Chicken and Waffle at Brick & Mortar


Photo: JOEL VEAK

Nothing eases flirtation quite like a well-made cocktail. But as every experienced imbiber knows, drinking on an empty stomach is a common source of regret later in the evening and the morning after. It's important to slow your system's absorption of ethanol so that your social lubrication doesn't slide into slurry inebriation. At the pub or sports bar, you may be content with deep-fried game-day fare. But when the place is serious about cocktails, you should expect better from the kitchen: food that's still hearty but a step up from mozz sticks. Brick & Mortar (569 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge), Central Square's newest craft-cocktail bar, understands this, offering snacks and small plates worthy of the kind of exquisitely made drinks you'd expect from revered local bar mistress Misty Kalkofen and former B-Side owner Patrick Sullivan.

Devils on horseback ($7) are a prime example. Creamy, chewy, and salty-sweet, the blue-cheese-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon offer a refined version of Mad Men-vintage cocktail-party fare. Wood-grilled crostini (two for $9) are ample slices of baguette piled high with gorgeous toppings, like smoked eggplant with fried capers and Parmesan, or a chunky salad of chopped egg, bacon, and thyme. You might accompany these with an elegant, refreshing tall drink like the Lido Shuffle ($10): Cocchi, Aperol, yellow Chartreuse, lemon, and soda.

The array of rich, substantial small plates includes duck hash ($12), a layer of roasted potatoes and house-made pork sausage bedecked with four perfect, rosy slices of duck breast, finished with a duck demi-glace. After an order of that, you could fearlessly take A Bullet for Fredo ($10), a chilled but undiluted mix of grappa, dry vermouth, and Campari - a deceptively smooth kick in the head. Then it might be time for another hefty "small" plate, like the fried egg B&M style ($9), a layer of bacon-braised beans topped with a sunny-side-up farm egg and a vibrant piperade.

With that base laid down, maybe it wouldn't be too soon for a shot, say, a D.T.O. ($6, four for $20), a perfect, pixie-sized Daiquiri, or the dangerous Double Wide ($6), a far-too-easily gulped mix of Jack Daniel's and Coca-Cola syrup. That might set you up nicely for B&M's take on that jazz musician's favorite post-gig repast, chicken and waffle ($9), here done cleverly as a confit thigh on a fine, crisp cornmeal waffle dotted with red currants, given a lovely sweet-sour tang with maple gastrique. Against the backdrop of B&M's softly lit room, with its beautiful, curving copper-topped bar, vinyl LPs spun by the bartenders, and low-key approach to serving serious drinks, it's the kind of novel, unpretentious, and eminently satisfying dish that makes you want to forswear the same old plate of wings forever.