I’m risking my relationship by writing this review. The lines are too long already, protests my boyfriend, who has threatened to break up with me if I write about it. But it has appeared on one of those ubiquitous coupon sites lately, so I figure the lines have already increased anyway.
Wake up early and find your way to Union Square in Somerville. (Sorry, the T doesn’t go there yet, but this is worth the bus or the drive.) Owned and operated by the Borges family for more than 28 years, Neighborhood Restaurant truly is a neighborhood spot, full of regulars and a charmingly gruff staff, many of whom have been there since the very beginning. The waiting list is self-serve, and if you don’t arrive early, it will be long. Just put down your name and the size of your party and swing by the coffee and pastry table for a complimentary treat – but be sure to save room for the impending feast.
With each dish, you have a choice of an appetizer: seasonal fruit or cream of wheat. Choose the cream of wheat. If you have not been to Neighborhood, you will think it’s crazy to rave about cream of wheat, but it’s the best in the world. If Neighborhood opened up a food truck selling just the cream of wheat, they’d probably be millionaires in weeks. It hardly qualifies as an appetizer – you’ll be full by the time the main course arrives – but you can’t miss this addictive bowl of heaven (and probably lots of butter). Don’t bother asking for the recipe; you’ll get laughed at.
As for the main course, the portions are terrifyingly huge, and they all include a small cup of orange juice, coffee or tea, your choice of appetizer (have I mentioned that you need to get the cream of wheat?), plus a plate of pastries for the table to share. I’d recommend paying the small plate sharing fee and getting one entree for two people – you’ll still each get all the accompaniments listed above. Order from the daily specials menu, where you’ll find sweet and creative French toast and pancake concoctions, among other things.
The waitstaff is sweet in a no-nonsense way, and if you’re nice, they might treat you to an extra goodie now and then. When a friend and I looked tired on a Sunday morning, the waitress said “I like to party on Saturday nights too,” and brought us a Portuguese soda, for free, that she said would cure any hangover. On another visit, we were enjoying our cream of wheat (obviously) but eyeing the other appetizer option, a baked apple, and the waitress soon delivered a free one to the table.
Neighborhood is best visited in the summer, when the patio is open. You’ll dine at a picnic table underneath a pastel umbrella below a ceiling of real grape vines. When winter comes, the patio is closed, and you’ll eat in the cramped interior, possibly taking turns with the neighboring tables getting up to slam the door shut as the frigid air leaks in.
Go early, and get the cream of wheat. And please let my boyfriend cut you in line so he doesn’t hold this against me.
Mon – Sun 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.