First Bite: Firebrand Saints

This funky new Kendall Square spot is a smart blend of style and substance.

firebrand saints

Photo by Anthony Tieuli

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,