BY ERIC CZEPYHA
The first time I ventured beyond Cambridge in search of Franklin Café, the cab took us the wrong way down a very icy one-way street. The second time, the cab driver and I nearly beat each other up. For some reason, the powers that be are making it awfully hard to get to this tiny little restaurant, quietly tucked away in Boston’s South End. Nevertheless, despite the perilous journey, I know I will return again and again.
Franklin Café has all the elements of a very good restaurant (particularly for the cost-conscious graduate student). The food is delicious and creative, yet surprisingly affordable (average entrée price: $16). The ambience supports the causal, the moderately dressy and the just plain confusing (like the woman in an old pair of jeans and a sweater sitting next to man in sports coat sitting next to woman dressed like ’80s Madonna and a ’90s Courtney Love). Furthermore (and perhaps most importantly), Franklin Café is one of the few places I know of in Boston/Cambridge with a kitchen that stays open until 1:30 a.m., making it a wonderful place for a late-night snack after a long day of (a) studying the law (1Ls), (b) drinking with the reasonable belief that you will study the law the next morning (2Ls) or (c) studying the law while drinking (3Ls).
Franklin Café can perhaps best be described as a bar that happens to be a restaurant, but does a really good job at both. There is but one long room with nine small booths to accommodate diners. In fact, you can almost touch the bar from your seat. This sounds cramped, but actually makes for a very fun atmosphere, as the restaurant is constantly abuzz with those from outside spilling into the bar, those at the bar spilling into the booths and those in the booths stumbling back to the bar.
Perhaps its only flaw (hardly fatal) is that Franklin Café does not take reservations, meaning that anyone planning on dropping by on a Friday or Saturday night should be prepared to wait an average of 40 minutes for a booth, unless you plan to eat like a senior citizen (kitchen opens at 5:30, grandpa). Not to worry, however, as Franklin Café offers those of us who embrace the 21st amendment a well-stocked bar to keep our taste buds (and liver) plenty busy while waiting for a table. The beer list mainly consists of the old standbys (Stella, Bud, Bass etc.), while the cocktail list is divided into “Straight Up” drinks and Franklin signatures (all $7). My trusty dinner companion (who possesses an astounding desire and capacity to sample just about every drink on the menu of the restaurants I review) was pleasantly pleased with the “Sparkling Peach” (Mathilde peach liqueur and champagne), remarking that it tasted like the Haribo peach candies she ate as a kid. Other notable concoctions include the tomato Martini (Belvedere vodka, tomato juice and piquant grape tomatoes), the “Rainbow Martini” (organic rain vodka, chambord, midori and sugar rock candy) and the “Mo Cocktail” (Ketel One vodka, half ounce of chambord and the juice of 5 lemon wedges).
Franklin Café may resemble a bar, but the culinary treats its menu offers would take offense at the label “bar food.” For the carnivores among you, I recommend starting with the beef carpaccio ($7), a delicious array of raw, thinly sliced beef seasoned with capers, sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil. Seafood lovers will enjoy both the garlic grilled calamari (slices of fresh calamari served with baby pesto, baby white beans and lemon sauce; $8), and the surf and turf (grilled beef tenderloin chop accompanied by crusted prosciutto-wrapped shrimp; $9). The shining star, however, of Franklin’s appetizer menu is most certainly the Prince Edward Island Mussels ($8), a heaping pot of fresh mussels drenched in a pernod, scallion, garlic, herb sauce (with plenty of bread for dipping).
Franklin’s chef likes to keep the entrees fairly simple, with a modest selection of chicken, lamb and other game, as well as a few fish items rotated periodically. The veal scallopini (in lemon caper sauce and herb risotto, $16) is nothing to write home about, whereas the black pepper seared sashimi tuna loin (a good portion of which I stole from my dinner companion) I found more worthy of praise (particularly at $16, compared to what one would expect to pay at the typical Tremont Street eatery). Other notables include the pan seared Atlantic cod (with oyster mushrooms, scallions, ginger and garlic, $15), and the grilled lamb leg steak (served with rosemary chimichurri and black eyed pea salad, $16).
So when it’s 12 a.m. on a Wednesday and you’re trudging out of Landgell (nerd) or stumbling home from the Common (lush), spend a few of the clams you earned this summer and jet over to Franklin Café. A quick (but apparently sometimes dangerous, in my case) cab ride will turn 1 a.m. pizza and scorpion bowls into mussels and martinis.
278 Shawmut Avenue
5:30 p.m. - 1:30 a.m.