by Bovey Rao ’19
In 2001, Ana Sortun opened her landmark restaurant, Oleana, in Somerville. After an incredible tour of Turkey, Sortun returned to Boston to introduce the city to exotic Eastern Mediterranean flavors. The restaurant exploded in popularity, and in 2005, Sortun was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast. As Oleana was filled consistently, Sortun began looking into a new project, Sofra.
Sofra Bakery and Café was inspired by Turkish bazaars, which offer food, drinks, spices, and other ingredients in a small area. The store has two separate sections with a café in one section, then a market space that sells condiments, wines, and spices. Upon entering, you encounter the vibrant aromas of the Mediterranean like cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander. A quick glance at the counter reveals an extensive menu with a wide assortment of baked goods. Sofra followed the meze style of dining, so there are many small vegetarian dishes as well as some larger dishes with meats. With staples like falafel, shawarma, and hummus, the menu might seem generic at first; however, upon closer inspection, the subtle complexities shown through. Sortun’s goal is to make Mediterranean flavors and spices approachable to the American palette, so many local ingredients are incorporated into the complex “foreign” dishes.
As my exhausted group of friends and I collapsed into Sofra after a run, we glanced over the counter at the menu. After we caught our breath, we placed our orders and cooled down from our run. A short while later, my spinach falafel wrap, pumpkin turnover, and grape sharbat arrived with my friend’s orders of chicken shawarma and a red-dragon iced tea.
The spinach falafel wrap was served with a little tahini, beet tzatziki, pickles, and fresh greens. Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern dish, prepared by grinding fava beans or chickpeas and then frying it. While the dish may be simple, there is a complexity to the dish, with a unique mix of spices and textural differences giving it almost meaty impression. Sofra’s rendition was mixed with spinach and accompanied by rich, creamy tahini and acidic pickles. Unfortunately, the exterior of the falafel lacked the distinctive crispness I expected. Thus, I was slightly underwhelmed as the wrap had a uniform texture, but the refreshing bitterness of the greens and crunch of the pickles improved dish immensely.
While ordering, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices for the baked goods. With cookies, tarts, breads, and a plethora of other seasonal baked goods, Sofra prepares a number of traditional Mediterranean pastries as well other European baked items with Mediterranean influences. Fortunately, the cashier provided a quick recommendation of the pumpkin turnover. While the recommendation seemed plain, I was pleasantly surprised by the flavorful sweet and savory pastry. With the traditional pumpkin spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, the flavor was incredible with the flaky buttery turnover. The fresh sweet pumpkin inside was a nostalgic reminder of autumn.
Normally, I do not comment on the drinks that are served in my restaurant reviews, but the seasonal sharbat was sensational. With a strong grape cardamom concentrate mixed with sparkling water, the drink left a powerful sweet flavor.
A mere two miles away, Sofra serves as a cheaper destination for those seeking the Mediterranean experience. The more accessible sister of Oleana, Sofra delivers similar flavors in a cozier and more comfortable environment. While the food may not have been as elevated as at Oleana, the identity of the restaurant as an approachable café was apparent. If I ever desire a falafel wrap or a savory, spiced pastry, I will run in the direction of Sofra.
Sofra Bakery and Cafe
Location: 1 Belmont Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Stand out dishes: Pumpkin Turnover (Seasonal), Grape Sharbat (Seasonal)
Overall Rating: 4/5