicity can go a long way.
One Broadway, Cambridge, 617-401-3399, firebrandsaints.com.