First Bite: Tory Row

When we first got word that a new bar/café called Tory Row would be taking over the former Greenhouse Restaurant & Coffee Shop space in Harvard Square this summer, we felt a little wave of relief. At least it’s not a chain, we thought—the square’s already been taken hostage by IHOP, Uno, Au Bon Pain, Starbucks, and Finagle. Bring back the indie vibe!

But indie isn’t always what it seems. Tory Row is the brainchild of Matthew Curtis and Chris Lutes, the same local restaurateurs behind Miracle of Science, Middlesex Lounge, Cambridge 1, and Audubon Circle. Thankfully, those are all spots we love, and Curtis and Lutes generally do a respectable job of playing to their new restaurants’ respective neighborhoods. And all signs indicated that they’d do the same here; “Tory Row” is, in fact, the historic name for Brattle Street.

But except for the name and the amazing location in the heart of the square, it doesn’t do a whole lot to speak to the local scene. On the plus side, the tall tables are designed to encourage mingling and people-watching, and there’s a small but decent selection of wine and beer. On the down side, it’s easy to overlook the theme of the drink menu, which (per the restaurant’s press release) represents European and American producers. Huh.

In fact, the whole menu is designed around an obtuse “European and American” idea, something that means little, if anything, to most who wander in. It’s flatbreads and burgers (U.S.A.! U.S.A!), raclette and duck confit (vive la France!), black bean soup (olé!), burgers (America again) and chicken pot pie (God save the Queen). It’s a vague concept, and while the food’s good enough, none of the fare is so fabulous to explain its presence on the menu.

We started with a Wasik’s cheese spread, flavored with curry and apricots and served with crusty baguette; it’s interesting, but the thick, supersweet cheese fights with the curry, which begs for something brighter and tangier. (Goat cheese, maybe?) Confit duck salad with frisee and dried cherries was well seasoned, but the duck was cooked to a jerky-like crisp; the spinach, bacon, and onion flatbread was simply bland. The evening’s winner was a side of grilled corn topped with cheese, but it pales in comparison to the versions at Toro, possibly one of Chowder’s favorite Boston eats.

In short, Tory Row is fine—not the indie hotspot we’d hoped for, but an acceptable place to recharge with a pint. But food-wise, it needs some time to figure out its niche. (Our vote, not that we were asked, is to stick with the British theme. We heart fish ‘n’ chips and curry fries, and so do drunk students. Now that’d be a nod to the neighborhood.)

Tory Row, 3 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-876-8769,