Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 868-3585 Click here to go Inside John Harvard’s.
If you’re looking for excellent craft beer and a bite to eat in a traditional ale house setting, you’ll like John Harvard’s Brewery and Alehouse in Cambridge.
According to legend, John Harvard’s collection of literary works included a folio of beer recipes that belonged to William Shakespeare. When he came to the colonies, John brewed beer using family recipes, as well as those of his contemporary, Bard. Oh, and apparently he started a college.
No one knows if the Shakespeare connection is fact or myth, but on an August Saturday evening my wife and I stepped into John Harvard’s to taste the current beer offerings and have dinner. The location holds a special significance for us – we had our first date at the restaurant that previously occupied the space many, many years ago.
Sampling the Beers
Upon returning to the scene of the crime, we were surprised to find that the place hadn’t changed much. It’s still located in the “down under” part of the building which gives it sort of a speakeasy feel. Cavernous in size, it can accommodate large groups.
The furnishings are dark with lots of brick and tall stained glass windows –perfect for an ale house. The bar was full and energetic. A new feature since we were last there: 12 HD televisions on the walls so sports fans can follow the action from anywhere in the bar area.
We sat at the bar and ordered beer while we waited for our reservation. All beer is brewed onsite and the selection changes frequently. I ordered the Bow Stout which was smooth, creamy and delicious. My wife ordered the Monk’s Cellar, a Belgian style abbey ale, and found it to be a little lighter than many Belgians but very flavorful.
I asked about the cask ale and the bartender responded by pouring us a sample. Cask ale is unfiltered, unpasteurized and served directly from the cask without additional pressurization. The pourer has to literally pump the beer into the glass. This evening it was a tasty pale ale, slightly bitter with citrus tones. Incredibly, the bar tab came to only $7.50. We liked the place already.
A Pleasant Dinner
Our dinner reservation was for 7:00PM. By that time the dining room was getting busier but there seemed to be plenty of tables open. We were seated on time and served focaccia bread with dipping oil. The bread had a crust of parmesan baked onto the top and was excellent.
Our first stop on the menu was appetizers, of which there are about a dozen. Some are typical – chicken wings and fingers and nachos. Others are less common on an ale house menu such as charcuterie and a hummus plate.
We shared the house smoked sausage which was served on a bed of mashed potatoes and caramelized onions. The sausage was sweet and very smoky. The potatoes were creamy with just a hint of chive. We would definitely order this again.
Next we ordered a spent grain margherita pizza, the crust of which is made with grains from the brewing process. We were underwhelmed. The crust was bready and the sauce lacked flavor.
The entrée menu contains a lot of savory comfort foods: shepherd’s pie, meatloaf, pot roast, chicken pot pie. There are also a selection of burgers and sandwiches.
Given that it was a warm summer night we chose to go with a couple of the lighter options. My wife chose the cod special and I the steak frites.
The cod was crisp on the outside and served with a garlic cream sauce, a half-dozen mussels, a few small shrimp and potatoes. The sauce was light and complimented the seafood. The potatoes were a bit of a disappointment, served with a green mojo sauce that was bitter.
My steak was cooked medium rare, exactly as ordered. It was well seasoned and flavorful. The truffled frites were slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside – just as they should be. We washed everything down with a glass of Garden Saisson ale.
Dessert was an unexpected pleasure. We chose a brownie sundae and apple crisp, served with a caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Both were delicious and the portions were modest enough to lessen our guilt but still satisfying .
In the end the craft beer at John Harvard’s is second to none and if you’re hungry for some comfort food with your pint, it’s a fun night out.
John Harvard’s also features:
- Live music Tuesday-Saturday nights with no cover
- Trivia Monday nights
- Weekend brunch
John Harvard’s Brewery and Ale House Map & Directions
[pw_map address=”33 Dunster street, Cambridge, MA”]