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Algiers Coffee House remains idyllic off−campus eatery

Casual ambiance, unique decor draw in customers

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012

Updated: Monday, December 3, 2012 07:12

Looking for a new off−campus draw? Well, you just might find it in Cambridge’s Algiers Coffee House. Located at 40 Brattle Street just a block or two from Harvard Square, Algiers exudes Old World, Bohemian charm that hearkens back to Cambridge’s days of yore. And this is no act of imitation — Algiers has been a local hot spot for more than 40 years, giving it plenty of time to cultivate its reputation.

Algiers’ is a perfect cross between a cafe and a full−fledged restaurant. You can come for a meal — and can even rent out the top floor for events — or you can just as easily install yourself at a table for an afternoon study marathon. Either way, the menu’s versatility and the building’s atmosphere lend themselves to any occasion.

Though its facade is modest, Algiers is positively lush on the inside. The two−story building has been gracefully decorated with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flair. Tiny octagonal tables fill the roughly tiled floor, while paintings, etchings and mirrors line the vibrant red and goldenrod yellow walls. Hookahs are proudly on display, and the upper level features a surprisingly complete selection of books. There is even a small open−air patio that looks out over the Brattle Street side. The focal point, however, is a gorgeous chandelier that hangs from the second story’s ceiling all the way down to the first level through a hole in the floor.

Once you take a seat, the mystique continues. The Zagat rated food generally isn’t too expensive, but do be careful what you order — pricey drinks and side dishes can easily push a bill higher than you might expect. Still, it’s worth it.

Algiers serves a full continental breakfast all day long that includes eggs, fresh juice, bagels, yogurt and croissants, but its more traditional Mediterranean food is definitely the main draw. The fresh lentil soup with its accompanying lemon wedge and basket of pita slices is a highlight, as is the falafel found under the “Specialties” section, which comes with an array of accompaniments, a salad and a side of fries. The falafel sandwich is a treat as well, to be sure, but serving just the falafel on a platter gives the customer more of an opportunity to mix and match sides.

Besbousa, a Middle Eastern dessert composed of a sweet cake soaked in syrup, is one of the stronger dessert options, along with Algiers’ fresh, tangy baklava. Besbousa, which can be ordered either a la carte or from Algiers’ pastry case on the first floor, is syrupy−sweet, belying the fact that it’s little more than farina and sugar.

Still, drinks are by far the coffee house’s strongest menu point, probably due to the eatery’s pressure to maintain its reputation as a laid−back meeting spot. Algiers has a wide variety of both expected and surprising coffee shop drinks, including hot chocolate with whipped cream, frappes and iced drinks and assorted teas by the pot. The deliciously bold Arabic coffee is of particular note; it arrives piping hot in a kanata and is prepared with cardamom for a spicy bite.

Algiers also features six varieties of syrup−based Italian sodas, ranging from tried−and−true Grenadine to Tamarindo (tamarind) and Orzata (almond). Finally, the restaurant sells a small selection of alcoholic beverages, including red and white wines, beer, port, sherry, vermouth and champagne.

Open every day from 8 a.m. to midnight, Algiers is a mere two T stops away from campus. Perfect as a study spot, or for the starting or ending point of an evening, the coffee house’s casual charm makes it an ideal off−campus eatery. Though service can be a bit hit−or−miss with a handful of rather unfriendly staff, whether you go there to work, to grab a drink before a show or to enjoy the atmosphere and eat some falafel, Algiers is bound to have something to satisfy you.

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