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Review of The Biscuit from Yelp…

March 24th, 2009 · No Comments

[Down below and to the right is a map of the immediate vicinity, the 02138 vicinity that is, showing locations of two places I’ve reviewed to date in Yelp… what remains an occupation open to question. There are convenient links with markers at the geographic locations on the map of the two places I’ve reviewed so far.

Yelp is for people with short attention spans and whose quotidian vocabulary, beyond “cool,” “dude,” and “excellent” seems to consist largely of the word “yum” to express ultimate gustatory satisfaction. On the other hand, I write in complete sentences, use many multisyllabic words, sprinkled among a framework of the basic Anglo-Saxon lexicon of mono- and two-syllable words that allow us to use Twitter, which is apparently the summum bonum of man’s evolution to date, if not for eternity… And I do go on at length, as I believe nothing worth commenting on is worth giving short shrift purely for the sake of brevity. “Cutting to the chase,” and “bottom-line” or “long-story short…” are not incentives to me to desist from my habit of pursuing a subject to its conclusion, however comprehensively I feel it needs analysis, consideration, or comment. You don’t like it, lump it. Don’t read it, and don’t bitch to me. There is a limit of 5000 characters on the Yelp site, and so far this is a constraint I have welcomed as a challenge, to see if it’s possible to contain my remarks to this quota and still be able to say something meaningful. In an admittedly and self-consciously redundant effort, what follows is the entirety of my Biscuit comments. It may induce you to visit Yelp. Seeing signs of such an effect will induce me to continue to contribute at that site. Otherwise, I’ll simply mainly ignore it and concentrate my efforts in the development of material for more propitious venues in terms of reaching my audience: whoever that turns out to be. After five years of writing blog essays and other verbal products, I’m still not sure who or what that is. The presumption is, it is self-defining, and for the time being, I still have the leisure to see how it defines itself, even as I step up my efforts to get greater exposure so that audience can at least identify itself, while deciding if reading what I have to write is worth their time. But that’s enough rationale. Here’s “The Biscuit” from Yelp: ]

The preponderance of the reviews appear to be by transients. Not surprising as the neighborhood immediately around The Biscuit is a haven for graduate students mainly from Harvard and Tufts. Though they’re smart enough, God knows, they make up for abundance of brains by a deficit of taste. Since the days it opened, as Panini — a reference to being primarily a bakery, and not to the more recent sandwich modality — the place quickly became popular, especially in the morning. It is patronized mainly by students, office workers, especially from the nearby Cambridge Hospital and a large branch of the Cambridge Health Alliance offices across the street.

Comments on Yelp, many of them ill-informed, are not generally helpful.

It’s a very homey place. The counter folk are exceptional, or always have been, and were, until recently, quite stable. Immensely friendly and, if you’re a regular, they’ll certainly learn your name within several visits, know your preferences within a few more. Even on your first visit will engage you in a warm conversation, however brief, whoever you are. Music, “programmed” by the bakers, is wildly, wonderfully eclectic; it rarely seems to disturb the many “keyboard” warriors.

The owners, Greta and her husband, are invariably on premise, unless tending to the school needs of their two young children. He is usually ensconced in the rear bakery, which runs from extremely early morning to mid-day–they are also a supplier of bread to other outlets, including restaurants–and the most visible part of their business is the retail trade which streams in throughout the day. It can get busy enough, especially on “non-school” days–weekends, academic breaks or holidays, that every table is full, or partially so, and people are encouraged to, and do, share tables.

There is a huge crowd of regulars, single people, couples, & groups of four or more who have regular dates to meet on weekend mornings. There is a strange air of quiet liveliness. The place is relaxed for the most part, well lived-in in feeling.

The association with Gus Rancatore of Toscanini ice cream was terminal. He had and has no interest financially in the bakery, and for the use of the name, and his supplying coffee and ice cream on some variant of a license basis, the new owners who bought the original Panini, had a recognized identity. This briefly caused great consternation among the Cambridge and Somerville regulars who made use of the limited offerings, mainly bread, coffee, and breakfast pastry items. Panini at one time only offered the now well-loved savory scones–a genuine signature item of this little place–as a single flavor, the original cheddar and onion, and ONLY if the baker on duty felt like making them; they even threatened once to discontinue making them, which elicited stern protests from regulars.

The Biscuit still uses many of the original bread and pastry recipes instituted by the original owners of Panini. They have also added items of their own devising, and instituted the sandwich, soup, and broadened the sheet goods (what they call frittata, baked on a croissant dough base, like pizza, plus actual yeast-based pizza) selections, added some very much sweeter items than the usual selection of muffins and scones, including bread pudding, brioche-based items, like a new chocolate brioche, a cinnamon coffee roll, which they call a pecan strudel… There are a number of other excellent choices, all mis-named slightly, but descriptively enough.

All in all, offerings seem to cater to more adult tastes, which may account for some Yelp complaints about items not being sweet enough. In fact, sugar as an ingredient is kept to a minimum, and there are more than the usual number of choices of savory items, including a broadening of the savory scone varieties now on offer every day of the week and among the most popular.

The sandwiches are made fresh and continually through the day and wrapped and kept on ice right on the counter. What people seem to miss is that this ensures that there is NO WAIT for almost any item on offer. Fast food indeed. And there is none of the arrogant, snotty, indifferent, or pea-pod-people behavior at Darwin’s, where you must wait for what are the sometimes inept ministrations of the sandwich makers.

The soups are fresh and there is usually a choice of at least two and sometimes four soups daily, changed daily, made from choice ingredients.

The coffee has returned to excellence after the present owners allowed the relationship with Toscanini to lapse. Gus’s coffee is horrendous. There is the noted expansion into the making of other beverages, including chais, and a broad various “steamed” selection.

The pastries, and the breads, for that matter, are well differentiated offerings from other shops. Other coffee purveyors do not make their own baked goods (1369, Bloc 11, etc.), and Hi-Rise and Carberry’s are too far to be real competition, though they are real alternatives.

Tags: 02138 and environs · Food · Local Food

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