There are a lot of good reasons to visit Cambridge, Massachusetts.
But only one of them involves oatmeal, crystallized ginger, plump sun-dried cherries, toasted walnuts and pecans. Only one of them causes me to plan my schedule around it, and to toss valuable items from my carry-on bag to make room.
That would be the oatmeal cookie at Hi-Rise Bread Company.
Recently, I was in Cambridge for several days of meetings. When I got on the plane to return to San Diego, I was loaded down with deliriously delicious cookies – Oatmeal Cherry Raisin, Oatmeal Coconut Pecan, Oatmeal Ginger, Chocolate Chocolate Chunk, Chocolate Walnut Chunk. Each was fat and moist, with bumpy textures that tickled the tongue and hidden nubbins that were either chewy, gooey or molten.
I also had a bunch of Maple Pecan Scones that are as good as any scone I’ve ever tasted…creamy, flaky, subtly sweetened with maple syrup and studded with toasty nuts.
I’d like to also tell you about the stuff I didn’t bring home for reasons that are obvious when you look at this lemon meringue pie and homemade whoopie pies. But it breaks my heart to talk about the goodies left behind because I probably won’t get to taste them again until next year.
Located at 208 Concord Avenue, a 10-minute walk from Harvard Square, Hi-Rise is a large, airy storefront with the working bakery on one side, and a casual eatery on the other. Guests sit at funky communal picnic tables or a few two-tops by the window. Everyone waits in line patiently to order breakfast fare, sandwiches and salads that are every bit as impressive as the baked goods.
The tantalizing jumble of bakery treats sits behind a low glass shield and on rickety wooden shelves. Smart folks survey the scene carefully before getting in line to order. It’s easy to miss a basket of Rice Krispie treats or a plate of almond macaroons hidden behind cases of wine or a pyramid of jars of homemade preserves.
The “menu” is on a couple of huge blackboards overhead. Sandwiches bear silly/clever monikers and are made from top-notch ingredients with a large dose of creativity. I love the Nat Queen Cool – pulled pork, avocado, cilantro, harissa, tomato and red onion on grilled bread. The Cisco Kid Surf & Turf of tuna, tarragon mayo, bacon, red onion on while wheat is terrific too. And what kid-at-heart is going to turn down the Sin Sandwich of Nutella, Valrhona bittersweet chocolate on grilled brioche?
There’s also a tiny Hi-Rise satellite café on Brattle Street just a couple blocks from Harvard Square on one side and the grassy banks of the Charles on the other side. Sandwich and salad selections are limited and the array of baked goods is smaller, too.
But this location is my favorite as it’s tucked into an 1808 cottage called The Blacksmith’s House – the site of the village smithy and spreading chestnut tree of Longfellow’s 1839 poem "The Village Blacksmith." In warm weather you can sit outside under the tree and bask in the quiet sense of history.