Cambridge’s Newest Café Invites You to Slow Down and Unplug

Wine-and-dessert bar Zuzu’s Petals adds screen-free café service with delicious treats and live-in-the-moment vibes.

A spread of baked goods and hot drinks sit on a bright blue table with colorful flowers and a white and blue china cat.

A spread of treats at Zuzu’s Petals, including a scone, choco-chunk cookie, Earl Grey chocolate ganache tartelette, cappuccino, and chocolat chaud. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

By night, Zuzu’s Petals is a hidden gem in Cambridge’s Inman Square: a no-cellphones wine-and-dessert bar where you can savor the moment, enjoy impossibly rich chocolate mousse (or delicate tiramisu), and sip a glass of something unique. Now, two years after its opening, owners Alexandra Whisnant and Bobby MacLean are welcoming customers by day, too, in hopes of bringing back café culture—and creating the type of café you might find in Europe, with table service and a relaxed pace. (And like Zuzu’s evening service, no screens are allowed—this is not the place to park with a laptop.)

Overhead view of a cappuccino and a scone with a dollop of whipped cream and a small bowl of red jam.

A cappuccino and “Kandy’s scone” at Zuzu’s Petals: a house-made persimmon-pecan-cardamom scone, served with whipped cream and a seasonal jam from V Smiley. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

“We want to have a place where people can really sit down and enjoy things and use real plates—beautiful china—and eat quality food, slow food,” says Whisnant. The vision is an alternative to the pervasive counter-service cafés built like fast-food restaurants—as well as an invitation to linger and read a book, perhaps, or catch up with a friend, or journal. It’s a lofty goal in 2023 to foster a café space so welcoming that people will willingly stop scrolling and put their laptops away for a couple daylight hours, but at Zuzu’s Petals, the ambiance (complete with a genre-hopping vinyl soundtrack) and the irresistible baked goods just might do the trick.

Interior of a cafe, featuring a disco ball, pink accents, a map of Europe, a big mirror with a decorative brass frame, string lights, and a quote painted in pink on a black wall: "We are not drunks, we are multi-millionaires."

Zuzu’s Petals in Cambridge. The quote on the wall comes from 1980s British comedy Withnail & I, a favorite of Zuzu’s Petals owners Alexandra Whisnant and Bobby MacLean. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A driving force behind Whisnant and MacLean’s stellar menu—a mix of house-made items and some carefully curated goods from other producers—is an obsession with the sourcing of ingredients. The wholesale foodservice supplier Restaurant Depot is a dirty word here, and everything comes from “real people, not corporations,” as MacLean puts it. (MacLean previously founded the now-closed specialty grocery shop Picnic & Pantry, which was located at Somerville’s Bow Market, so product sourcing plays directly to his strengths.) You’ll find seasonal jams from V Smiley Preserves in Vermont; an herbal tea from Missoula, Montana the duo discovered at a favorite café in MacLean’s New Hampshire hometown; and buttery croissants baked very locally, from new East Somerville bakery Michette. (Whisnant and Michette owner Thomas Ferté go way back; Whisnant actually stayed at Ferté’s family’s place in Paris when she lived there a decade ago.)

A very thick drinking chocolate fills a white mug with a floral pattern. The chocolate is topped with large marshmallows in purple, blue, pink, and green.

Thick, Parisian-style chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) with house-made rainbow marshmallows at Zuzu’s Petals. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

A croissant-like pastry with many layers sits on a floral plate on a bright blue table.

Pain au chocolat at Zuzu’s Petals, sourced from Michette in East Somerville. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The daytime menu at Zuzu’s Petals could be described as light brunch. There are a handful of savory options, like a local cheddar toastie (on Michette sourdough) and a “croissantwich” with scrambled local eggs, comté, and local peppers and onions (on a Michette croissant). On the sweeter side, wild Maine blueberry pancakes are topped with Vermont maple syrup and a butter brightened up with orange zest; “Kandy’s scone,” a surprisingly light take on the often-too-dense baked good, is made with persimmon, pecan, and cardamom, served with seasonal jam and whipped cream. Whisnant is particularly excited about the scone, named for a family friend, Kandy, who’d order her scone with a side of whipped cream. “I thought it was so cool,” recalls Whisnant, noting that this happened right across the street at S&S Restaurant some 35 years ago.

Decor at a cafe includes bird-themed embroidery and a small black sign that says "No Cell Phone Use, Please."

Zuzu’s Petals is screen-free: Leave the phone in your pocket and the laptop at home. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

While all of these dishes make an impression, you’d be forgiven for skipping right to the Gâté Comme Des Filles section of the menu, Whisnant’s brand name for her chocolate bonbons and other treats, like almost impossibly fudgy dark chocolate brownies and several varieties of delectable cookies. (Her Bow Market storefront under the Gâté Comme Des Filles name is now closed, part of Whisnant and MacLean’s consolidation of their talents at the Zuzu’s space. Don’t worry: The popular bonbons will be available for pre-order around holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Sign up for the Zuzu’s Petals newsletter so you don’t miss them.)

A stack of pancakes sits on a floral plate on a bright blue table, topped with butter, with a cappuccino on the side.

At Zuzu’s Petals, the pancakes are served with orange-zest butter and Vermont maple syrup. Optionally add wild Maine blueberries (shown here) and/or walnuts. A gluten-free option is available. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

When in doubt, order anything chocolate, particularly the ultra-thick, Parisian-style chocolat chaud—hot chocolate—with whipped cream or house-made rainbow marshmallows. Optionally, add chartreuse. (We recommend this.)

A blue table covered with baked goods sits in front of a cafe register. The walls of the space are decorated with polaroids and shelves of wine bottles.

A spread of baked goods, some made in-house and others sourced from Michette in East Somerville, at Zuzu’s Petals. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Zuzu’s Petals feels timeless. The eclectic décor includes everything from a hanging disco ball to classical composer busts (the ones piano teachers loved to gift their students in the 1990s) to a special unicorn tapestry on loan from Whisnant’s mother to a watercolor of the Zuzu’s Petals storefront painted by a customer. On a recent Thursday, customers read—gasp—actual newspapers, and MacLean’s soundtrack bounced from the Cars to Talking Heads to Loretta Lynn. Whether you’re making a deliberate effort to unplug for a few hours or you’re just drawn by the smell of chocolate wafting down Hampshire Street, you’re sure to find something special at Zuzu’s Petals, by day or by night. Might we suggest trying both: a pancake-and-hot-chocolate brunch—and an after-dark bite of truly special crème brûlée and a glass of something pink?

Overhead view of a grilled cheese sandwich on a floral plate, sitting on the wicker seat of a chair over a wood floor.

Local cheddar and green onion toastie on Michette sourdough at Zuzu’s Petals, served with dipping jam. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Overhead view of a big chocolate chip cookie on a floral plate on a bright blue table.

A house-made choco-chunk cookie with walnuts and Madagascar chocolate at Zuzu’s Petals. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Zuzu’s Petals is currently open Thursday through Sunday for café service and every night for wine bar service; reservations available for both via Resy. 204 Hampshire St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-945-7749,

A mix of decor in a cafe, including a purple shelf of books, a classical composer bust, a black and white photograph of a woman at a party, and more.

An eclectic assortment of decorative items at Zuzu’s Petals. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal