Tagged: cambridge

Now you can buy art made in Massachusetts from a CSA

There’s a new concept in buying art based on the tried and true Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model used by farms and other food producers. Community Supported Art means you pay in advance for a share and on “harvest day” you pick up a box of artwork. Like the farm-based CSA, with CSArt, you never know quite what you’ll get until you pick it up, and the artists benefit like the farmers do, with cashflow during the time they have to invest in making the art.

Supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and others, CSArt is administered by the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Nine local artists are selected each year and tasked with producing an edition of 50 pieces for the program. Each share gets one work from each artist. This year the artists are:

I’m very lucky to be involved in the project as the teacher of a short business curriculum for artists. As such, I stress the importance of getting paid in advance whenever possible, and that’s just what a CSA program allows them to do. Here’s a clip from 2012 on the program:

CCAE CS ART from Cambridge Center for Adult Ed on Vimeo.

I urge you to check out the artists’ sites and the CSArt program in general. The CSA vegetable box usually includes something new that you don’t know what to do with but soon learn to love, I expect that a box of community supported art might just have the same delightful benefit.

Last I checked, shares were still available.

When a bus stop stops being a bus stop

You may remember back in June when I reported that the MBTA was eliminating a couple of stops on the number 1 bus line, I wondered what would happen to the space freed up. Well, I’ve been watching those stops and seen no changes. Still no parking, still marked off, still signed as bus stops.

Sign's still there Street's still marked

Until last night, when I was riding the 1 bus back from Boston and asked the driver to let me off at one of those stops. The driver – operator 67743 – told me it wasn’t a stop anymore. I pointed out that I could see the bus stop sign and even a person waiting at that stop to get on.  Since Yom Kippur was nigh, she made an exception for us.

So, MBTA or Cambridge or whoever, what’s the deal? How are passengers who are not always-internet-connected otaku like myself supposed to know this change is coming up and that it has finally actually happened? (The stop is still shown on the interactive route map on mbta.com justsayin) And, since service to that stop has in fact stopped, why is the sign still up and what’s the plan for repurposing that real estate?

Here’s what I wrote almost three months ago, emphasis added.

…what will happen to the former bus stops? Will more (metered?) parking be created? Bike parking? Ghost stops where parking is prohibited but buses never stop? Pocket parks? Time will tell. 

This is not the way I like to be right. I’d say from the position of the fire hydrant that no more than one parking spot on the Clinton Street side could be created, but that would be something. Adding bike parking or something else more interesting would be something too. Not even bothering with a sign saying that the stop is no longer a stop, that’s the worst kind of business as usual around here.

Two trucks make sweet BBQ love and settle down in Kendall square

It’s like when you see a band make it big and tell all your friends about when you saw them at some dive back in the day. Some of my favorite food trucks are spawning brick and mortar establishments. Clover already has 3 or 4 falafel-dispensing locations, Mei Mei is planning a spot in Audobon Circle, and tonight, I popped in at Bon Me’s soft opening at 1 Kendall Square.

The space seems to have been carved, perhaps literally, out of the lobby of the building that houses The Friendly Toast and West Bridge above the tomb of Think Tank, whose wifi, oddly, was still on. Four tables, eight chairs, two bars with four stools each – definitely more seating than the trucks. Bon Me blue dominates one wall and the rest of the place is chrome, slate and dark wood. The menu – and prices – look just about the same as the trucks’ perhaps with an occasional special or dessert.

I got the BBQ pork sandwich because under the benchmark rule, you have to stick with a staple, a classic, or at least something you’ve had before to properly evaluate a new place.  In honor of absent truckonaut B, I had some Thai basil lemonade, and to take back to professor M, some chocolate rice pudding to go.

No surprises, and that’s a good thing.  Maybe a little service glitch with the ticket printer down, but that’s to be expected in the first few days, that’s what a soft opening is for, after all.  The BBQ pork was zesty, the bread crusty, the carrots crunchy, the pate livery, the mayo spicy, the cilantro uppity, everything in its place and as it should be, dare I say it maybe a tiny bit better than at the truck.  This is a $6 sandwich, $8 if you somehow think you need “extra meat,” and really, I love this stuff, but I’m pretty sure you do not need extra meat.  Same price as at the truck, and you get a roof over your head and music, too.

What of this trend?  Will the trucks lose their edge when they go all conventional with seats and stuff? I’m doubtful, at least if they keep their eyes on the prize.  A small restaurant with a small menu isn’t so different from a truck, and I’m optimistic that great trucks like Bon Me and Mei Mei will be able to stay focused and creative.  All that time working out of a truck has kept them close to their customers and solidified their operational discipline, I just hope the cost structure holds up.  For once, I’m impressed with a line extension.

Meat on sticks in an urban alley at Moksa

Moksa, Cambridge’s newish “Pan-Asian Izakaya” is a welcome freshening of the Mass Ave Asian food scene. As the Izayaka label suggests, Moksa takes the drinks seriously – they have cocktails for each sign of the Chinese zodiac and each of the elements (classical four, not scientific 118) – but the food is no slouch either.

Weather permitting, I recommend the patio, a nice brick alley adjacent to the Central Square Theater.  Recently, I enjoyed a half bottle of Henri Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre.

Moksa’s food menu is a riotous array of small plates, many inspired by street food, others spinning off from classic dum sum, rice dishes and roti.  Bring lots of friends so you can try as many as possible.  I especially enjoy the Twice-Cooked Green Beans with onions and soybeans, both whole and sauced.  The beans are somehow still just crisp enough to the bite after two cookings.

Other notable dishes include the possibly hyperbolic Fried Rice with Twenty Vegetables, the sushiesque Tuna Poke with Avocado and Hearts of Palm, the border-blurring Popcorn Shrimp Roti, and an array of grilled meats on sticks, including chicken hearts, beef tongue, and smoked duck breast.  The menu changes often, so some of these might be gone for now or forever, but I’m sure something just as good will take their places

Can snooty waiters save independent cafes from iPads and city planners?

I went to check out the newish Dwelltime Coffeebar and Bakeshop in the newly-hopping Broadway zone of mid-Cambridge.  Whilst enjoying an americano, smooth and served with a glass of water like they do in civilized nations, and a whole wheat bacon scallion scone, not too large, crisp and savory, all for a bit more than $5, I took notice of two notices.

First, the are going to turn off their wifi during lunch hours to reduce, well, dwell time, and to avoid becoming a co-working space.  Second, they have a petition going to get the Peoples’ Republic City of Cambridge to allow them more than 20 seats, a number to which they are limited because they have no off-street parking.   Are these things related?

Item 2, crap anti-business elitist NIMBY zoning

There’s a bus stop out front and the place is 4 blocks from the red line, but somehow the city thinks that the business needs to provide parking.  And the penalty for not providing parking is to be restricted to perhaps half the seating capacity it could serve.  Certainly the last thing I want in my precious Cambridge neighborhood is a cafe full of people.  Ugh, the thought of it.  I’m sure the only reason the neighbors tolerate that school across the street, teeming with germy children and no doubt swamped with SUVs at dropoff and pickup times, is some kind of grandfathering.  Awesome pro-business stance there, Cambridge.  An empty storefront across the street from a school is a much better idea.

Item 1, people who sit in a cafe all day

Before Dwelltime opened, I remember hearing a piece on the radio in which the owner talked about reducing the number of electrical outlets to prevent people from setting up camp all day.  I laughed.  Maybe that will slow down some people with crummy computers, but you can easily go four hours on a modern laptop, all day with an iPad, and as long as your supply holds out with an actual book.  So now they’re throttling wifi to keep people moving?  Again, that’ll hold off some people, but it won’t hold off technological progress.  Tablets, phones and hotspot devices let you skip the cafe’s wifi, as I am doing right now with a personal hotspot from my phone connecting me to a 4G data network.

It’s a social, behavioral problem, and restricting the tech, even if it could really work, won’t do the job.  High unemployment, scads of students, cheap technology, and a sense of entitlement will keep people camping out all day at cafes.

So, what to do?

Obviously the need to turn over the tables faster is exacerbated by having fewer tables than you might “naturally” have in the space.  At the same time, having people move through quicker would mean parking spaces would also turn over faster. Most of the parking nearby is resident or metered with a two hour limit.  If metered parking really worked, it would probably cut back a little on the all-day cafe types, but I’m guessing many of them are walking or taking transit.  I’ll leave the zoning thing alone for now except to say that the city needs to price street parking appropriately and let the cafe live or die on its own merits. For the all-day cafe dwellers, I suggest…

A modest proposal: waiters

People sit in cafes all day because they can.  Passive-aggressive moves like restricting power outlets and internet won’t cut it.  You need to make those people pay up or move on, and I think table service is the way to do it.  If I get a single coffee at the counter and hunker down for six hours, nobody’s coming over and asking me to buy more stuff to earn the right to stay or telling me that another party is coming in and they need the table.  But that’s exactly what waiters do in restaurants.  The better ones are less obviously obnoxious about it, but they all do it. “Anything else for you sir?”  Subtly-yet-pointedly leaving the bill.  You know the drill.

They way I see it, a skilled waiter or two could increase the average revenue per seat per hour and keep the malingerers moving along.  Plus, despite the best efforts of city planners, it would create another job, and it would make the cafe a bit safer by having another set of eyes on the floor.

Your mileage may vary, but if you’re car-free in the area, you should drop by Dwelltime and sign their petition.