Man Food: The Scallion Pancake Breakfast Sandwich at East by Northeast
Personally, I usually find brunch to be more effort than it’s worth. Waking up earlier than I want to for generic offerings of scrambled eggs, pancakes, and oversized Bloody Marys (though those don’t hurt). If I’m going to make it out of the house for a meal before I’ve had my coffee, it damn well better be one-of-a-kind. So on a recent weekend morning, I decided to head to Cambridge and give the brunch menu at East by Northeast a try.
Cramming into the limited seating at the Inman Square spot makes you feel like you’re in a secret club; making a reservation for brunch feels a bit strange, but you won’t get a seat if you don’t. East by Northeast doesn’t offer the average aforementioned standards, and the Chinese-meets-French approach is evident immediately—it’s like Dim Sum with a major twist. With my head thumping from too many drinks the night before, I knew the scallion pancake breakfast sandwich ($8) was in order. Featuring beef cheeks and a fried egg between two thick, greasy scallion pancakes, this sandwich made sense to me before I even had my first bite.
The beef cheeks, which resemble brisket or short ribs in texture, are fairly uncommon, unless you’re in the confines of Chinatown where pretty much anything goes. It’s a shame that you don’t see them more. The cheeks in the sandwich were supremely tender, and paired well with the fried egg (which, unfortunately, was a bit overcooked). Using the scallion pancakes as a substitute for bread seems like an obvious choice, but it’s something I’ve admittedly never seen before. Packed with fresh scallions, the pancake is firm, toothsome and incredibly crunchy; basically, they’re the best scallion pancakes I’ve ever had. The apple butter accompaniment is fine on its own; it’s a clever little condiment that is sweet with apple and pungent with garlic, but it doesn’t do much to bring the breakfast sandwich to another level.
While the sandwich is ecstasy in brunch form, it’s too small to really fill you up. But at East by Northeast that’s a good thing, because it leaves you room to try other creative items from the menu, namely the rice noodle hash, a filling bowl of expertly cooked butternut squash and potatoes laced with house-cured bacon, eggs, and a sweet bean sauce. There’s also excellent chicken and carrot shumai, accompanied by a creamy cauliflower puree. While the bill can add up quickly, the brunch at East by Northeast is like no other in town. It’s slightly unorthodox yet phenomenally divine, and more than reason enough to get out of those sweat pants and start your Sunday off the right way.
(1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-876-0286, exnecambridge.com)
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