It’s a shame that all of the “Somerville Is the Next Brooklyn” pieces have already been written by now, because La Brasa really could’ve gone a long way toward bolstering the case. The restaurant, from chefs Daniel Bojorquez and Frank McClelland of L’Espalier, is the upmarket reinvention of the melting pot South and Central American East Broadway neighborhood it has taken root in. That shows up on the menu in dishes like the slow roasted pork shoulder carnitas with salsa verde and chile de arbol. But it’s a lot more than that. It’s also a cafe by morning, and a market, selling local produce, cheese, coffee, juices and honey. You’d have a hard time dreaming up a more concise microcosm of hipsterfication.
The feel of the room — industrial wood-working studio chic — reflects this. As you walk in, there might be a bearded chef in flannel taking a hatchet to a block of wood selected from a pile by the wall. Tables are made out of halved logs, and much of the furniture is reclaimed wood. On the walls are repurposed street signs, and behind the bar you’ll find retro refrigerators. That wood is being used in the kitchen where everything is cooked over open flames or in a massive steam-punk-looking stove.
“It’s an intimate and homey affair that showcases a lot of personality and identity,” bartender Rob Hoover says. “I think the kitchen does that with the food as well, and that’s what we’re trying to replicate at the bar.”
The bar program is no less on-trend, with mezcals, sherries and genever showing up throughout the list of originals and classics old and modern. The best I tried was the My Sherry Amour, made with mezcal, amontillado sherry, honey, grapefruit and Cherry Heering. Bartender Ryan Sullivan gave it to himself as a challenge, Hoover says. “He wanted to work around mezcal and sherry in one drink. Both flavors are unique and assertive, and he wanted to tame them, working off the honey notes in sherry, and adding more fruit from the cherry brandy. It’s full flavored, but has that mezcal heat and dryness from the sherry that marries very well.”
Another good match comes in the form of the cocktails on draft pulled from an old kegerator behind the bar. “You batch them up, bring them to dilution, and put them in the keg,” Hoover explains of the process. While they rotate, at the moment the options include the Blue Moon cocktail, a riff on an old recipe, which takes gin, lemon, Creme de Violet and soda here for a citrus lemon-forward sip. The cocktails can also be carbonated, but will be softer than ones made with a traditional blast of soda.
“It gives us a chance to be able to put out a drink very quickly, but also the freedom to switch them around every couple of weeks,” Hoover says. “It’s kind of a quirky thing, but it ends up working really well, almost like a drink of the day, and it turns the time it takes to get a drink out phenomenally – we can get a craft cocktail out in 25 seconds.”
Elsewhere, the Somerville Sour, a variation on a New York Sour that takes Old Overholt rye, lemon, cardamom-anise syrup and a Claret red wine topper, is exceptionally dry. “The cardamom and anise add complexity and depth of flavor, some of the flavors people can find in rye whiskey, oaky delicious dark things you find in there.” Others pull from forward-thinking cocktail tomes, like Beta Cocktails, as in the Ashtray Heart, made with Smith and Cross rum, Punt e Mes, dry vermouth and mezcal rinse.
Their intentions with the food, the drinks and the space are all plain to see, Hoover says. “Everything is kind of exposed. Just like the kegerator, where you can see the guts of the machine. Instead of keeping things sequestered away, it’s same thing with drinks. We let it all hang out there.”
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