Brookline Lunch: A Restaurant You Have to Try
A wonderful dining experience
9 Brookline St
Cambridge, MA 02139
Wednesday to Monday 8:30 a.m.- 3:00 p.m.
Brookline Lunch is an old, iconic diner hidden in a nook off of Mass Ave on Brookline St, near Central Square. Despite its unassuming exterior, lines of people were patiently waiting outside around 11 a.m. — in fact, the first time we tried to eat here, the line was so long that we gave up. To avoid the wait, we came in around 8:30 a.m., the diner’s opening time.
What impressed me the most about the restaurant was its age and eclectic choice of decor. The portraits and posters were an interesting combination, from frames of Western art to National Geographic-esque portraits of people around the world. The booth’s countertop design also was unique for its collage of pictures: ours featured cut outs of Petra and the Sahara. Music from the 80s and 90s played in the background, giving the place a retro atmosphere. Unlike other restaurants, the walls around me had colorful scribbles of people’s signatures and doodles over the years, making the place’s 34-year-old history feel quite tangible. In other words, Brookline Lunch retains its old charm that exudes warmth and familiarity.
When it was time to order, we already knew what to get. The breakfast menu had a lot of appealing options, but we settled on the most popular dishes based on our research — baklava pancakes, spicy sausage shakshuka, and the za’atar egg bowl.
The spicy sausage shakshuka came in warm and fresh, with steam coming off the food. I was very pleased to see how large the portions were, considering that the price was $15. Seeing the colorful medley of vegetables, feta cheese, and naan on the surface exceeded my expectations.
I started my first bite with the sausage. Its texture was just right, tasting firm but not too hard. The spiciness had a nice subtle taste that lingered in my mouth, while the saltiness was just right — neither bland nor salty. The sausage was also was well-salted. Dipping the sausage with the tomato sauce gave it extra flavors of acidity and sweetness that complemented its savoriness. As someone who dislikes sausage, I was delighted that this dish made me change my mind.
Besides the sausage, other parts of the dish were also solid, each for their own reasons. While the feta cheese was tangy, the crumbs and chunks made the dish have a more heterogeneous texture. On the other hand, the parsley’s herbaceous taste added freshness to the heavy meal. Overall, the vegetables had a tender texture while not being overcooked. The naan was enjoyable to eat because of its softness and slight crunch at the ends. To summarize, I would highly recommend the spicy sausage shakshuka for its diverse range of tastes and textures.
Alor got the za’atar egg bowl, with a side of grilled chicken. At a glance, it was similar, but not exactly the same, as the shakshuka on the surface. Underneath, however, I was hit with a fragrant, earthy za’atar spice. This perfectly complemented the spicy orange bell peppers, the acidity from the radishes, and much more. With respect to texture, the flatbread was perfect for scooping up the caramelized, crusty vegetables along with the gooey poached egg. The white sesame seeds and cilantro sprinkled on top didn’t overwhelm the flavor, but they added an indiscernible something that made this dish delightful.
Already full from our egg plates, we ended the meal with some extra room for baklava pancakes, the restaurant’s most iconic dish. The presentation of the pancakes was stunning, as there were many layers with a generous amount of baklava and pistachios that coated the top. The faint floral smell from the rose water syrup and the whiff of honey made the pancake a heavenly creation.
The pancake’s texture was perfect because of its fluffy and airy quality. When eaten with the pancakes, the pistachios and walnuts added a bit of nutty texture, whereas the baklava had a flaky and silky texture. These toppings provided a nice balance in the pancake’s texture. While the pancake was a bit moist at the bottom, it wasn’t wet or soggy.
Although the server provided us extra syrup, the pancakes themselves tasted just fine without the addition. The taste was utterly amazing, as the pancake had a level of sweetness that was strong but not overwhelming, the whole thing melting into our mouths. The slight saltiness from the baklava contributed extra complexity to the pancake’s taste. For $15, the baklava pancake is a must-have because of its distinct toppings that make it special.
Overall, Brookline Lunch was a wonderful experience. The portions are sizable, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is lively — you can even sign the wall and leave your mark permanently. If you manage to get a spot, feel free to try anything you want without any fear.