286 Franklin St.
Cambridge, MA 02139
Travel Time from 77 Mass Ave: 8 minutes
A common fantasy among my girlfriends is to quit MIT and open up a neighborhood café. Should that life-altering day come for me, I imagine my store will be a lot like Andala Café: cozy, charming, and a touch eclectic.
Andala Café must have hit the real estate jackpot, because a restaurant this spacious in Central Square is about as common as a day at MIT without construction. The converted brownstone has two floors in addition to an indoor and outdoor patio. Gorgeous area rugs complement brightly colored walls and mismatched tables, chairs, and wooden benches, brightening up even the gloomiest winter days.
I walk in, take a seat, and a friendly server comes my way. The staff at Andala Café know just how much service to offer. They don’t pester customers with laptops and papers, leaving us to work in peace. Even with the table service, there is no pressure to leave. They remind me of a pit crew in the Indy 500 — they’re there to refuel you, change your tires, and keep you running at top speed.
My latte is on the small side, but it’s strong, hot, and delicious, with just enough foam to make a dainty leaf pattern on top. It’s only 9:30 in the morning, so I order a cinnamon brioche pastry, which reminds me of a sophisticated bear claw. I am pleasantly surprised by the sweet, apple pie-like filling inside. I make a mental note to try out their hummus platter and other middle-eastern specials in the future.
Unfortunately, my p-set outlasts my food and drink. I ask to see their tea selection, expecting to be handed a menu. Instead, the server brings over two wooden boxes, each filled with twelve small containers of their loose-leaf teas. The presentation reminds me of the street vendors in New York City who pop open their briefcases to reveal dazzling silver chains and “designer” watches. Within minutes, I was sipping on a cup of Pan Asia, a flavored green tea infused with dried chrysanthemums.
Just in case I actually went through with my plans to open up a coffee shop, I had created a playlist on my iPod a while back, appropriately but not creatively entitled “Coffeehouse.” It contains a lot of Ray LaMontagne, Keane, James Morrison, and the like. At Andala Café, it was as if I had just plugged my iPod into their speakers.
In case you find my taste in music abhorrent, you can just bring your computer. Wi-fi is fast and totally free, although outlets are well-hidden amongst the furniture and décor.
Andala Café has everything I look for in a coffee shop — from the laid-back vibe to the quality drinks (they even have house-squeezed fruit juices in the dead of winter). And while all of that is paradise, the mug-half-empty side of me can’t help but feel disappointed that someone else has already built my dream café. I think I’m going to have to move onto a more original fantasy, like quitting MIT to become the next YouTube sensation.