It’s All in the Neighborhood
Have you ever pictured yourself as a bar groupie, hanging out with friends and getting chummy with the bartender, like on Cheers or How I Met Your Mother? What about getting the gang together at a place like Central Perk from Friends, where you can just relax and enjoy each other’s company?
What if I told you that you could have all of that just around the corner, and under a grape-strewn canopy?
With all the clout of an establishment that has been here for more than 25 years, The Neighborhood is hands-down one of the most well-known spots in town. Offering breakfast, lunch, and ice cream in the evenings, The Neighborhood is a place you can go all-day for a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. While it started out as a modest bakery in Union Square, happy accidents quickly became the name of the game for the Borges family; two of their most successful ventures, their patio and their breakfasts, started unintentionally. They expanded from pastries years ago by beginning with eggs and toast- with success- and, thanks to hot Somerville summers, alfresco dining became an option simply to escape from the heat of the oven.
Owner Sheila Borges and her family have reinvented themselves thrice over in previous decades, and now rather than a simple sweet bread, her recommendations range anywhere from a shrimp anamaria or a linguiça for lunch to a traditional Portuguese breakfast: Homemade codcake, meatcake, linguiça, two eggs, homefries, and coffee. Neighborhood offers daily specials which focus on the creativity of invention. When I visited, the special was a fresh raspberry, banana, and whipped cream waffle. And what do you get when you add coconut milk, coconut syrup, eggs, bread, almonds, bananas, and coconut flakes? It’s Sheila’s inspired Tropical French Toast, of course.
Neighborhood is famous around the block for offering large, healthy portions of their food. In fact, when I ordered the multigrain oatmeal waffle with freshly cut bananas, I was also given an extra plate overflowing with crunchy turkey bacon, freshly baked bread, and eggwhites chock-full of tomatoes and spinach. By the time I was full, I had still barely touched the plate.
Despite my full stomach, it’s already begging me to return. Breakfasts are served with a complimentary choice of fruit or cream of wheat- trust me, always choose the cream of wheat. You might think that “good” and “cream of wheat” together may make a sentence oxymoronic, but I now publicly and proudly declare myself converted after trying Neighborhood’s dish, which, unsurprisingly to me, has acquired somewhat of a cult following.
The lunch dishes are equally as flavorful, and quite healthy, too. Try the grilled grouper with a side of veggies and a salad. It was one of the many rotating specials when I visited this week, and along with it’s huge size, it’s also quite healthy. How do I have the power to proclaim this? Well, along with the eggwhites and waffle breakfast option, it is Shape-Up Approved, of course. Look for the little Shape-Up apple next to menu options at all of our YUM restaurants to find the healthiest choice at your next meal.
One customer, Woody, lauded the restaurant for its healthier choices, saying that he comes here nearly every day, without even calling it an indulgence. “When I’m not here, I’m thinking about why I’m not here,” he said, as he lounged under the July sun gently peeking through the grape vines on the patio.
When I first met Sheila, she was out on the patio casually chatting with Woody, with her son in a stroller beside her and a leisurely tranquility around her. She prides herself on establishing relationships with her customers, even saying that she once let a customer finish his meal inside her house above the restaurant, while a thunderstorm raged outside which scattered the rest of the customers. That’s not out of the ordinary for The Neighborhood, either; Sheila wants it to be a place where anyone can feel welcome to come to relax and spend time with one another. In this sense, Neighborhood is aptly named; it fuses the character and cuisine of both Portugal and the United States, and it truly is a place where everyone can know your name. We’ve got our own version of the Cheers restaurant right here in Somerville, and with the happy patio atmosphere and that mouth-watering cream of wheat, I question why we would ever want to go anywhere else.
Love The Neighborhood, or never been? Are you as obsessed as I am with the cream of wheat? Tell us about it in the comments below.
-by Anna L. Williams