Woke up at the crack of dawn to drive my friend Jen to the airport. I love driving in the early morning or late at night when the roads are quiet and one seems to fly, suspended above the asphalt. But then I found myself with time on my hands. I was picking up a new pair of eyeglasses at See in Harvard Square but they didn’t open until 10 am and it was only 8:30. What to do?
I found a parking spot right in front of the store. How often does that happen? So I thought: breakfast. I’ll find some breakfast. Sad to say that Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage only opens at lunch. Still, there was Tatte Bakery – a new addition to the Square – looking a bit upscale for my breakfast taste, but what the heck.
First impression: lots of black and white floor tiles and lots of people dressed in black. Very NYC. In front of me in the line and behind me, folks are speaking in two different foreign language, but I can’t tell what they are. Nearby is a slightly sullen looking, unshaven, but handsome backpacker. Interesting. It’s only 8:30 am and the place is already filling up. A good sign.
In the display cases are individual pastries looking so perfect that I wonder if they’re plastic replicas, like you see in the windows of Japanese restaurants. Very precise. Extravagant rectangular pastries loaded with pistachios or cashews. Balloon-like croissants. Not a sign of being touched by a human hand.
Above me is a ballet of slim, dancing black ceiling fans are quietly spinning.
“ROGER! Your cappuccino is ready!”
I step up to order and look at the blackboards for inspiration. Shakshuka features prominently. Lots of toast, arugula and avocado punctuated by a Mediterranean Avo Smash. Ricotta & Jam Tartine. Veggie Croque Madame (of course there is). Egg-in-a-hole. Sweet Potato Tarte Tatin. Farro Bowl. What’s not to like?
Amid a slight thrum of babble, I place my order. I’m given a number on a metal stand and told they’ll bring my breakfast to my table. Perfect. So I find a banquette seat at a small, round marble table, settle in and take in the atmosphere.
At a nearby table sit four adults with a baby in tow. Her gap-toothed eggy smile is enchanting as are her little blue suede flats with gold trim. She’s maybe a year old. The women wear long flowered skirts with denim jackets. The dad looks frazzled by the search for a highchair and where to put their backpacks. Turns out they’re all here for a 5-year reunion at Harvard. Figures.
Then—duh—I realize it must be reunion time because many customers are wearing plastic name tags hanging from crimson red lavaliers. Dead give-away.
A couple of tables away sits a grey-haired, bearded man-of-a-certain-age in a small-checked gingham shirt who looks vaguely familiar: Poet? Actor? Professor? It’s a crazy quilt of comfortably financed folk.
Just outside an extra-large window couples meet up — grandmothers and undergrads —moms and dads hug their offspring, and behind them the iconic wrought iron gates to Harvard Yard.
Sitting next to me is a mother and daughter duo. Little Vivien (“It’s spelled with an ‘e’ she explains precisely,”) tells me that her violin ‘play down’ is today and she’s pretty excited. She’s maybe six or seven years old. Vivien is also holding a blue and silver punked-out Barbie knock-off. She’s wearing bright blue tights and her name, I’m told, is Cloud. Vivien seems to be wearing matching tights and she’s a knock-out. Looks a lot like her mom.
“PARKER. Pick-up at the register!”
Back at the reunion table, little pudgy fingers grasp at croissant crusts as she cranes around to also take in the crowd. I want to take her home with me.
There’s not much lipstick to be seen here. Petite Asian women in baseball caps with long ponytails. Babies in onesies being carried around in the crook of Daddy’s arm. Lots of smiles. It’s not a grumpy crowd like you see in some places where folks are just waiting for an opportunity to send something back to the kitchen. Lots of Asians. Very few black or brown faces.
Is Tatte French? German? Swiss? Quien sabé. Turns out Tatte Bakery & Café was founded by a self-trained Israeli pastry chef named Tsurit Or and she’s in the midst of creating an empire of delicious outlets for her confections and savory food.
Ooooo. I spot a kicky little flouncy flowered dress on a young woman who can def carry it off. A dad wearing a honking big sports watch gently ruffles the hair of his 9S-year-old who’s tucking into a plate of sunny-side-up eggs. And there, as if to confirm the activities of the weekend, is someone in a graduation robe with a crimson stole. She looks a tad punch-drunk but happy.
I’d say that 50% of people are staring at their cellphones. Pity. There’s so much to take in.
“DAVID! Your order’s ready!”
It’s almost time to pick up my new glasses at See, but what a rich pastiche of breakfast observations I’ve been served. Have to do this more often.