Phantom Gourmet: Firebrand Saints In Cambridge’s Kendall Square

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CAMBRIDGE – Plump burgers slow cooked to juicy perfection.

Piled-high sandwiches fired-up with a blowtorch.

Cocktails like you’ve never seen before.

Firebrand Saints isn’t just one of the tastiest restaurants in New England; it’s also one of the smartest.

Located in the heart of Kendall Square Cambridge, Firebrand Saints is a busy, high energy spot smack dab in the middle of the region’s technology hub. The area is home to hundreds of startups. MIT is across the street, and the Android phone was developed right upstairs.

While you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to eat here, the person next to you just might be. So, when Chef-Owner Gary Strack opened the restaurant, he knew his love of technology would be a good fit.

“You want your restaurant to really match the neighborhood, the environment that it’s in. There’s a lot of innovation happening outside, and so we wanted a lot of innovation happening inside.”

That innovation is on full display in the open kitchen and in the bustling dining room, where one wall serves as a canvas for local street artists, and another features ever-changing Etch-a-Sketch style renderings pulled from Google Street View. Even the TVs offer up some interesting techno-art.

“I knew that a bar needed a television, but we didn’t want to do it the normal way,” Strack said. “So the first screen leads the other screens through a series of different e-modes. It can be linguistic analysis modes; it can be color modes; it can be RGB, different stuff like that. But it’s really fun to watch.”

The spicy chicken wings cooked in pork fat and topped with bacon bits, from Firebrand Saints in Cambridge. (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

The spicy chicken wings cooked in pork fat and topped with bacon bits, from Firebrand Saints in Cambridge. (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

When it comes to the food, Firebrand prides itself on serving neighborhood pub food that’s been elevated to exciting new levels, like spicy chicken wings cooked in pork fat and topped with bacon bits, housemade tortilla chips served with roasted tomato salsa and warm queso dip, Buffaloed rock shrimp with blue cheese fondue, and deep fried battered onions that go way beyond the plain old ring.

“The onions that we do are five different kinds of onions, including spring onions, and red onions, and Vidalia onions. We actually slice a couple of apples in there, there are a couple slices of potatoes, and then we do them batter fried, and it comes out with a completely different experience, but it’s still kind of our version of the onion ring.”

Then there’s Firebrand’s take on burgers. They’re thick patties of premium beef that are impossibly juicy, thanks to a high tech, slow cooking process.

“Our beef burger is a mix of brisket, sirloin, and chuck. The burgers are actually slow cooked in a steam environment for about fifty minutes, and then they’re tempered on the grill, and it allows them to maintain all their moisture and juiciness, and you come up with a much better product,” explained Strack.

The beef burger is spectacular, and a real steal at only $9. For something a bit different, there’s also an old world style veal and pork version.

“Veal and pork is a more classic European combination. I love the flavor of veal mixed with pork. I think it’s just absolutely delicious, roasted tomatoes and a beautiful creamy Dijon cole slaw over the top of it, and it’s something really unusual that you typically don’t see. I don’t know a lot of other places that serve anything like that.”

Roasted meats are a big part of the menu and they’re all cooked in a classic French Rotisserie. There’s luscious Lemon Sage Chicken with parmesan mashed potatoes, a piled-high Porchetta Sandwich featuring thick cut pork and plenty of crispy skin on grilled country bread, and an enormous Fire Roasted Rotisserie Platter for two, with beef, pork, pickles, and sauces.

“It’s just a great way to share with a group of people and sort of eat communally, which is something that I really like,” Strack said.

But of all the meaty options to choose from, the one you should probably order is the Slow Roasted Beef “French Dip” au Jus with Vermont cheddar. It’s a sandwich that’s close to Gary’s heart, and he makes it the right way.

“I’m originally from Los Angeles, where the French Dip came from,” said Strack. “We do it very similarly to the way they do it there.”

So the tender beef is sliced to order and piled up on a roll that’s been dipped in jus. Then it’s topped with a thick slice of aged cheddar that gets melted in an unusual way.

“We want to keep the beef as rare as possible, so we need to melt that cheese fast, so we do it with a blow torch.”

And when that cheese, beef, and bread all come together, the results are simply sensational.

“It’s very, very juicy, very tender. The bread is phenomenal, it holds the juice just the right amount, and the meat’s awesome,” Stack raves.

To wash it all down, there are fun and inventive cocktails, including something called the White Trash Margarita.

“We use a good kind of tequila but everything else is kind of low brow. So we make it with Minute Maid Limeade and PBR,” described Strack. “I think it’s delicious, but it’s definitely a low brow treat.”

In fact, low brow is a good way to describe Firebrand Saints, because while they serve some seriously great food, they do it all without the attitude.

“We take things very seriously in terms of the preparation and the service and all the rest of it, but we make sure we have fun while we’re doing it.”

You can find Firebrand Saints at 1 Broadway in Kendall Square in Cambridge, or online at firebrandsaints.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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