Outdoor Seating, Part 5 – Cambridge

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I dropped the ball. After publishing an outdoor seating story in June, I promised a follow-up in July. But before I knew it, the steamy middle month of summer had come and gone. In a way, I suppose that’s indicative of this fleeting season in New England. But no excuses – it just means twice as much outdoor imbibing in August. So without further ado, we’ll hop on the Red Line and visit a few places in Cambridge. The city on the other side of the Charles is dynamic, unique, and characterized by endless variety. And each “square” in Cambridge has its own distinct rhythm and personality – there are neighborhoods with centuries-old roots, others that are up and coming, and some that are cultural trendsetters.

We begin in Kendall Square.

Belly Wine Bar

Since its 2012 opening, Belly has been defying the notion of what a “wine bar” should be. Instead of dark and serious, it’s bright and airy. In place of the typical cabernets and chardonnays are orange wines and, at the moment, a menu featuring two dozen varieties of rosé.

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That casual, playful attitude extends to the outdoor patio that Belly opened this summer. Like the interior, the patio is cozy and almost communal, with an eight-seat bar and a handful of bright red tables that sort of look like modern picnic benches.

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Overhead, strands of lights form an illuminated canopy when night falls.

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The food menu is as funky as the wine list, with an emphasis on small plates, charcuterie, and house-cured salumi. There are some bold options in the mix, like head cheese, duck liver mousse, and, pictured below, a pork and fennel terrine, accompanied by a spicy mustard. But if your palate isn’t quite that daring, the roasted shallot and walnut spread is heavenly.

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And the cauliflower with capers, pine nuts, and preserved lemon is fresh, crisp, and full of flavor.

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Wine may be Belly’s calling card, but the cocktail list is no less impressive. The Green Neighbor Policy might be one of the most vividly colored drinks I’ve ever been served. Despite its resemblance to a veggie-based smoothie, this mix of cilantro, rum, and lime is a simple, refreshing cocktail with a natural herbal aroma, well suited to a summer evening.

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And summer is clearly what Belly had in mind with the Hazy, Hot & Humid. This slow-sipping drink combines Amontillado (as in “The Cask of”), Cava, lemon, and mint.

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Nutty and full-flavored, with a bit of effervescence, it’s an impressive cocktail and an elegant way to beat the heat.

Address: 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge

Website:http://www.bellywinebar.com/

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Moksa Restaurant

While waiting for a bus after a visit to our next stop, I watched with detached curiosity as a man weaved through a sidewalk full of pedestrians, attempting to sell shaving razors and t-shirts. And by “t-shirts,” I don’t mean short-sleeve outerwear with Red Sox logos or funny sayings – I mean packages of men’s undershirts. “T’s, razors” he kept saying, as if he were a scalper with extra tickets to a Bruins game. What’s more remarkable – within minutes, he actually found a buyer (no, it wasn’t me).

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Central Square offers more than its share of quirks. And as I’ve said before, it isn’t the most obvious neighborhood in Cambridge to put an outdoor patio. Aside from colorful characters selling toiletries and undergarments, Central is gritty, congested, and subject to a near-constant stream of traffic on Mass Ave. It’s also home to plenty of cool bars, restaurants, and music venues, of course; but for all its diverse, bohemian charm, nothing about Central inspires dining al fresco.

And yet somehow, Moksa manages to pull it off.

Nestled between the restaurant and the Central Square Theater, Moksa’s small, brick-lined patio is set back from the street and feels comfortably enclosed. There are about 10 tables with rattan chairs, and the atmosphere is surprisingly peaceful.

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I’m sad to report that mixologist extraordinaire Noon Summers, the beverage director whom I got to know on many of my past visits to Moksa, has left the Boston area for the perpetually sunny climes of Southern California. But her creative spirit still infuses the cocktail menu, with offerings like the Liberator.

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This potent, tiki-like drink combines Sailor Jerry rum, mint, chartreuse, and curacao. Garnished with orange and lime, it has some fruity sweetness, but the bitterness from the chartreuse keeps things nicely balanced.

There’s also a selection of seasonal drinks, like this sangria. Made with brandy, wine, and fruit compote, this take on the classic summertime libation isn’t too sweet, and the brandy adds a little depth.

 Yes, I know, it’s indoors. But it was raining on one of my visits, so you’ll just have to imagine how this one would look out on the patio.

Yes, I know, it’s indoors. But it was raining on one of my visits, so you’ll just have to imagine how this one would look out on the patio.

In addition to the drinks, Moksa offers all-you-can-eat sushi every night from 5 to 7 p.m. I can’t say I’ve tried the sushi here, but the folks at USA Today have good things to say about it – they recently named Moksa one of Boston’s 10 best sushi restaurants.

As if craft cocktails and all-you-can-eat sushi isn’t enough, there’s at least one more benefit to sitting on the patio – it’s not too far from the sidewalk, so if you’re having a t-shirt emergency or need to get rid of some five o’clock shadow, you may be able to find a roving vendor.

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Address: 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

Website:http://www.moksarestaurant.com/

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Charlie’s Beer Garden

Calling Charlie’s Kitchen a Cambridge institution is an understatement. This humble, beloved dive has been serving Harvard Square for a half-century or so, and one gets the impression that little about it has changed in that time. From the diner-like bar downstairs to the dark, second-floor lounge, this sturdy classic never diminishes in popularity, seemingly immune to food and drink trends or the shifting dynamics of the busy neighborhood it inhabits.

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Which is not to say that Charlie’s hasn’t seen some welcome additions over the years, and none has been more celebrated than the beer garden that opened in 2008. Tucked away behind the main building, Charlie’s Beer Garden is just as laid-back and divey as its celebrated interior. There’s a small bar with about 8 to 10 seats.

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In the main area are about 12 to 15 tables, most under protective cover to keep the sun at bay and the elements away.

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Charlie’s offers a surprisingly impressive beer list, with a decent draft selection and many more options in bottles and cans. Despite the variety, few beers appeal to me more than a Blue Moon when I’m sitting outside in the summer months.

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And while Charlie’s’ food menu is more expansive and creative than that of the typical dive bar, the double cheeseburger is a legend in its own right.

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In a region that has elevated the art of the burger, with restaurants offering creative nightly specials and publications sponsoring near-weekly “best burger” contests, Charlie’s’ burgers win few if any accolades. But in terms of consistency and longevity, few establishments can hold a candle to “The Double Cheeseburger King.” You can dress it up with all the accoutrements you want, but the original version is refreshingly basic – two hamburger patties with cheese, fries on the side – and wonderfully affordable at $5.25.

In a city steeped in history, this is one tradition that never gets old.

Address: 10 Eliot Street, Cambridge

Website:http://www.charlieskitchen.com/

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We’re rapidly approaching the midpoint of August, but there’s still plenty of warm weather ahead (right?). For your reading pleasure, I’m hoping to do one more installment of the 2014 outdoor seating series before the end of the month. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer.

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