Club Passim’s vegetarian days are over — the new menu is all about “globally inspired New American cuisine.”
By Glenn Rifkin
From its earliest roots as Club 47 back in 1958, Club Passim has served food and drink as part of the intimate musical experience. The inevitable sound of clinking glasses and the nimble wait staff making its way among the tables served as background ambiance for the folk, blues, jazz or world music performances on stage. For the past 13 years, the menu was prepared by Veggie Planet, the vegetarian outlet that worked in conjunction with Passim. But last August, unable to make a go of it, Veggie Planet ceased operations and Club Passim commenced a search for a new culinary partner.
Dan Hogan, executive director of Passim, sought another outside vendor as a replacement but couldn’t find the right fit. It occurred to him that a more viable solution was to bring the restaurant operation in house, renovate the kitchen and hire an executive chef. Hogan’s belief was that a fine dining experience would enhance the club’s mission by fostering community, which would increase programming and make a few extra bucks as well. Harvard Square would have a new lunch spot and concert-goers would have yet another reason to come to Passim to hear the music.
To that end, Hogan recently hired Brandon Arms, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, as executive chef. Arms has worked alongside the likes of Clio’s Ken Oringer and ran the popular Garden at the Cellar from 2011 to 2014. And given carte blanche, he has completely made over the Passim culinary experience.
Gone are the Blonde on Blonde white pizza, peanut udon noodle salad and roasted vegetables and rice. Arms is offering “globally inspired New American cuisine” which means there will be meat and there will be a regular infusion of new ideas and recipes. When I visited on a recent Monday night, when a sold-out house was toasting the 2014 Iguana Music Fund grant recipients, Arms served an array of appetizers and small plates that suggested loudly and clearly that the vegetarian days were over.
Arms means no disrespect to vegetarians. He simply wants to expand the palate. He brought our table a plate of pork belly buns, with Asian pickles, jalapeno, cilantro, and sweet soy, that was a savory delight. We feasted on roasted Brussels Sprouts, served with country ham, egg yolk puree and crispy potatoes and a wonderful French Onion soup thick with cheese. The roasted beet salad, with candied walnuts, Roquefort cheese, apple and celery leaves was my favorite among the small plates. And the culmination for me was the butter poached lobster entrée which featured a whole lobster out of the shell served with fried duck egg, brioche croutons and black truffles. Getting a lobster this good without sitting in a rustic shack on the Maine shoreline was special. And for $18, it is a serious bargain.
Among other entrees are a grass fed burger with arugula, aged cheddar, Worcestershire aioli and pub fries; the Zatar spiced veggie burger; a tasty lamb gnocchi and other specials depending on the day. The dessert menu features a Meyer lemon curd with blackberries, graham cracker pinenut crumble and fried rosemary. There is Warm Banana Bread pudding served with Lizzie’s dark chocolate ice cream; and A La Minute Zeppole donuts with maple sugar and cinnamon.
Needless to say, they didn’t eat this well when Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were emerging from obscurity on the Club 47 stage more than half a century ago. According to Hogan, the club will soon be offering breakfast as well. Given that Club Passim hosts more than 400 shows each year for over 30,000 patrons, the buzz for the new restaurant ought to blanketing the Square and the surrounding culinary community in short order. There is a lot to be said for supporting a non-profit like Passim, which is dedicated not only to bringing great music to its stage but through efforts like the Iguana Fund, to foster and support emerging artists. Each year, the Iguana Fund gives out $45,000 in grants ranging from $500 to $2000, to aid in career growth, recording projects, and needed equipment. Eating well while filling the world with music; not a bad formula.
Glenn Rifkin is a veteran journalist and author who has covered business for many publications including The New York Times for more than 25 years. Among his books are Radical Marketing and The Ultimate Entrepreneur. His efforts as an arts critic and food writer represent a new and exciting direction.