A few weeks ago, I found myself walking around the Fenway / Kenmore area looking for a cozy place to read my book and enjoy an indulgent breakfast. Walking around, I found Neighborhoods, a homey café with big wooden tables and a long line of college kids.
It seemed like a home run, the perfect spot for a bit of Sunday morning self-care, big, filling crepes and a huge mug of coffee, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have that experience. I felt thoroughly dissatisfied and didn’t even finish my food, which, for me, is blasphemy.
I didn’t want to write about it – I’m not out here to trash anyone’s restaurant. But upon thinking it through I realized that if I want to ever write serious food criticism, I’ll need to learn to write negatively and honestly.
First, though, I wanted to give Neighborhoods a fair rebuttal, so I went back at a less busy time few days later. I asked the staff what to order, changed up my coffee, really tried to give them another chance. Unfortunately, I left hungry and discouraged once again.
Neighborhoods coffee and crepes clearly prides itself on those two core offerings. The coffee is the less mediocre of the two. On my first visit, I was really looking forward to a great latte. I went with the Beestinger, a latte with honey, nutmeg, and cinnamon, the type of drink that’s so sweet and simple it really shouldn’t be possible to screw it up.
Look how small it is – the 12 ounce cup wasn’t even full. It also cost an annoying but not outright unreasonable $5. The milk was barely steamed– the foam fizzled down into the coffee within the first few sips. And the ratio of the spices was seriously off– this thing smacked of nutmeg. Basically, I paid $5 for a cup of coffee that someone dumped a bunch of milk and nutmeg in. On my second visit, I ordered a basic cappuccino with the same poorly steamed milk. Neither coffee was terrible, but it’s disheartening to overpay for fancy drinks that someone is clearly half-assing.
Both crepes I tried suffered from a spongy, undercooked texture, rather than the crispy or melt-y feel you’re looking for in a crepe. The crepes were thick and chewy, like bad pancakes, though less delicate – when you bite into these, they don’t really split, but sort of reabsorb into one another and take forever to break apart in your mouth.
At my first visit, I ordered a classic ham and cheese. It was pretty flimsy, very tough to cut into and come out with a real bite. You can see how little space it took on the plate in the photo above. The fillings were super bland – they somehow didn’t fully melt the cheese, while there was only a thin line of mustard on about half of the crepe. I was looking forward to a decadent, gooey crepe to savor. I ended up with what was basically just a sloppy ham and cheese wrap.
The next time around, the staff recommended I go with the Tuscan chicken crepe.
Fortunately, this one was far more of a meal, packed pretty full and topped with Instagram-friendly lines of pesto. Unfortunately, that pesto was generic, worse than the worst you could buy in a store. There were plenty of chicken strips, but they were bland and pre-cooked, probably from a package. Arugula, tomatoes and mozzarella added some actual flavor, but on the whole, this crepe was flat-out mediocre.
It’s a shitty experience to really, really want something and pay a fair price for it, only to be presented with the most reductive version. Unfortunately, that’s what I found at Neighborhoods.