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Eat like a rock star

The food you'll find around the clubs
By LINDSAY CRUDELE  |  September 15, 2008

Photo illustration: K Banks

A soundtrack as rich as Boston's deserves a menu to match. With most of the city's music venues conveniently nestled between any number of worthy ways to dine, you can start thinking of the quadruple band bill as a mere palate cleanser. We talked to bands, bouncers, club staffers and got the scoop on the best spots to fuel-up pre-show, or re-fuel afterwards.

CLUBS: Middle East, Zuzu, TT the Bear’s
FOOD: Baraka Café, Moody’s Falafel Palace, Hot Off the Press

You don't have to look far for a bite in Mark Sandman Square, the bustling Central Square corner named for the smoky-voiced Morphine frontman and home to the Middle East, TT the Bear's Place, and Zuzu, where a well-placed Shirley Ellis tune can inspire table-dancing at the weekly Saturday night Soulelujah party (well worth the hour it can take to find the front of the line). 

To sustain you during the wait, order a bowl of whipped garlic ($2.95) from the Middle East kitchen (472 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, 617.864.EAST). Skip the pita and scoop the garlic with French fries ($3.95). You'll carry a glorious garlicky reek for days.

Or, get into the Square early, bring a date, and grab a table at the cozy, romantic Baraka Café (80 1/2 Pearl St, Cambridge, 617.868.3951) for home-style Algerian cooking. Who cares that the restaurant lacks a liquor license when drinking dreamy Cherbat, Algerian lemonade infused with spices and rose petals ($7.95/pitcher)? On a recent night, the kitchen served a special of supple smoked salmon layered with sliced pears and figs over flatbread, as well as tart, creamy yogurt spooned onto mouthfuls of charred grilled lamb and stewed root vegetables ($14.95).

Johnny Allen, a member of the bands Drug Rug and Headband as well as a Zuzu staffer, looks to Moody's Falafel Palace (25 Central Square, Cambridge, 617.864.0827), as a handy target for post-performance vitals, since the place closes at 3 am. Roll up too close to closing time and they may be out of meat, but if not, sample the carved flanks of lamb or chicken ($4.50), or try the baba ghannouj with pomegranate ($3.75) or pickled grape leaves which burst with the smooth, lemony rice filling ($3.99).

Allen also regularly orders the Southwestern Turkey Sandwich ($5.95) — adding avocado ($1) — at Hot off the Press (736 Mass Ave, Cambridge, 617.234.4450).

“Hot off the Press is one of the only places around that is very conscious of all the waste from a café,” he says. “They compost and recycle.”


CLUBS:  Great Scott, O’Brien’s, Harper’s Ferry
FOOD: Reef Café, Savuarnabhumi Kiri, Shanghai Gate

A taste for garlic will take you places — say, Allston by way of the Pill, the Britpop and modern indie dance night that’s presided over Friday nights at Great Scott in Allston for over a decade. A show at O'Brien's Pub or Harper's Ferry will land you in this region of town as well.

“As the joke goes, we started when Britpop was still around,” says founder and longtime DJ, Michael Marotta, who has scouted supper near Great Scott since around January, 2005 — a date he names with some reservation. “Specifics are hazy,” he says, “thanks to the night itself.”

Marotta is wild about chicken shawarma from Reef Cafe (170 Brighton Avenue, Allston, 617.202.6366), served alongside its own creamy garlic sauce and pickle spears for the plate version ($9.95). Crisp cucumber, tomato and parsley salad counters the salty, marinated chicken.

“There's nothing like it in Allston, and that's saying a lot given the wealth of international food options,” he says.

Around the corner in the old Tokyo City spot is pan-Asian outlet Suvarnabhumi Kiri (90-92 Harvard Avenue, Allston, 617.562.8888), where Marotta calls spider maki ($10.50 for four pieces) “off the chain.” Satisfying pops of flying fish roe counter meaty hunks of fried soft-shell crab and creamy avocado, making this a wise stop.

Play a show at Great Scott and you'll learn soon enough why the club prohibits sound check before 7 pm: it shares a building with Shanghai Gate, (204 Harvard Ave, Allston, 617.566.7344) an oft-overlooked Chinese restaurant you might’ve missed while stepping off the 66. Hallelujah the Hills frontman Ryan Walsh is unfazed by the sound-check restriction, and said he's devoted to the restaurant's Paradise Mountain Chicken ($8.95), a dish of tender, stir-fried chicken amid dried chiles. Also take note of the Lion's Head Casserole ($2.95 each), which presents savory pork meatballs in broth, and green, garlicky pea stems ($10.95).

Walsh recounted a night before a show where the headliner began sound check on the early side.

“You could hear the bass drum endlessly thumping through the wall,” he said. “Our waitress apologized about the noise and, trying to quell any more complaints about sound check times, I got all creepy and over enthusiastic about the noise. 'It's amazing,' I declared, 'just like this noodle dish!'”


CLUB: The Paradise
FOOD: Brown Sugar Café, Sunset Cantina

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