Outdoor Smorgasbord

A sampling of Cambridge restaurants for lunch in the open air.

If your gustatory expectations are low, try Au Bon Pain for an outdoor lunch with sideshow. Taking up lots of Forbes Plaza, on the Massachusetts Avenue side of Holyoke Center, its tables afford a peerless vantage point on the Square and its folk. Sidewalk performers entertain you. The "Grilled Chicken Caesar" sandwich wrap, root beer, and cookie ($5.89) won't harm you. The wrap may fall apart.

For an upscale, uplevel, uplifting experience go around the corner to 10 Holyoke Street and ascend three flights to the garden terrace of Upstairs at the Pudding.The "Rapido" lunch is guaranteed to arrive at table within five minutes. But what's the rush? It's nice out. Dawdle. Perhaps the chilled melon soup with toasted pistachios and yogurt ($5) for starters. Perhaps next the Jonah crab cakes with Asian pear and endive salad dressed in celery seeds and lemon aioli ($14). Perhaps a mango upside-down cake with orange caramel and raspberries ($5) to sustain you until dinner. Before you exit, you can go over to the wall around the deck and steal a glance into the backyard of the Porcellian Club, a profitless experience.

The courtyard of the Charles Hotel complex has a restaurant at either side of it. In warm weather, tables sprout outdoors and dueling multicolored shade umbrellas greet the eye gaily, one set clustered by Henrietta's Table, the other by Giannino. At Henrietta's Table (the outdoor part is properly called Henrietta's Porch), surely you can't pass up the ostrich burger, made from ostriches raised in Massachusetts, and topped with local blue cheese and grilled red onion ($10.50). If you draw the carnivorous line, how about a wheatberry, corn, and mushroom ragout, with grilled eggplant, wilted greens, and native vegetables ($9.75)?

Giannino is a cheerful establishment as well. All main dishes come in small or large portions. Thus you may have $8.50- or $13.95-worth of pansotti Genovese con carciofi, a tasty triangle pasta filled with artichokes, spinach, and ricotta, anointed with marjoram chive butter. Both Henrietta's and Giannino provide satisfying people-watching and an agreeable setting--although on a blistering day the bricks of the courtyard radiate heat, and you fight with your companion for the shady side of the umbrella.

One of the leafier, cooler, outdoor dining spots in Cambridge may be found at Harvest, 44 Brattle Street. (Watch out for birds, who perch above you.) Here you may nibble on baba ghanoush ($5) as you toss back one of Harvest's featured summer drinks, a "Between the Sheets" perhaps, comprised of brandy, rum, triple sec, and lemon juice ($4.50), or a Cajun martini ($4.75). If still awake, have something simple--a tuna salad sub ($7.50) or the omelet of the day ($8).

Harvest is a venerable establishment and so indeed is Iruña, which has been serving solid, reasonably priced cocina española in the Square for 33 years. A boardwalk between storefronts on John F. Kennedy Street leads you away from the traffic to the secluded patio of number 56. Seven tables under a bright yellow awning survey a small green lawn, bushes, and a somewhat cubist metal sculpture of a linear gentleman who may be waiting for a table. What towers over you beyond the awning are a few trees and an expanse of sky, not tall modern buildings. The weathered brick walls of Kirkland House, the Malkin Athletic Center, and University Lutheran Church are visible in the distance, but the closest structures are small, wooden, serene of hue, and surrounded by green. Even on a warm day, it's worth trying the creamy but assertive garlic soup (cup, $1.50; bowl, $2; with one egg in casserole, $2.50; with two eggs, $2.75). The gazpacho ($1.75 or $2.50) is a chilled, very fresh-tasting, frothy (puréed rather than chunky) version with a spicy kick. The "tortillas" are egg-based--omelets--not things of flour. Fluffy, they contain an elegant sufficiency of the chosen filling--ham, linguica, shrimp, asparagus, mushrooms, and so forth. They are served with a salad and bread--plenty to eat--and will set you back $3.25 to $5. The Basque tortillas, bland but very good, come in a casserole filled with bubbling white sauce. On a hot day, you might want to eat in the dim indoors of Iruña and have a cool dessert, a slippery flan ($2.25) or rich chocolate pudding ($2.50).

With a long red awning out front and four red tables on the sidewalk below, Cremaldi's projects an earthy Mediterranean feeling. It's half Italian gourmet delicatessen, half Old-World café. The menu features soups, salads, and sandwiches for lunch. Try a fabulous sandwich of grilled tomatoes and onions with chèvre and arugula on foccacia so fresh it fairly sings ($5.75). The location at 31 Putnam Avenue is quiet by Harvard Square standards, yet it's not scenic--think of one of Paris's outer arrondissements.

For a spot of peasant chic, take yourself to Mr. Bartley's Burger & Salad Cottage, at 1246 Massachusetts Avenue, across from Lamont Library. Here, at a tiny table, you share with citizens on the move the sidewalk and vehicular exhaust fumes. Just as you stabilize your burger and get your mouth around the thing, a guilt-inspiring jogger will breeze by in spandex and a T-shirt that reads "Attitude" on the back. Bartley's no longer lays out artificial grass underneath its outdoor tables, we are obliged to report. Most iterations of burger on offer, and they are numerous, are named for famous politicos or entertainment icons. If you choose the Elvis-- (mushrooms, onions, cheddar cheese, and bacon; $6.75), its juices glistening and burbling, structurally perhaps unsound, but of outstanding taste and texture--you may, at the end of your meal, announce that "Elvis has left the table."

The scenery near Bartley's has recently been richly transformed into a semblance of forest and garden with the construction of a pocket park in front of the Inn at Harvard, nicely finishing off this end of the prospect from Harvard Square proper. Quincy Square, so called, is newly planted and not yet graffitized. Lunch-goers with an aversion to being waited on are pleased that the park offers benches for brown-baggers.

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